Rachel Maddow Talks Gay Marriage, Conflicted Feelings

Rachel Maddow is on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter.

You should probably read the full article so you can feel all warm inside about her H&M blazers, her humble attitude, and all of the really kind words quoted about her from people on all sides of the aisle. You probably already knew she fishes and owns a little rowboat and describes her relationship with artist Susan Mikula as “love at first sight,” right?

Maddow’s sexuality wasn’t a prominent topic of discussion in the interview, but what was uncovered is food for thought: Maddow, a staunch gay marriage advocate, doesn’t feel “urgency” to do the deed herself – and is worried about the “assimilationist aspect” of the entire thing:

Gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, but Maddow says she and Mikula have no immediate wedding plans. “We know a lot of people who have gotten married but I don’t think we feel any urgency about it.”

Later she admits that she’s actually ambivalent about the cultural impact of gay marriage.

“I feel that gay people not being able to get married for generations, forever, meant that we came up with alternative ways of recognizing relationships,” she explains. “And I worry that if everybody has access to the same institutions that we lose the creativity of subcultures having to make it on their own. And I like gay culture.”

So there you have it: Rachel Maddow, the first gay person on primetime TV and the lesbian who singlehandedly increased visibility for lesbians by probably a million percent, thinks gay marriage might be changing gay culture. And is “ambivalent” about it, if not “worried.”

Maddow is a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage rights, but this is the first time she’s said publicly that it may not be something she’s interested in for herself. Straight people have been using this argument to tear down gay marriage, but in reverse: the idea that straight people will be changed by sharing an institution with gay people, because of our “alternative ways of recognizing relationships.” And this certainly isn’t the first time a gay person has shared Maddow’s feelings. Maybe Rachel Maddow’s position is more or less what we all do as part of a politically aware subculture; fight for access to social power and cultural institutions while maintaining our critique of them. We’re a community that recognizes the symbolism and importance of many institutions, but still hopes those institutions bend to fit us – and that they don’t make us bend to fit within them. Maddow’s beliefs may be described as “conflicting,” but she’s certainly not alone in that. We’re all actively participating in some of the systems we recognize as flawed – including our broken election system, our education system, and how you stand in line at the DMV for like 25 minutes. Our gay and alternative culture doesn’t have to completely embrace or completely reject anything – because that’s what keeps us dynamic.

Rachel Maddow has conflicted feelings about marriage, and so does everyone else. But her saying it might keep us in check as we experience new successes and look deeper for more challenges.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. I just love her, I feel the same way about marriage but haven’t been able to articulate it before.

  2. I salute Ms. Maddow for her honesty and hope her message is heard by queer, and straight, society. When I was 8 or 9, I had an epiphany: I was never going to get married because I couldn’t see what the state or the church had to do with two people choosing to love each other for the rest of their lives.

    This epiphany had nothing to do with my orientation. I had only had crushes on boys and the only description of my identity then, if I had only known the word, was genderqueer. The root probably lay in my fierce anti-authoritarianism and recent rejection of God and organized religion. I pictured my future as a person in a life-long relationship with another person (a guy then), living together in love and equality.

    Anyway, I think a lot about the rights we’ve won in the last couple years: marriage (in a few areas) and the right to serve OPENLY in the military. (It’s one of my pet peeves that now that DADT has been repealed, most commentators say, “Gays can now serve in the military.” That gets my goat. We’ve ALWAYS served. ALWAYS. Ain’t nothin’ changed except for the revelation and repeal of their hypocrisy.)

    Neither of these achievements necessarily appeal to a majority of gay people. One of the beautiful things about gay culture is that because we’ve been excluded from hetero society, we’ve explored different ways of loving each other and conducting our relationships.

    I’m one of the people who hopes that now that we have the opportunity (in some states) to participate in heteronormative rites that we continue to define relationships as we see fit. Two people living together in monogamy for their entire lives may not be the most healthy or natural relationship for humans.

    I’ve read and heard many statements from queers that they aren’t at all interested in participating in the old one-husband-one-wife-one-picket fence relationship mandated by the European patriarchy. That structure hasn’t worked well for many straights, and there are thousands of activists who have fought over centuries for divorce rights, custody rights and women’s rights to weaken the iniquities and inequality inherent in that institution.

    I can understand why we chose these battles first. They’re foundational issues that establish our position as equal citizens. And for that, I’m all in favor of them. We should have the choice. So again, I salute Ms. Maddow for her honesty and her wisdom. I hope that all society continues to learn from her and all queers who’ve fought hard battles and emerged with wisdom and knowledge that benefits the entire human race.

    • I’m the same. Ever since I was a kid (and when I thought I was straight) I never wanted to get married. My parents aren’t married but are still together after 30 years so I always thought it was unnecessary. I can understand wanting to get married if you live somewhere where married couples have more legal rights but fortunately where I live de facto (straight or gay) couples have exactly the same rights as married ones. I completely support same sex marriage though because I think everyone should have the right to get married if they want to.

    • i also don’t think i’m really the marriage type, but regardless — i hope that gay marriage IS changing the institution of marriage. i hope it expands to fit us. and i think that legal victories are as important as social ones – and that in order to fix problems with marriage as an institution, we need to have access to it.

  3. Having married my partner the week legislation changed in Ontario, I can still say to this day that no matter what we do or don’t do, our choices can’t be comparable to heterosexual norms. We got married, but it didn’t look the same and couldn’t have looked the same no matter how many similar things we did—while I completely support a couple’s choice to abstain from marriage in order not to participate in an institution that’s been exclusive to queers and even degrading to women, i also firmly believe that those who choose to participate in a marriage ceremony, the legally recognized kind and not an alternative celebration, cannot reproduce heteronormativity. period.

  4. 25 minutes at the DMV? Hah, I wish! Try an hour and fifteen, with surly Bostonian registry workers to make the whole experience even more fun.

    On a happier note, Rachel Maddow is my hero.

  5. I love Rachel Maddow and also support gay marriage and also agree with not having to do it with my partner and co-parent of 7 years. We are lucky to be domestic partners in our state and we’ve done that. There is something weirdly fun to not being married. We even occasionally refer to each other as lovers, girlfriends etc and even occasionally wife. Part of it is fear of jinxing a good thing and having experinced divorce in our families of origin.

  6. The whole issue is about having the right to marry. There are many heteros who choose not to exercise the right. Homosexuals should have that same right, to choose whether to marry or not. If Rachel Maddow chooses not to exercise the right, that’s her choice as an individual, and a choice which should be available to her and her partner regardless of sexual orientation. Just saying.

  7. she is amazing. i used to watch her videos on Alternet.org when i had a crappy job in a building with no air conditioning. it’s almost surreal that her career has blown up to this extent, but god does she deserve it. so smart. so funny. so, so funny. thanks for the link to the article.

  8. She’s right, you know. In the alternate universe where gay marriage is completely supported, there’s a lot of pressure on gays to be abstinent until marriage and to get married BEFORE moving in together. It’s hard to UHAUL when you throw all those legalities around. I personally like to be exempt from all of that parental stress.

    Also, support for gay marriage will have a trickle down effect on society and people might start to support gays more in general! Teens might not be so afraid to come out, and if that happens, we might lose one of the few lesbian teen perks: spending the night with your girlfriend and giggling when your mom warns you, “NO BOYS!” “Aye, aye, captain!”

  9. I completely agree with her perspective, but I hope this isn’t held up as some sort of bastion by those radical queer groups who think that the fight for marriage equality is some sort of attempt by gay people to ‘assimilate’. Obviously everyone is entitled to partake or not, as they wish, in the institution (and I probably will not), but I hate that there are lgbt people who legitimately look down on those who want to get married because they think it’s selling out or something.

  10. I have been married, and divorced. After getting to experience all of that, I don’t care if I ever get married again.

    There are perks to it though, if you feel like you have truly found one person to live the rest of your life with. Even straight couples who have a life-commitment and don’t legalize that commitment get screwed over by the federal government, the state, some medical institutions and sometimes their jobs.

    Legalizing marriage for gays allows partners to receive pensions if the other one dies, allows them to visit their partner in the ICU, allows them to legally take care of their partner’s possessions and funeral arrangements in the absence of a will, makes it easier to secure health insurance, allows them to get a tax break, makes it easier to adopt children, and so on and so forth!

    So, all in all, there are many legal benefits of marriage equality and I think that everyone SHOULD have the choice! But personally, I don’t want to have to go through it again. (not to mention the stress of a wedding and hopefully never again a divorce!)

    If they don’t legalize gay marriage everywhere (or even for the people that just don’t want to get married but have a life-long commitment) they should at least ease up on some of these crazy legal issues that make it so hard for us to take care of each other for the rest of our lives.

  11. She has a very valid point. Also, she’s completely swoon worthy. Marriage does have a lot of heterosexual and religious cultural implications that don’t really mesh with the creative unions we’ve been entering into for years. However, if two adults want to get married, then they should have that right. Plus, marriage provides some nice financial perks w/r/t estate tax, etc. It’s also easier to explain to someone “This is my wife, _______” because sometimes calling someone your “partner” confuses people. Overall, I just want to grow up to be Dr. Maddow.

  12. Oddly enough, Rachel Maddow and Andrew Sullivan agree on the potential of gay marriage to ruin gay culture. Except Sullivan actually looks forward to the end of gay culture.

    I disagree with both of them. I think gay culture ends up influencing the mainstream when gays have access to it. Yeah, we are totally going to redefine marriage.

  13. I’ve heard a lot of queers (a lot of them right here) voicing the same concern about the pursuit of gay marriage that Rachel Maddow expresses. And I totally understand where that’s coming from, because of course no one should feel pressure to conform to a majority’s standard simply in order to achieve some kind of legitimacy in the eyes of said majority.

    But I think we should be allowed to make that choice ourselves, and that’s the real issue at stake. If we had the right to marry, right now, many of us might decide that’s not the path we need or want to take. But at the moment we don’t even have the luxury of deciding that, because that decision’s being made for us. We deserve the right to choose to get married or to choose not to. And that’s why getting Prop 8 passed was always so important, and still is. We deserve the right to choose.

  14. I married my wife nearly two years ago and had the full-on ceremony with the white dresses, the bridesmaids, and the cake, all of which does not mean a thing, legally, anywhere. (Despite this, I would like to see someone, anywhere, try to tell me that we are not “really married.” I would kick them in the face.) I would trade the whole beautiful princess-y day in a heartbeat just to stand somewhere in my pajamas with her and sign a legally recognized marriage license.

    Gay culture is great and alternatively recognizing relationships is fabulous and creative and wonderful and powerful… but it doesn’t help you much when it comes time to deal with things like income taxes, joint vs. single filing of bankruptcy, inheritance tax and inheritance benefits, health insurance, recognition to make legal decisions on the other’s behalf…

    I recently spent a lot of time in the courts because I (successfully) petitioned to take my wife’s last name before we filed papers to make each other our medical powers of attorney and our financial proxies. We also wrote out living wills, trying to establish some sort of security for ourselves in the future… and none of which, by the way, even legally has to be followed if people want to be bitches about it. (Remember that gay couple in California about a year ago, who had the legal papers but still got separated into nursing homes and the one guy died alone and the other guy lost like, all of their joint stuff because the county sold it??)

    Also, all of those court issues cost money… where as your average hetero married woman can like, do this shit in a blink of an eye by waving around a legal marriage license, I had to pay around $500 in court fees, get fingerprinted at the police station, have a background check ran by the FBI, and then stand in front of a judge in a courtroom, just to make my driver’s license match the name I’ve been using for nearly two years anyway!

    And don’t even get me started on gay couples who want or have children (we fit neither category, btw). Having two parents who are legally recognized as married would be a huge benefit in a lot of the legal/financial/medical issues involved with child-rearing.

    You know what ends all of these effing issues? MARRIAGE. I’m not in any way saying that’s why people should get married or even that people should get married. Do what you want because I don’t care in any way. For people who do want to get married, though, IT SUCKS ASS. An non-legal marriage isn’t going to get you your partner’s health benefits when they have great insurance and you are poor and have none. An alternatively committed relationship isn’t going to prevent you from paying inheritance tax out the ass or prevent your wife’s family from having more legal say in every single decision than you do. You get no legal say, so yeah, they have more.

    And if I have to fill out one more form and someone insists on writing that my wife is my “roommate” or notes that the relationship between us is “none” or asks if I’m married and I say “Yeah, but not legally,” and so they check the single box… I will effing lose it.

    Again, I’m not saying that every gay person should get married or that you should get married for these reasons or anything else like that. I am just saying… if you’re in a committed relationship and you both WANT to get married, dealing with all of these issues and the lack of overall recognition absolutely sucks. I don’t care what the government wants to call my relationship… they can call us “legally best friends forever” for all I effing care. Just give me the same damn rights and privileges and protections that any straight couple could secure for themselves within a half an hour of meeting each other. All I’m asking.

    Also for those of you who do NOT want these rights, for whatever reason, wouldn’t it be a lot more satisfying for you to say “Efff you, I’m not interested in your stupid marriage rights,” because you’re legitimately anti-marriage by choice then for you to say “Eff you and your straight people marriage rights… I didn’t want them anyway!” because you know THEY DONT WANT TO GIVE THEM TO YOU ANYWAY.

    Everyone should have the choice to legally get married and everyone should have the choice to decide not to do it, if that’s what they want.

    I might punch a wall.

    • Agreed on all points. My wife and I are legally married (in MA), and we had a church wedding with some of the “normal” accouterments but not all. I think it’s really important that people realize that marriage equality rights are about all this legal shite, too. No matter what you think about the gov’t’s right to say anything about the relationships we build, they do actually say something, and that thing is usually “Married? OK, we get that and will make that easier for you. Not married but partnered? We have no idea what to do with that.” Again, whether the government should have that amount of say in our lives is another topic for another day. But given that it currently does, we need access to the protections and all that.

      When I was hit by a car less than 6 months after we were married, my wife was able to take over much of the phone calling and paperwork necessary to insurance and all that, while I could focus on going to PT all the time and having surgery. Now, it’s entirely possible that, given that we are in MA, she could have done a lot as my girlfriend. But when you say “wife” over the phone, people know what that means and they pay attention.

      However, all of this is to say that gay people can choose to not get married, just like straight people can. The goal is having the choice. There’s actually a growing number of young straight people choosing not to get married, too. I think we’re in for a generation of people redefining commitment – gay or straight. And that might be a great thing. So I think it’s important to put gay folks’ not getting married in a larger context of lots of folks choosing not to get married. But let’s make sure they have the choice.

      (Oh, and if you’re worried that having gay marriage available will increase pressure from families to get married, all to the better. Then they’re just treating you like a “normal” (straight) couple.)

      • My parents never pressured me to get married but now that we are married, both my mom and my mother-in-law keep bringing up the grandchildren thing… which, by the way, is not happening in any way, shape, or form. ;)

        It was mentioned above that so many queer people are not interested in marriage or the whole picket fence… but like you said here, this entire generation is reevaluating what marriage and commitment means and for some, that definitely means marriage and for some, that means all the commitment and none of the marriage. I know my wife and I, for one, care nothing for the patriarchy or for conforming to heterosexual norms. We don’t try to be similar to our “traditionally” married siblings and we are not interested in playing the perfect married couple to show everyone how alike gay couples and straight couples are. We will never buy a house or settle in one area. (The idea makes me break out in a sweat.) You could not pay us to have children. I am not interested in using my college degree to start a respectable career and go to family-friendly company picnics until I retire in thirty years.

        Marriage is what works for us but I get that it’s not for everyone. If a gay man and a lesbian decide to have a baby together and raise the kid with their partners like some huge gay parenting task force, right on. If you and your partner want to have an open relationship, go for it. If three people want to be in one relationship together, who cares? If it works for you, that’s fine and it’s great and I love it. But if gay people want to get married and have the same legal rights available to them that the rest of the country does, respect that, too. We’re not doing it because it’s what society tells us good girls do. We’re not doing it to be like everyone else or to follow expectations set by our parents. We’re doing it because WE WANT TO. Respect that.

        It hurts and sucks and kinda shocks me to hear queer ladies out there speaking about why gay marriage is not needed or not cool or whatever. Married gay couples seem to be facing the same stigma that bisexuals have dealt with for ages: straight people don’t claim them but neither do some gay people. When people I meet ask about my husband and I correct them and say I have a wife, a lot of them no longer try to relate to me. Even though I’m a happily married woman, I am not viewed as such. And now to realize that some lesbians apparently look at us as not being true to the gay cause or not liberal enough or not radical enough or not unconventional enough or whatever because we got married, well, that’s seriously not cool.

        • I don’t know if you’re talking about the article or the comments but that’s not the impression I got at all. The article says Maddow is a staunch gay marriage advocate. I took it to mean that she supports the rights of other queers to get married but doesn’t want to get married herself. Most of the comments are similar. I get the impression that they aren’t anti-gay marriage, they just don’t want to get married themselves. I don’t think gay marriage is not cool or not needed. It pisses me off that my country allows civil unions that are exactly the same as a marriage but that they refuse to call it a marriage because they don’t want to enrage religious groups too much. I want to have the right to get married but I would choose not to exercise that right if I had it, if that makes sense.

          • Not referencing any one thing in particular… the entire general tone of this thread seems to be that yeah, the government should offer us the same benefits… but we shouldn’t want those benefits anyway because they are outdated and patriarchal and require conforming to society’s expectations and whatever else.

            I agree with whoever Andrea is referencing below when she mentions the idea of Rachel Maddow and her partner being in positions of privilege and not necessarily needing the financial or legal benefits of marriage. That is actually the first thing I thought of when I read the above. That may be fine for them but it doesn’t work so well for all the gay couples that do not have the same luxuries.

            I never said anyone here is anti-gay marriage… just that some seemed to brush it aside as something not needed when it very much is. Someone above said “there are lgbt people who legitimately look down on those who want to get married because they think it’s selling out or something” and that is more what I was addressing.

            Not everyone who gets marriage is trying to have the gay version of the “one husband, one wife, and a picket fence” lifestyle. That’s all.

  15. Any thoughts on the essay over on HuffPost’s gay voices that critiques Dr. Maddow’s statement? I can’t decide what I think. The author argues that she is speaking from a place of privilege in that she and her partner are well off enough not to need to government rewards for getting married. I feel like Dr. Maddow wasn’t trying to argue that gay people shouldn’t have the right to marry, more that she kind of hopes they won’t want to.

    And I also want to be Dr. Maddow when I grow up.

    • A study by the Pew Research Center found a “class-based decline in marriage”. Higher socio-economic groups marry at a higher rate than lower socio-economic groups (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1802/decline-marriage-rise-new-families). This study doesn’t support the claims of the HuffPo essay.

      Certain nuances have been lost since the focus of lgbt organizing has settled on legal marriage. As grrlRomeo points out, we did, at one time, speak openly amongst ourselves about changing, enhancing or enbiggening straight society regarding relationships and sexuality.

  16. Speaking as a girl from the UK, the issue of gay marriage is very different here. It is my understanding that in the USA, a marriage gives you legal rights and financial aid that a civil partnership doesn’t.

    In the UK, they are the same thing. A marriage is just the religious ceremony, but you still have the civil ceremony where you register as a married couple, etc. You get the same rights in a civil union as you do in a marriage, and civil unions are something straight people can get too – for example, my parents, who have been ‘married’ for 28 years, are actually just civil partners as they chose to have a non-religious ceremony.

    For me, I would love for gay marriage to be legal everywhere, if not for me, then for the other queer folk who need the extra things a marriage gets them because they’re unfortunate enough to live in a place where marriage is a separate institution to civil partnerships.

    Or for the queer folk who are religious, and would like the opportunity to have their union recognized in the eyes of their community.

    I am atheist, so I do not care for marriage as it is set out in the UK – we are a Christian country by ancestry, so marriage is very much tied up in religion – and will likely go for a civil partnership regardless of whether or not gay marriage is legal by the time I want to marry my future wife.

    I just find it kind of funny that in the USA, where there is meant to be a separation between church and state, people are struggling with gay marriage as thing, whereas here in the UK, currently under a Conservative government, gay marriage is actually in the process of potentially being legalised.

  17. “And I like gay culture.”

    That, to me, is the most important part of the Maddow quote. I got in the car yesterday and turned the key to hear the radio booming at some unreasonable volume. It was some religious pundit on a Christian station, speaking in an echoing voice about how “when the institution of marriage fails… that is the beginning of the collapse of culture.”
    I thought to myself, “culture? Or just YOUR culture as YOU know it?”

    I would like to get married, but marriage as an institution is so shaky right now (for a myriad of reasons that have nothing to do with same-sex unions) that I’m not even really sure why I want to, other than to assimilate. It’s an important question every couple has to ask themselves. How important is it to assimilate?

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