Against Nature: How Arguments about the Naturalness of Marriage Privilege Heterosexuality


  • This research received grant funding from the Rackham Graduate School of the University of Michigan.

Elizabeth R. Cole, Women's Studies Department, 204 S. State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109–1290. [e-mail:].


This article examines the public debate over marriage law to investigate how arguments based on claims about what is natural privilege some relationships while stigmatizing others and justifying discriminatory policies toward sexual minorities. Articles about same-sex marriage appearing in major newspapers were content-coded according to absence or presence of four dimensions of naturalness: change over time, norms, procreation, and welfare of children. Arguments invoking change over time were most frequent (39%), and procreation appeared least (10%). The use of arguments based on the moral status of marriage was associated with the use of each of the four dimensions based on naturalness. Mentions of race, including comparisons to racial struggles, appeared in 20% of the articles, making them just as common as child welfare. Results are discussed in terms of the power of the concept of naturalness to legitimize and maintain privilege, and the intersectionality of race and sexual orientation.