Homogamy: Start the presses

Have you said “homogamy” today?

The latest issue of the Journal of Family Theory and Review is out. A young journal, in only its third volume, it’s well worth a look. For example, the current issue features an interesting debate on gender display and housework between Oriel Sullivan, Esther Kluwer, Barbara Risman and Paula England.

But the big blog news is that the issue also includes “Homogamy Unmodified,” in which I write:

I propose that homogamy and heterogamy be used to signify same-sex and opposite-sex unions, respectively, including marriage and cohabitation. This is intended to address a terminology impasse that has given us marriage versus same-sex marriage in popular and academic usage. After a brief review of the word origins and scholarly uses of these terms, I conclude that the new uses for homogamy and heterogamy could be adopted relatively easily, with scientific benefits for categorization, and could remove a conservative bias in the current usage.

Briefly, my issues are:

  • Trying to get consistent, accurate language going for something that will be with us for the rest of human society — making a deliberate choice. Letting language evolve “naturally” in this case is just another way of enabling cognitive pathways that are harmful or misleading.
  • Avoiding the terms “same-sex” and “opposite-sex” because the sexes aren’t opposites.
  • Not trying to get the terms “same-gender” and “different gender” going because it seems even less likely to work than homogamy and heterogamy.
  • Making the categories fit with the scientific terms we use for other issues in marriage and mating, such as those of Greek (monogamy, polygamy, hypergamy, etc.) or Latin (matrilineal, matriarchal, matrilocal, etc.) origin.
  • Not presuming we know the sexual orientation of people just because of the gender of their marriage partners (e.g., “gay marriage,” “straight marriage”). That’s a different issue — highly but not perfectly correlated. Lots of gay (or bisexual) people are in heterogamous marriages.

I hope you will consider it. Try it out in a sentence. For example:

To follow some related arguments I’ve made, see:

Update: Here is the Huffington Post version of this post on the “Gay Marriage” news page. No one told me about the big march for homogamy/heterogamy language reform!


Filed under Me @ work

21 responses to “Homogamy: Start the presses

  1. Laura J.

    This brings to mind a good read on the inherent bias in academic social analysis:

    “Social Scientist Sees Bias Within”


  2. Thanks, Laura — but I don’t see the parallel here.


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  16. Philip – I was really excited about this post and your article, since I focus on GLBTQ couples and relationships in my clinical work and writing. In fact I was all ready to bring it to the MFT field’s attention in an article I’m working on for Family Process, and then my co-author pointed out that it stalls out as a term when considering trans or genderqueer people. For me, “homogamy” could describe a relationship between say a trans woman and a cis woman, but I don’t know if the effort to use scientific-type terminology would de-rail that because some people want to debate whether biological sex or lived gender is more “real,” and others don’t see cis and trans people as belonging to the same genders (male/female).

    Would love to hear your thoughts – I’m stumbling around with “different sex” or “mixed sex” vs. “same sex” relationship language a lot, or “same gender” “different gender”, and don’t love them either.


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