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Same-Sex Couples May Have More Egalitarian Relationships


A little more than 10 years ago gay marriage was not an option for same-sex couples anywhere in the U.S. Now it's legal in the majority of the country, and so we wondered what research can tell us about these couples and their marriages. Robert-Jay Green is the founder of the Rockway Institute for Research in LGBT Psychology, and he's been studying same-sex couples since 1975. Welcome to the program.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first of all, tell us who did you track in your study, and what you find out?

GREEN: Well, this was a study of 976 couples who, in 2008, were registered domestic partners in California. We followed them over a five-year period to look at which ones of them got married, which ones of them stayed together, unmarried, and which ones of them broke up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what did you find out? I mean, does marriage matter?

GREEN: Well, what we found out was that for those who married, they showed much better mental health at the follow-up time period than those who stayed together unmarried. And we feel this is an answer to the question of do same-sex couples need marriage rights, in addition to access to civil unions and domestic registered partnerships? And the answer is yes, it improves their mental health.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So they're happier, essentially?

GREEN: Yes, happier, less depression, better mental health.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In that sense, are same-sex marriages different than heterosexual marriages? Do you have the same sorts of power dynamics, for example?

GREEN: Well, what we found consistently in our research is that same-sex couples tend to be much more egalitarian in their relationships. They share decision-making more equally, finances more equally, housework more equally, childcare more equally. Basically every dimension we looked at, same-sex couples are dramatically more equal in the way they function together as a couple compared to heterosexual couples.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that immediately brings a question to my mind. Do they fight less? I think of my marriage and the things that we often squabble about are childcare, our money, housework. So do they fight less?

GREEN: Not necessarily. There tends to be less anger and aggression in their conflict situations. So when they're discussing a conflictual area, it's been found that same-sex couples use a lot more humor, are much more able to de-escalate the conflict discussion so that they don't get out of hand, whereas heterosexual couples tend to get more into a power struggle.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why are they better at resolving conflicts, do you think?

GREEN: I mean, I think it has to do with the basic equality in a relationship. I mean, when you're both the same gender, you can't divvy up roles according to gender. On the other hand, because you're equals, you can't get away with pulling power techniques on each other because it will only backfire on you when you're dealing with an equal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: With gay marriage becoming an option for so many same-sex couples across the country, we're just seeing the sea change. How has that changed the way young gays and lesbians think about their lives?

GREEN: I mean, we don't know entirely yet how it's going to affect them. But we found that 61 percent of young gay males said they were very or extremely likely to marry in the future. And for females, it was 78 percent said they were very or extremely likely to get married in the future. That means the vast majority of young lesbian and gay people are intending to get married in the future, and the same thing is true for parenting. So, I mean, what we're expecting to see is lesbian and gay people are going to be married at about the same rates as heterosexual people and have children at the same rates as heterosexual people. We'll see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Robert-Jay Green, founder of the Rockway Institute for Research in LGBT Psychology. Thank you so much.

GREEN: OK, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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