Is it possible for male couples to form lifelong, stable and faithful relationships?
Well, we know that some do – just look at the pics of couples lining up to tie the knot every time a new state or country introduces same-sex marriage or civil unions. These always show a high proportion of male and female couples who have been in stable relationships for several decades, eager to demonstrate to the world what they already know: that to all intents and purposes, they are really married de facto, and need to make that de jure as well.
We also know that as a group, gay men are statistically less likely than heterosexual married couples to form these life-long, stable and faithful partnerships. To confirm that, all we need to do is to consider the number of gay seniors who live alone, with the numbers who live with the same partner they have been with all their lives. The proportions are quite different to those applicable to straight men.
This is often used as a argument against gay relationships and LGBT equality. For example, in a nasty piece at the NOM sponsored Ruth institute, Jennifer Morse has this to say:
We already know that in terms of economic behavior, male couples are different from female couples, and both are different from married couples. We also know that separation rates (ie divorces) are different for male couples and for female couples and both are different (higher, like way higher) than for married couples.
(In a breathakingly inappropriate headline, Morse her article as “Intelligent Replies to Idiotic Comments
“, but I let that pass. Rob Tisinai
at Box Turtle Bulletin
does a great job of showing her “intelligent” replies are made to demolish straw men -supposed that the proponents of marriage do not, in fact, advance. Read it).
I want to respond only to the one part of Morse’s piece which is not just a straw man response, but one which is dangerous and deceitful sleight-of-hand, the quote above. Let’s look more closely at what she is doing, and then provide a response which, be great serendipity, comes to us from – the world of birds: homosexual zebra finches.
The problem with Morse’s argument is that she is not comparing like with like.
“male couples are different from female couples, and both are different from married couples”
Not so. What she should have introduced into this statement, but could not do for her ideological bias, are the qualifiers “unmarried” (before “male couples”), and “heterosexual” (before “married). Then we would have the fairly obvious truism:
“unmarried male couples are different from female couples, and both are different from heterosexual married couples”,
Conversely, we could also say,
“married male couples are different from female couples, and both are different from unmarried heterosexual couples”
Would that statement be true? We don’t know: married same-sex couples have not yet been around long enough to have produced compelling long-term evidence one way or the other. We do however have evidence to support another statement that Morse could have made – but did not:
“unmarried heterosexual couples are different from heterosexual married couples”,
One of the arguments against cohabitation before marriage is the abundant evidence that these relationship dissolve more easily and more frequently than formal marriages, with the attendant problems that can ensue for all parties involved – particularly the children. All relationships take work to make them endure. The stresses that contribute to relationship breakdown can be hard to resist at any time without reinforcement. The public visibility of a formal marriage, the vows that the parties have made and the legal obstacles in the way of divorce, all provide those reinforcements. It is no wonder that cohabiting relationships (gay or straight) break down more rapidly than married ones (gay or straight).
In addition to the standard difficulties in maintaining any long term relationship, gay couples have additional stresses unique to them, which arise from public prejudice and homophobia. (Things like the challenges of dealing with being fully out, or negotiating partial closets, problems for some couples with family acceptance, for instance). The apparent instability of gay couples may have more to do with their social circumstances, than anything inherent in the homoerotic orientation. To get a meaningful like for like comparison, we should be comparing unmarried gay couples with unmarried straights, in a context where neither is handicapped by homophobia or public pressure. In the human context, this possibility simply does not exist.
In the natural world it does. Many animal species exhibit same-sex bonding and long-term couple formation. The animal kingdom shows even greater sexual and gender diversity than the human one – and anything comparable to homophobia appears to be unknown. Published studies of individual species have shown that these same-sex couples are as stable as the mixed-sex counterparts. By great serendipity, the BBC has reported on another of these, a recent report of research into homosexual zebra finches, which corroborates my hypothesis above: that in the absence of homophobia, male couples can endure every are every but as stable as any others.
|Male pair of Zebra finches
Same-sex pairs of monogamous birds are just as attached and faithful to each other as those paired with a member of the opposite sex.
The insight comes from a study of zebra finches – highly vocal, colourful birds that sing to their mates, a performance thought to strengthen the pair’s bond.
Scientists found that same-sex pairs of finches sang to and preened each other just like heterosexual pairs.
The study is reported in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.