What Does Heteronormativity Mean?

Heteronormativity in Entertainment, the Law and Religion

Protesters Demonstrate Outside Detroit Debating State's Gay Marriage Case
Bill Pugliano/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In its broadest sense, heteronormativity implies that there is a hard and fast line between genders. Men are men, and women are women. It's all black and white, allowing for no gray areas in between. 

This leads to the conclusion that heterosexuality is therefore the norm, but more importantly, that it is the only norm. It's not just one path an individual might take, but the acceptable one. 

Heterosexuality vs. Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity creates a cultural bias in favor of opposite-sex relationships of a sexual nature, and against same-sex relationships of a sexual nature.

Because the former are viewed as normal and the latter are not, lesbian and gay relationships are subject to a heteronormative bias.

Heteronormativity in Advertising and Entertainment

Examples of heteronormativity might include the under-representation of same-sex couples in advertising and entertainment media, although this is becoming increasingly rare. More and more television shows, including ABC's long-running Grey's Anatomy, feature homosexual couples. Many national brands have tapped into their homosexual consumer base in their commercials, including DirecTV in its pitch for its Sunday Ticket, Taco Bell, Coca Cola, Starbucks and Chevrolet. 

Heteronormativity and the Law 

Laws that actively discriminate against same-sex relationships, such as laws banning same-sex marriage, are prime examples of heteronormativity, but a change is underway in this sphere as well. The U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in its landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision in June 2015.

It wasn't a landslide vote – the decision was a narrow 5-4 – but it established all the same that states may not prevent same-sex couples from marrying. Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution gives them that right." Some states, most notably Texas, resisted, but the ruling and the law were nonetheless established and these states were held accountable for their decisions and heteronormative legislation.

 Obergefell v. Hodges established a precedent and a decided trend toward state approval with same-sex marriage, if not a landslide of change. 

Heteronormativity and Religious Bias 

Religious bias against same-sex couples is another example of heteronormativity, but a trend prevails here, too. Although the Religious Right has taken a firm stand against homosexuality, the Pew Research Center found that the issue is not that clear cut.

The Center conducted a study in December 2015, just six months after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and found that eight major religions actually sanctioned same-sex marriage, while 10 prohibited it. If but one faith swung to the other side, the numbers would have been evenly balanced. Islam, Baptists, Roman Catholics and Methodists fell on the heteronormative side of the equation, while the Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran and Presbyterian churches said they supported gay marriage. Two faiths – Hinduism and Buddhism – don't take a firm stance either way. 

The Fight Against Heteronormativity 

Like racism, sexism and heterosexism, heteronormativity is a bias that can may best be eliminated culturally, not legislatively. However, it can be argued that the 2015 Supreme Court decision went a very long way toward taking a stand against it.

From a civil liberties perspective, the government should not participate in heteronormativity by enacting heteronormative laws – but in recent years, it has not. The opposite has occurred, bringing hope for a brighter future. 

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Head, Tom. "What Does Heteronormativity Mean?" ThoughtCo, May. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-heteronormativity-721266. Head, Tom. (2017, May 10). What Does Heteronormativity Mean? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-heteronormativity-721266 Head, Tom. "What Does Heteronormativity Mean?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-heteronormativity-721266 (accessed September 22, 2017).