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Divorce Rate in Gay Marriage-Legal MA Drops To Pre-WWII Level

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James Dobson Claimed Gay Marriage Would "Destroy the Earth."

[below: A classic 2006 Daily Show episode examines claim that gay marriage has destroyed Massachsusetts.]

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In an August 20th column for the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman writes,

Opponents of same-sex marriage reject it on religious and moral grounds but also on practical ones. If we let homosexuals marry, they believe, a parade of horribles will follow -- the weakening of marriage as an institution, children at increased risk of broken homes, the eventual legalization of polygamy and who knows what all.

Well, guess what? We're about to find out if they're right. Unlike most public policy debates, this one is the subject of a gigantic experiment, which should definitively answer whether same-sex marriage will have a broad, destructive social impact.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire have all decided to let gays wed.

Actually, the "experiment" has been running in Massachusetts for fully 1/2 decade now. Over three years ago I wrote a story, "Christian Right Wrong on Gay Marriage", summing up the apparent non-impact of the then-2 year "experiment". Now, we have 4 consecutive years of data. According to the most recent data from the National Center For Vital Statistics, Massachusetts retains the national title as the lowest divorce rate state, and the MA divorce rate is about where the US divorce rate was in 1940, prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that triggered the US entrance into World War Two.

Provisional data from 2008 indicates that the Massachusetts divorce rate has dropped from 2.3 per thousand in 2007 down to about 2.0 per thousand for 2008. What does that mean ? To get a sense of perspective consider that the last time the US national divorce rate was 2.0 per thousand (people) was 1940. You read that correctly. The Massachusetts divorce rate is now at about where the US divorce rate was the year before the United States entered World War Two.

Back in summer 2006, after more than a year of poring over accumulating data I reported what was, to my mind, a foregone conclusion; after two years of legal gay marriage, the Bay State still boasted the lowest divorce rate of any state in the nation. That was notable in light of the absurdly histrionic claims made by leaders on the Christian right that legal gay marriage in Massachusetts would be an "apocalypse" that would destroy the institution of marriage and lead to the destruction of Western Civilization or even the Earth itself.

Now Steve Chapman has taken the next step. As he writes in his Chicago Tribune column,

I contacted three serious conservative thinkers who have written extensively about the dangers of allowing gay marriage and asked them to make simple, concrete predictions about measurable social indicators -- marriage rates, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, child poverty, you name it.

You would think they would react like Albert Pujols when presented with a hanging curveball. Yet none was prepared to forecast what would happen in same-sex marriage states versus other states.

One of the "conservative thinkers" who Chapman tried to solicit a prediction from, Maggie Gallagher, was active in the push to pass California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. Ms. Gallagher later responded, as I describe later in this story, to Mr. Chapman but she has narrowed her predictions dramatically since claiming, in 2003 it would adversely impact marriage and cause a rise in divorce rates. Gallagher new position is, in essence, that gay marriage will cause problems for gay marriage critics.

In short, it appears the word is getting out that gay marriage has little impact other then 1) allowing gay couples to marry and 2) providing marriage fees for clerics who conduct such marriage ceremonies. The real question is this -- how long will it take for the truth to diffuse, out into wider society ?

[below: predictions about gay marriage prior to its legalization in Massachusetts]

"marriage bears a real relation to the well-being, health and enduring strength of society" - Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in a February 5, 2004 Wall Street Journal opinion article"

"This is an important victory for those of us who wanted to preserve traditional marriage and to make sure that the mistake of Massachusetts doesn't become the mistake of the entire country" - Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, commenting on a March 30, 2006 Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling barring out of state same sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts.

"This is only the beginning, if we allow this [ same sex marriage ] to happen we will, in effect, have destabilized the basic institution of our society, which is marriage between a man and a woman" - Brian Camenker, President of the Parents' Rights Coalition, as quoted by MassNews, March 2000

"Taxpayers and businesses should not be compelled to subsidize either homosexual unions or non-marital heterosexual partnerships, both of which undermine the institutions of marriage and family." - Acting President of the Massachusetts Family Institute, Dan Englund, as quoted by MassNews, March 2000

"There is a master plan out there from those who want to destroy the institution of marriage." - Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) during the July 2004 U.S. Senate debate on the "Federal Marriage Amendment".

"the sexual revolution led to the decoupling of marriage and procreation; same-sex "marriage" would pull them completely apart, leading to an explosive increase in family collapse...." - Charles Colson, Christianity Today, June 2004

"We must aggressively combat the homosexual effort to destroy the tradition of marriage. This nation is on the precipice of moral devastation." - Jerry Falwell, July 14, 2003

"Pro-homosexuality activists try to portray the success of their cause as inevitable. But it is not. The churches can stand against the tide of relativism and libertinism in our culture. And they can help to reverse the tide, restoring marriage to its proper place of honor" - Former President of The Institute on Religion and Democracy, Dianne Knippers, as quoted on the website of Concerned Women For America

"....a person can use his or her right to object out of conscience and refuse to comply with this crime [ gay marriage ] which represents the destruction of the world." - Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, in a May 3, 2005 interview with Fides new service.

"Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God upon which this Nation and our laws are predicated. Such conduct violates both the criminal and civil laws of this State and is destructive to a basic building block of society -- the family." - Judge Roy Moore, Feb. 15, 2002

"Marriage is the union between a man and a woman is a truth known to each one of us already, and any attempt to allow same-sex marriages is a detriment to the family unit and hurts our state and nation." - Texas Governor Rick Perry, in an August 2005 mass email to supporters

"Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It [ same-sex marriage ] will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth." - James Dobson, Focus on the Family, October 2004 speaking at a rally for OK GOP Senate candidate Tom Coburn

"It seems the more people consider the long-term impact of homosexual marriage on the family and society, the more they oppose homosexual marriage," - Dr. Ron Crews, President of The Massachusetts Family Institute, quoted in a January 7, 2004 "Coalition For Marriage" press release

"Any redefinition of marriage must be seen as an attack on the common good....I would hope that those who promote same-sex unions will not be so naive as to fail to recognize the impact that redefining marriage will have on American culture....Strengthening marriage in the face of widespread cohabitation and the galloping divorce rate needs to be the concern of every citizen. Radically redefining marriage will simply serve to intensify the assault on marriage and the American family." - Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, October 2, 2003

"just a fraction of a master plan to destroy everything that is good and moral here in America." - description of the gay rights movement, from an early 1980's fundraising letter sent by Robert C. Grant of the group "Christian Voice"

Those predictions above, made prior to the May 17, 2004 court decision that made gay marriage legal in Massachusetts, represent the spectrum of dire claims made about the allegedly disastrous impact gay marriage would have on the Bay State, American society, the family, Western Civilization, and the World. "Global thermonuclear war" could have been inserted in place of "gay marriage" in some of the quotes and they would have made more sense.

After the June 26, 2003 Supreme Court decision of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down Texas' anti-sodomy law, Gallagher wrote, at the National Review Online, that "We are poised to lose the gay-marriage battle badly. It means losing the marriage debate. It means losing limited government. It means losing American civilization." Six years later, American civilization appears to be more or less intact. Gallagher also made more specific claims:

"The good news is that a marriage recovery appears to be on its way: Rates of divorce have dropped, illegitimacy is leveling off, marital fertility is on the rise, adult commitment to marital permanence is increasing, and the next generation's dislike of divorce is rising; the consensus that children do better when parents get and stay married is now broad, if shallow.

The bad news is that gay marriage will gut this marriage movement, and reverse these gains."

But legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts appears to have no effect on the Massachusetts divorce rate. That poses a big problem for highbrow critics of gay marriage such as Gallagher -- who has come up with a new list of the alleged horribles that legal gay marriage will spawn. In a Thursday, August 20th column at the National Review Online, Maggie Gallagher responded to Steve Chapman's request for predictions about the tangible effect gay marriage might have in the future but her new predictions aren't about the wider societal impact and amount to this: the success of gay legal marriage, as an institution, will cause problems for critics of gay marriage. Here are Gallagher's predictions:

1. In gay-marriage states, a large minority people committed to traditional notions of marriage will feel afraid to speak up for their views, lest they be punished in some way.



2. Public schools will teach about gay marriage.

3. Parents in public schools who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will be told with increasing public firmness that they don't belong in public schools and their views will not be accomodated [sic] in any way.

4. Religous institutions will face new legal threats (especially soft litigation threats) that will cause some to close, or modify their missions, to avoid clashing with the government's official views of marriage (which will include the view that opponents are akin to racists for failing to see same-sex couples as married).

5. Support for the idea "the ideal for a child is a married mother and father" will decline.

In a similar way, Galileo's insistence that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not vice-versa caused problems for opponents of the Heliocentric theory such as the Catholic Church. But, in time the Church learned accept the new outlook because scientific data supported it. So, perhaps there's hope that Maggie Gallagher and other critics of gay marriage may yet come to accept that after a half decade of legal gay marriage in Massachusetts, life continues as before.