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Donesha Aldridge/MEDILL

Divorce rates for states that allow same-sex marriage show little change in statistics since same-sex marriage was legalized. The Centers for Disease Control's National Vital Statistics System does not collect data for same-sex couples only. The numbers reflect the changes of divorce in all marriages.

Donesha Aldridge/MEDILL

Caroline Staerk, representative from Equality Illinois, speaks about how the state was not open to a marriage equality bill four years ago.

Divorce rates lower in states that allow same-sex marriage

by Donesha Aldridge
March 01, 2012


Donesha Aldridge/MEDILL

Equality Illinois, the state's oldest LGBT organization, filed the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act" Feb. 8. The staff says there's no definite time table to when the legislature will vote on it.


Donesha Aldridge/MEDILL

Caroline Staerk, field director for Equality Illinois, said the equal-marriage bill was attached to the initial civil union bill that past last year, but Illinois wasn't ready for a marriage equality bill so it was dropped.


Donesha Aldridge/MEDILL

Iowa and Massachusetts have the lowest rates of all divorces in the nation.


Courtesy of the Williams Institute

Most states that grant civil unions and same-sex marriages don't track statistics, but for those who do, divorce rates tend to be lower for same-sex couples than for those of opposite-sex marriages. The data in the table represent statistics of same-sex couples only.

Related Links

See the lastest news from Equality IllinoisSee the full study of The Williams Institute's 'Patterns of Relationship Recognition by Same-sex Couples in the United States' See the latest legislation passed for all states on same-sex marriage and civil unions from the National Conference of State Legislature

What states allow same-sex marriage?

Washington, D.C., and six states allow same-sex marriages: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.

Who will be next to legalize same-sex marriage?

Washington and Maryland passed same-sex marriage in February. LGBT couples of these two states will be permitted to have nuptials once the changes go into effect.
First comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes divorce.

With a 50-50 marriage survival rate, opponents of same-sex marriage fear that LGBT nuptials coming to Illinois will ruin the nuclear family of a mom, dad, and children, and could also lead to higher divorce rates. They also say that the best homes to raise children are in heterosexual households.
But when it comes to divorce rates, states that allow same-sex marriage have some of the lowest rates in the country, and advocates say LGBT moms and dad don’t ruin the nuclear family but also add value to it.

In fact, support for same-sex marriages is growing, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Seven out of 10 people report they are related to or know someone who is LGBT,” said Liz Owen, communications director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays. “These issues become less about policy and more about the personal.”

Same-sex couples took their vows for the first time May 17, 2004, as Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. The divorce rate for every 1,000 people in the total population was about 2.2 in Massachusetts in 2004; in 2010 the divorce rate was 2.5, the second lowest rate in the country behind Iowa, another state that allows same-sex marriage.

Iowa’s divorce rate in 2010 was 2.4 per 1,000 people in the total population, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics System. The CDC’s statistics represent divorce rates of all marriages.

Most states don’t track the divorces of same-sex marriages alone, according to the Williams Institute, an extension of the University of California Los Angeles that does research on the lesbian and gay community.

With the states that do, the percentages of same-sex couples dissolving their relationships is slightly lower than those of opposite-sex couples who get divorced, according to a Williams study released in November.

Although there’s a 50-50 chance of a marriage surviving, same-sex couples say they cannot be credited for the problem.

“It’s a thoughtful process,” said Chicagoan Scott Fehlan, a lawyer, who married his husband in 2008 when California legalized same-sex marriage. They have been together since 1996. Illinois recognizes their marriage as a civil union.

“Gay couples who get married now are older on average and more mature,” Fehlan said. “My guess is they are less likely to get a divorce because they have been together for so long, and the opportunity has only recently been granted for them to get married.”

Vermont’s statistics show an annual average of a 0.3 percent dissolution for same-sex marriages, according to the Williams Institute. The CDC’s overall statistic for Vermont’s divorce rate for 2010 was 3.8.

Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage in 2008, when its divorce rate was 2. It was 2.5 in 2010, according to the CDC.

Fehlan said if the state would allow for same-sex couples to get married, it would finally grant members of the LGBT community the respect they deserve.

“We need consistency,” Fehlan said. “Why not use the same name? Everyone knows what a marriage is and if someone goes from Illinois to another state, the civil union might not be recognized. Opposite-sex couples never have to worry about that.”

Unfortunately, the plus side to marriage is that there is an option for divorce. For some states that don’t allow same-sex marriages or civil unions, there is no process to resolve conflicts of separation.

Wendy Cole separated from her partner about two years ago after a 15-year relationship. At the time of their separation, civil unions were not legal in Illinois so there was no divorce process for her to go through.

“We went through mediation,” she said. “No one goes into relationships thinking that it will end that way.”

“There needs to be some kind of road map in place for the cases that don’t [survive]”

Cole and her ex-partner are legal guardians of their two children. She said this is all the more reason for states to legalize same-sex marriages, because there needs to be a clear action plan to take in times like these.

Illinois granted civil unions in June. Now when a couple wants to dissolve a civil union they now have the option to – and the state treats it similar to divorce.

Outside of the marriage-gender debate, advocates for opposite-sex parents said same-sex couples raising children deprive their kids from fundamental elements of parenting.

“Children miss out on having an intimate relationship with either a mother or a father,” said, Laurie Higgins, cultural analyst for the Illinois Family Institute.

“Men and women are by nature fundamentally different,” she said. “Homosexual households are depriving children of the contributions that these different genders give.”

“Children raised by homosexuals are also deprived of a deep organic experience of how men and women interact with one another as husband and wife,” Higgins said.

Not so, say advocates for same-sex parents.

“These moms and dads want the same things for their children that all parents do -- respect, protection, celebration, and a bright future,” said Steve Majors, communications director for Family Equality, a national organization that supports LGBT parents.

Fehlan, the Chicago lawyer, said comments about same-sex parents adequately raising children are degrading.

“It’s insulting to say that,” he said. “It’s like they believe we are deficient.”

Majors said society and the law are just discriminating against these parents.

“Every major child welfare and psychological organization has come to the definitive conclusion that all children fare best when raised in loving and stable homes, whether they are raised by parents who are straight, gay, single or coupled,” he said.

Majors said 2 million children in the U.S. are raised by same-sex parents. “Their moms and dads care about the same things all parents do – hugs and homework, bedtime and bath time,” he said.

Higgins said it’s not only about love and creating a stable environment, its moral factors that have to be considered as well.

“Children are also negatively affected not just by what they don’t experience but by what they do experience,” Higgins said. “If homosexuals are, in reality, objectively immoral, then teaching children that they’re moral is corrupting their moral compasses.”

But even as the debate continues about the nuclear family and what constitutes a good home, Majors said same-sex couples and families are in search of one thing:

“LGBT moms and dads look forward to the day when all schools, places of worship, hospitals and clinics, and government agencies treat LGBT-parented families with the respect that all families deserve,” he said.

LGBT families don’t ruin the nuclear family and are more than adequate to raise children, Majors said.