Author Examines the Effects of Gay MarriageWhen Gay People Get  Married

by Lori Hahn

According to some in the religious right, if gay marriage were allowed to happen, it would amount to nothing less than the end of the world. Gay marriage does exist though, and a new book takes a look at how it has changed – or not changed — marriage and the world order.

M.V. Lee Badgett recently published her book, When Gay People Get Married, What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage, a work which was researched while living and working in The Netherlands.

Badgett is a research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA School of Law and directs the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A busy women who was kind enough to talk to Outword about her research.

The legalities of gay marriage in Europe aren’t the same, right? Married couples don’t enjoy all the benefits of marriage we do in the U.S., right?Author lee Badgett

That’s right. In The Netherlands you get probably three-quarters of all the rights and benefits and obligations just by living together. Marriage itself only adds a bit to that. I think one of the reasons (the marriage) rates are low in the Netherlands is because marriage has changed there. It’s less common to get married there.

How can we equate what goes on here to what is going on in Europe? European culture seems to generally have a more liberal outlook towards all social institutions. What’s the major difference between there and here?

There certainly are some differences and religion is one of them. We are more religious as a society than most European countries – at least more than the countries which have gay marriage. But we are a lot alike in a lot of ways. We share a common cultural understanding of marriage and laws around marriage. There are some differences, but we are similar in things like how our economies are structured, the role of women, and our relative affluence. It does suggest that some of our decision-making might be the similar.

Most interesting for me while in The Netherlands was to understand what marriage meant to people when it did not have a lot of value to it (as far as rights/benefits). When you do see people marrying, it has to be for something more than what we sometimes hear here, “My partner needed health insurance, so we did.”

How can a study like this influence policy here?

What I’m trying to do with the book is use it to challenge some of people’s stereotypes. While I think people read magazines and blogs and newspapers to help sift through what to think about these topics, I think my book is trying to take a more careful, measured, not-so-emotional look at the issue.

One of the things I noticed was the fact that a rose by any other name is not necessarily a rose. Civil union, domestic partnership and marriage are not the same. How do we bring that conversation around, in a rational way, to the fact that the terms are not interchangeable? For example, when I was living in Germany, anyone (straight) wanting to marry had to go get a civil marriage with the government and if they wanted a church wedding they could.

France and the Netherlands have something similar – you get married in a town hall, it’s secular. There still is a distinction between marriage in Germany and life partnerships.

In the U.S. we have the same thing, but we have a broader definition of who is allowed to officiate, including clergy. The church doesn’t get to decide what it means, it’s determined by the government.

Dutch couples have three options: 1. Live together and be treated as a couple legally; 2. Get married to formalize the relations; or 3. Registered partnerships. Gay and straight couples both are more likely to get married rather than form a partnership to formalize their relationship. The couples I spoke with were very clear. They believed registered partnership is about second-class citizenship.

Even those who haven’t formalized their relationship said that if they did, they would choose marriage – that registered partnerships are, according to one of them a “bit of nothing.” It doesn’t have a lot of value to them.

So I think when you have all three of those options and mostly make the choice for marriage, I think that’s saying it’s a powerful statement from couples, “We don’t see them as the same thing.” That word has some real meaning to it.


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