Obergefell v. Hodges: Marriage Equality’s Insistence on Family Values

  • Cyril Ghosh


In this chapter, I critically analyze the legal reasoning that undergirds the US Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), a judgment that made marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states. In so doing, I draw upon some insights from queer theorists, who point out the dangers of “normifying” any particular way of life because it marginalizes those who will not, or cannot, assimilate into the dominant culture. Here, I analyze the assimilationist tropes of amatonormativity and repronormativity that appear in the opinion in order to point out that these rhetorical tropes alienate everybody except the most conformist of gays and lesbians. The Court’s reasoning is invested in LGBT+ normalization and endorses one particular conception of the good intimate life. Instead of this, the decision, I suggest, should have followed an approach steeped in what Cass Sunstein has called “decisional minimalism.” Following such an approach would have enhanced, rather than constricted, the range of family formations endorsed by the state in Obergefell.


Amatonormativity Decisional minimalism Homonormativity Marriage equality Obergefell v. Hodges Repronormativity 


  1. Ackelsberg, Martha, and Judith Plaskow. 2004. “Why We’re Not Getting Married.” Keshet Online.
  2. Ahmed, Sara. 2011. “Problematic Proximities: Or Why Critiques of Gay Imperialism Matter.” Feminist Legal Studies 19: 119–132.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, Mike, and Alan Cooperman. 2004. “Bush Backs Amendment Banning Gay Marriage.” The Washington Post, February 25.Google Scholar
  4. Barnett, Randy. 2017. “Out of Touch Law Professor Criticizes Judge Gorsuch and Originalism.” The Washington Post, February 25.
  5. Brake, Elizabeth. 2012. Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality and the Law. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brown, Susan L. 2004. “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation.” Journal of Marriage and Family 66: 351–367.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, Wendy. 2004. “After Marriage.” In Just Marriage, edited by Mary Lyndon Shanley. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Brownstein, Alan E. 2015. “Perception and Reality.” Liberty Magazine.
  9. Bush, George W. 2004. “The State of the Union.”
  10. Bybee, Keith J. 2005. “The Polite Thing to Do.” In The Future of Gay Rights in America, edited by H.N. Hirsch. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. ———. 2010. All Judges Are Political-Except When They Are Not: Acceptable Hypocrisies and the Rule of Law. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bybee, Keith J., and Cyril Ghosh. 2009. “Managing Radical Disputes: Public Reason, the American Dream, and the Case of Same-Sex Marriage.” Studies in Law, Politics and Society 49: 125–156.Google Scholar
  13. Campos, Paul F. 1994. “Secular Fundamentalism.” Columbia Law Review 94: 1814–1827.Google Scholar
  14. Chambers, Clare. 2013. “The Marriage-Free State.” In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 113 (2_pt_2): 123–143.Google Scholar
  15. Cook, Lindsey. 2015. “For Richer, Not Poorer: Marriage and the Growing Class Divide.” U.S. News and World Report, October 26.,2015/10/26/marriage-and-the-growing-class-divde.
  16. Cott, Nancy F. 1998. “Marriage and Women’s Citizenship in the United States, 1830–1934.” The American Historical Review 103 (5): 1440–1474.Google Scholar
  17. Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. 2001. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Department of Justice. 2012. “Interim Decision: Matter of Petersen: In Visa Petition Proceedings.”
  19. DePaulo, Bella M. 2007. Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored and Still Live Happily Everafter. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.Google Scholar
  20. DePaulo, Bella M., and Wendy L. Morris. 2005. “Singles in Society and in Science.” Psychological Inquiry 16 (2/3): 57–83.Google Scholar
  21. Duggan, Lisa. 2002. “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism.” In Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics, edited by Russ Castronovo and Dana Nelson, 175–194. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ettelbrick, Paula L. 1992. “Since When Is Marriage the Path to Liberation?” In Lesbian and Gay Marriage: Private Commitments, Public Ceremonies, edited by Suzanne Sherman, 20–26. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Ettelbrick, Paula L., and Julie Shapiro. 2004. “Are We on the Path to Liberation Now?: Same-Sex Marriage at Home and Abroad.” Seattle Journal for Social Justice 2: 475–493.Google Scholar
  24. Fish, Stanley. 1994. There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, And It’s a Good Thing Too. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 1997a. “Boutique Multiculturalism, or Why Liberals Are Incapable of Thinking About Hate Speech.” Critical Inquiry 23: 378–395.Google Scholar
  26. ———. 1997b. “Mission Impossible: Setting the Just Bounds between Church and State.” Columbia Law Review 97 (December): 2255–2333.Google Scholar
  27. Fleming, James, and Linda McClain. 2013. Ordered Liberty: Rights, Responsibilities, Virtues. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Ford, Matt. 2014. “Why the Supreme Court May Have to Rule on Gay Marriage.” The Atlantic, November 7.
  29. Franke, Katherine. 2009. “Theorizing Yes: An Essay on Feminism, Law and Desire.” In Feminist and Queer Legal Theory: Intimate Encounters, Uncomfortable Conversations, edited by Martha Albertson Fineman, Jack E. Jackson, and Adam P. Romero, 29–44. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. ———. 2011. “Marriage Is a Mixed Blessing.” The New York Times, June 23.Google Scholar
  31. Fraser, Nancy. 1995. “From Redistribution to Recognition: Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Postsocialist’ Age.” New Left Review 1 (212 July–August): 68–93.Google Scholar
  32. Freeman, Samuel. 2004. “Public Reason and Political Justifications.” Fordham Law Review 72 (5): 2021–2072.Google Scholar
  33. Frohock, Fred. 2006a. “An Alternative Model of Political Reasoning.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 9: 27–64.Google Scholar
  34. ———. 2006b. Bounded Divinities: Sacred Discourses in Pluralist Democracies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  35. George, Robert P. 1997. “Public Reason and Political Conflict: Abortion and Homosexuality.” The Yale Law Journal 106: 2475–2504.Google Scholar
  36. Gerstel, Naomi, and Natalia Sarkisian. 2006. “Marriage: The Good, the Bad and the Greedy.” Contexts 5 (4): 16–21.Google Scholar
  37. Gerstmann, Evan. 2008. Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution, 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Ghosh, Cyril. 2013. The Politics of the American Dream: Democratic Inclusion in Contemporary American Political Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  39. ———. 2016. “Queer International Relations (1v): Queer as Method.” The Disorder of Things (blog), November 24.
  40. ———. 2017. “The Emergence of Marriage Equality and the Sad Demise of Civil Unions.” Studies in Law, Politics and Society 73: 1–20.Google Scholar
  41. ———. 2018, forthcoming. “Marriage, Equality and the Injunction to Assimilate: Romantic Love, Children, Monogamy and Parenting in Obergefell v. Hodges.” Polity.Google Scholar
  42. Ginsberg, Ruth Bader. 1985. “Some Thoughts on Autonomy and Equality in Relation to Roe v. Wade.” North Carolina Law Review 63: 375–386.Google Scholar
  43. Gutmann, Amy, and Dennis Thompson. 1998. Democracy and Disagreement. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  44. Hawkins, Alan J., Betsy Vandenberghe, and Lynae Barlow. 2017. “The New Math of Consensual Nonmonogamy.” National Review, December 5.
  45. Henion, Andy, and Ann Marie Ryan. 2013. “Wanted: A Life Outside the Workplace.” MSU Today, February 21.
  46. Hoffman, Jan. 2016. “Gay and Lesbian High School Students Report ‘Heartbreaking’ Levels of Violence.” The New York Times, August 11.
  47. Holmes, Oliver Wendell. 1897. “The Path of the Law.” Harvard Law Review 10: 457.Google Scholar
  48. Ireland, Roderick L. 2010. “In Goodridge’s Wake: Reflections on the Political, Public and Personal Repercussions of the Massachusetts Same-Sex Marriage Cases.” NYU Law Review 85 (5): 1417–1443.Google Scholar
  49. Josephson, Jyl. 2005. “Citizenship, Same-Sex Marriage and Feminist Critiques of Marriage.” Perspectives on Politics 3 (2): 269–284.Google Scholar
  50. Keeney, Jessica et al. 2013. “From ‘Work-Family’ to ‘Work-Life’: Broadening Our Conceptualization and Measurement.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 82 (3 June): 155–266.Google Scholar
  51. Kennedy, Anthony. 2015. Obergefell v. Hodges.Google Scholar
  52. Kinsley, Michael. 2003. “Abolish Marriage.” Washington Post, July 3, sec. A23.Google Scholar
  53. Larmore, Charles. 2002. “Public Reason.” In The Cambridge Companion to Rawls, edited by Samuel Freeman, 368–393. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  54. M., S. 2017. “Democracy in America: Can A Baker Refuse to Make A Gay Wedding Cake?” The Economist, July 7.
  55. Macedo, Stephen. 2015. Just Married: Same-Sex Marriage, Monogamy, and The Future of Marriage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  56. March, Andrew. 2010. “Civil Unions for All! Why the Government Should Get Out of the ‘Marriage’ Business.” The Huffington Post, September 13.
  57. Martel, James. 2001. Love Is a Sweet Chain: Desire, Autonomy, and Friendship in Liberal Political Theory. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  58. Marx, Karl. 1978. “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” In The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Robert C. Tucker. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  59. Metz, Tamara. 2004. “Why We Should Disestablish Marriage.” In Just Marriage, edited by Mary Lyndon Shanley. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  60. ———. 2010. Untying the Knot: Marriage, the State and the Case for Their Divorce. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Morris, Wendy L., Bella M. DePaulo, Janina Hertel, and Lindsay C. Taylor. 2008. “Singlism-Another Problem That Has No Name: Prejudice, Stereotypes and Discrimination against Singles.” In The Psychology of Modern Prejudice, edited by Melanie A. Morrison and Todd G. Morrison, 165–194. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.Google Scholar
  62. National Public Radio. 2017. “Religious Conservatives and Pro-Business Republicans Split Over Texas ‘Bathroom Bill’.”
  63. Owen, J. Judd. 2001. Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism: The Foundational Crisis of the Separation of Church and State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  64. Pateman, Carole. 1988. The Sexual Contract. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Patten, Alan. 2003. “Liberal Neutrality and Language Policy.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 31 (4): 356–386.Google Scholar
  66. Perry, Keith. 2014. “Marriage Becoming ‘Preserve of the Wealthy’.” Telegraph, November 12.
  67. Posner, Richard A. 2003. Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Puar, Jasbir. 2006. “Mapping US Homonormativities.” Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 13 (1): 67–88.Google Scholar
  69. Rampell, Catherine. 2012. “Marriage Is for Rich People.” New York Times, February 6.
  70. Rawls, John. 1996. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  71. ———. 1997. “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” The University of Chicago Law Review 64 (3): 765–807.Google Scholar
  72. Rosen, Jeffrey. 2006. The Most Democratic Branch: How The Courts Serve America. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Scalia, Antonin. 1997. A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Scalia, Antonin. 2015. Obergefell v. Hodges.Google Scholar
  75. Schachter, Harvey. 2013. “Who Gets to Leave Early at Your Work? Parents Only?” The Globe and Mail, March 21.
  76. Smith, Catherine E., Lauren Fontana, Susannah William Pollvogt, and Tanya Washington. 2015. “Brief of Amici Curiae Scholars of the Constitutional Rights of Children in Support of Petitioners in Obergefell v. Hodges.” Denver Law Review.
  77. Somin, Ilya. 2015. “A Great Decision on Same-Sex Marriage – But Based on Dubious Reasoning.” Washington Post, June 26.
  78. Stern, Mark Joseph. 2015. “Kennedy’s Marriage Equality Decision Is Gorgeous, Heartfelt, and a Little Mystifying.” Slate, June 26.
  79. Stone, Geoffrey R. 2015. “Supreme Court Will Rule for Marriage: Here’s The Best Way,” April 27.
  80. Sunstein, Cass. 1993. “Liberal Constitutionalism and Liberal Justice.” Texas Law Review 72: 305–313.Google Scholar
  81. ———. 1994. “Incompletely Theorized Agreements Commentary.” Harvard Law Review 108: 1733–1772.Google Scholar
  82. ———. 1996. Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  83. ———. 1999. One Case at a Time: Judicial Minimalism on the Supreme Court. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  84. Tharoor, Shashi. 1999. “Are Human Rights Universal?” World Policy Journal 16 (4 Winter).
  85. Tribe, Laurence. 2015. “Equal Dignity: Speaking Its Name.” Harvard Law Review 129: 16–32.Google Scholar
  86. Trotta, Daniel. 2017. “Trump Revokes Obama Guidelines on Transgender Bathrooms.” Reuters, February 23.
  87. United Nations. 1948. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
  88. United States House of Representatives. 1996. “House Report: 104–664.” Government Publishing Office. 104th Congress. Available at:
  89. Warner, Michael. 1999. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life, 2nd ed. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  90. Warren, Earl. 1967. Loving v. Virginia.Google Scholar
  91. Weber, Cynthia. 2016. Queer International Relations: Sovereignty, Sexuality and the Will to Knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  92. X, Gracie. 2015. “6 Varieties of Ethical Non-Monogamy.” The Huffington Post, April 15, 2015.
  93. Yoshino, Kenji. 2002. “Covering.” The Yale Law Journal 111 (4): 769–939.Google Scholar
  94. ———. 2015. “The Supreme Court, 2014 Term–Comment: A New Birth of Freedom?” Harvard Law Review 129: 77–85.Google Scholar
  95. Young, Iris Marion. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  96. Zimmerman, Augusto. 2015. “Judicial Activism and Arbitrary Control: A Critical Analysis of Obergefell v Hodges 556 [sic] US (2015)—The US Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Case.” The University of Notre Dame Australia Law Review 17 (December): 77–85.Google Scholar
  97. Zivi, Karen. 2014. “Performing the Nation: Contesting Same-Sex Marriage Rights in the United States.” Journal of Human Rights 13 (September): 290–306.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wagner CollegeStaten IslandUSA

Personalised recommendations