When Gay People Get Married by M.V. Lee Badgett

M.V. Lee Badgett examines the question of the personal and societal effects of gay marriage by looking at the experience of the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2001.

When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Publisher: New York University Press
Length: 287 pages
Author: M.V. Lee Badgett
Price: $35.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-08

Hell doesn’t freeze over, the land is not engulfed in floods or flaming brimstone, and the participants are not struck dead by lightening. Neither do married straight people rush to divorce court to end their association with the now-sullied institution or reform their behavior to prove that they really are better than gay people. Instead, at least in the case of the Netherlands which has allowed gay marriage since 2001, gay people get married for much the same reasons as straight people while the marital behavior of straight people scarcely changes at all.

This is the conclusion of When Gay People Get Married, a refreshingly even-tempered and well-researched book by M.V. Lee Badgett, a Professor of Economics and director of the Center for Public Policy & Administration at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and research director of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law. Badgett has a personal interest in the subject: in 2003 when she conducted the research she was unable, as a lesbian, to marry her life partner in the United States. So not only were they deprived of taking part in a cultural institution: they also paid more in income tax and could not take advanced of spousal coverage for health insurance. By contrast, Badgett notes that the Netherlands, where she spent a sabbatical year researching this book, legally recognized their relationship when it granted their temporary residence permits.

The Netherlands offers four legal options for couples, whether gay or straight. If they live together for a certain period of time, they are considered by the law to be a unit for concerns such as taxes, parenting, and immigration. They can sign a cohabitation contract to further formalize the relationship. They can register as partners and get almost all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, although registered partnerships are somewhat easier to dissolve than marriages. Or they can choose to be married.

Given this variety of choices, and without the societal expectation that they must get married, why do same-sex couples who love each other choose marriage over the other options? Badgett interviewed a number of Dutch couples and found that the reasons were similar to those regularly stated by opposite-sex couples: to provide security for children, to express commitment to their partner, to organize their legal and financial matters. A 2006 survey of Dutch married and registered partner couples also found that same-sex and opposite-sex couples reported similar motivations for choosing marriage: about 40 percent of each group reported primarily practical reasons, about 60 percent primarily emotional reasons.

So gay marriage seems to be good for gay people: how does it affect straight people? According to the conservative commentator Stanley Kurtz, it hastens moral decline by separating the act of procreation from the act of marriage. He points to decreasing marriage rates in the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, the increase in unmarried heterosexual couples, and increasing numbers of children born outside of wedlock as evidence that straight people take legal recognition of gay marriage as a sign that parenthood and marriage need no longer be connected.

But Badgett refutes these conclusions by looking at marriage rates in six countries, five of which have a long history of granting rights to same sex couples: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, and the United States. All six have seen a decline in marriage rates since the 1970s, but several of the countries which allow gay marriage have seen an increase since the '90s (while the US has not). She doesn’t attribute the increase to the influence of gay marriage (the trend started earlier) but points out that the historical data offers no support for Kurtz’s opinions. Similarly, divorce rates and nonmarital birth rates showed little change after the legalization of same-sex marriage

There’s a wealth of statistical data in When Gay People Get Married and it certainly belongs on the bookshelves of people concerned with the legal rights of gay people: unfortunately falsehoods such as those perpetuated by Kurtz are a regular facet of political discourse in the United States so you need to be ready with thoughtful, factual rebuttals. It’s also a model of clear academic writing which will be of interest to many in the social sciences. And it’s a good read as well, even if you have no professional or intensely personal interest in the topic: Badgett maintains a personal voice and presents lots of information about individuals and their experiences to balance out the statistics.

The uninformed, unscientific nature of public discourse about gay marriage (well, really about sexual matters in general) in the United States is frequently appalling. Here’s a suggestion to raise the tone: the next time someone starts off on a rant about all the horrible things that will happen if we legalize same-sex marriage, point out that the best evidence available suggests just the opposite. Smile sweetly, refer them to When Gay People Get Married, and retreat to a safe corner to watch the steam come out of their ears.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.