With Gay Marriage comes... Gay Divorce
You would think from listening to right wing pundits that gay marriage is key to the breakdown of America’s moral order. But, If statistics are to be believed, that threat to marriage comes more from the break-up of heterosexual unions since the introduction of no fault divorce in the 1970s. Today close to half of marriages in the United States end in divorce (with 20% occurring during the first five years). Marriage, it turns out, is its own worst enemy.
Then in the 1990s comes gay marriage to complicate matters even further. Conservatives did their best to categorize it as the end of the moral order as we know it, but progressive states (most notably those in New England led by Massachusetts) found legal grounds to allow for same sex couples to marry. The Massachusetts ruling came nearly six years ago; and in the ensuing period the ridiculous claims by conservatives failed to materialize. What did follow, though, was the inevitable progression from marriage, especially in the United States: gay divorce.
While gay divorce statistics aren’t readily available, the media coverage of same sex divorces leaves some wondering if this phenomena will be an additional argument for conservatives to use to deny equality.
What, though, is more pressing is the manner with which these divorces are handled across state lines, especially with most states not recognizing gay marriages in the first place.
First Comes Marriage...
Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage, and in the first four years more than 10,000 marriages were performed for gay and lesbian couples. In the ensuing years a number of states approved gay marriage (New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.); some approved then rescinded the decision (California, Maine); and a handful may not allow gay marriages to be performed within their borders, but recognize those from other states (New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland), While in California, following the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, some 18,000 marriages (which took place over a short four-month window from June to November) are recognized by the state.
Back in 2004, there was early on a lot of uncertainty following the Massachusetts ruling. Ken Harvey, author of the upcoming book A Passionate Engagement: A Memoir, remembers what it was like to get engaged and planning a wedding following the legalization.
"Those six months were fairly uncertain whether people going to get married," explained Harvey. "It was a time of being hopeful but not wanting to get crushed."
Harvey got married in January 2005 during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
But what of gay divorce in Massachusetts? Do the numbers match the national rates? Some early statistics have come out that those states with legalized gay marriage also have a lower divorce rate than other states. Massachusetts alone is the state that has seen the fewest divorces occurring over the last few years. In fact the state had the lowest divorce rate in the nation in 2007, revealed a report from the Division of Vital Statistics last October.
According to the Washington Post, "Nearly 10,000 gay and lesbian couples married after the ruling. Massachusetts does not keep records on the number who have divorced, but lawyers who specialize in family cases say it is in the dozens."
However, making a blanket statement that legalizing same sex marriage will lower the divorce rate in that state is too soon.
"We only have data back to 2004; six years isn’t enough to tell," Dr. Joni Frater, co-author of "Love Her Right: The Married Man’s Guide to Lesbian Secrets for Great Sex."
Daniel Clement, a divorce lawyer practicing in New York City, also warns against putting too much faith in the statistics because lower divorce rates have been a trend across the board.
"In states with same sex marriage, divorce has declined. I can’t explain it," Clement said. "The divorce rate as a whole has been down the same time the economy tanked.
"The statistics are skewed. In our society people move a lot, particularly in this economy and need to change jobs and find jobs in different states," concurs Steven Knowles, of Knowles Collum LLP in California.