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The Sky’s Not Falling, But Discriminatory Laws Will A calm, reasoned and researched book about marriage equality
The Sky’s Not Falling, But Discriminatory Laws Will
A calm, reasoned and researched book about marriage equality
by Suzi Steffen
WHEN GAY PEOPLE GET MARRIED: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage by M.V. Lee Badgett. New York University Press, 2009. Hardcover, $35.
The title, like a headline perfectly created for search engine optimization, says it all (coincidentally leaving little for a reviewer to analyze): When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage.
Author M. V. Lee Badgett doesn’t need a cutesy title because nothing about this social science book hits the cutesy realm. She uses both qualitative research (interviews with Dutch gay and lesbian couples who are married, with “registered partnerships” or neither) and a lot (no, really, charts and charts of a lot) of quantitative research in her discussion of societies that have legalized marriage equality for a decade or longer.
Though her arguments may not apply entirely to the U.S., not because of the “American exceptionalism” argument she addresses early on but because of a much more highly religious society than those of the European countries she considers, Badgett’s entirely calm, academic and almost flat tone bodes well for those who want the facts.
Do those who argue against marriage equality want facts? Possibly not, for the facts would point out that heterosexual marriage rates were on a huge dive in countries like the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark long before members of the same sex could enter a marriage contract. Indeed, Badgett points out several times that while young heterosexual couples only rarely think of marriage as a necessary part of their future, studies show that young lesbians and gay kids see marriage as a desirable, logical step toward adulthood.
Those of us who hear this and groan at the inherent conservatism find ourselves reflected in Badgett’s work as well. The older lesbians and gay men she interviewed in the Netherlands most often thought of marriage as belonging to a patriarchal society or as a measure of state control of private relationships.
Ironically, as this issue of the Weekly goes to press, the legal arguments in the federal lawsuit Perry v. Schwarzenegger –— that is, for and against California’s Proposition 8 — were supposed to be available on YouTube (the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay on that one, but you can follow at least some of the Prop 8 update at http://wkly.ws/51). Lawyers for the plaintiffs include Republican former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage” graced the cover of the Jan. 9 Newsweek (it’s available at http://wkly.ws/50). Also ironically, as the author mentions late in the book, by the time the book was published, the landscape for marriage equality had changed in the U.S.: Last April, Iowa became one of the four (now five, with New Hampshire making it legal on Jan. 1, 2010) states where same-sex couples can get married.
Indeed, marriage equality details change from day to day, so Badgett’s book doesn’t make any attempt to keep up with the change in the U.S. (she does talk about states like Oregon that have civil unions or domestic partnerships). Instead, she looks at statistics like the percentage of people in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands who think marriage is outdated; the statistics on which U.S. states are likely to recognize same-sex partnerships in some way; the stats on percentages of same-sex and different-sex couples who choose partnerships instead of marriage, when they have a choice, and more. Not surprisingly, she finds that people mostly don’t care about partnerships or civil unions: If they’re going to formalize a relationship in front of the state and their families and friends, they want to get married.
Finally, she touches briefly on the emotional impact of researching the book and how her own status changed even as she was writing the book. Badgett’s a professor at the University of Massachusetts, and while she and her then-partner were in the Netherlands, Massachusetts legalized marriage equality. Now they’re married.
She asks questions ranging from, “Will gay people change marriage?” to the excellent “Will marriage change gay people?” Though she may be preaching to those who agree with her (is the rabidly anti-marriage equality Maggie Gallagher going to read this book, for instance?), her work still provides an argument based on years of data from countries that haven’t fallen apart in the least since they legalized equality.
Especially if you’re in a same-sex relationship, this book provides an important reinforcement of a variety of individual and community viewpoints and realities. Before you attend the debate between the anti-equality Gallagher and the pro-equality John Corvino, beginning at 7 pm Thursday, Jan. 21, at OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center, you’ll want to read this short, mostly statistics-based work. $