July 6, 2016
Noting the one-year anniversary of the 2015 Supreme Court decision redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, the Gallup organization recently released poll data on how many Americans self-identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender), and how many of those are now in legally recognized civil marriages.
Marriages after Obergefell
“Same-Sex Marriages Up One Year After Supreme Court Verdict” was the headline Gallup used, reporting that “approximately 123,000 same-sex marriages have taken place since the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.” Some news outlet emphasized the growth of such relationships even more strongly, with Time saying they are “Way Up” and The Atlantic referring to “a surge in same-sex marriages in all 50 states.”
One would hardly have expected it to be otherwise, given that the Court had thrown open a door that had been closed by the state constitutions of thirty states. (Due to lower court decisions, however, only 13 states were still denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples by the time the Supreme Court ruled.)
The real news in the Gallup survey—missed by virtually every news outlet that reported on it—is not how many same-sex couples have now obtained civil marriages, but how few.
LGBT Adults Who Are Married
“Gallup currently estimates 3.9% of U.S. adults are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender,” the report says. How many of those are married? “Currently, 9.6% of LGBT adults report being married to a same-sex spouse.”
Wait a minute—after all the hullabaloo over same-sex marriage, all the insistence that marriage was essential to affirm the dignity of lesbian and gay Americans—less than one in ten have even bothered to take advantage of this critical new “right?”
“Well,” you may point out, “adults can be as young as 18 years old. They may not feel ready to marry, or they may not have found the right person yet, or they may be between relationships. Not all heterosexual adults are married at any given time, either.”
All this is true—so let’s compare the 9.6% of “LGBT adults” who are in same-sex marriages with the percentage of the general population (the vast majority heterosexual) who are married. That figure has been in decline for decades—partly because people are waiting longer to marry, partly because of an increase in cohabitation outside of marriage, and partly because of an increase in divorce.
In fact, a federal government report issued in 2014 made headlines: “Number of Unmarried Americans Now Over 50 Percent.” According to NewsMax, “the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the number of Americans over the age of 16 who are unmarried leapt from 37.4 percent in 1974 to 50.2 percent today.” Thus, only 49.8% (roughly five out of ten) were married.
Yet if five out of ten heterosexuals are married, and only one out of ten “LGBT” adults is in a same-sex marriage, this suggests that LGBT Americans are only one-fifth as likely to marry as are heterosexuals.
Same-Sex Couples Who Are Married
“Perhaps,” you may respond, “it’s just harder for LGBT people to find partners than for heterosexuals. What about the marriage rates among people who have already found a partner they are living with?”
The Gallup report offered data on that question as well—in fact, it led with it, beginning its report by declaring, “The proportion of same-sex cohabiting couples who are married has increased from 38% to 49% in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.”
However, 49% being married means that 51% of “same-sex cohabiting couples”—an outright majority, although a slim one—are still “living together but not married.”
What about all the arguments that legal civil marriage was absolutely essential to same-sex couples, because it is the only way to provide for inheritance rights, and medical decision-making, and over a thousand other “benefits” attached to marriage under federal law? It looks like most same-sex couples can do without civil marriage after all.
“Lots of opposite-sex couples cohabit instead of marrying, too,” you may say, and that is true. According to the Census Bureau, in 2015 there were 8.3 million households with opposite-sex unmarried couples—and 60 million married couples. That means that about 88% of opposite-sex couples living together were married, vs. only 12% that were cohabiting without marriage.
If the percentage of same-sex couples who reject marriage (by cohabiting instead) is 51%, and the percentage of the general public who do the same thing is only 12%, this suggests that those in homosexual relationships are over four times more likely to reject marriage than those in heterosexual relationships are.
I will concede that making precisely accurate comparisons between “LGBT Americans” and non-LGBT persons using such data is sometimes a challenge. First, unless it is explicitly separated out, data for the general public includes LGBT persons (although they are only a small fraction—about one in twenty-five).
The second issue—which Gallup may want to consider in its future reports—is that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are four different populations, which really ought to be addressed separately. They tend to be lumped together only because they are perceived as having common political interests (in challenging traditional norms for their sex), not because they share sociological characteristics. Gallup distinguished them only in part, by noting, “Males who identify as LGBT are more likely than females who identify as LGBT to report being married to a same-sex spouse (10.5% vs. 8.8%, respectively).”
“B” and “T” Americans and Opposite-Sex Marriages
There is no reason to expect that bisexual or transgender persons would necessarily seek marriage to a person of the same sex (although they might). It is just as likely that they would be married to someone of the opposite sex (although even defining who the opposite sex is could be problematic in the case of transgender persons).
This may help explain perhaps the most startling finding in the Gallup report, which none of the media reports even picked up on. It is this: more “LGBT Americans” are married to an opposite-sex spouse than to a same-sex one. Gallup reports that 13.6% of “LGBT Americans” are married to an opposite-sex spouse—a number 42% higher than the 9.6% of “LGBT Americans” now legally married to a same-sex spouse.
To interpret this figure, it would be helpful if Gallup had released more data specifically on those who identify as bisexual (sexually attracted to both males and females)—what percentage of “LGBT Americans” are actually “B,” and what percentage of just the “B’s” are married to or living with a same-sex vs. an opposite-sex partner. A recent federal report based on the National Survey of Family Growth said that self-identified bisexuals may actually outnumber self-identified homosexuals—narrowly among men (2.0% of the population vs. 1.9%) and widely among women (5.5% to 1.3%).
Gallup did report that 5% of LGBT’s are living with an opposite-sex partner outside of marriage. These cohabitors are 27% of the opposite-sex couples in the LGBT population, which means that even “LGBT Americans” in opposite-sex relationships are only about half as likely to reject marriage in favor of cohabitation as those in same-sex relationships.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all would be to learn how many people in the Gallup survey identify as “gay” or “lesbian,” yet are married to someone of the opposite sex. Could it be that some people place fidelity to a vow they have made to a husband or wife ahead of solidarity with their “sexual orientation?” If this number is anything other than zero, it would put the lie to Justice Anthony’s Kennedy’s assumption that one-man-one-woman marriage laws prevent “gay” or “lesbian” persons from marrying at all.
One thing should now be clear—the drive to redefine the institution of marriage was not really about marriage. The data from the Gallup report prove that most people with same-sex sexual attractions do not “need,” and do not even want, to marry. The primary purpose of redefining marriage was not to gain access to the institution of marriage, but to put the official governmental stamp of approval on homosexual relationships by declaring them identical to heterosexual ones, even though they clearly are not.