The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Monday Morning Marriage Blogging

Monday morning is usually pretty busy for me, so it seems like as good a time as any for a round-up post. I don’t get to do as much reading (or writing for that matter) as I’d like to, but when I do I always find stuff I’d like to blog about but know that I’ll never have the time. It’s a mix of blog posts and news items that that caught my eye, and usually started me thinking of something I’d like to write.

Gay couples in California will officially start getting married today. I’ve been collecting posts and articles about marriage, meaning to write a blog post, but haven’t had the time to put them all into a context and stitch them together with some kind of narrative. If I wait until I do, I never will. So, I present them here now in round-up format, with abbreviated comments where I’ve had time to think about something to say.

I get a little feeling gratification when I read a publication like the New York Times and read something I blogged about years ago. Though it’s nothing new, it was nice to see this article on how same-sex marriage sheds light on gender in marriage.

For insights into healthy marriages, social scientists are looking in an unexpected place.

A growing body of evidence shows that same-sex couples have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships. Most studies show surprisingly few differences between committed gay couples and committed straight couples, but the differences that do emerge have shed light on the kinds of conflicts that can endanger heterosexual relationships.

The findings offer hope that some of the most vexing problems are not necessarily entrenched in deep-rooted biological differences between men and women. And that, in turn, offers hope that the problems can be solved.

…The stereotype for same-sex relationships is that they do not last. But that may be due, in large part, to the lack of legal and social recognition given to same-sex couples. Studies of dissolution rates vary widely.

After Vermont legalized same-sex civil unions in 2000, researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 couples, including same-sex couples and their heterosexual married siblings. The focus was on how the relationships were affected by common causes of marital strife like housework, sex and money.

Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll.

“Heterosexual married women live with a lot of anger about having to do the tasks not only in the house but in the relationship,” said Esther D. Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. “That’s very different than what same-sex couples and heterosexual men live with.”

It’s something I observed a while back; a couple of times actually. The first was when I noticed that in our old babysitting co-op, even in the most progressive heterosexual couples, the lion’s share of the housework. Later, in a post about a moral context for homosexuality, I wrote about how legal same-sex marriage has implications for gender equality.

The threat of legal same-sex marriage, then, is actually doubled. It carries one step further the progress that’s lead to women no longer having to “submit to their husbands”; they might volunteer, a’la the “surrendered wife” model, but not many women have to marry and thus “submit to their husbands” as a necessity for survival. Social progress changed the status of women, and the same people who oppose same-sex marriage would like to undo that progress to whatever degree they can. Legal same-sex marriage further cements those social changes, and makes it even harder to turn back the clock.

It’s no coincidence that the political forces opposed to same-sex marriage or marriage equality also oppose gender equality and advocate returning to more strictly enforced gender roles

The Institute for Progressive Christianity used to have a document on its website called “The Kingdom of god and the Witness of Gay Marriage.” It seems to have disappeared from their site, perhaps lost in a switch to a new CMS platform from the look of things. But you can find a good summary of it here. Fortunately, for my purposes here, I quoted the significant passages in my previous blog post.

1. Gay marriages demonstrate the possibility and desirability of gender equality in any marriage by modeling a relationship where the parties to the marriage do not distribute roles and responsibilities based on gender. This modeling supports the positive transformation of the curse of gender conflict, and subsequent patriarchal domination pronounced at the Fall from Paradise into gender egalitarianism .

2. Gay marriage’s ascendancy and resilience in society participates in a fundamental shift of the culture’s understanding of marriage. That is, marriage is being transformed from a utilitarian arraignment grounded in the idea that women are sexual property to an egalitarian life journey with a partner who one chooses to develop and share mutual love, affection, respect, and support.

… One of the most obvious issues to which gay marriage speaks is gender equality. One of the strongest and most relied upon objections to gay marriage from the Right is that it violates the concept of gender complementarity. Gender complementarity is the metaphysical claim that men’s and women’s social functions in the world are determined dichotomously by their biological sex, such that where men are convex women are concave.

Undergirding the concept of gender complementarity is the assumption that men are metaphysically meant to rule over women (ideally in the spirit of love, of course) and women are metaphysically meant to serve men.

… Thus, from the gender complementarian perspective, those who act as though women and men gain equal spiritual, emotional, psychological, and existential satisfaction and dignity from leading and serving, and are meant to experience both of these sides of the human psyche, are disordered, as are those who advocate this notion of equality and balance.

The possibility of gay marriage invites heterosexuals to view their intimate partners (or potential intimate partners) not through a lens of gendered otherness primarily —that is through the lens of gender complementarity— but through the lens of sameness, that is through the lens of sharing a common human dignity, as it was in the beginning.

That doesn’t mean that same-sex marriages are any less difficult than opposite-sex marriages, as the article points out.

The findings suggest that heterosexual couples need to work harder to seek perspective. The ability to see the other person’s point of view appears to be more automatic in same-sex couples, but research shows that heterosexuals who can relate to their partner’s concerns and who are skilled at defusing arguments also have stronger relationships.

One of the most common stereotypes in heterosexual marriages is the “demand-withdraw” interaction, in which the woman tends to be unhappy and to make demands for change, while the man reacts by withdrawing from the conflict. But some surprising new research shows that same-sex couples also exhibit the pattern, contradicting the notion that the behavior is rooted in gender, according to an abstract presented at the 2006 meeting of the Association for Psychological Science by Sarah R. Holley, a psychology researcher at Berkeley.

Dr. Levenson says this is good news for all couples.

“Like everybody else, I thought this was male behavior and female behavior, but it’s not,” he said. “That means there is a lot more hope that you can do something about it.”

Doing something about it, of course, is work. And marriage is a public commitment to doing that work, which tends to raise the stakes. Some people, understandably enough, still wonder if marriage is for them.

Yes, there will be a rush of weddings beginning Tuesday, the day most counties will start issuing marriage licenses (a few are to begin Monday night). But there will also be questions, though not always voiced aloud:

Is this the right person? Is this the right time? Is marriage right for me?

“Up until now, we’ve never had to think about those questions,” said the Rev. Neil G. Thomas, senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles, which was founded to minister to the gay community when many mainline churches wouldn’t.

Gay couples have long held commitment ceremonies, registered as domestic partners or just grown old together in lifelong committed relationships.

But marriage?

“In a sense, it changes nothing,” said Jeffrey Chernin, a family therapist who works with both gay and straight couples.

“But in another sense, it changes everything.”

…Ken Howard, a psychotherapist who works with gay men in West Hollywood, said that for some gay couples marriage raises significant financial issues.

Although marriage brings benefits that can be a boon, especially for low-income couples, it also brings shared responsibilities and debts.

Some financial advisors, for example, counsel gay couples not to register as domestic partners if one or both partners have HIV and could leave the other on the hook for potentially catastrophic medical bills.

“For legal and financial reasons, a couple may not want to be legally tied,” Howard said.

…For some, marriage may not be politically palatable. Just as heterosexuals in the 1960s and ’70s began to challenge marriage as an institution, some gay people resist adopting the mainstream model of marriage and children.

The option of marriage is in some ways a Rorschach test, revealing generational as well as cultural divides. Segments of the community still equate gay liberation with sexual freedom or see marriage as a sexist institution that oppresses women. Others have children, joint mortgages and all the accouterments of mainstream culture.

And for gay immigrants legal same-sex marriage can mean the added pressure of parental expectations.

When I left India for America, my aunts worried about who I might end up marrying. “I hope you’ll marry another Bengali,” an aunt told me. Over the years that relaxed to, “I hope she’s a Hindu, even if she’s not Bengali.” Then it became, “At least another Indian,” until finally we reached, “I hope you’ll get married to someone before we all die.”

She probably didn’t mean another man.

But now it might just happen. Same-sex marriage is on a roll in California. First a Republican-dominated Supreme Court said there was no reason gays and lesbians couldn’t get married. Now there comes a new Field poll that says that, for the first time ever, a majority of Californians think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

As the pink confetti settles around us, I’m left wondering how immigrants are going to come out anymore. Many of us come from countries that really don’t have a word for “gay.” India certainly doesn’t. There are epithets and some rather technical terms. Coming out in India is usually about marriage. This is the default coming out line: “Mom, Dad, I don’t think I am going to get married.”

Now the California Supreme Court has yanked that line away.

But it’s not just immigrants. The rest of us, as I pointed out earlier, may have to deal with the marriage expectation ourselves.

If gay people can legally marry and adopt, etc., will we be expected or even pressured to settle down, marry, and maybe have kids? Will our friends and family start asking us when we’re going to “make an honest man/woman” out of our partners? Will our parents start bugging us about rings and baby cribs? Will more of us start considering it ourselves?

Would that be such a bad thing? Well, more gay people marrying for the wrong reasons (to shut up friends and relatives, because everyone wants them to, etc.) wouldn’t be any better for us than it is for heterosexuals. But marriage, with all its much touted benefits for heterosexuals (better health, longer lives, higher income, etc.) when it works, might be just as good for us as it is for them.

But that’s easy for me to say. I’m already married (well not in the legal sense), so nobody’s nudging me towards the altar.

The expectation to marry seems to stem from the expectation to finally “grow up,” which seems to mean — but shouldn’t necessarily — acquiring a marriage license, a mortgage, and maternity wear; in that general order. The expectation, I think, stems from people having already acquired the above, who are doing the work to hold it altogether, which they view as a sign of maturity. (Which is maybe simply a matter of showing a willingness to commit to something.) But does everyone have to do that work?

So, same-sex marriage is just as much work, and stands an equal chance of not panning out.

Some same-sex couples say being married has made a big difference, and some say it has made no difference at all. There are devoted couples who have decided marriage is not for them, couples whose lawyers or accountants advised them against marrying, and couples in which one partner wants to marry but the other does not.

But as same-sex marriage begins in California, Massachusetts’s experience may offer hints of what is to come. For example, after an initial euphoric rush to the altar, the number of gay weddings here fell sharply and has declined each year since. Of the more than 10,500 same-sex couples married here since May 17, 2004, 6,121 wed in the first six months. There were 2,060 weddings in 2005; 1,442 in 2006; and 867 in the first eight months of 2007, the most recent data show.

Gay men and lesbians say the early wave of weddings reflected “pent-up demand” from longstanding couples. The subsequent numbers indicate that “marriage isn’t for everybody,” said Mary L. Bonauto, a lawyer who argued the case that led to same-sex marriage being legalized here. And, Ms. Bonauto said, “there’s only so many gay people in Massachusetts.”

For opponents of marriage equality, that might amount to an “ah-ha!” moment, as they tend to fall back on pointing out how many same-sex marriages fail. (Never mind how many heterosxual marriages fail. But that’s probably our fault, somehow.) And they tend to fall back on the assertion that, according to them “most gay people don’t want to get married anyway.” It never seems to occur to them that in both of those assumptions — if they’re even remotely true — we’re not that different from same-sex couples.

Yes, some of us will choose not to go the route of getting legally married. In that regard, we’re not that different from heterosexuals who view cohabitation as an acceptable choice.

An analysis of cohabitation, marriage and divorce data from 13 countries, including the USA, shows that living together has become so mainstream that growing numbers of Americans view it as an alternative to marriage.

The National Marriage Project study of a sampling of Western European and Scandinavian nations, Australia, Canada and New Zealand found that cohabitation elsewhere is far more common and indeed viewed as an option to matrimony. The study found that anywhere from 15% to 30% of all couples identified themselves as living together, compared with about 10% right now in the USA.

“We’re still the most marrying of all these countries, but the data are clearly headed in the one common direction. It’s headed in the direction of cohabitation as an alternative,” says David Popenoe, the report’s author and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, which studies marriage and child well-being.

Because the most recent data analyzed from some countries is two years old or more, and because increasing numbers of celebrities are living together, Popenoe says his projections take into account slight increases over time.

…A previous study by the same group showed that since 1970, the number of Americans living together has increased from about 500,000 opposite-sex couples to more than 5 million.

Using databases of Census-like information in the countries studied, the new analysis found that the marriage rate is down in all countries except Norway and Sweden, which have had traditionally low marriage rates. In the USA from 1995 to 2005, the marriage rate declined almost 20%.

The opposition might jump on that last paragraph, but Ed pointed to an article that has already debunked the disinformation about Norway, etc.

Social conservatives suggest that legal recognition of same-sex couples has harmed society. Sen. Bill Frist has stated that “years of de facto same-sex marriage in Scandinavia has further weakened marriage”; similar claims have been made by Sens. John Cornyn, Rick Santorum, James Inhofe and Sam Brownback.

However, there 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

…Social conservatives suggest that legal recognition of same-sex couples has harmed society. Sen. Bill Frist has stated that “years of de facto same-sex marriage in Scandinavia has further weakened marriage”; similar claims have been made by Sens. John Cornyn, Rick Santorum, James Inhofe and Sam Brownback.

However, there 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

The numbers don’t hold up either.

Despite what Kurtz might say, the apocalypse has not yet arrived. In fact, the numbers show that heterosexual marriage looks pretty healthy in Scandinavia, where same-sex couples have had rights the longest. In Denmark, for example, the marriage rate had been declining for a half-century but turned around in the early 1980s. After the 1989 passage of the registered-partner law, the marriage rate continued to climb; Danish heterosexual marriage rates are now the highest they’ve been since the early 1970’s. And the most recent marriage rates in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland are all higher than the rates for the years before the partner laws were passed. Furthermore, in the 1990s, divorce rates in Scandinavia remained basically unchanged.

Of course, the good news about marriage rates is bad news for Kurtz’s sky-is-falling argument. So, Kurtz instead focuses on the increasing tendency in Europe for couples to have children out of wedlock. Gay marriage, he argues, is a wedge that is prying marriage and parenthood apart.

No matter how you slice the demographic data, rates of nonmarital births and cohabitation do not increase as a result of the passage of laws that give same-sex partners the right to registered partnership. To put it simply: Giving gay couples rights does not inexplicably cause heterosexuals to flee marriage, as Kurtz would have us believe. Looking at the long-term statistical trends, it seems clear that the changes in heterosexuals’ marriage and parenting decisions would have occurred anyway, even in the absence of gay marriage.

And all the conservative hand-wringing seems especially unnecessary when you consider the various incentives that encourage American heterosexual couples to marry. By marrying, U.S. couples obtain health-insurance coverage, pensions, and Social Security survivor benefits. Plus, in the United States we are required by law to be financially responsible for our spouses in bad times, since we don’t have Scandinavian-style welfare programs to fall back on.

Yes, some of us will divorce. But I found an interesting take on the divorce issue at Hugo Schwyer’s blog.

And of course, I’m thinking about the fascinating conservative argument that allowing gays and lesbians to marry is somehow bad for marriage as an institution. I’m quite confident that my marriage — to a woman — will be just as strong next week as it is today, and most honest heterosexual married folks would say the same.

I work a lot with young people. I got married to my third wife in May 2001, and we separated just over a year later. The kids in my youth group threw a shower for us before we were married, and they — especially the girls — wanted stories about the proposal, the ceremony, the honeymoon, the dress, and so forth. My third wife and I indulged them. When I announced our separation in October 2002, many of these same kids were devastated. I remember that night in youth group vividly: several teens wept. Two of the girls were furious with me, one choosing not to speak to me for several months. When she finally did want to talk, she told me that my divorce had made her feel hopeless and bereft. She told me she was much more cynical about marriage as a consequence.

What this painful experience taught me is this: heterosexual divorce disillusions a hell of a lot more kids than will homosexual marriage. I’ve seen how my divorce(s) hurt the young people in my life; I’ve never seen any evidence of a young person being “damaged” by their awareness of a same-sex union. Yet no religious conservative tried to stop me from marrying again (and again, and again.) The divorce rate among evangelical Protestants in this country is famously as high as it is for their secular brethren, of course, so most pastors are keenly aware that the condemnation of remarriage after divorce will lose them their congregation lickety-split. Gays and lesbians are a safer target. In this sense, those within the Catholic tradition who refuse remarriage after divorce are on more consistent ground when they oppose gay marriage than those within most branches of American Protestantism, who allow multiple “do-overs”.

Sometimes, though, our commitments are tested, challenged, and even sabotaged — in a way I don’t think most heterosexual couples have to face — by people who believe our relationships and our commitments are immoral. Via Truth Wins Out, I came across this amazing story one relationship “hijacked by hate.”

From our first meeting in Aug 1999, until he met Kathryn Rock sometime in 2001, Beecher Goodwin and I were quite happy with each other. Soon after he met Kathryn, his headaches began.

As time passed his headaches grew worse and more frequent. By 2004, they were posing a serious health risk. The worse his headaches got, the worse our relationship got.

We were always angry at each other, and didn’t know why. We were uncomfortable around each other, and didn’t understand what was causing that either. By 2004, we could barely have a conversation. People close to us spoke of the invisible wall that had come up between us.

When Beecher finally left, in Feb. 2005, the headaches were so severe that they sometimes left him bedridden. He needed to leave, he said, so that the headaches would stop.

After he left our apartment in San Francisco, he went to live with his sister in Texas. The headaches grew worse. Six months later, he moved to Surprise Arizona to live with Kathryn Rock and her new husband, Stephen Polich. The headaches stopped that same day and never returned. He moved in with Kathryn and Stephen because “Kathryn needs me” (Beecher’s actual words)

This was the same Kathryn Rock who admitted to people that she was deliberately instigating trouble between Beecher and I. The same Kathryn Rock who said she was going to get us out of our lives “no matter what I have to do.”

Not that she would, but Ms. Rock might do well to read open letter to gay marriage protestors posted at Fundie Watch.

On the evening of 10 April, at the intersection of Main and Church streets in Elmira, I managed to talk to a small group of people as they protested against gay marriage in New York State. Although they were unaware of it at the time, they were able to provide me with a rare opportunity I had been seeking: the chance to teach my son about the values of those who take a stand against gay marriage.

First and foremost, I taught my son about Ignorance. This is the most important of these values, as without it, none of the others would exist. Ignorance is a difficult concept to teach a young child, as they are naturally inquisitive. Additionally, in a household such as mine, ideas such as critical thought, analysis and rational skepticism are highly valued; fortunately, none of these were on display at the protest. Rather, the people on the corner had suppressed that instinctive curiosity, and what I did see were the knee-jerk reaction, close-mindedness and the general fear of learning so typical of virulent opponents to gay marriage…

Secondly, I was able to teach my son about Hatred. For many people, hatred is unheard of; at worst, “dislike” is as strong a reaction as one could feel (for those seeking a semantic argument, I would point out the wide gulf between hatred and dislike). Hatred is, in a metaphoric sense, the direct descendant of ignorance. By logical extension, acts of hatred, in whatever form, are therefore acts of ignorance…

With the development of hatred, we have the catalyst necessary for the third value, Exclusion. This value, obviously, forms the crux of the argument: “the right to marry, which we have, should be denied to gay couples because of who they are.” From a historical view, we see the same patterns of ignorance, hatred and exclusion (as well as the same tired arguments) happening during slavery, in the writing of Jim Crow laws, the butchery of the Indian Resettlement Acts, the development of miscegenation laws, etc., all of which we (for the most part) recognize as archaic and wrong.

Finally, there’s one quote from that open letter that I wanted to save for last.

Even more obvious was the astounding lack of logic or factual basis for this group’s claims; one sign in particular read, “Save the Kids! Say NO to Gay Marriage!” Now, any rational person would ask, “what harm can come to children if same-sex couples are allowed to wed?” While such desperate, emotional pandering would instantly expose the fundamental absence of reason in their argument, these people genuinely believed they were “saving the kids” despite any evidence for their position! Because of its high value in an argument completely lacking reason, it follows that ignorance serves as the keystone of their beliefs; without ignorance, their view of the world cannot exist.

What harm? Well, none, unless their parents happen to be gay, unable to marry, and thus unable to provide their children with the protections and benefits of having parents who are married to each other. Other than that, our kids turn out … well … pretty darn amazing, in my biased opinion.

In that light, it seems appropriate to wrap up with Dana’s post about the children of LGBT parents responding to Blogging for LGBT Families Day.

Dawn at Growing a Pair writes of her parent’s divorce and how attitudes towards LGBT people have affected her, even though she is straight:

You see, during my parent’s divorce, my mother’s “orientation” was of great interest to my father, and my father’s lawyers…. At different times, I was asked to testify in court as to the nature of my mom’s relationship, who slept where, who parented whose children. I was 19. There was a lot I didn’t know then about how the world works, and shouldn’t have been expected to….

I rail against a machine that refuses to recognize same-sex couples, and yet I benefit from the same machine that sees my own relationship as “legitimate.” But the law and our nation’s attitude has cost me plenty, beyond the basic rights that my friends and family cannot enjoy. It was a part of the reason that my mom and I did not have a relationship for almost three years….

Today I’m writing for families like my own. Families like those we love. (We often note that our kids think a heterosexually-headed family is the anomaly, because we have just as many single and same-sex families in our sphere.) The best thing we can do is keep teaching our children, keep pushing our government, and keep telling our stories.

Starting tomorrow, at least in California, one of those stories will be “the day I married your mother/father.”

2 Comments

  1. Very indepth post. I thought my post on gay marriage was long! Thank you for taking the time write it all.

  2. I’m delighted to see my story about Kathryn Rock & Beecher Goodwin of Surprise AZ
    linked here~~thank you for the link & the comments.

    It should be pointed out that what Kathryn Rock did~~brainwashing a mentally ill gay man so as to destroy his relationship & control his life~~
    is legal!

    There are no laws at all that address
    the evil things that Kathryn Rock has done.
    Mentally ill LGBTs are particularly vulnerable to predators like Rock~~we need to enact laws that will protect them.

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