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The Nuptial Deal

Same-Sex Marriage and Neo-Liberal Governance

The Nuptial Deal

Same-Sex Marriage and Neo-Liberal Governance

Since the 1990s, gay and lesbian civil rights organizations have increasingly focused on the right of same-sex couples to marry, which represents a major change from earlier activists’ rejection of the institution. Centering on the everyday struggles, feelings, and thought of marriage equality activists, The Nuptial Deal explores this shift and its connections to the transformation of the United States from a welfare state to a neo-liberal one in which families carry the burden of facing social problems.
Governance and marriage are now firmly entwined. Fighting for access to marriage means fighting for specific legal benefits, which include everything from medical decision-making and spousal immigration to lower insurance rates and taxes. As Jaye Cee Whitehead makes plain, debates over the definition and purpose of marriage indicate how thoroughly neo-liberalism has pervaded American culture. Indeed, Whitehead concludes, the federal government’s resistance to same-sex marriage stems not from “traditional values” but from fear of exposing marriage as a form of governance rather than a natural expression of human intimacy.
A fresh take on the terms and stakes of the debate over same-sex marriage, The Nuptial Deal is also a probing look at the difficult choices and compromises faced by activists.


“Decades from now, when historians reflect on today’s same-sex marriage debate, The Nuptial Deal will provide an empirically based narrative of what was really going on in the lives and minds of activists and of ordinary people caught up in the political and personal hopes and struggles over marriage in the United States. Written with skill, historical insight, and sociological imagination, Jaye Cee Whitehead’s compelling book not only provides a view into the same-sex marriage movement, but also raises theoretically salient questions about the relationship of the individual to society, the conceptualization of political rights, and the differing roles of various social institutions.”

Christopher Carrington, San Francisco State University

“In clear, compelling prose and without theoretical pretension or an axe to grind, Whitehead offers a searing left critique of the marriage equality movement. Using deftly interpreted ethnography, The Nuptial Deal exposes the quest for marriage as a conservative risk-management project, one that leaves those outside its orbit ever more vulnerable in the context of intensifying neoliberal inequalities.”

Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkeley

“Whitehead engagingly tells the story of how US health and welfare policies make life especially perilous for those whose intimate partnerships are not officially recognized, and how the quest for same-sex marriage rights seeks to address those dangers—even as some advocates recognize those dangers could be more effectively addressed by other means. In doing so, she demystifies the state-made magic that makes spouses more prized than partners. The Nuptial Deal weaves together brilliant social analysis with thoughtful insights from same-sex marriage proponents. Together, they make this book a must-read for anyone invested in same-sex marriage and key reading for those interested in the neo-liberal culture of markets or US social policy.”

Dawne Moon, Marquette University

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Marriage Equality Meets Neo-Liberal Inequality
Chapter 2. The Nuptial Deal
Chapter 3. The Threat: Fear and Insecurity
Chapter 4. The Bribe: Free Choice and Privacy
Chapter 5. The “Gold Standard”: Belonging and Recognition 
Chapter 6. Why Exclude the Willing? Same-Sex Marriage and the Slippery Slope

Conclusion Marriage as a Technology of Governance 
Appendix A Punk, Friend, or Scholar: Navigating Embodiment and Distance in the Field
Appendix B Interview Participants

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