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Same-Sex Marriage in the Netherlands:

Cathy Young has some interesting observations. Some key excerpts:

In 1996, Jonathan Rauch wrote that if same-sex marriage is to succeed, it must become the general norm in the gay community, not just another lifestyle option. At least so far, that does not seem to be happening in Holland.

Also in the past 10 years, the overall marriage rate has dropped, from 5.4 per 1,000 inhabitants in 1994 to 4.5 per 1,000 in 2004. More heterosexual men and women are entering into civil partnerships — which are much more easily dissolved — instead of marriage; in 2004, about 7% of new male-female legal unions were civil partnerships. This does not prove, as Stanley Kurtz has argued, that same-sex marriage undermines heterosexual marriage; the drop in marriage rates is undoubtedly due to many complex factors. However, one can plausibly argue that the changing attitudes toward marriage that make same-sex marriage possible may also be related to overall lower marriage rates. . . . .

Why am I pointing this out? Because, while I fully support legal rights for same-sex partners, I think both sides in the marriage debate have been prone to unwarranted and exaggerated claims about the social impact of same-sex marriage. The legalization of same-sex marriage has not, as some have claimed, led to polygamy in the Netherlands. But at least so far, it has not created a "marriage culture" among gays and has not boosted marriage among heterosexuals. As we continue our own discussion of same-sex marriage, we need to have all the facts on the table.

UPDATE: Dale Carpenter has a thoughtful response in the comments, and Cathy responds in turn.

frankcross (mail):
I'm a little bit mystified by the arguments people make. She is not arguing that gay marriage undermines homosexual marriage but hinting it might be possible. She is basing this on a change in heterosexual marriage rates as opposed to ten years ago. But gay marriage has been legal for only four years. Whatever your views on gay marriage, isn't this just a really bad argument?
11.30.2005 2:23pm
Cornellian (mail):
I don't make any inferences, pro or con, about same sex marriage, other than it will have the effect of allowing gay people to get married.
11.30.2005 2:34pm
Richard Bellamy (mail):
Frank,

Conservatives should therefore focus on increasing the rate of heterosexual marriage in America, as the example of the Netherlands clearly demonstrates that a plummeting heterosexual marriage rates inexorably leads to gay marriage.
11.30.2005 2:50pm
Humble Law Student:
Frankcross,

Her point is the legalization of SSM possibly accelerates the downward spiral of marriage for male-female marriages. By showing that homosexual marriage is socially desirable and acceptable, the primacy of marriage in its traditional form is further weakened, leading male-female couples to seek alternative relationships as well. Marriage becomes more of an "option" rather than something couples all strive for. Instead of having marriage or nothing, you have multiple relationship arrangements with none necessarily being socially preferred. This leads to the decline of marriage is male-female couples.
11.30.2005 2:52pm
Humble Law Student:
Richard,

I agree in a limited sense. I (and I believe many conservatives) think that the legalization of homosexual marriage is indicative of far the "marrriage culture" has fallen. Gay marriage only accelerates and further undermines it, but it by no means is or should be the scape goat for the generally dismal state heterosexuals have put marriage in.
11.30.2005 2:55pm
Salaryman (mail):
Ms. Young states that "one can plausibly argue that the changing attitudes toward marriage that make same-sex marriage possible may also be related to overall lower marriage rates." (Note, she doesn't say she agrees with this, or that there is strong -- much less conclusive -- evidence of it, merely that it's not implausible.)

Frank's criticism ("gay marriage has been legal for only four years") is valid only if the attitudes Young refers to first started changing four years ago as well. Remember, she isn't saying it's plausible that gay marriage might cause decreased overall marriage rates (and in fact rejects Kurtz's implication that it does), she's saying it's plausible that the same attitude changes that led to acceptance of gay marriage might cause decreased overall marriage rates. While it's unclear precisely what "changing attitudes" Young means, it's not unlikely that many possible candidates started changing long before 2001.
11.30.2005 2:58pm
Wintermute (www):
What are the legal differences between the two tiers in Holland? Some sort of default framework for sharing living-together obligations is one thing, but I thought the driving force had been entitlement to health and pension benefits and inheritance that can be deal-closers in straight marriages. My quibble has been that some of these entitlements involve transfer payments from the unmarried to the married, anyway; and I would like to see some re-examination of these in the process of extending marriage to gays.

Letting gay couples seek advantages in some kind of union could hardly be expected to have much influence on an era of hetero serial "polygamy."

Among gays themselves, why expect the trend to marriage of some sort to catch fire? Gay sex can remain uncomplicated by pregnancy and partnerships based on that, until individual desires for more security and disease avoidance take over.

Robert Scheer's new blog called my attention to new sex behavior data from CDC.
11.30.2005 3:00pm
billb:
Doesn't this really show that creating civil unions available to both same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships which are "more easily dissolved" than regular marriages undermines marriage? Based on this, shouldn't the pro-SSM folks be arguing against civil unions but for full marriage rights (which I note that many of them are)? How is this ammo against SSM (it's clearly ammo against civil unions)?
11.30.2005 3:03pm
Houston Lawyer:
Many opponents of SSM are also opponents of civil unions or any other sort of "marriage lite". Once you establish marriage lite for homosexual relationships, people will start demanding it be made availiable for heterosexual relationships. I too am curious as to what benefits actually accrue to individuals who participate in marriage lite and question how it can be dissolved any easier than a regular marriage.
11.30.2005 4:07pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I don't think anything in this post was meant to be "ammo against SSM" necessarily... Just referencing an interesting post by an author we've enjoyed in the past.
11.30.2005 4:21pm
Chad Too (mail):
I think one would have to look at heterosexual marriage trends in Europe over the last 50 years before making any attempts to blame SSM for this change.

A more important question here is if any heterosexuals who wanted to get married were deterred because homosexuals could be married too. I doubt highly that this was the case. Blaming SSM for this downturn is silly when those straight couples who chose civil unions did so with marriage as a valid choice on the table.
11.30.2005 4:50pm
Justin (mail):
billb adequately sums up why I am unsure how this post makes any sense/has any relevance.
11.30.2005 5:32pm
Justin (mail):
I supply Dale Carpenter's response, in full:

We are going to spend the next few years (decades?) arguing about what SSM statistics from the countries that allow it mean. While Cathy Young, as usual, makes some nice points and distinctions she is shading things a bit too much against gay marriage in the following passages:

"In 1996, Jonathan Rauch wrote that if same-sex marriage is to succeed, it must become the general norm in the gay community, not just another lifestyle option. At least so far, that does not seem to be happening in Holland."

There are many points to be noted here. (1) SSM is "succeeding" for those who are getting married. (2) Many of the registered partners in the Dutch sample already had almost all of the legal benefits of marriage before SSM so they have little legal incentive to have their status switched, if that is even easily done. (3) The decline in SSMs from the initial year of SSM only shows that in the first year there was a large pent-up demand for it, just as there was in Massachusetts. (4) Moreover, if the statistical table is right, since SSM became an option in 2001, gay couples who want a legal status are choosing marriage over registered partnerships by 2 to 1 margins. (5) It should not be surprising to see that a relatively small number of cohabiting gay couples are getting married since these are people who have lived their entire lives without thinking marriage was a possibility for them. That can, and should, change over time. Changing a culture of promiscuity and non-commitment is a long project, not a short one. (6) ALL of the marriage figures are lower in the European countries where marriage is, indeed, in decline (and not because those cultures are too "rigid" about what marriage means). The gay subpopulatrion only reflects this larger cultural trend.

"Also in the past 10 years, the overall marriage rate has dropped, from 5.4 per 1,000 inhabitants in 1994 to 4.5 per 1,000 in 2004. More heterosexual men and women are entering into civil partnerships -- which are much more easily dissolved -- instead of marriage; in 2004, about 7% of new male-female legal unions were civil partnerships. This does not prove, as Stanley Kurtz has argued, that same-sex marriage undermines heterosexual marriage; the drop in marriage rates is undoubtedly due to many complex factors. However, one can plausibly argue that the changing attitudes toward marriage that make same-sex marriage possible may also be related to overall lower marriage rates. (Whether that's a bad thing is another matter.) And the Dutch experience does seem to refute Rauch's argument that legalizing same-sex marriage will improve the status of marriage in the larger society."

Note that marriage was in decline in the Netherlands before even gay partnerships were recognized, much less gay marriage. You can hypothesize that the idea of gay marriage and the decline of marriage generally spring from the same poisonous root, but these numbers neither support nor refute that hypothesis.

As for Rauch's argument about gay marriage helping marriage, I've never thought that gay marriage would have much of an effect on marriage either way. But regardless, these numbers don't prove Rauch wrong. A tiny number of gay marriages in the Netherlands are swimming against a strong cultural tide against marriage generally, having to do with things like the generous welfare state in European countries. Rauch could plausibly argue that without gay marriage, the decline in marriage would be even _worse_ than it has been, but that gay marriage is of course not enough to overcome the overwhelming confounding trends in the opposite direction.
11.30.2005 5:34pm
frankcross (mail):
It seems obvious to me that a comparison of today with ten years ago is pretty much irrelevant evidence as to the effect of something that happened four years ago.

Salaryman's point is, I think, what troubles conservatives. That gay marriage is more a symptom of changing attitudes than a cause of them, but a symptom that can be addressed. But what is the evidence that it actually is a symptom? I would think that a secular change of attitudes that is anti-marriage would not appear as extending the scope of marriage to gays. The notion of gay marriage theoretically embraces the value of marriage as an institution, and I know conservatives who support it for that reason.
11.30.2005 5:35pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I've never found the argument that SSM will impair real marriages to be even slightly persuasive. This argument is something that an opponent of SSM would make rather than admit that the argument against it is that our laws have traditionally reflected a Christian perspective.

Unfortunately, making divorce no-fault was the first big step away that. I agree with those conservatives (like Bill Bennett, if I recall correctly) who observed that divorce is a far larger cause of social chaos and confusion than homosexuality.

That doesn't mean that we should continue down the slope into SSM--it means that we should think very seriously about discouraging divorce and the culture of selfishness associated with it.
11.30.2005 6:17pm
Jim Miller (mail) (www):
Interesting. Two years ago, in this post, after looking at the early numbers on gay marriage from Canada, I came to this conclusion:

"By itself, I think that gay marriage will have little effect on society, simply because so few gays will get married."

Looks like the early numbers from the Netherlands support that tentative conclusion.
11.30.2005 8:04pm
Xander (mail):
Interesting Points thus far. I think what this data may point to is that heterosexuals already fundamentally changed what marriage is. In doing so they may have opened the gates for homosexual unions. The question is can this be undone? Should it? To blame SSM for the "decline" or change is rather fool hearty.
11.30.2005 10:00pm
JGUNS (mail):
So far the legalization of SSM has not "led to polygamy." But I say why not? Only because it hasn't been pushed for. As a legal issue, there should be no reason why if SSM is legalized, polygamy shouldn't. I fully expect that will be the case in the Netherlands in the future.
11.30.2005 10:15pm
fred (mail):
Heterosexual marriage has been weakened primarily by a series of liberalizations that took place during the 60's and 70's. No-fault divorce led to marriages being entered into far too easily (If we don't like each other, we'll just get divorced!) - with the concomitant result that people exited them more easily when they found they should never have been together in the first place. Far too many people waste 5 years or so of their life this way.

By increasing women's ability to get jobs and support themselves, the woman's movement virtually guaranteed a rise in the divorce rate: Why stay with the schmuck when you can earn your own living? And by the way, that guy I work with is kind of cute, too. So long, Sam.

Marriage has been under enormous pressures as a result of these liberalizations. Same Sex marriage will not immediately hurt heterosexual marriage. But it sure won't help, and it's just another liberalization that will chip away at a declining institution.

The question is - can a society survive all of this?

The Europeans have run "ahead" of us in this regard, and their experience seems to say "No, It can't survive."

Demographically, they no longer reproduce themselves and are on the way to oblivion. Muslims will be a majority in France, by the middle of the century, if I recall correctly. Bye, Bye European culture, hello sharia.
11.30.2005 11:53pm
Cathy Young (mail) (www):
Hi everyone,

If you read the entirety of my post, you will see that I start by responding to Andrew Sullivan (whose post tipped me off to this report), who claimed that the new statistics show a huge rise in gay married couples in the Netherlands and concludes that the legalization of SSM is creating a culture of marriage among gays in the Netherlands. But in fact, the article Andrew linked to showed a rise in gay couples living together as reported in the latest census -- from 39,000 10 years ago to 53,000 now. (Possibly due to more gay couples self-reporting as such.) Only a quarter of these cohabiting same-sex couples had legalized their relationship: 12% were married and 10% were in civil unions. So, part of the point of my post was that one really cannot claim, on the basis of these data so far, that a new "culture of marriage" has emerged in the gay community in the Netherlands. For whatever reason, gays and lesbians -- compared to heterosexual couples -- are far more likely to cohabit without formalizing the relationship, and far more likely to enter a civil union than a marriage.

I explicitly reject the argument that SSM is weakening heterosexual marriage (or, at the very least, I see no evidence so far that it is). But it's clearly not boosting marriage, at least so far; and at least so far, the majority of gay couples are not choosing it.

As for social changes that may be associated both with the drop in marriage rates and with same-sex marriage: I would say a more individualistic view of marriage in general, above all.
12.1.2005 8:34am
Xander (mail):
"Demographically, they no longer reproduce themselves and are on the way to oblivion. Muslims will be a majority in France, by the middle of the century, if I recall correctly. Bye, Bye European culture, hello sharia."

blaming these demographic trends purely on marriage decline is foolish. Changes in economics as well as health care have also been huge factors in demographic changes around the world. As for immigrant peoples changing the makeup of nations, look here before going abroad. In the United States, with our "less eroded" marriage institution, we are seeing the same trends in population, with people from Central, South America, and Mexico changing our demographics. Some of the largest groups in the past well soon be overcome: blacks and whites.

When asking if society can survive these changes I think the answer is simple, no. But the why is important. Society is in constant change. To refute this would be to refute history. Yes, some changes are more fundamental and radical, but changes will and do occur. The important long term question is can humanity survive this? I for one would have a hard time saying no.
12.1.2005 12:54pm
dweeb (mail):
Actually, it HAS led to polygamy in the Netherlands, i.e. special govt. sanction of polygamous relationships. A man and two women recently entered into a civil union there.
12.5.2005 10:49am