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Posts for August, 2009

Conservatives Refuse To Predict Dire Consequences For Same-Sex Marriage

Jim Burroway

August 20th, 2009

Townhall.com is probably the last place one would expect to find an article supporting arguments made by proponents of same-sex marriage, but Steve Chapman is mystified that no one who opposes same-sex marriage is willing to take him up on his challenge. His challenge is simple: We now have five states with same-sex marriage, with a sixth one (Maine) pending a November referendum. (By the way, have you donated lately?) Most of the others offer no recognition of same-sex unions whatsoever.

Chapman believes that this presents perfect laboratory conditions: an experimental condition and a control group. He writes, “in the next few years, we will have a chance to compare social trends in the states permitting same-sex marriage against social trends in the others.” So Chapman contacted three conservative opponents to same-sex marriage — Maggie Gallagher, Stanley Kurtz, and David Blankenhorn — and asked them to offer their predictions:

You would think they would react like Albert Pujols when presented with a hanging curveball. Yet none was prepared to forecast what would happen in same-sex marriage states versus other states.

Conservatives often predict catastrophic consequences for states that recognize same-sex marriage. Maggie Gallagher has even likened it to the end of civilization.Stanly Kurtz started a cottage industry blaming the decline of marriage in Scandinavia on same-sex marriage. But when put to the test, none of them will stand behind  their statements. What does that tell you about their convictions?

Nordic Myths

Jim Burroway

May 28th, 2008

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa) recently published an op-ed denouncing the recent California Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. There’s much to criticize in Sen. Santorum’s op-ed, but this statistical nugget stood out in particular:

Look at Norway. It began allowing same-sex marriage in the 1990s. In just the last decade, its heterosexual-marriage rates have nose-dived and its out-of-wedlock birthrate skyrocketed to 80 percent for firstborn children.

Anti-gay activists are returning once again to Scandinavian marriage and birthrate statistics as real-world examples of what happens when you allow same-sex marriage. The argument goes something like this: If you allow same-sex marriage like Scandinavia did, then you will soon see rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and a general breakdown in marriage.

But right off the bat, Sen. Santorum gets it wrong about same-sex marriage in Norway because there is no same-sex marriage there. Instead, Norway as adopted a limited form of civil unions. Norway’s 1993 civil unions laws, for example, do not permit adoptions by same-sex couples (although Norwegian law was later changed to allow a parent to adopt his partner’s children). Norway also prohibits artificial insemination for same-sex couples as well.

And what about that statistic: Eighty percent of all firstborn children in Norway are born out of wedlock? Where did he get that figure?

Well one thing I know for certain is that Santorum didn’t get it from the StatBank Norway website. StatBank Norway is the official repository for all statistical information about Norway. They have tons of statistics on population growth and characteristics, births, deaths, marriage, divorce, and economic data. But I’ve been unable to find anything on their web site breaking down the family status of firstborn children.

And so I started looking around for where this 80 percent statistic might have come from. It appears to have originated with Stanly Kurtz’s National Review article from May 25, 2004, where he claims:

Add the children of single parents and step families, and we are surely at over 50 percent of children living with unmarried parents in Norway’s liberal north. If that sounds high, consider that in 2002, 83 percent of first-born children in the northern Norwegian county of Nord-Troendelag were born outside of marriage, as were 58 percent of subsequent children.

If what Kurtz says is true, then it’s not all of Norway that is experiencing this explosion of firstborn babies born outside of marriage. It is just one county of Nord-Troendelag. But Kurtz doesn’t provide any citation for that statistic, so we still don’t know where it comes from. He later provides a link to a summary from StatBank Norway, but it doesn’t mention the firstborn statistic at all. (I’ve updated the link to a cached version of the page as it appeared on StatBank Norway as of April 6, 2004.) So we’re still left in the dark as to where this statistic came from, and we have no way to verify whether it’s true or not.

But we can verify that Norway’s overall birth rate outside of marriage is pretty high, and it has been for quite some time. We can see this by combining data from Norway’s Statistical Yearbooks for 2007 and 1996 and plotting that data on a single graph. When we do that, we can see that the rate of births outside of marriage had skyrocketed throughout the seventies and eighties, only to level off somewhat in the 1990′s and 2000′s.

Norwegian Births Outside of Marriage

But more specifically with respect to civil unions, look at what the data tells us:

  1. Before 1993, the percentage of births outside of marriage grew steadily by an average of about 9% per year.
  2. After civil unions were enacted in 1993, the growth of that birth rate slowed dramatically. The the growth rate fell from 9% per year to an average of less than 1.5% per year between 1993 and 2006.

Which means that if there were a cause and effect between Norway’s birth rate outside of marriage and providing civil unions for same-sex couples, the data suggests that civil unions actually had a dramatic affect in slowing the rate of births outside of marriage.

Now I don’t believe that a case can be made linking civil unions with the rate of births outside of marriage. But if Santorum, Kurtz or anyone else insists on there being a connection, then so be it. The data is on our side.