Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, PhD


School of Educational Studies

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Philip Dreyer, Karen Cadiero-Kaplan

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Rafaela Santa Cruz

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Robert Dawidoff

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2011 Erin Christine Falvey


anti-gay political campaigns, counseling, lgbt affirmative, marriage and family therapy, narrative, same-sex marriage

Subject Categories

Counseling Psychology | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Mental and Social Health


With the aim of increasing practitioner competence, this dissertation provides marriage and family therapists and mental health service providers with insight into the experiences of legally married same-sex couples. Specifically, the inquiry's objective was to elicit narratives of strength and agency from these couples who navigated the oppressive circumstances of an anti-gay amendment campaign situated within the debate over the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Fourteen couples were interviewed in order to respond to the dissertation's overriding question: How do the lesbian and gay couples and families who are among those who were legally married in California before the passage of Proposition 8 narrate their experiences of their marriages? Through portraiture (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997), a method of inquiry situated within a postmodern, social constructionist framework, a narrative was produced which evolved through five emergent themes: 1) Our Commitments Have Rich Histories -- the symbolic and legal ways in which these couples commemorated and brought definition to their commitments, in the absence of a nationally-sanctioned and collectively-recognized state of legal marriage; 2) Not a Simple Matter: The Complexities of Language Choice -- their contextual language choices, which reflected the absence of representative and collectively-recognized language options for their relationships after their legal marriages; 3) The Battle Metaphor -- the couples' experiences of California's political debate over the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples; 4) Support Shaped Lived Experiences -- the impact of support from friends, family, and community; and lastly, 5) Legal Marriage Shaped Individual, Relational, and Social Identities -- individual, relational and social shifts that occurred for the couples through the experience of being legally married. A follow-up focus group further validated the theme Support Shaped Lived Experiences, and examined more deeply the tensions that occurred when important persons were silent about and/or did not recognize the legitimacy of the couples' legal marriages, and/or the discriminatory context in which their legal marriages were situated. In addition to its contribution of the experiences of legally married same-sex couples to the family therapy literature, the dissertation concludes with important implications for affirmative therapeutic practice, research, education, training, advocacy, and social policy.