Thursday, September 07, 2006

Why Don't Homosexuals Rush to Marry Where They Can?

Eskridge and Spedale, in Gay Marriage: For Better or Worse? provide the first hard numbers I have seen on how many gay and lesbian couples would get married if they could. In Denmark, though country that has had gay marriage the longest – 15 years – only 5000 people (2500 couples) out of 5.4 million people have taken advantage of the law. A tenth of one percent of the population has registered a same-sex partnership. The best scientific estimate says that about 3% of the population is exclusively homosexual. The authors found even smaller percentages of the population using registered partnerships in Sweden and Norway, which have had similar laws for about a decade.

Eskridge and Spedale then conducted a very interesting survey of Danish homosexuals about their attitudes toward marriage and the registered partnership law. They do not report numbers for all of their findings, but they do quantify two crucial findings. First, the great majority ("more than three quarters") of their respondents thought registered partnerships were the equivalent of marriage. In other words, they are not holding back from registering until the law gave homosexual unions the same name as heterosexual ones. Second, most Danish homosexuals would get married, but the great majority ("about three quarters" of the unmarried) have not found the right person to permanently commit to.

What does this mean for the American same-sex marriage debate? Scandinavia has a different culture from ours in many respects, especially with regard to marriage. Still, I think we can get a rough guess of what would happen here if homosexual marriage were legalized across the board. I think that there would be a rush of marriages at first, but it would quickly taper off. The overall same-sex marriage rate would not begin to approach the heterosexual marriage rate. I don't think that gap would ever be closed. This doesn't settle the question of whether it would be worth creating legal same-sex marriage for the benefit of that minority of homosexuals who want it. But, fear it or favor it, there is not likely to be a big wave of same-sex marriages no matter how welcoming and equal the law might be.

14 comments:

WHA said...

Can you use this to draw conclusions about what would happen in the US? Unless I'm mistaken, the northern European countries you mentioned have the lowest marriage rates in the world, hetero- and homosexual alike.

Alan said...

The stats I've seen from Boston (which is not a Scandanavian country) shows that you're right. There has been no huge rush to marriage. The preliminary number of marriage certificates issued and registered in Massachusetts from May 17 to December 31, 2004:

Male/Female: 27,045
Male/Male: 2,123
Female/Female: 3,871

(Of course, we don't know how many of those people are actually from MA.)

These kinds of numbers punch a major hole in the hysterical "gay marriage will change our entire society!" argument.

Mark Smith said...

I think it'll be the next generation that rushes to same-sex marriage.

After all, the current generations (say, gay couples over age 30) have gotten used to working around the roadblocks. With the exception of things like inheritance and medical issues, most of the legal roadblocks can be gotten around. Also, these couples are used to considering themselves married/partnered without the piece of paper.

The next generation will be the one that uses the "new" rules to get married. They have grown up through marriages (mainly hetero homes) and if marriage is legal for them they will be more likely to choose marriage.

If X was not an option for years, and now it is but you've lived fine without X for so long, how much of a hurry are you in to choose X? On the other hand, if X was always possible for you, why avoid it?

Alan said...

Yes, I agree it'll be the next generation, and those who want children.

"With the exception of things like inheritance and medical issues, most of the legal roadblocks can be gotten around."

Well, even those can be resolved, kinda, if you have enough money for a really good attorney. But some things like social security benefits can't be transfered at all. Second parent adoption by LGBT couples is also a major legal roadblock that marriage would rectify.

Rocker said...

Can two people of the same sex give to a child what two opposite sex parents can give them? assuming men and women are different?

Alan said...

Love? Um...yeah, I'd say so.

If I were the cynical/suspicious type I'd say you might be in the mood to hijack the thread to argue about gay adoption. :)

SPorcupine said...

"With the exception of things like inheritance and medical issues, most of the legal roadblocks can be gotten around"

No, that's not the whole sequence. Marriage gets pretty close to hitting every aspect of legal existence.

It's got rules about owning property.

It's got rules about who has to pay off debts, which make it easier to get and use credit.

It's got rules about what happens to wealth and income if someone walks out.

It's got rules about what happens to wealth and income if somone dies.

it's got rules about what happen to wealth and income if someone goes into a coma and can't make independent decisions.

It's got rules about who can get information from someone else's doctor.

It's got rules about who can give directions to someone else's doctor.

When you get a job, it brings added benefits, like family health care premiums.

When you pay into Social Security, it brings with spouse and survivor benefits.

If the spouse dies without a will, marriage determines who inherits.

If the spouse dies with a mean and spiteful will, in most states, marriage insures at least some inheritance anyway.

And again, we have not yet begun the issues of conceiving children, giving birth, adopting, raising children, handling custody after a death or divorce, signing kids out of school, signing kids into the doctor's office or the hospital, and so on.

Those rules are in dozens of state statutes, dozens of federal statutes, a fair number of local ordinances, local school board policies, personnel manuals, job contracts, deeds, and case law. In any given county, the stack would be several feet high, and the stack in the next county would be at least a little different.

Hiring g a lawyer good enough to get close to matching that would use up almost any couple's entire wealth.

And that would be if they fully agreed on what the lawyer should set up. If they disagree, the rules for lawyers say they should have two different attorneys, and once they have two different attorneys, they relationship has already been transformed beyond recognition.

From a legal perspective, there are no ways to get close to marriage other than marriage.

Rocker said...

if men and women are different and a child needs needs both to develop then he or she will need more than "love," but maybe two people of the same sex can compensate for the missing opposite sex in the rearing of children.

A polygamous couple can give "love' to children, as well as a lot of other folks, but that doesnt mean it is ideal for children.

Alan said...

if men and women are different and a child needs needs both to develop then he or she will need more than "love,"

Your first assumption, that men and women are different is a reasonable one. Your second, that a child needs both to develop is not.

I would assume that a polygamous relationship would act much like extended families did in the early part of this century, but I don't know of any research to support that idea. I think the "care of the children" argument would be pretty tough to make regarding polygamous relationships.

All this focus on polygamy is fascinating. Is there some epidemic of polygamy going on that I don't know about? ;)

Chris said...

Sporcupine,

Practically everything on your list can be taken care of with a simple durable power of attorney.

As for health & social security benefits, let's remember that those were conferred for the protection of child-bearing couples where one adult worked and the other raised the children. You can call that antiquated, but you should at least consider the historical precedent in making your argument.

The Princeton Principles has done exhaustive work in laying out the rational and historical reasons for the benefits that come with marriage in America - and why those benefits should remain limited to those unions which normally produce offspring.

Alan said...

There are, according to a non-partisan GAO report

http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04353r.pdf

there are 1,138 federal benefits given to married heterosexual people, granted solely on the basis of their chosen "lifestyle." :) There are numerous state and local benefits as well. Many of those benefits are not touched by durable power of attorney, or estate planning. There is no evidence that granting those benefits to the small number of same-sex couples that would choose to get married would be any kind of burden on society.

In addition, an ever increasing number of same-sex couples are choosing to have children.

Concerned said...

Please help me as I must be confused by the numbers. Alan posted on September 7, to validate that, “These kinds of numbers punch a major hole in the hysterical "gay marriage will change our entire society!" argument.”

Allan posted the following:
"The preliminary number of marriage certificates issued and registered in Massachusetts from May 17 to December 31, 2004:

Male/Female: 27,045
Male/Male: 2,123
Female/Female: 3,871"

If I understanding the above numbers, correctly, over eighteen percent (18%) of all the marriage certificates issued in the seven (7) months mentioned were between same sex couples.

If, as stated, by Professor Weston, in the original posting, that the best scientific estimate says that about 3% of the population is exclusively homosexual then these statistics are unbelievably high and would punch a major hole in the argument that same sex marriages will not change marriage as we have know it.

Again, if these numbers are correct, Massachusetts' experience proves things have changed in that state and it would not be a stretch to expect it to change in states where same sex marriages are legalized.

Gruntled said...

Well, the initial Massachusetts numbers probably reflect pent-up demand. I think Eskridge and Spedale and right that it is only now, a decade-plus into the Scandinavian experiment, that we can start to see what normal demand might look like.

Alan's point is that the numbers of homosexual marriages would not be threateningly large in the long run. I agree with him. On the other hand, these low marriage numbers do suggest that homosexual couple commitment levels are not very impressive. Some commitment is better than none, but it does undermine the contention (of others -- I don't think Alan has said this) that homosexual marriage would be the same as traditional marriage.

Alan said...

Also remember that those numbers were from 2004. In 2006, the MA Supreme Court decided that only people who intend to reside in MA can get married there. So though the 18% is higher than even the highest estimate of LGBT people in the population, it probably reflects a significantly larger proportion of people who are not MA residents than the heterosexual marriage numbers.

I believe initially we would probably not see the same kinds of numbers of marriages among gay people as we see for heterosexual people. For one thing, as mark smith commented earlier, lots of gay couples have been living together happily for many years and may not see the necessity of marriage. For another thing, given the 50% divorce rate among heterosexuals, I'm not sure such easy marriage is something gay people would even want to emulate if they could.