Gay Marriage Helps Straight Marriage?

Dale Carpenter cites an op-ed piece (subscription only, unfortunately) at the Wall Street Journal written by William Eskridge and Darren Spedale that shows that, contrary to the hysterical claims of the anti-gay crowd, traditional marriage got stronger after gay marriage was legalized in several countries. Carpenter sums up their findings:

Seventeen years after recognizing same-sex relationships in Scandinavia there are higher marriage rates for heterosexuals, lower divorce rates, lower rates for out-of-wedlock births, lower STD rates, more stable and durable gay relationships, more monogamy among gay couples, and so far no slippery slope to polygamy, incestuous marriages, or "man-on-dog" unions.

Well what a surprise. Let's look at what Eskridge and Spedale actually say in the op-ed piece.

[T]here is no evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry weakens the institution. If anything, the numbers indicate the opposite. A decade after Denmark, Norway and Sweden passed their respective partnership laws, heterosexual marriage rates had risen 10.7% in Denmark; 12.7% in Norway; and a whopping 28.8% in Sweden. In Denmark over the last few years, marriage rates are the highest they've been since the early 1970s. Divorce rates among heterosexual couples, on the other hand, have fallen. A decade after each country passed its partnership law, divorce rates had dropped 13.9% in Denmark; 6% in Norway; and 13.7% in Sweden. On average, divorce rates among heterosexuals remain lower now than in the years before same-sex partnerships were legalized.

In addition, out-of-wedlock birthrates in each of these countries contradict the suggestion by social conservatives that gay marriage will lead to great increases in out-of-wedlock births and therefore less family stability for children. In Denmark, the percentage of out-of-wedlock births was 46% in 1989; now it is 45%. In Norway, out-of-wedlock births jumped from 14% in 1980 to 45% right before partnerships were adopted in 1993; now they stand at 51%, a much lower rate of increase than in the decade before same-sex unions. The Swedish trend mirrors that of Norway, with much lower rates of increase post-partnership than pre-partnership.

Is there a correlation, then, between same-sex marriage and a strengthening of the institution of marriage? It would be difficult, and suspect, to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between these trends in heterosexual marriage and marriage rights for gays and lesbians. But the facts demonstrate that there is no proof that same-sex marriage will harm the institution of marriage, or children. An optimistic reading of the facts might even suggest that the energy and enthusiasm that same-sex couples bring to the institution of marriage may cause unmarried heterosexual couples to take a fresh look at marriage as an option.

It would be folly to argue that gay marriage caused those positive trends among heterosexual marriages. But at the very least, this pretty much shreds the notion that gay marriage "destroys" traditional marriage or harms it in any way. The authors also point out the enormous benefits for those in gay relationships when they have the protections of marriage:

Our research has also uncovered additional social benefits. In dozens of interviews with partnered couples and through other sources, we found that marriage rights had an important beneficial effect not only on the couples themselves, but on their local and national communities as well. Couples reported that their relationships were stronger and more durable, that relationships with family members had deepened, that co-workers had become more tolerant and supportive, and their children felt greater validation by having married parents. Many couples reported a greater emphasis on monogamy, which may be reflected by the fact that national rates of HIV and STD infections declined in each of the Scandinavian countries in the years after they passed their partnership laws.

That is very consistent with what I've heard reported here in the US over the last few years as gay marriage has come to the forefront. Within the gay community (a term I hate but don't have an adequate replacement for), those in committed relationships are increasingly seen as role models. This can only be healthy for them and for society, and one would think that social conservatives, if they were really motivated by anything but anti-gay animus, would want to encourage that to continue.

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I imagine the right will say how much better the numbers would have been if only gay marriage had stayed banned.

By Eric Juve (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

"..they'll just ignore the data completely."

Especially when it is from that bastion of liberal, pinko, communist proganda, the Wall Street Journal.

Well, john, if it isn't calling for the murder of supreme court justices and the stoning of suspected adulteresses, it IS a liberal pinko commie rag, at least to them.

Seems like Scandinavia is a nice place to live. Except it's damned cold. But at least they like hockey there.

Garrett, I think he story is roughly equivalent for the Netherlands, and less cold. And a lot of other godies there as well.....

They will totally discount the study entirely on the basis that Bill Eskridge is gay. Believe me, I know how they operate.

the position of the writers of this op ed piece are about as daffy as those who are arguing against Gay marriage .
Gay marriage will neither help nor harm heterosexual marriages ... the only down fall i see to allowing more marriages is teh fact, i will not be in on the racket to make money off the marriages (as a minister or judge) or the divorces (as a lawyer or a judge )

By Vic Vanity (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

Well, apparently being virulently against gay marriage leaves you at risk of becoming a homosexual yourself, if Ted Haggard's experience is anything to go by...

Actually I think the retort will be "but that's SCANDINAVIA! THIS IS THE UNITED STATES!"

By bollocksi miss… (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

Interestingly, this converges with some of the things that John Gottman has been observing in his studies of couples (married and otherwise) as they have arguments and discussions.

Seems to me that as more locales legalize some form of legal union for gays, more data will be coming in on this sort of question. As an empiricist, I know an empirical argument when I see it, and the "gay marriage will hurt straight marriage" is an hypothesis that makes straightforward empirical predictions.

If they aren't confirmed by the data, then this needs to be noted at every possible opportunity.

Once again, it should be noted that this line of argument (argument from evidence) does nothing to weaken the argument-from-morality. If your moral code forbids such legitimized unions, then your objections have to be addressed on those grounds.

But if people also want to try to make a utilitarian/pragmatic argument (because of the inherent power of pragmatics to people) then THIS type of argument CAN be addressed, by data. To the extent that the Stan Kurtz's of this world try to base their objections on the possible negative effects of straight marriage, and the data don't bear those out, then that weakens their position. Interesting, then to see how Kurtz and others cherry pick from obscure measures such as cohabitation rates, because the obvious and direct measures (marriage and divorce rates) don't support their hypothesis.

By boojieboy (not verified) on 03 Nov 2006 #permalink

OK, I have no idea how that happened. Sorry...

By boojieboy (not verified) on 03 Nov 2006 #permalink