It’s been 10 years since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that same-sex couples had the right to marry. At the time of the decision, anti-gay groups warned that the negative effects of the Goodridge decision wouldn’t be seen for several years, until the long-term sociological impacts on traditional families and relationships became apparent.
In a 2011 policy brief, Family Research Council (FRC) Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg described many of these “long-term effects” — including a decline in marriage rates and a rise in rates of divorce and marital infidelity. Ten years after Goodridge, however, Massachusetts demonstrates how little water the right-wing stories about marriage equality actually held:
PREDICTION: “FEWER PEOPLE WOULD MARRY”
In Massachusetts, where same-sex “marriages” began in May 2004, only 52% of same-sex couples who live together had even bothered to “marry” by the end of 2006. Among opposite-sex couples, the comparable figure is 91%. In the Netherlands, the figures are even lower, with only 12% of homosexual couples having entered legal civil “marriages.” Giving the option of same-sex “marriage” would tell society that marriage in general is “optional,” not normative, and fewer people would marry.
Massachusetts’ marriage rate increased 16 percent in the year after it legalized same-sex marriage, largely thanks to an influx of same-sex couples getting married in the state. Since then, the marriage rate has stabilized, hovering at a level around Massachusetts’ rate prior to its adoption of marriage equality.
PREDICTION: “FEWER PEOPLE WOULD REMAIN MARRIED FOR A LIFETIME”
Even a homosexual psychologist has acknowledged that “gay and lesbian couples dissolve their relationships more frequently than heterosexual couples.” The same Dutch study that showed the high rate of homosexual promiscuity also showed that the average homosexual male “partnership” lasts only 1.5 years. As the transience of homosexual relationships is incorporated in society’s image of “marriage,” we can expect that fewer heterosexuals would maintain a lifelong commitment.
Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That statistic aligns with research showing that states that have adopted marriage equality tend to have lower divorce rates than states that continue to deny marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.
PREDICTION: “FEWER CHILDREN WOULD BE RAISED BY A MARRIED MOTHER AND FATHER”
Social science has clearly proven clearly that children do best when raised by their own married biological mother and father. Yet legalizing same-sex “marriage” would put an official stamp of approval on the deliberate creation of permanently motherless or fatherless families. As scholar Stanley Kurtz says, this “would likely speed us on the way toward… more frequent out-of-wedlock birth, and skyrocketing family dissolution.”
The legality of same-sex marriage has little bearing on whether children will be raised by same-sex couples. A recent study found that urban areas without marriage equality had substantial rates of children being raised by gay parents.
As for the suggestion that marriage equality would result in out-of-wedlock births, Massachusetts recently reported its lowest teen birth rate in the state’s history. The rate of single-parenting in Massachusetts has slightly increased since 2003, but it’s remained in line with the growth in the national average.
PREDICTION: “MORE CHILDREN WOULD GROUP UP FATHERLESS”
Most children who live with only one biological parent will live with their mothers, and lesbian couples are more likely to be raising children than homosexual male couples. Therefore, with same-sex “marriage,” more children would suffer the specific negative consequences of fatherlessness, which include higher rates of youth incarceration among males and adolescent pregnancy among females. Research also shows negative outcomes for the children of sperm donors, who are used by some lesbian couples.
The claim that children fare worse when raised by same-sex parents has been thoroughly debunked and rejected by experts, so the fact that more same-sex couples are raising children is hardly an unexpected or negative consequence of marriage equality. FRC’s research relies on comparisons between married heterosexual parents and single-parent households, which don’t reflect the realities of families headed by same-sex couples.
PREDICTION: “BIRTH RATES WOULD FALL”
Same-sex “marriage” would eliminate the incentive for procreation that is implicit in defining marriage as a male-female union. There is already evidence of at least a correlation between same-sex “marriage” and low birth and fertility rates, both in the U.S. and abroad. While some people still harbor outdated fears about “over-population,” demographers now understand that declining birth rates harm society.
Birth rates have also dipped slightly in Massachusetts over the past several years, but that decrease has mirrored the U.S.’s overall birth rate decline, including in states that still ban same-sex marriage.
PREDICTION: “FEWER PEOPLE WOULD REMAIN MONOGAMOUS AND SEXUALLY FAITHFUL”
Among homosexual men, sex with multiple partners is tolerated and often expected. One study in the Netherlands showed that homosexual men with a steady partner had an average of eight sexual partners per year. If these behaviors are incorporated into what society affirms as “marriage,” then fidelity among heterosexuals would likely decline as well.
There’s no data to support the claim that the legalization of marriage equality has increased rates of infidelity or non-monogamy in Massachusetts, but other data points seem to contradict the suggestion that marriage equality has triggered a wave of infidelity. The increase in the state’s marriage rate and its divorce rate seem to undercut the claim that same-sex marriage has encouraged straight people to start pursuing extramarital activities.
PREDICTION: “DEMANDS FOR LEGALIZATION OF POLYGAMY WOULD GROW”
If a person’s choice of spouse cannot be limited based on the sex of one’s partner, it is hard to see how it could be limited based on the number of spouses either. This argument is already being pressed in the courts.
Polygamy remains illegal in Massachusetts, and there’s no evidence that that policy will change anytime soon. In fact, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled in a recent decision that the state’s prohibition on polygamy invalidated a couple’s same-sex marriage because one of the husbands hadn’t yet dissolved a civil union he had entered into in Vermont.
FRC has a history of touting wildly inaccurate anti-gay policy analysis, so it’s fitting that its predictions about the “long-term” effects” of marriage equality were so off the mark. Considering how wildly exaggerated the horror stories of anti-gay commentators tend to be, it’s a wonder anyone still takes their warnings seriously.