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No Rush

Jim Burroway

May 15th, 2006

Dale Carpenter’s op-ed from the May 11, 2006 Bay Area Reporter has been posted at the Independent Gay Forum in response to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy’s report (PDF: 280KB/12 pages) which suggests that gays aren’t really much interested in marriage. According to that report:

The highest estimate to date of the proportion of gays and lesbians who have married in any jurisdiction where it is available is 16.7% (Massachusetts). More typically, our survey of marriage statistics from various countries that legally recognize same-sex unions suggests that today between 1% and 5% of gays and lesbians have entered into a same-sex marriage.

Dale has some very interesting thoughts on this, beginning with the idea that if so few gays marry when given the option, then it’s very difficult to see exactly what kind of harm they would pose to the institution.

But assuming the report is true (and as far as I am able to discern, there aren’t any seriously glaring weaknesses that would suggest otherwise), the question that springs to mind is why are so few gays marrying? Dale suggests five reasons:

  • A gay couple in Massachusetts can marry all they want, but it still means nothing at the federal level.
  • The idea of marriage is still new to gay people. Until now, not many gays and lesbians have really had to sit down and examine what the option of marriage means in their lives.
  • Gay couples have no gay married role models to follow, nor is there much peer or familial pressure to get married.
  • Before now, with marriage off the table, there was little social encouragement to support the kind of stable, long-term relationships that lead to marriage.
  • Some gays, having been excluded from marriage, have developed what he calls an “oppositional identity” with regard to marriage.

Whatever the reasons, it appears that this much is true: despite the accusations leveled against gays and lesbians, they really do take marriage very seriously. Having been denied it for all their lives, they are much less likely to rush into marriage for all of the same superficial reasons that a small number of heterosexual couples do. (Britney Speers provides the best over-used example.) I suspect that, as Dale points out, the prospect of marrying someone “’til death do us part” is a very daunting prospect for those who until now never considered marriage would ever be a possibility for themselves.

In my view, the low marriage rate is a positive development. I suspect it will be the younger generation who will be more inclined to consider the possibilities of settling down and getting married. When there’s no one around saying it can’t be done, they will be free to imagine themselves marrying “when they grow up,” just like everyone else

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