Comparing Gay Couples to Straight Couples
November 4th, 2009
Comparing gay couples to straight couples can be complex. Often it is difficult to define terms such that comparable things are being compared. What is a “couple”, what is a “relationship”?
Those anti-gays who are dishonest (or, let’s charitably say, confused) will compare the gold standard of heterosexual relationships, marriage, to the least committed of casual dating arrangements for gay people and declare that gay relationships are inferior. But little effort is made to define the terms or what qualifies as entry into the category being compared.
In society, we see a distinction between dating and being married. We don’t hold a new boyfriend to the standard we expect from a husband. And even if a man and a woman have been together for three or four years, until they marry we continue to look at such relationships as potential or temporary.
Until vows are said, commitments are not assumed. Once that step – and a significant step it is – has been taken, then family, faith, the community, society, and the law step in to collectively define this relationship as a couple, as two becoming one.
But for our community, we have in most states been denied the opportunity to take the step of marriage. We could not “tie the knot” that binds two into one. We had no couples to present for comparison because we were denied the ability to create such couples.
But change is coming. There are now a handful of states (four, soon to be five) in which the family, faith, the community, society and the law can agree that two men or two women have become a single entity, married.
And although this may be denied by majorities of voters in most of the nation, there are also those same-sex couples that are finding ways to get some of these to come to agreement. Perhaps they will get family and community to recognize their union. Or perhaps their faith and a portion of society – even in our losses, such as Maine, we see that there is a significant portion of society that will recognize such unions. And in some places where the law will not see a union of souls, it will at least acknowledge an administrative equivalency.
And analysis of census data shows that there is now a growing collection of same-sex couples that have found ways of becoming in their hearts, and in the hearts of those most important to them, married. (A/P)
The data from the annual American Community Survey showed that nearly 150,000 same-sex couples in the U.S., or more than one in four, referred to one another as “husband” or “wife,” although UCLA researchers estimate that no more than 32,000 of the couples were legally married.
So we now have a pool of married gays (and “married” gays) to offer up in comparison to married straights. We no longer have to weigh the value of church endorsed, white gowned, pomp and circumstanced heterosexual married bliss against a two month old “open” relationship between two boys who met at a bar.
And how do we compare?
Analysis of commonalities and differences is only in its infancy. We’ve only had for but a few years a measure for comparison. And until very recently, the census taking apparatus which might provided some answers has been banned from even discussing the matter.
But some researchers, such as Gary Gates at UCLA, have been finding ways to tweak the data to yield limited findings. And with the Obama Administration’s willingness to allow access to the data, some information is now coming to light.
And, perhaps not surprisingly, married gays aren’t so very different from married straights.
The [same-sex] couples had an average age of 52 and household incomes of $91,558, while 31 percent were raising children. That compares with an average age of 50, household income of $95,075 and 43 percent raising children for married heterosexual couples.
“It’s intrinsically interesting that same-sex couples who use the term spouses look like opposite-sex married couples even with a characteristic like children,” said Gary Gates, the UCLA demographer who conducted the analysis. “Most proponents of traditional marriage will say that when you allow these couples to marry, you are going to change the fundamental nature of marriage by decoupling it from procreation. Clearly, in the minds of same-sex couples who are marrying or think of themselves as married, you are not decoupling child-rearing from marriage.”
These are but early and surface findings.
And as time goes on, the distinction between “dating” and “partners” and “married” will become less hazy as employers and family court judges and Aunt Matilda will find greater need to know just who is committed and who is not. Ultimately the social need for distinction will outweigh the religion-based objection to recognition and our families, employers, churches, communities, and society will not only allow but demand to know which same-sex couples are in it for the long haul.
And time may reveal that there are strong distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual couples. Indeed, how could there not be; each subculture in our society adds its unique perspective to the marital dynamic.
And yet, I suspect that when terms are more firmly defined and a better comparison is made, we will continue to find that we are amazingly similar to our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors, and even to those who are convinced that we are peculiar and perverse.