I'd like to see the studies themselves; newspaper reportage rarely does science justice. but sometimes it can raise worthwhile issues.
The New York Times
June 10, 2008
Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage
By TARA PARKER-POPE
For insights into healthy marriages, social scientists are looking in
an unexpected place.
A growing body of evidence shows that same-sex couples have a great
deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships. Most
studies show surprisingly few differences between committed gay
couples and committed straight couples, but the differences that do
emerge have shed light on the kinds of conflicts that can endanger
The findings offer hope that some of the most vexing problems are not
necessarily entrenched in deep-rooted biological differences between
men and women. And that, in turn, offers hope that the problems can be
Next week, California will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex
couples, reigniting the national debate over gay marriage. But
relationship researchers say it also presents an opportunity to study
the effects of marriage on the quality of all relationships.
"When I look at what's happening in California, I think there's a lot
to be learned to explore how human beings relate to one another," said
Sondra E. Solomon, an associate professor of psychology at the
University of Vermont. "How people care for each other, how they share
responsibility, power and authority - those are the key issues in
The stereotype for same-sex relationships is that they do not last.
But that may be due, in large part, to the lack of legal and social
recognition given to same-sex couples. Studies of dissolution rates
After Vermont legalized same-sex civil unions in 2000, researchers
surveyed nearly 1,000 couples, including same-sex couples and their
heterosexual married siblings. The focus was on how the relationships
were affected by common causes of marital strife like housework, sex
Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were
far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples,
women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the
financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex,
while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation
about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course,
none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to
share the burdens far more equally.
While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict
as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship
satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex
relationships can take a toll.
"Heterosexual married women live with a lot of anger about having to
do the tasks not only in the house but in the relationship," said
Esther D. Rothblum, a professor of women's studies at San Diego State
University. "That's very different than what same-sex couples and
heterosexual men live with."
Other studies show that what couples argue about is far less important
than how they argue. The egalitarian nature of same-sex relationships
appears to spill over into how those couples resolve conflict.
One well-known study used mathematical modeling to decipher the
interactions between committed gay couples. The results, published in
two 2003 articles in The Journal of Homosexuality, showed that when
same-sex couples argued, they tended to fight more fairly than
heterosexual couples, making fewer verbal attacks and more of an
effort to defuse the confrontation.
Controlling and hostile emotional tactics, like belligerence and
domineering, were less common among gay couples.
Same-sex couples were also less likely to develop an elevated
heartbeat and adrenaline surges during arguments. And straight couples
were more likely to stay physically agitated after a conflict.
"When they got into these really negative interactions, gay and
lesbian couples were able to do things like use humor and affection
that enabled them to step back from the ledge and continue to talk
about the problem instead of just exploding," said Robert W. Levenson,
a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
The findings suggest that heterosexual couples need to work harder to
seek perspective. The ability to see the other person's point of view
appears to be more automatic in same-sex couples, but research shows
that heterosexuals who can relate to their partner's concerns and who
are skilled at defusing arguments also have stronger relationships.
One of the most common stereotypes in heterosexual marriages is the
"demand-withdraw" interaction, in which the woman tends to be unhappy
and to make demands for change, while the man reacts by withdrawing
from the conflict. But some surprising new research shows that
same-sex couples also exhibit the pattern, contradicting the notion
that the behavior is rooted in gender, according to an abstract
presented at the 2006 meeting of the Association for Psychological
Science by Sarah R. Holley, a psychology researcher at Berkeley.
Dr. Levenson says this is good news for all couples.
"Like everybody else, I thought this was male behavior and female
behavior, but it's not," he said. "That means there is a lot more hope
that you can do something about it."