Gay marriage, gender roles and data from Iowa

by on September 16, 2010  •  In Marriage, Social science, States

According to a study by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism –

Images …[M]arriage statistics show that female couples made up nearly two-thirds of the same-sex marriages in Iowa in the year after the state Supreme Court ruled it legal in April 2009. Although experts say a single year does not constitute a trend, they say the disparity is consistent with the traditional way Americans raise children and establish their gender roles early in life. The disparity also reflects similar trends in other states where same-sex marriages are allowed…

…Rather than examining the nature of gay marriage to determine the merit of opponents’ arguments, the public debate has focused mostly on opponents’ charge that gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage and proponents arguing that gay couples deserve equal rights.

The IowaWatch study found that similarities range from the way men and women often view marriage to the more mundane tasks of married life, such as doing yard work. Like people in traditional marriages, same-sex couples also talk about raising children and shielding them from the verbal slings of peers, the stability and unit-strength of a family and the value of loving relationships among parents and children, as well as legal necessities and financial security.

The study is based on more than a dozen interviews with gay couples and national experts and on an examination of journal articles, marriage statistics, census data, polls and court rulings…

[The marriage issue is part of Iowa politics this year because of two campaigns.] One is the gubernatorial campaign between Democratic Gov. Chet Culver and Republican challenger Terry Branstad, who, along with social conservatives hope to win enough legislative seats to get a vote to allow a referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages. In the other campaign, three of the state Supreme Court justices are fending off retention challenges led by anti-gay marriage forces…

[According to the health department’s statistics, o]f the 19,204 couples who bought licenses to marry during the year ending March 31, [the first year in which same-sex marriages were legal,] one out of ten were gay. [Same-sex marriages in Iowa were geographically concentrated.] In [two counties  -] Pottowattamie [Council Bluffs-Omaha metropolitan area] and Johnson [Iowa City] – the ratio was one out four.  The marriages occurred in 21 of Iowa’s 99 counties…

But the fact that lesbians make up nearly two-thirds of same-sex couples poses somewhat of a mystery to researchers. The proportion is way out of line with the 2000 Census figures showing lesbians made up 49 percent unmarried same-sex couples. That pattern follows in other gay-marriage states.

Adding to the mystery is that more married same couples in the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are male, according to Esther Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. Studies in the early 2000s found the ratio around 3 to1 male. Moreover, in Mexico City, where a six-month-old same-sex marriage law was upheld in early August, gay male marriages also outnumber lesbian marriages.

So, why do more American lesbians marry than gay men?

Some experts think it goes back to the way America culture raises children. Long before children know about sexual orientation, society begins foisting gender roles on them, Mimi Schippers, associate professor of sociology at Tulane University, said. Tradition dictates that women desire marriage more than men, she said.

“Girls are raised pretty from the moment they become consciously aware to think about marriage, to desire marriage and to see marriage as a goal.”

Males, on the other hand, are socialized to be reluctant to marry, said Stephanie Coontz, of Evergreen State College in Washington and author of numerous books on marriage, its history and myths. Because gay men and lesbians are raised in the same way, the pattern effects same-sex couples and helps explain differences in the two sexes’ desire for children…

The 2000 Census found that 33 percent of lesbian households have a child compared to 22 percent of same-sex male couples.

The disparity also has an economic explanation: men make more money than women, and gay men across the Atlantic, whose marriages enjoy national recognition, have greater financial incentive to marry than do gay men in America, where federal law doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, according to Rothblum.

In a 2005 article for the Journal of LGBT studies, Rothblum wrote the lack of federal recognition makes state-level marriage largely symbolic. Because women have a greater desire to marry and have children, a symbolic marriage may have more attraction for them….


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