Two recent studies on the impact legal recognition has on same-sex relationships have established two facts that LGBT people have long believed to be true: 1) same-sex couples eagerly take advantage of the ability to marry or form civil unions when presented with the opportunity; and 2) legally recognized same-sex couple relationships are longer-lasting than those without such legal status.
In the first study UCLA’s Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy found that more than 85,000 same-sex couples have already signed up for recognition in 11 states where gay marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships or other legal statuses are available. The number represents 40 percent of all same-sex couples in these states.
Among the legal options extended to same-sex couples, full marriage generates the strongest
“Marriage clearly gets the most enthusiastic response from same-sex couples, as we’re seeing in California,” said study co-author M. V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute and director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“In Massachusetts, 37 percent of gay and lesbian couples got married within the first year that marriage was available, but only one in 10 gay couples registered a civil union or domestic partnership in the first year after the introduction of those statuses.”
Based on this pattern the study predicted that if every state offered marriage to same-sex couples, approximately 370,000 couples would marry in the next three years.
According to co-author Gary Gates, senior research fellow of the Williams Institute, “Not only are same-sex couples getting legally partnered, but their relationships are just as stable as marriages of different-sex couples. Only 1-3 percent of same-sex couples dissolve their legal relationships each year, which is comparable to the 2 percent of those in different-sex marriages who divorce annually.”
Gates’ assertion is supported by another landmark study, published earlier this year in the journal Developmental Psychology. The research project found that 3.8 percent of same-sex couples in a civil union ended their relationships while heterosexual married couples ended 2.7 percent of their relationships — a difference that is not statistically significant.
However, there was a sizable discrepancy in relationship longevity between legalized same-sex couples and those whose relationships were not similarly recognized.
For example, among a Vermont study sample same-sex couples not in civil unions ended 9.3 percent of their relationships whereas only 3.8 percent of same-sex couples in a civil union ended their relationships.
The authors of the study contended that a number of important factors can contribute to this outcome.
“There are many ways that a legal couple status may support a relationship — more family understanding, acceptance by friends and co-workers, greater commitment that results from a public declaration, and enhanced legal protections in the form of healthcare benefits and community property,” said Robert-Jay Green, executive director of the Rockway Institute, a national center for LGBT research, education and public policy at Alliant International University in San Francisco.
The study questioned same- and opposite-sex couples about relationship conflict, relationship satisfaction, commitment, intimacy and equality. Interestingly, researchers found that same-sex couples reported more positive relationship quality and less conflict than heterosexual married couples on several dimensions.
“In contrast to old myths about same-sex couples being deficient or less viable than male-female couples, this research project shows that same-sex partners who seek to legalize their relationships actually may be among the best functioning couples in this society,” said Green.