In 2009 the University of California’s Williams Institute published a report called “The Effects of Marriage Equality in Massachusetts: A Survey of the Experiences and Impact of Marriage on Same-Sex Couples“. Surveying married same-sex couples in Massachusetts to determine the effect that extending civil marriage to them has had, the study verified what we know intuitively: marriage strengthens a couple’s relationship, makes their family more secure and binds them more tightly to their community. Here are some of the key findings:
Despite this timely, cogent research, Pastor Joe Fuiten has written an article called “Turning Marriage into a Farce“. Fuiten contends that “[g]ay marriage is not a step of human progress but a regression to marriage as a joke” because “[h]omosexual couples and married [heterosexual] couples are not equal when it comes to biology, fidelity, or commitment to the relationship. The two kinds of couples are both separate and not equal. We might both show up in a tuxedo but it doesn’t mean we are the same.”
Fuiten is pastor at Cedar Park Assemblies of God in Bothell, Washington. He has endorsed the serial heterosexual adulterer Newt Gingrich for president and collaborates closely with leaders in Washington’s anti-gay industry who have been heterosexually married and divorced numerous times.
To make the case that gays and lesbians are inferior to heterosexuals and thus are undeserving of access to civil marriage, Fuiten makes two basic assertions: gays are promiscuous and their relationships don’t last. The implications are that heterosexual couples have fewer sex partners and longer relationships than gay and lesbian couples, and that they have the right to set an arbitrary standard based on their own behavior.
Neglecting to provide any data on length of relationship and number of sex partners for heterosexuals, Fuiten cherry-picks irrelevant data about gay men from three studies mentioned in a discredited review article called “Comparing the Lifestyles of Homosexual Couples to Married Couples“, which can be found on the website of Family Research Council. FRC is a certified anti-gay hate group associated with the local anti-gay organization Fuiten sits on the board of, Family Policy Institute of Washington.
Fuiten could have titled his post “Turning Scholarship into a Farce” because none of the studies he cites are applicable to Washington state in 2012. All three studies report data collected from a time before civil marriage was open to gay and lesbian couples, and two of the studies were conducted in foreign countries. One of the studies Fuiten cites was published in 1973. More than half of Washington’s population has been born since that study was published, according to US Census data.
Fuiten’s “evidence” that gays are promiscuous
In trying to imply that gay Washingtonians have too much sex to be worthy of marriage, Fuiten rummaged around in the FRC review and pulled out this non sequitur: for Australian men aged 50 and over who were interviewed 20 years ago it was found that “only 2.7% …had only one sexual partner in their lifetime”.
Although that statistic is meaningless in today’s Washington, it is still interesting to compare it to results from a 2005 study published by the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC reported that only 8.8% of American heterosexual men 40 to 44 years old (the oldest surveyed) had had only one sex partner. Or we should say, only one sex partner so far. Logically, the opportunity to have additional sex partners increases with age. It would be interesting to know how much that percentage drops by the time these heterosexual men are elderly.
Fuiten’s “evidence” that gay relationships don’t last
Reaching again into the FRC grab bag, Fuiten reports that for gay men, “[a] Netherlands study published in AIDS found the “duration of steady partnerships” was 1.5 years”. The problem for Fuiten with this study is that it deliberately excluded monogamous men and men over 30. From Jim Burroway’s analysis of this study at Box Turtle Bulletin:
By keeping the age of the sample population artificially low, this artificially limits the length of time any of them could have been in a “steady relationship”. You’re certainly not going to find any twenty-nine-year-olds in thirty-year relationships — or even fifteen-year ones.
But that’s not the only problem. The study didn’t ask if any of the participants were married because they couldn’t marry. Marriage equality didn’t arrive in the Netherlands until April 2001, two years after the study ended. Instead the participants were simply asked if they had a “steady relationship” with no further guidance on what that means. People dating for a few weeks could consider themselves in a “steady relationship” – which would be a far cry from full-fledged marriage.
This is an important point. If legally recognized marriage had been an option for these couples (and if the researchers had been interested in studying only married gay men), they would have had a consistent standard for excluding those couples who were merely dating, or even those who were living together but who didn’t want to get married. That would have been the only valid way to compared married gay couples to married straight ones. You would have weeded out those who don’t want to marry, or who weren’t at that stage in their relationships where they felt ready to be married. After all, not all straight couples in “serous relationships” are married. By including couples in short-term relationships as well as those who don’t want to be married, the average length of relationships is significantly lowered.
And of course, monogamous couples were excluded from the study altogether. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to assume that non-monogamous relationships are less likely to be as stable as monogamous ones. By excluding monogamous couples, the average is likely reduced even more.
To make a valid comparison to straight couples, we would need to compare this group of gay men to married and unmarried urban straight couples – all under thirty and all non-monogamous.
It should be noted that although Fuiten talks about the desire of “homosexuals” to marry, which by definition includes lesbians, he keeps his focus on gay men. Nowhere does he attempt to offer even irrelevant statistics about lesbians. The tendency of male opponents of marriage equality to focus inordinant amounts of time and attention on gay men is legendary and has sparked many theories.