By Bruce Wilson
br> You may already know that Massachusetts has for several years now held the top spot as the state with the lowest divorce rate rate in the United States.
Well, one would presume that for all of the pitched battles raging across the nation as the forces of the Christian right seek to pass state laws prohibiting same sex marriage and even to enshrine bans on gay marriage in state consitutions that somebody would have been paying attention to the actual data coming out of Massachusetts in the first two years that same sex marriage has been legal in the Bay State.
note: my thanks to Frederick Clarkson for advice on presentation and framing of this data.
For that matter, US divore rates has been in steady decline since the early 1980's [ see table, left ] although I can't remember when I last heard that fact cited in response to claims about the "moral decline" of the US or the immanent demise of "the American family".
It's as if everyone in the nation is in a trance.
Now, I am fairly confident that many on the US left discount claims that gay marriage will bring about, as James Dobson of Focus On The Family has stated, the "end of the world".
But I am suspicious that the ceaseless trumpeting of such claims has had an effect nonetheless, and on all Americans including those who really should know better.
Let me clue you into a secret hobby of mine :
Social statistics. They make most people's eyes glaze over but they tell stories too.
Massachusetts has had legal same sex marriage for over two years now, and data from those first two years is mostly in. I have been calculating and recalculating the figures - month by month - as new month's data comes in from the US Bureau Of Vital Statistics.
WHY has no one thought to analyze or discuss the actual data ?. Well, I have no good answer to that question. So, without further ado, here's my story :
note : although I like to encourage traffic to the website I co-founded with Frederick Clarkson I am posting this story - which has been in the works for over a year now - in its entirety. This story needs all the publicity it can get.
Christian Right Wrong On Gay Marriage in Massachusetts : Mass Likely To Retain Lowest Divorce Rate Spot In 2005, Gay Marriage Hostile States Lag.
"It's like a rolling ball of snow. It gets bigger and bigger. You allow it in Massachusetts, it'll spread to God knows where." - Massachusetts Democratic State Representative Emile J. Goguen, as quoted by the "Traditional Values Coalition" website
"We can look at those places where same-sex marriage has been legalized to see what the future looks like" - Ron Crews, President of The Massachusetts Family Institute, as quoted in the Washington Times, March 10, 2004
In early 2004, as the possibility of a decision legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts drew near, many leaders of the American Christian and religious right issued warnings about the impending and allegedly apocalyptic impact of "gay marriage".
Across the US, religious right groups stepped up campaigns, against marriage equality, promoting state Constitutional Amendments that banned same sex marriage by defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman.
Major leaders of the American religious right made predictions that same sex marriage would cause the decline or destruction of the traditional family and the institution of marriage. Some warned of the destruction of Western Civilization or of a sinister conspiracy against Christianity. Some warned of the impending end of the world.
"Dear Friends, I write to you today with a profound sense of concern...Barring a miracle, the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself.....
For more than 40 years, the homosexual activist movement has sought to implement a master plan that has had as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family." - Dr. James Dobson of Focus on The Family, in a July 2004 letter to supporters
These were certainly alarming assertions coming from such prominent leaders. But was there any truth to them? The claims were impossible to prove or disprove because there was no data.
James Dobson's hoped for divine intervention against same sex marriage never arrived, and so since May 20, 2004 -- when same sex couples began to marry in Massachusetts -- nearly two years of data have accumulated and we can begin to answer the question: How has the institution of marriage in the Commonwealth fared ?
The answer to this question was prefigured in a November 2005 television interview, by "The Daily Show", of Brian Camenker, founder of the "Article 8 Alliance" - a Massachusetts activist group opposed to same sex marriage:
[ source: "Has Gay Marriage Ruined Massachusetts ?", courtesy of Crooks And Liars. ]
"Camenker: The gay marriage issue is destructive on many levels....
Interviewer: So the quality of life has decreased ?
Interviewer: Homelessness gone up ?
Camenker: I can't....you know.....
Interviewer: Crime rates ?
Camenker: Crime rates ?.......
Interviewer: Air quality ?
Camenker: I mean, let me put it this way. I could....I could sit here and I could probably, you know, find some way of connecting the dots to gay marriage to all of these if I had enough time and I did some research."
Indeed, the dots have been lining up - but not in favor of Mr. Camenker's beliefs.
Over two years have passed now since same sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, and data from all of 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 are now available. Emergent trends in Massachusetts amount to a stark indictment of those dire claims about sex marriage cited earlier in this article.
Divorce rates are commonly used as a key measure of marital and family health. US states, including Massachusetts, submit monthly summaries of vital statistics on births, deaths, marriages, and divorces to the US Center For Disease Control's National Center For Health Statistics ( NCHS ). The NCHS then compiles publicly available monthly and yearly reports of this data. The following statistics are based on that NCHS material.
Divorce rates in the US have been declining steadily since the the early 1980's. Massachusetts has shared in the trend and traditionally has had a divorce rate considerably lower than the national average. In fact. for several years now the Commonwealth has had the lowest divorce rate of any state in the union.
In 2004 the Massachusetts divorce rate, at 2.2 per 1,000 residents per year, was considerably lower than the US national average rate for that year, 3.8 per 1,000. Indeed, it was lower than the national average rate for 1950 (2.6 per 1,000) and even approached the national rate of 1940 (2 per 1,000).
In 2003, total divorces in Massachusetts declined 2.1% relative to 2002. But in the first two years of legal same sex marriage in the Bay State, Massachusetts showed a more rapid decline and will very likely hold on to its title as the US state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation. The field is hotly contested -- divorce rates have fallen dramatically in the last few decades.
The institution of marriage in Massachusetts, as measured by the rate of divorce, has not been healthier in at least half a century regardless of dire predictions of Christian Right leaders and Catholic Bishops. But the states that have taken aggressive action against same sex marriage, have not done nearly as well during the two year period of legal same sex marriage in Massachusetts.
The preliminary data from 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 -- from the 17 US states which have provided data on divorce for 2004 and 2005 and whose voters also passed state constitutional amendents prohibiting same sex marriage -- presents a striking picture : the group of US states arguably most hostile to divorce, those which have passed both state laws and also state constitutional amendments prohibiting same sex marriage, lag dramatically in terms of divorce rate improvement when compared to same sex marriage friendly states.
Among those US states that have no laws on the books specifically prohibiting same sex marriage or civil unions -- WY, NM, NY, MA, RI, CT, NJ, MD, VT -- the average divorce rate drop ( unadjusted for population changes ) was -8.74%. No states in this group had divorce rate increases in 2004 and 2005.
Among those US states that are most opposed to same sex marriage which have also provided divorce data for the time period -- ( alaska ? ) AR, KS, KY, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, ND, OH, OK, OR, UT, TX -- the average divorce rate ( unadjusted for population changes ) for 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 increased 1.75%. This group contains 4 of the 5 states with the highest divorce rate increases in the US during 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005.
( states in the second group may have on average a higher population growth rate but that will not change the almost 10.5% gap between the two groups more than a few percentage points )
Meanwhile, the one state in the United States Of America that has legal same sex marriage, Massachusetts, will be among the top ten states - or better - with the largest drop in divorce rates in America during 2004 and 2005.
If leaders of the religious right are correct that there is a connection between same sex marriage and the health of the institution of marriage, then they will certainly want to become advocates of marriage equality. The continued lead of Massachusetts as the lowest divorce rate leader in the US would indicate that same sex marriage helps to preserve rather than destroy traditional heterosexual marriages.
Further still, the latest data indicates that support or tolerance of same sex marriage correlates with the low divorce rates leaders of the Christian right advocate.
Same sex families are thriving alongside traditional nuclear families -- and the Bay State is leaving "gay marriage" averse, high divorce rate states behind.
[ primary data source : US Vital Statistical Reports ]
"marriage bears a real relation to the well-being, health and enduring strength of society" - Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in a February 5, 2004 Wall Street Journal opinion article"
"This is an important victory for those of us who wanted to preserve traditional marriage and to make sure that the mistake of Massachusetts doesn't become the mistake of the entire country" - Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, commenting on a March 30, 2006 Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling barring out of state same sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts.
"This is only the beginning, if we allow this [ same sex marriage ] to happen we will, in effect, have destabilized the basic institution of our society, which is marriage between a man and a woman" - Brian Camenker, President of the Parents' Rights Coalition, as quoted by MassNews, March 2000
"Taxpayers and businesses should not be compelled to subsidize either homosexual unions or non-marital heterosexual partnerships, both of which undermine the institutions of marriage and family." - Acting President of the Massachusetts Family Institute, Dan Englund, as quoted by MassNews, March 2000
"There is a master plan out there from those who want to destroy the institution of marriage." - Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) during the July 2004 U.S. Senate debate on the "Federal Marriage Amendment".
"the sexual revolution led to the decoupling of marriage and procreation; same-sex "marriage" would pull them completely apart, leading to an explosive increase in family collapse...." - Charles Colson, Christianity Today, June 2004
"We must aggressively combat the homosexual effort to destroy the tradition of marriage. This nation is on the precipice of moral devastation." - Jerry Falwell, July 14, 2003
"Pro-homosexuality activists try to portray the success of their cause as inevitable. But it is not. The churches can stand against the tide of relativism and libertinism in our culture. And they can help to reverse the tide, restoring marriage to its proper place of honor" - Former President of The Institute on Religion and Democracy, Dianne Knippers, as quoted on the website of Concerned Women For America
"....a person can use his or her right to object out of conscience and refuse to comply with this crime [ gay marriage ] which represents the destruction of the world." - Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, in a May 3, 2005 interview with Fides new service.
"Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God upon which this Nation and our laws are predicated. Such conduct violates both the criminal and civil laws of this State and is destructive to a basic building block of society -- the family." - Judge Roy Moore, Feb. 15, 2002
"Marriage is the union between a man and a woman is a truth known to each one of us already, and any attempt to allow same-sex marriages is a detriment to the family unit and hurts our state and nation." - Texas Governor Rick Perry, in an August 2005 mass email to supporters
"Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It [ same-sex marriage ] will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth." - James Dobson, Focus on the Family, October 2004 speaking at a rally for OK GOP Senate candidate Tom Coburn
"It seems the more people consider the long-term impact of homosexual marriage on the family and society, the more they oppose homosexual marriage," - Dr. Ron Crews, President of The Massachusetts Family Institute, quoted in a January 7, 2004 "Coalition For Marriage" press release
"Any redefinition of marriage must be seen as an attack on the common good....I would hope that those who promote same-sex unions will not be so naive as to fail to recognize the impact that redefining marriage will have on American culture....Strengthening marriage in the face of widespread cohabitation and the galloping divorce rate needs to be the concern of every citizen. Radically redefining marriage will simply serve to intensify the assault on marriage and the American family." - Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, October 2, 2003
''America cannot continue to lead the family of nations around the world if we suffer the collapse of the family here at home" - Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, in a February 25, 2005 speech to Utah Republicans. In the speech, Romney described the decision that legalized same sex marriage in Massachusetts as "a blow to the family"
"just a fraction of a master plan to destroy everything that is good and moral here in America." - description of the gay rights movement, from an early 1980's fundraising letter sent by Robert C. Grant of the group "Christian Voice"
"They spread from Eastern Europe like an irresistible tide, flooding the towns and nations of Europe - in fact, the entire world." - Nazi propaganda film, "The Eternal Jew"