Gays’ divorce rate may hew close to heterosexuals’

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter



Related story

Same-sex marriage nears legalization

Washington dissolutions

Washington state domestic partnership dissolutions from 2007 to 2010.

2007: 217

2008 : 112

2009 : 31

2010 : 15

Clark County dissolutions

Domestic partnership dissolutions in Clark County, 2007-2010

Amboy: 0

Camas: 1

Vancouver: 5

Washougal: 1

Battle Ground: 0

La Center: 0

Yacolt: 0

Source: Washington Secretary of State

As heterosexual couples prepare to share state marriage rights with gays and lesbians, they also offer a dismal legacy of divorce.

Nationwide, about 43 percent of first marriages, 60 percent of second marriages and 75 percent of third marriages end in divorce, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

So what is the divorce outlook for the state’s future same-sex marriages?

“The rates are likely similar because the same-sex couples entering those other legal statuses are as committed to their relationships as married different-sex couples,” said Lee Badget, research director of Williams Institute on Sexual

Orientation Law & Public Policy at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law. Badget, also an economics professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, is co-author of a November 2011 study that examined same-sex relationship recognition patterns across the nation.

One indicator of a future same-sex divorce rate is to look at the number of the state’s domestic partnerships that have been dissolved, Badget said.

In Washington, about 4 percent of the 9,282 domestic partnerships formed between July 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2010, have been dissolved, according to an analysis by The Columbian. (That number includes opposite-sex couples 62 and older). To draw a comparison, out of 147,250 Washington marriages during that same time period, 9,782 of those couples, or 6.6 percent, are now divorced, according to epidemiologist Staci Hoff at the state Department of Health’s Marriage and Divorce Vital Statistics division.

The dissolution rate of domestic partnerships was even lower in Clark County at 1.7 percent, or seven out of 410 domestic partnerships formed since July 2007.

“It’s likely that the couples getting into civil unions have been together for a long time, which might reduce their divorce rates,” Badget said. “We know in general that people in same-sex couples have higher education rates than married heterosexual people, and that also reduces divorce rates.”

Drew Griffin, social media volunteer for Equality Southwest Washington, said most of the Clark County same-sex domestic partners he knows are excited about the prospect of being married.

“When you have couples who have to actively fight on a daily basis for recognition of their relationships, those relationships tend to be stronger because you have to really be in it for the long haul to make that work,” Griffin said. “When people truly have to fight for their relationships, they tend to stick together a little bit longer.”

“I just hope nobody wants to get divorced,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me what sexual orientation they are. Relationships are beautiful, and I wish the best for everyone.”

Another indicator of future same-sex marriage success is the rate of domestic partnership and civil union dissolutions in other states. Although data is limited because of the relative newness of legally recognized same-sex unions, preliminary data indicates same-sex couples’ divorce rate would be slightly lower than their heterosexual counterparts.

An average of 2 percent of marriages end each year in the United States, Badget said. Average annual rate of dissolutions of same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships is about 1.1 percent, she said. Washington state’s annual average is less than 1 percent, according to The Columbian’s analysis.

Six states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage. Washington is poised to become the seventh state. As of Monday, both the Senate and the House had enough votes to pass a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Another 13 states, including Washington, offer domestic partnerships or civil unions.

While same-sex marriage would be new to Washington, same-sex divorce has precedence in the state.

The state’s court system has already granted divorces to same-sex spouses, who were married in states or countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

Clark County’s first same-sex divorce happened in February 2010 between Mary Lou Gill and Ronda Jean Adkins. The couple were married in April 2009 in Vancouver, B.C., Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005.

Clark County Judge Scott Collier granted the couple a divorce because he said there is no explicit ban on same-sex divorce in state law. Collier said he also considered that the women couldn’t divorce in Vancouver, B.C.. because they weren’t legal residents.