The Religious Right loves to claim that legalizing gay marriage will turn straight people off marriage. There’s just one problem: it simply isn’t true, and now we have data analysis to show it.
The study, released in Plos One this month, sees researchers Alexis Dinno and Chelsea Whitney from the School of Community Health, Portland State University in Oregon, analyze marriage data from all fifty states plus the District of Columbia from 1989 through to and including 2009.
The study’s authors corrected for the general flux of marriage rates using a generalized “error correction” model on the premise that any deleterious effects gay marriage and gay unions bring to straight marriage rates should show up in the data.
What did they find?
“This research shows that increasing legal recognition of same-sex marriage has no effect on rates of opposite-sex marriage in states that passed same-sex marriage laws,” said Alexis Dinno, assistant professor of Community Health and the lead researcher for the project. “Concerns about potential harm to the rate of opposite-sex marriage resulting from same-sex marriage laws are not borne out by this research.”
The authors also note that this clarifies that marriage equality was not shown to boost straight marriage rates either. To put it simply, legalizing marriage equality doesn’t appear to have had any impact on heterosexual marriage rates at all. Why is this important?
As the study notes, anti-gay marriage forces regularly argue the line that marriage equality will have unforeseen consequences that could destroy heterosexual marriage.
Speaking directly to this, the study quotes testimony direct from the Proposition 8 case:
In a recent ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Perry the proponents argue “if the definition of marriage between a man and a woman is changed, it would fundamentally redefine the term from its original and historical procreative purpose. This shift in purpose would weaken society’s perception of the importance of entering into marriage to have children, which would increase the likelihood that couples would choose to cohabitate rather than get married” (Perry v. Brown, No. 10–16696, 111-112–9th Cir. Feb 7, 2012).
The study’s authors go on to say that if, as is accepted, the circumstances of marriage benefit a couple’s health and can benefit their children and it were proved that heterosexual marriage rates did decline as a result of allowing same-sex couples to marry, there may be a legitimate government interest in preventing same-sex marriages.
However, as the data does not reflect this, there is no such legitimate interest.
Furthermore, denying marriage to same-sex couples on this basis is not only unfounded, it prevents them from accessing the benefits of marriage and so this deprivation does them harm – something that has been shown to be true in other studies.
Dinno acknowledges that more states have now legalized marriage equality than was the case when conducting this analysis. As a result, we cannot draw direct conclusions on patterns in states like New York and, as the study notes, a trend away from reporting overall marriage rates means that data is now harder to come by anyway.
Another important caveat is that, as marriage equality is relatively new, data sets are limited and therefore picking out specific trends at the state level (say by county) is not yet possible.
However, these limitations do not directly dissuade us from addressing, in strict terms, the topic of study here: that gay marriage has not demonstrably affected a decline in straight marriage rates. It must be said that it would be easy to dismiss this study as telling America what it already knew — easy, but a mistake.
Studies like this are important as evidence-based counterpoints against the assertions of the Religious Right who accuse that gay marriage will destroy straight marriages. Unfortunately, this tactic is used with alarming frequency.
Just this week, anti-gay forces in the UK released a “Ten Good Reasons” to oppose marriage equality list. As part of that overview, the makers cite that marriage rates in Spain continued to fall after the country legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, as though to imply one caused the other. Needless to say, there is no evidence to support the inference.
The most we can say is that same-sex marriage failed to halt the downward trend in heterosexual marriage — but, of course, there’s no reason that it should, so this is not a criticism of same-sex marriage but the errant logic of marriage equality opponents.
The Dinno and Whitney analysis is therefore not only important for America, but for combating the claims of anti-gay groups across the world who continue to parrot that gay marriage is a poison pill to heterosexual relationships when in reality it is a relatively simple, benign matter: marriage equality grants same-sex couples the same status and rights as heterosexuals, as should have been the case all along.
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