“Dear Friends, I write to you today with a profound sense of concern…Barring a miracle, the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself…..
For more than 40 years, the homosexual activist movement has sought to implement a master plan that has had as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family.” – Dr. James Dobson of Focus on The Family, in a July 2004 letter to supporters”
“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.
“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
These were certainly alarming assertions coming from such prominent leaders. But was there any truth to them? The claims were impossible to prove or disprove because there was no data.
James Dobson’s hoped for divine intervention against same sex marriage never arrived, and so since May 20, 2004 — when same sex couples began to marry in Massachusetts — nearly two years of data have accumulated and we can begin to answer the question: How has the institution of marriage in the Commonwealth fared ?
The answer to this question was prefigured in a November 2005 television interview, by “The Daily Show”, of Brian Camenker, founder of the “Article 8 Alliance” – a Massachusetts activist group opposed to same sex marriage:
“Camenker: The gay marriage issue is destructive on many levels….
Interviewer: So the quality of life has decreased ?
Interviewer: Homelessness gone up ?
Camenker: I can’t….you know…..
Interviewer: Crime rates ?
Camenker: Crime rates ?…….
Interviewer: Air quality ?
Camenker: I mean, let me put it this way. I could….I could sit here and I could probably, you know, find some way of connecting the dots to gay marriage to all of these if I had enough time and I did some research.”
Indeed, the dots have been lining up – but not in favor of Mr. Camenker’s beliefs.
Over two years have passed now since same sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, and data from all of 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 are now available. Emergent trends in Massachusetts amount to a stark indictment of those dire claims about sex marriage cited earlier in this article.
Divorce rates are commonly used as a key measure of marital and family health. US states, including Massachusetts, submit monthly summaries of vital statistics on births, deaths, marriages, and divorces to the US Center For Disease Control’s National Center For Health Statistics ( NCHS ). The NCHS then compiles publicly available monthly and yearly reports of this data. The following statistics are based on that NCHS material.
Divorce rates in the US have been declining steadily since the the early 1980’s. Massachusetts has shared in the trend and traditionally has had a divorce rate considerably lower than the national average. In fact. for several years now the Commonwealth has had the lowest divorce rate of any state in the union.
In 2004 the Massachusetts divorce rate, at 2.2 per 1,000 residents per year, was considerably lower than the US national average rate for that year, 3.8 per 1,000. Indeed, it was lower than the national average rate for 1950 (2.6 per 1,000) and even approached the national rate of 1940 (2 per 1,000).
In 2003, total divorces in Massachusetts declined 2.1% relative to 2002. But in the first two years of legal same sex marriage in the Bay State, Massachusetts showed a more rapid decline and will very likely hold on to its title as the US state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation. The field is hotly contested — divorce rates have fallen dramatically in the last few decades.
The institution of marriage in Massachusetts, as measured by the rate of divorce, has not been healthier in at least half a century regardless of dire predictions of Christian Right leaders and Catholic Bishops.