Do same-sex couples “threaten” marriage? Are heterosexual unions somehow vulnerable if gays and lesbians have the same legal rights and benefits? The idea that marriage is “under attack” has become common rhetoric among anti-gay groups and public figures. GOP candidate Rick Santorum, for example, recently blamed LGBTs for the nationwide decline in marriage reported by the Pew Research Center.
But recent statistics out of New York dispute this. The Wall Street Journal reports that the city saw a 14 percent increase in marriages from July to December. New York State legalized same-sex marriage on July 24. Compared to the same time period in 2010, an additional 4,042 marriage licenses were issued last year.
City clerk Michael McSweeney told the WSJ that his office has been overwhelmed but thrilled by the boost. “It’s been much busier for us than this time last year,” he said. “But we’re delighted to see the extra business because we understand the impact.”
The state Department of Health is still gathering its own data on same-sex marriages and has yet to release an official number. In New York, counties aren’t required to collect gender information from marriage license applicants, so New York City doesn’t ask. “We don’t want to put people in a position of self-identification,” McSweeney told the WSJ.
However, officials point out that marriage statistics in New York City had been relatively stagnant before July 24. They estimate that gay and lesbian unions account for 12 percent of the total number of new marriages in the latter half of 2011. Some of the newlyweds are couples who had been waiting years or even decades to get married.
“It’s not that we were sitting around thinking this would finally legitimize our relationship,” said Allen Lieb, 59, who wed husband Bart Feller in the New York City Clerk’s Office in September. “But when it started to actually happen, we thought that it’s an important statement and it makes a big difference legally. It’s also a way to say thank you to the people who fought to make this happen.”
In Vermont and Iowa, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2009, a similar spike in marriage occurred after gays and lesbians became eligible for licenses.
Photo credit: Made Underground (Creative Commons Attribution License)