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Data From First Two Years Of Same Sex Marriage Proves Christian Right 180 Degrees Wrong On Impact Of Same Sex marriage : IN first two years of legal same sex marriage, Massachusetts retains lead as US state with lowest divorce rate. Meanwhile, US States Most Opposed To Same Sex Marriage Show Possible Divorce Rate Increase



By Bruce Wilson
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.

graphic: rates of divorce in US States, 2004Well, 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.

graphic: table of US national divorce rates 1900-2004So far I have been unable to locate any cases where actual empirical data has been used to refute the extreme claims made by Christian right leaders on same sex marriage either in recent news stories or in state level battles over same sex marriage. Someone, somewhere must surely be citing actual facts relevant to the same sex marriage debate but so far I have found little evidence of that.

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 ?

Camenker: Yeah

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"

Originally posted to Troutfishing on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 04:18 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Also, my real name is Bruce Wilson (10+ / 0-)

    I thought I should mention that.

  •  Interesting (6+ / 0-)

    Very interesting analysis and recommended ...

    I sat through the whole 2004 election cycle watching the news lecture me, as a Northeasterner, that I need to adopt "Red State Values."  My lifestyle and that of my neighbors, you see, was depraved and libertine.

    The irony is, of course ...

    Here in the Northeast, we have less divorce, fewer gun deaths, less violent crime, fewer teenage pregnancies, fewer unwed mothers, etc., etc., etc.

    I guess I have a hope somewhere that allowing gay people to register their relationships as "marriages" will continue to improve the quality of life of Northeasterns -- which already far exceeds that of people in many Conservative areas of the country.

    The anti-gay marriage people seek to spread oppression, increase social problems and lower the quality of life where other people in their communities are concerned.

    It's not gay marriage or gay people who are the problem.

    Jeez.

    Lord Lieberman is the Dean Scream of 2006.

    by bink on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 04:19:31 AM PDT

  •  Yes, but the best evidence for the moral danger (6+ / 0-)

    of gay marriage isn't divorce, or quality of life, or any of those tangible  things. It's toleration of gay marriage. And by that metric, tolerating gay marriage is a terrible terrible thing!

    This is an impressive diary. Thanks. If only people opposed to gay marriage were affected by logic. But, almost by definition ...

    Let there be sharks - TracieLynn

    by GussieFN on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 04:28:49 AM PDT

  •  Fundies decrease the quality of life (0+ / 0-)

    Fundies controlling state government only magnifies this effect.  (There are only  correlative studies, but no alternative causal mechanism besides the obvious inference has been proposed.)

    Fake Canadians are total hosers.

    by theran on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 04:36:55 AM PDT

  •  your data is deceptive (0+ / 0-)

    you show New York with a very low divorce rate.   That is because New York has very strict laws about divorce (although not so strict as when I grew up there in the 50's and the only grounds was adultery).  You show Nevada with very high divorce rate.   That is  because a large percentage of the divorces in NV (and to a lesser degree ID) are people who come from out of state, set up temporary residence (circa 6 weeks) to get a divorce which is then honored under Full Faith and Credit of the Constitution who then return to their home state.

    Unless / until you can adjust the statistics to account for those people who either come from out of state or go out of state, and also give some indication of the ease of obtaining a divorce, I would be hesitant to rely upon raw data.  

    Oh and while I think about it -- we have had had all this brouhaha over marriage, starting when the Hawaii Supreme Court considered doing what the MA Supreme Judicial Court finally did - declaring that the state constitution meant you could notprevent gays from getting married.  That's when the federal Defense of Marriage Act was passed.  But you cannot limit a constitutional privilege by statute.   As far as I can tell DOMA is patently unconstitutional.  For all these efforts to limit recognition of marriage by other states (which the South used to do with interracial marriage until declared unconstitutional under Loving v Virginia) no one has attempted to limit recognition of divorce granted by other states.   Seems to me there's a logical disconnect -- why should NV be able to dissolve a marriage made in Louisiana?  I raise that in particular because Louisiana now has covenant marriage, which if both parties agree, cannot be dissolved.  What if one changes her mind and goes to Nevada, gets divorced there.  Can she either get remarried in Louisiana or if she gets remarried in another state and returns to Louisiana will she be considered a bigamist?

    Inquiring Minds Want to Know.

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 04:40:25 AM PDT

    •  I'm not sure Bruce is trying (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joelarama

      to show causation, but correlation.

      Still, curious that some more divorce-permissive states are also more anti-gay-marriage.

      Let there be sharks - TracieLynn

      by GussieFN on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 04:49:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Every state is a unique story.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bionic

      And, every state has a different divorce laws, demographics, and unique factors that have a significant bearing on its individual divorce profile.

      But, the figures I have cited here on divorce rates are from the US Bureau Of Vital Statistics except in four or five cases in which I have carried 2002 or 2003 divorce data forward due to a lack of 2004 data.

      Other than that, I have simply presented US federal government statistics.

    •  Divorce data courtesy : US Bureau of Vital Stats (0+ / 0-)

      And, every state has a different divorce laws, demographics, and unique factors that have a significant bearing on its individual divorce profile.

      But, the figures I have cited here on divorce rates are from the US Bureau Of Vital Statistics except in four or five cases in which I have carried 2002 or 2003 divorce data forward due to a lack of 2004 data.

      Other than that, I have simply presented US federal government statistics.

      NY may have strict divorce laws, but other states do as well. As far as Nevada goes, I believe the role of Nevada as the quickie divorce capital of the US does not fully account for Nevada'a elevated divorce rate which actually is consistent with overall region.

      Divorce rates in the US west and southwest tend to be elevated overall relative to the rest of the nation.

  •  As was said so well (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troutfishing, Bionic

    and with righteous anger on the day after the 2004 election by whoever put up the "Fuck the South" site (and it's a hoot, even today when things look so much better than they did that terrible day):

    Let’s talk about those values for a fucking minute. You and your Southern values can bite my ass because the blue states got the values over you fucking Real Americans every day of the goddamn week. Which state do you think has the lowest divorce rate you marriage-hyping dickwads? Well? Can you guess? It’s fucking Massachusetts, the fucking center of the gay marriage universe. Yes, that’s right, the state you love to tie around the neck of anyone to the left of Strom Thurmond has the lowest divorce rate in the fucking nation. Think that’s just some aberration? How about this: 9 of the 10 lowest divorce rates are fucking blue states, asshole, and most are in the Northeast, where our values suck so bad. And where are the highest divorce rates? Care to fucking guess? 10 of the top 10 are fucking red-ass we're-so-fucking-moral states. And while Nevada is the worst, the Bible Belt is doing its fucking part.

    But two guys making out is going to fucking ruin marriage for you? Yeah? Seems like you're ruining it pretty well on your own, you little bastards. Oh, but that's ok because you go to church, right? I mean you do, right? Cause we fucking get to hear about it every goddamn year at election time. Yes, we're fascinated by how you get up every Sunday morning and sing, and then you're fucking towers of moral superiority. Yeah, that's a workable formula. Maybe us fucking Northerners don't talk about religion as much as you because we're not so busy sinning, hmmm? Ever think of that, you self-righteous assholes? No, you're too busy erecting giant stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in buildings paid for by the fucking Northeast Liberal Elite. And who has the highest murder rates in the nation? It ain't us up here in the North, assholes.

    And, for the record: I (not that person; have no idea about him/her) was born 'waaaaay south of the Mason-Dixon Line, have never lived anywhere near north of it, and haven't even traveled north of it more than a few days in my whole middle-aged life -- so it's OK for me to say, in case there are any aggrieved southerners reading the above.

    -6.88, -2.97 All actions -- especially votes -- have consequences.

    by bwintx on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 05:38:01 AM PDT

    •  For the most part that's due to poverty.... (0+ / 0-)

      But not entirely !

      •  And the cause of poverty? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troutfishing

        Isn't the South poorer because white Southerners are willing to accept a worse economy if they think that black Southerners will be excluded from whatever benefits there are?  

        Isn't the South poorer because its backwards religiosity doesn't appeal to the kind of people who want to work in high growth areas?

        Isn't the South poorer because the South is will to accept a worse school system so long as it's segregated and doesn't teach too much evolution?

        Maybe, maybe not, but trying to remove racism and fundies from the picture while talking about ``class'' doesn't really seem safe.

        Fake Canadians are total hosers.

        by theran on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 06:25:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, I won't discount cultural factors.... (0+ / 0-)

          But, that one just goes round and round...

          And, I really want to avoid bashing the South.

          Meanwhile, as a group, Christian Evangelicals have very close the highest rate of educational attainment as compared to all other major faith groups and also self declared atheists and agnostics.

          •  And round and round... :) (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Troutfishing

            This is all very tangled up.  While South bashing isn't that productive, the taboo on discussing this kind of thing at all is a problem too.

            Meanwhile, as a group, Christian Evangelicals have very close the highest rate of educational attainment as compared to all other major faith groups and also self declared atheists and agnostics.

            it is certainly strange when Dr. James Dobson, not MD rails against the education system... sigh.  :)

            Fake Canadians are total hosers.

            by theran on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 08:24:18 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  The Antimarriage Campaign Rests on Falsehoods (4+ / 0-)

    Whenever the MSM covers the issue of marriage equality for gay Americans at least equal space is given to the Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and their ilk who offer soundbites that "marriage is at risk" or the "family as we know it is in peril". Politicians continually repeat that gay people threaten the "sanctity of marriage." No one ever asks how. No one ever presses those who would deny their gay neighbors rights they take for granted how sharing these rights hurts anyone. No one ever offers any logic explaining how straight families are made stronger by depriving gay families of legal recognition and benefits. No one ever focuses on the harm visited on gay families by being denied such legal rights. Those who would harm gay families are excused from the need to offer empirical proof because they are basing their views on their "values" and their "faith." Your posting offers a necessary corrective. We need to keep pushing others to ask the same questions.

  •  Excellent diary. I wish more diaries (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troutfishing

    like this could make it to the "recommended" list.

    "How am I not myself?" -- I ♥ Huckabees

    by Joelarama on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 06:12:26 AM PDT

  •  GayMarriageBook.com (5+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this great post!

    By the way, the authors of the book "GAY MARRIAGE: For Better or for Worse? What We've Learned From the Evidence" (Oxford University Press, May 2006) side with you, as does all their evidence.

    They were on Bill O'Rielly's show on or around June 5 and made a good presentation.

    •  Thank you. Somebody else just tipped me off (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      theran, Bionic

      to that book too.

      It looks really good. I'll probably buy it.

      Meanwhile, I'll be hammering away at this theme consistently - I've got a lot of writing backed up behind this piece, which is just the kickoff for an entire series.

      Also, Lee Badgett has done great research on same sex unions in Sweden and Norway. She had a piece in Slate a year or so ago.

  •  Two of the Mass (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troutfishing, theran

    state senators who were opposed to same-sex marriage have changed their minds. One said something like this,  this (same-sex marriage) hasn't changed life as we know it in the Commonwealth.  He also said meeting the children of these couples helped change his mind. We spend a lot of time in western Mass. and it seems to me most people could care less. Friends in the hospitality industry love it, big weddings are good for their business and they are straight.

    Compassion is perhaps the chief and only law of human existence. Dostoyevsky

    by Hamish in CT on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 06:40:50 AM PDT

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