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Playing the Numbers Game: Foes of Marriage Equality Fudge the Facts Again

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Scott Moody of Cornerstone Policy Research, a religious-right organization, wants to regulate marriage in New Hampshire in order to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.

Moody claims same-sex marriage "devalues" marriage, a claim that has never been precisely explained. How one couple's marriage "devalues" other marriages seems to be a divine mystery on par with the Trinity. Apparently we are to believe marriage is a zero-sum game, where marriages of gay people devalue marriages of non-gay people.

Moody says the number of "marriage tax returns" has fallen nationally by 2.2 percent. In New Hampshire they fell by 1.5 percent because of what he called the general devaluation of marriage within our culture. Why is the decline higher nationally than in New Hampshire? Most states don't allow gay marriage, so is marriage less devalued in a state that does allow same-sex marriage? If marriage equality devalues marriage and results in its decline, as Moody asserts, then the trend should be the opposite of what it is.

Moody also claims that New Hampshire is the easiest state in which to finalize a divorce, and he tries to tie that to the population's supposed lack of value and faith in the institution of marriage. Why doesn't he talk about actual divorce rates? Perhaps because he's talking nonsense.

Consider that divorce rates have been falling, even as the number of married gay couples has been increasing. In 1990, no state allowed gay marriage, and the divorce rate per 1,000 people was 4.7. By 2009 it had fallen to 3.4. In New Hampshire, the divorce rate declined from 4.7 to 3.7. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage; since doing so, the divorce rate dropped from 2.5 per 1,000 to 2.2. Divorce rates are going in the opposite direction than they should were Mr. Moody correct.

The Census Bureau provides divorce statistics for 46 states plus the District of Columbia. Out of these, six states and D.C. allow same-sex marriage. Ranking the states according to divorce rates reveals that all jurisdictions allowing gay marriage are in the bottom half when it comes to divorce, and four jurisdictions with marriage equality are in the lowest five. The fifth state in the bottom five is Illinois, which allows same-sex civil unions. The average divorce rate in jurisdictions that allow same-sex marriage is 2.87 per 1,000. For states that do not allow same-sex marriage, the rate is 3.83.

Of states with marriage equality, five of the six are in New England, yet as a region, New England has the lowest divorce rates in the country. The deep South, with the most anti-gay sentiments in the country, has the highest rates. States that don't "devalue" marriage have divorce rates 33-percent higher than those that do -- the complete opposite of what Mr. Moody's theory would imply.

Moody says the main reason for marriage is to procreate, and that allowing gay marriage somehow reduces procreation, though how is unclear. Apparently this leads to a demographic "winter" with declining population. Denying gay people the right to marry will not magically turn them into heterosexuals anxious to breed like rabbits!

Fosters.com, the New England publication that interviewed Moody, explains his views:

With fewer traditional marriages, the number of children born declines as a result, Moody claims. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau, provided by Moody, the number of births in New Hampshire declined by around 4,000 between the years 1991 and July 1, 2011.

Moody is manipulating facts. Birth rates have been steadily declining for well over a century. Declines in birth rates preceded same-sex marriage and are not the result of them. Increased prosperity tends to lower birth rates in every country in the world. If you want to find a scapegoat for fewer births, blame capitalism and the prosperity it creates, not gay couples.

The main reason birth rates have dropped in New Hampshire is age demographics. In 1990, 29 percent of residents were in their prime child-bearing years, ages 18 to 34. Today it is closer to 20 percent. The median age in the state has gone from 32.7 to 39.8. An older population is less likely to have children, for obvious reasons.

After World War II, we had a "baby boom," which got a second push after the Korean War ended. That generation did not have as many children as their parents. The numbers of people able to have children declined, and that means lower birth rates -- all before gay marriage was an issue. This was going to happen whether same-sex marriage was legalized or not.

International statistics show something Mr. Moody would not appreciate. When Canada legalized same-sex marriage, the total fertility rate (TFR) for women was 1.51. Eight years later it had increased to 1.7. Before Belgium legalized gay marriage the TFR was 1.6; five years after it was legalized it had risen to 1.8. Since Spain legalized same-sex marriage, its TFR has gone up, as well.

Mr. Moody draws conclusions based on the religious viewpoint of his organization and attempts to cloak theology in the guise of economics and statistical facts. Sadly for him, statistics don't support his assertions.

Without facts to support him, he still calls for expanded government control of marriage, by denying gay couples the right to enter into marriage contracts. The right to enter into contracts is a fundamental aspect of a free society and a free economy. Selectively denying such rights once again shows that the religious right will scuttle free markets and limited government anytime such ideals conflict with their theology.