Report: Gay Couples Closely Resemble Straight Ones--In Iowa, Anyway
A new report suggests that in many ways, same-sex marriages are virtually identical to heterosexual unions--at least, in the single heartland state where marriage equality is allowed.
IowaWatch, the web site affiliated with the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism--a nonpartisan, independent news resource--researched and prepared the report, then wrote an article on its findings. That article was picked up and run at the website for Iowa newspaper the Press-Citizen on Sept. 8.
The article noted that "Iowa’s 18-month experience with the newly legalized institution has revealed striking similarities to traditional marriage and no discernible harm to it," and reported that the majority of same-sex marriages in the state--almost two-thirds--were women, a result that the report suggested might have to do with gender inclinations: if men could reap the federal rights and protections accorded to marriage, rather than being restricted to the state-level rights due to anti-gay federal legislation, they might be more apt to marry.
Women, on the other hand, may be more disposed toward domesticity and so more willing to accept limited marriage rights that lack federal standing. "The disparity also reflects similar trends in other states where same-sex marriages are allowed," the article noted.
The article recounted that opponents of marriage equality have succeeded in framing the debate as a matter of same-sex marriage potentially harming mixed-gender unions. No account for the mechanism of such harm has ever been tendered, and when pressed for an explanation as to how such harm would come to befall straight marriages if gays were allowed to marry, the lawyer for a group defending California’s Proposition 8 admitted in federal court that he didn’t know the answer. Judging purely by the numbers in Iowa over the last year, such claims fall flat: marriage is up in the state--and divorce has declined. In other words, gays are joining straights in marriage, and neither straights nor gays are divorcing in droves because of it.
Indeed, a 2008 study in the UK--where same-sex families are allowed to enter into civil unions and receive that same legal rights and protections as heterosexuals--suggested that gays and lesbians who tie the knot are less likely to divorce. One reason for that, the IowaWatch report theorized, is that same-sex couples have had to endure so many hurdles and obstacles to legal parity that by the time they are granted marriage rights--even on the state level, in the five states that provide marriage equality--their commitment is often rock-solid. Heterosexual couples are not tested in the same way; they are free to marry at will anywhere in the country--and, as the divorce rate shows, equally free to split up and try again if their first marriage does not suit them.
The study undertaken by IowaWatch depicted families that wrestled with the same worries that heterosexual couples contend with in their daily lives: finances, children, and household chores. What the study did not uncover was any evidence that two married men or two married women in any way diminished the marriages of heterosexual couples.
Despite the lack of any evidence for damage to straight couples being wrought by married gays and lesbians, the anti-gay religious right continues to insist that same-sex families should be denied legal recognition. The article quoted Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), as saying, "They shouldn’t be allowed to marry. They shouldn’t be allowed to redefine marriage to mean whatever relationship [they] choose."
NOM has pursued a campaign against gay and lesbian family equality in 19 states this summer, including Iowa, where last month the group organized a rally. The anti-gay group told a small crowd of supporters at the Aug. 1 rally in Des Moines that broken families result in higher taxes, and suggested that one way to preserve heterosexual marriages--and save taxpayers money--would be to rescind marriage equality in Iowa.
The anti-gay rally drew a small crowd of around 75 people, the AP article said. Another rally sponsored by local marriage equality group One Iowa drew several times as many supporters--about 250.
Gay Families Are, Well... Families
But the specter of broken families applies no more to gay unions than to straight ones, and possibly less. Moreover, aside from one distinction--the fact that both parties in same-sex marriages are of the same gender--married gays and lesbians are virtually indistinguishable from mixed-gender marrieds--that is to say, gay married couples live the exact same "lifestyle" as heterosexual married couples, with their lives centering on work, mortgages, home, and family.
"Not much has changed," Ledon Sweeney, a gay Iowa City resident married to his male life partner, admitted. "We live pretty boring lives. We go to work; we mow our lawn, we pay our mortgage, and we go on vacation if we can save enough money."
Recent election cycles have repeatedly thrown the spotlight on same-sex families, and in Iowa this year that pattern is ongoing, the article said. Anti-gay challengers to the governor and to several Supreme Court justices seek to put the rights of gay and lesbian families up to a vote, a la Proposition 8--the anti-gay California ballot initiative that was recently found to be unconstitutional. An appeal on that decision is pending.
Meantime, the justices on Iowa’s Supreme Court face threats of impeachment and, in the case of the three justices who must defend their places on the bench this year, replacement by the electorate. The 2009 state Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for same-sex families to wed in Iowa was unanimous. The three justices who face a retention vote this year have already been targeted by an anti-gay PAC.
One open question is whether, having seen that the sky has not fallen, Iowans will pursue the issue at the ballot box. But another uncertainty is how locals will take to out-of-state interests such as NOM--which was a major player in the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, as well as the 2009 repeal of a law in Maine that would have granted gay and lesbian families marriage rights in that state--intruding on Iowa’s affairs.
"I think Iowa is pretty libertarian," gay Iowan Mark A. Holbrook, also married and also a resident of Iowa City, said. "A lot of people don’t feel compelled to force their views on others."
The state’s lawmakers have not, at any rate, felt compelled to put the rights of some families up to voters, while leaving the rights of others unmolested--a fact acknowledged even by anti-gay Republicans. "There’s just no chance at all" that the Democratically-dominated state government will clear the way this year for a ballot box attack on Iowa’s gay and lesbian families, according to former Republican state senator Jeff Angelo. "Democratic leaders have really put themselves out there and said they are not going to allow a vote, so it won’t happen. I think Republicans know that."
Iowa Democrats in the state’s senate and house alike turned back multiple attacks on marriage equality in 2009. State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal even declared that he would not permit the issue to come up for a vote.
That did not sit well with the anti-gay right. "As long as Mike Gronstal is the de facto governor of Iowa, there’s not going to be a marriage amendment, barring direct intervention in that man’s heart by God himself," Christian talk radio host Steve Deace told the media. "Beyond that, like the Pharaoh of old Mr. Gronstal’s heart is hardened towards righteousness and morality, and it’s clear that promotion of homosexuality is something he’s serious about. He’s not budging, and the few of his fellow Democrats who might otherwise share the views of folks like me are too intimidated by him to stick their necks out for what’s right."
An alternative view, of course, is that even in the current politically restless climate, where politicians who once seemed friendly to the cause of family equality often duck and cover--as happened in New Jersey earlier this year--Iowa’s lawmakers, having determined where they stand, are not too intimidated to hold their ground.