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The Return to Marriage Diversity: A Genealogy of the Historical Diffusion of Heteronormative Marriage

Authors: Thomas Stieve*, University of Arizona - Geography & Development
Topics: Historical Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: heteronormative marriage, marriage diversity, diffusion, genealogy
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since the 2000’s, the debate in favor of same-sex marriage has emerged in most countries, as 28 countries have legalized this form of marriage and dozens more deliberate the issue (Freedom to Marry, 2019). However, the global discussion continues to frame same-sex marriage as a historical aberration, stating that marriage institutions have never officially sanctioned these relationships. I argue that the present global movement for same-sex marriage is not a recent invention, but a return to the historical norm of marriage diversity. With this presentation, I accomplish two goals. First, I demonstrate how historically many cultures worldwide accepted marriage diversity by allowing different forms of gender and same-sex unions within this institution. Second, I analyze the process by which marriage based exclusively on unions of people of the opposite-sex diffused from the Holy Land thousands of years ago and replaced much of this diversity. By conducting a geographic investigation of its cultural diffusion, I emphasize how heteronormative marriage diffused throughout the world through the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as the socio-economic impact of Western colonialism. Changing governmental, religious and educational structures during this process dramatically transformed local societies and marriage institutions, forcibly aligning them with cultural heteronormativity. Local marriage diversity, such as simultaneous maintenance of a legal same-sex union along with an opposite-sex marriage in the Roman Empire, marriages with third and fourth genders among tribes in the Americas, and female same-sex marriages in Africa, were eliminated and knowledge of them suppressed.

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