by Peter Cassels EDGE Contributor Monday Aug 8, 2011
One would think that the liberal Northeastern states, which include five of the six where marriage equality is legal (including, that is, the federal District of Columbia), would have the highest rate of divorce because they are perceived as more freewheeling. In addition, the main argument against gay marriage has been that it undermines the state of marriage. So it would follow that, in states that have embraced gay marriages, heterosexual marriages are in a perilous state of collapse.
Except that the opposite appears to be true.
At first glance, it looks counterintuitive — at least, if you pay attention to the rhetoric of religious conservatives, who frown on divorce because they believe heterosexuals shouldn’t engage in premarital sex and once married, should remain so for the rest of their lives.
Here’s the really surprising part: It’s the Bible belt, the swathe of religious ultra-conservatives that swings from West Virginia down throughDixiethat has by far the highest proportion of divorce rates among the general population.
Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, for years has had the lowest number of divorces in the nation. In 2009, there were only 1.8 divorces per 1,000 population. Marriages also are legal inWashington,D.C., which closely trails Massachusetts with 2.1 divorces per 1,000 residents.
New York, the largest and most recent state to legalize marriage equality, has a divorce rate of 2.5 per 1,000. That ties the rate inIowa, the sole non-Northeastern state to allow same-sex marriages. The other states with marriage equality also all have low divorce rates compared to the national median:Connecticut,New Hampshire and Vermont.
Delaware,Hawaii,Illinois,New JerseyandRhode Islandhave legalized civil unions. They, too, experience relatively lower numbers of divorces.Nevada, which along withCalifornia,Oregon,Washington and Wisconsinoffer domestic partnerships, may prove the exception. It has the nation’s highest divorce rate, at 6.6 per 1,000 residents. But then,Nevadahas been the nation’s quickie divorce state for over a century. (Remember the women in the movie “The Women” who were on their way to be “Renovated” from their husbands?)
Rounding out the top ten lists of divorce-crazy states areArizona,Arkansas,Florida,Idaho,Kentucky,Maine(the only state on the list in the Northeast),Oklahoma,West VirginiaandWyoming. Besides Arkansas and Kentucky, states in the Deep South with rates higher than the Northeast includeGeorgia,Mississippi,North Carolina and Tennessee.
Why Such High Divorce Rates in ’Family Values’ States?
Ironically, experts say, those values increase the risk of failed marriages.
”Many of the people in Southern states oppose divorce but they also oppose premarital sex,” said Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia,Wash., in an interview. “A big risk factor is marrying at a young age.”
The author of several books, Coontz is co-chair and director of public education at the Council on Contemporary Families at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The longer a woman postpones marriage into her early 30s decreases the chance of divorce,” she said. “Marrying at an older age is a protective factor.”
According to experts, several other factors affect the risk of divorce among heterosexual couples.
The level of education and income are closely intertwined. A few years ago, Kalman Heller, a psychologist who specializes in divorce, wrote a paper on divorce myths.
”No wonder the divorce rate in Massachusetts is the lowest in the country,” he wrote. “[It has] the highest percentage of college graduates.”
While there’s a relationship between education levels and marriage longevity, toleration of diversity also is a factor, Coontz pointed out.
Not Religion, but Tolerance that Produces Stable Marriages
“The same things that produce higher acceptance of diversity are the things that tend to lower divorce rates,” she explained. “This is one of the ironies. People who are higher educated and who have experience outside marriage because they have delayed getting married and have a higher degree of economic security and sophistication tend to be more acceptable of same-sex marriage and have lower divorce rates.”
College graduates, of whom there are many more in the low-divorce states, have higher incomes, which tend to make marriages last. “Those in the South have much lower income and education levels,” Coontz reported. “Low income is a stressor.”
She said children are still a protective factor against divorcing, “but much less than it used to be.”
Although there’s a “big wave” of divorce among starter marriages (those with a duration of one or two years), there also are bumps around the eighth and 15th years, when children are teens. “Then, couples feel freer to divorce.
The one age group showing a dramatic surge in divorces is the over-50 crowd. “As more marriages last longer, there’s a whole other group who have their kids raised and look forward now with medical advances of another 30 years of healthy living are unprepared to keep going,” Coontz indicated.
“For couples who have grown apart or have simply put their differences on the back burner or are doing the parenting and not paying attention to their own relationship accounts for later-life divorces,” she continued. “Knowing that pattern is a real wakeup call for parents to not do everything for the kids but to pay attention to their own relationship while they are doing things for the kids.”
There Are Lessons Here for Same-Sex Spouses
Studies show that they are better at avoiding conflict and using humor and affection to repair relationships. “They don’t take the arguments quite as personally as heterosexual couples,” according to Coontz.
Conversely, if they don’t have children, gay and lesbian couples may have more problems later in life because they don’t have the security of being taken care of in old age. According to Gary Gates of the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School and a leading researcher in the demography of U.S. LGBTs, only a third of lesbian couples and 10 to 15 percent of male couples have children.
In an interview, Gates reported that a 2010 survey showed about 50,000 couples in theU.S.have married. Adding another 30,000 who married outside the country brings the total to about 80,000.
Civil unions and domestic partnerships represent another 85,000. “Some of those, in fact, could be married,” he cautioned. “We have no way to delineate. There may be some double counting.”
Lately, Gates has been studying dissolution of same-sex unions, but says it’s too early to draw any conclusions. “I’m not aware of any data on married couples,” he reported, but about 2 percent of those in civil unions and domestic partnerships have split.
“That’s about the same as for heterosexual couples,” he said. “A study in Europe suggested dissolution were slightly higher and women had a higher rate, but we have not seen that pattern yet in the U.S.”
Lesbians are more likely to be in a relationship, but gay male relationships last longer, according to Gates’ research.
A study of California male couples showed that those not in a registered domestic partnership had an average duration of about 9.6 years. Among those in a domestic partnership, the figure rose to almost 12 years. For female couples, it was eight years and nine years respectively.
Gates’ research challenges some assumptions about gay and lesbian couples. While males in same-sex couples have higher education levels than their straight counterparts, “they should earn a lot more, but they don’t,” he said.
About 46 percent of male and 44 percent of female couples have college degrees. About a third of married straight men and 31 percent of married women have degrees.
Census data show a mean household income of $120,000 for male and $95,600 for female same-sex couples, he reported. “But if you look at personal income it’s about $68,000 for men and $51,500 for women.”
The mean household income among straight married couples is $93,500 but personal income shows married men earning $61,000 and women $28,000.
Where same-sex couples live is a factor in how much they earn, Gates reported.
“Male couples are more likely to be urban,” he pointed out. “Female couples are slightly more urban than straight couples. Men with two incomes who don’t have children can better afford to live in cities.”
Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s progress -Equality comes one step at a time
BY ERIC MCDANIEL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Monday, July 18, 2011
LITTLE ROCK — Headlines never capture the whole story. They can’t. But the ones that recently summarized Gov. Mike Beebe as a defender of the Bible Belt’s conservative status quo missed a critical and compelling aspect: progress in the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality has and continues to be made in Arkansas and America.
That progress was signaled last month by Beebe’s historic appearance before the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas, an official caucus of the Arkansas Democratic Party that advocates for LGBT rights. The event demonstrated that the gay community has a seat at the table in our state. From it, we successfully pushed for an anti-bullying law that includes protections based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, making Arkansas one of only 13 states with such a law. We successfully fought efforts to ban unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children. We successfully supported openly gay and gay-friendly individuals who have won elected office.
Progress is here, and it’s all around us. The Obama administration no longer defends the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which further disintegrated only 1 1/2 weeks ago when the Department of Justice stopped opposing joint bankruptcy petitions filed by same-sex married couples. New York just became the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage, thanks in part to the votes of four Republicans. The judicial system has ordered the Defense Department to stop enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Pentagon said recently it would comply.
Like our friends affiliated with the Log Cabin Republicans, who were instrumental in many of these happenings, the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas will continue to work for change from within our party. Based on Beebe’s comments last month, legitimate opportunities exist for additional change in Arkansas right now. For example, the governor opposes discrimination in the workplace based upon sexual orientation, yet protections do not exist in Arkansas like they do in nearly half of all U.S. states. “I think you ought to be judged in your employment by how well you do your employment. Period,” Beebe said. He made many remarks that night that folks will never let him live down, but of them all, these are the most significant, because they open the door for progress. We intend to press for more discussions on workplace discrimination and other issues with fellow members of the Democratic Party and in the governor’s office.
Some people sympathetic to our goals will disagree with our approach. Some already have, and it seems partly because of a misinterpretation. Make no mistake, the comments Beebe made in opposition to civil-rights equality are indefensible, hurtful and frustrating, but it would be useless to make a string of agitating comments and go on a name-calling tirade. Just ask Rep. Donna Hutchinson about the effectiveness of that technique. Her message may have been well-received by those who share her sentiments, but they were easily dismissed by others, and most importantly, by the governor. Words that exact change within individuals and society at large are not ones that alienate the intended audience. It is with this in mind that statements are crafted by the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas. It’s a professional approach. In this day and age of political discourse, you might even call it progressive.
Then there are others who will flatly disagree with some of our initiatives, but those people are dwindling in number. Polls show that for the first time, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. Is a similar shift in Arkansas’ culture a long way off, like Beebe said he believes? Maybe. But to think that further progress won’t be incrementally made in our state is akin to believing that one person’s public stance on an issue matters more than the American maxim that all are created equal, and that in the end, there is liberty and justice for all. No, Beebe did not pleasantly surprise us and say everything we wanted to hear last month. But in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”
Eric McDaniel is the president of the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas.
Editorial, Pages 11 on 07/18/2011
Thanks to all who attended our latest program that featured Gov. Mike Beebe. As you probably know, the event generated a lot of discussion in Arkansas, in the media, and within our community. We believe that this open discussion lays a foundation for progress to come, and the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas will continue to facilitate this discussion in an appropriate manner. We are passionate about the rights denied to the LGBT community, but convinced that our contributions to the conversation must be respectful.
Philip Martin’s recent column in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette titled “Justice Is Inevitable” is an example of a positive addition to the political discourse in Arkansas. His writing gains traction with people of all opinions because of its even-temperedness and lack of radical remarks. Lines like, “…civil rights are not negotiable. History will not be kind to obstructionists and those who attempt to preserve political viability by deferring justice,” resonate with all Arkansans, and particularly with the governor, we imagine. We hope that you’ll take the time to read it.
Contrast his column with recent remarks from Rep. Donna Hutchinson that were laced with name-calling. They are well-received by those who share those sentiments but easily dismissed by others, particularly the governor. Words that exact change within individuals and society at large are not ones that alienate the intended audience. It is with this in mind that statements are crafted by the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas, which operates as an official group within the Democratic Party. In other words, we are not a club that exists outside of the party.
Our president, Eric McDaniel, elaborates on the nature of our organization in a recent podcast interview with Jay Jackson. The two also discuss current events as they pertain to the LGBT community. In light of these incrementally positive cultural shifts they discuss, the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas plans to hold a meeting in the coming weeks that will discuss how we as an organization and as individuals can best keep things moving forward. Stay tuned!
As always, the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas welcomes donations. Consider this link our new welcome mat! Should you wish to contribute to our efforts financially, this is an easiest way to do so. Thanks in advance for your help.
Keep fighting the good fight!
Your Friends and Allies at
The Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas
If you would like to renew or become a member click here
If you would like to make a general donation without membership click here
Click the link below to be taken to the article on the Arkansas Times website…
Time Tuesday, June 28 · 6:00pm – 7:30pm
Location First Presbyterian Church of Little Rock
800 Scott St. Little Rock, AR Directions: http://tinyurl.com/6jof9ny
Please join us for this fantastic opportunity to hear from Governor Beebe and to ask questions about issues on our mind, and to show the Governor how many folks are supportive of LGBT rights. He will be our featured speaker and the program will start promptly at 6pm followed by a short business meeting. We want to have a big turnout for this event so please share this event with your friends!
Jay Jackson interviews SDC President, Eric McDaniel…
“Our latest interview with Eric McDaniels of the Stonewall Democrats. The Stonewall Democrats are a gay activist political organization, and recently made headlines when addressed by Gov. Beebe last week. We hope you enjoy.”