A friend shared this article on Facebook: Same-sex Couples Shatter Marriage Records In Utah. It is incredible, when you think about it: in just a few days of marriage equality, Utah has had almost as many same-sex weddings as the state of Maine did in the entire year since voters there approved marriage equality. Another friend commented on the irony that there seemed to be more gay couples in the states where they are least respected. This kicked off some pondering as to whether there are more LGBT people there than other places, or does it just seem that way.
Of course, I have a few theories about this…
For many years there has been some dispute about exactly what percentage of the population is gay. People with a political or religious agenda will skew the data one way, while people with different agendas will skew it another. But there is also a lot of difficulty in the area of definitions. I’ve written before about a man I dated who, even though for nearly two decades he had dated only men, he had never enjoyed either dating or having sex with women, and he was in particular attracted to definitely non-feminine bodies, insisted rather vehemently that he was straight.
Then there’s the study that lots of people still quote, even though it was retracted after the researchers admitted that they had lied when they said they hadn’t tired to minimize the number of gay/lesbian/bi people in their survey. In addition to the aforementioned pre-screening that was intended to minimize the number of gay people, they also had an incredibly implausible definition of “straight.” They counted anyone who had had any romantic or sexual encounter with a member of the opposite sex within the previous ten years as straight. Think about that for a moment: a person who has been in exclusively same-sex romantic and sexual relationships for the last 9 years and 364 days would be counted as straight if they had made one attempt, 10 years ago, at straight sex.
The Centers for Disease Control compiled a bunch of studies in the early ’90s that concluded, among other things, that Americans would rather admit to being heroin addicts than bisexual. They found that about one third of men who self-identified as gay, secretly had opposite-sex affairs on an on-going basis. Similarly, nearly half of self-identified straight men were secretly having occasional sexual relationships with other men.
Let me repeat that, nearly half of self-identifed straight men were secretly having occasional sexual relationships with other men.
So, the number of non-heterosexual people has been hard to pin down, but it seems clear that it is larger than most people believe.
Then we have information such as this derived from the 2010 census: the states with the highest proportions of same-sex couples raising children are those where tolerance for gay rights is substantially lower than the nation as a whole. Which seems counter-intuitive. It actually makes complete sense if you think about all the cultural implications that go along with that anti-gay attitude.
First, the stronger the anti-gay social forces are, the more likely gay and lesbian young people growing up there are going to be in denial about their own orientation. Speaking from my own experience: we spend years hoping the feelings will go away. We try anything and everything we can think of to try to be “normal.” Thus, a larger number of the gay and lesbian kids growing up there will wind up getting married to a member of the opposite sex, in hopes that marriage will be the “cure” that has eluded them. They wind up having kids, and when they finally are ready to admit the truth about themselves, they divorce. Many of them wind up with custody of the children of the marriage, so when they settle down with a member of the same sex, they become a family where one member is the biological parent, and the other a (legally not recognized) step-parent.
Those states where the anti-gay attitudes are strongest have a few other cultural imperatives that contribute. People of all orientations marry at younger ages, on average, than those in more liberal states. And households of all types have more children, on average, than those in more liberal states. The younger age of marriage contributes to the higher proportion of gay and lesbian young people who try an opposite marriage before coming out. The larger families leads me to my next point:
Second, the gay and lesbian people raised in those states are far more likely to want children, because of cultural expectations. The notion that settling down, setting up a household, and raising children are all part of being a grown-up is stronger in those subcultures than in the more liberal subcultures elsewhere. Which is why gay and lesbian couples in those states who don’t have children from the previous marriage of one or both partners are about twice as likely to adopt children than their counterparts in other states.
The flip side of those states being places where everyone marries younger and has more children than the more liberal states is that people in the more liberal states are more likely to put off settling down until they are older. That’s a trivial implication of the first statistic, but there are additional statistics showing that in those states straight couples are more likely to live together without getting married. All of which adds up to there being less cultural pressure (though hardly zero) on all couples to getting officially hitched.
Third, not only do statistics show that in the more liberal states people are more likely to delay marriage or live together without getting married, but also there is a higher percentage of the adult population living alone. There are many more households consisting of a one person in those states than in the more conservative states. This is probably another symptom of the lower emphasis on settling down and starting a family. Regardless, it means that both gay and straight people are more likely to live alone. Casual observers, such as neighbors, can’t be certain of the sexual orientation of people living alone, and most folks, even the most liberal, assume that strangers are straight unless given evidence to the contrary. In states where there is a stronger cultural expectation that you should move in and settle down when you find a romantic partner, there are going to be a higher percentage of same sex couples living together, and therefore being more visible to casual observers.
All of that contributes to the likelihood that people will notice gay and lesbian couples in those areas, but I don’t think that’s the whole story for why in a few days Utah has almost caught up with Maine.
Before the federal court ruling in Utah, every other state which began offering marriage to same sex couples had some form of legally recognized civil union or domestic partnership in place beforehand. When marriage equality came to those states, a lot of same sex couples already had at least some of the legal protections of marriage. In several of those states, the law that implemented marriage equality also set a process in motion which would automatically convert the domestic partnership to a marriage unless the couple dissolved it before a certain date. Both of those factors meant that couples in the 17 states before Utah felt less urgency to tie the knot as soon as possible.
While the Tenth Circuit Court has refused to issue an emergency stay on the lower court decision, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court won’t issue a stay, nor is there any certainty on how the Tenth Circuit will rule on appeal, and if the Supreme Court takes up an appeal of the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, how they will decide. So, while right now couples in Utah can get a license and get married, that window might be closed at some point rather soon.
Lacking any other protection, and facing the real possibility that the right to marry might be taken away, significantly increases the sense of urgency. Combine that with the larger proportion of same sex couples raising children together, and the legal protections available to the children with legal marriage of the parents, that raises the urgency further.
If one of the upper courts overturns the decision that allowed the marriages to begin, there is precedent that the marriages which occurred during the window of opportunity will be considered valid (though there is no guarantee), even though no new couples would be allowed to marry afterward. I think it’s highly unlikely that either the Tenth Circuit or the Supreme Court would actually nullify those marriages. So, again, there’s more than a bit of sense of urgency to get to legal protection while they can, just in case.