Monday, November 30, 2009

Does marriage matter?

This past Saturday was a National Day of Action for same-sex marriage in Australia. Thousands of people rallied across the country in support of legislative change to allow lesbian and gay couples to be legally married.

In Melbourne, ralliers marched up Collins street to the Marriage Registry Office at Parliament House. With its grandiose architecture and numerous churches this part of town is a common hang-out for those celebrating heterosexual marriage (or those just wanting to set up some wedding snaps with a fancy background). One couple seemed a bit bemused as they exited the church to the tunes of ‘hey hey, ho ho, homophobia has to go’ … Not quite the wedding march. Still they seemed pretty happy to lend their support to the cause and the bride cheerily compared wedding-rings with a couple of gay boys.

There was a smattering of kids and prams involved. But only a smattering … Not to suggest that GLBT couples (or singles) with kids don’t support same-sex marriage. More likely, it is a reflection of the fact that marching up the street waving a banner while pushing a pram with a toddler hanging off your leg is really tiring.

We asked participants in the Work, Love, Play study a few questions about marriage and commitment ceremonies. This was of interest to us with regards to the extent to which legal recognition of relationships creates greater social and legal support for same-sex parents and their children. Also, we were interested in whether couples who have some form of legal and/or public recognition of their relationship feel more confident as parents.

As with most issues, this topic raises more questions than we have scope to answer in our study. Does legal recognition of same-sex relationships create greater stability or happiness within a relationship? Would same-sex couples be likely choose marriage (if it were legal) as a way of ensuring a legal relationship between non-biological parents and their kids? Does parental marriage really make a difference to family life?

From the few simple questions we did ask, however, we found that only a small percentage of the 445 study participants had undertaken some form of commitment ceremony (legally recognised or otherwise) or signed some documents. There were:

• 32 (7%) who had undertaken a private commitment ceremony (without friends or family present)*

• 48 (11%) who had undertaken a public commitment ceremony*

• 13 (3%) who had legally registered their relationship in an area where this was permitted*

• 16 (4%) who had undertaken a legal civil union in an area where this was permitted*

• 10 (2%) who were legally married in a country where this was permitted*

We also asked people if the current legal status (or lack of status) of homosexual relationships in the area in which they live made them feel vulnerable in their relationship. Just over one third (36%, n=161) agreed or strongly agreed that it did*.

The Work, Love, Play study will continue for the next five years. So we will have an opportunity to follow up with people living in States and Territories where lesbian and gay civil unions or marriage have become legal to see if they have taken up the marriage option and the impact this has had on their relationship or family life. So please watch this space for more discussion on this quite fascinating topic.

In the meantime, let us know what you think. What does marriage mean for same-sex couples who have kids?

*NOTE: These are preliminary findings only. Do not quote these figures without consent of the author.

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