The Supreme Court has ruled and we celebrate this monumental step toward marriage equality. We have a ways to go yet, but that old song from the civil rights movement assures us that "we shall overcome." It's only a matter of time. But in order to have a healthy marriage, we must do more than change the laws. We must also change the internal self-dialogue that results from the daily exposure to the heterosexism and gender binarism in our culture.
Gay and lesbian relationships are... counterfeit... psychologically immature... less committed... short-term... rarely last... unhealthy for children...
Most of us grew up hearing these falsehoods in our communities, churches, and families. In our struggle for equality, we sometimes find ourselves trying to convince family members, co-workers, clergy, and lawmakers that our relationships are just as healthy and resilient as those of our heterosexual friends. But what if research suggested they are, in some ways... even healthier?
Psychologists and relationship researchers Dr. John Gottman from the University of Washington, and Dr. Robert Levenson from the University of California at Berkeley, conducted a twelve-year study of same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Among other things, they found that gay and lesbian couples are more upbeat in the face of conflict and use less controlling and hostile emotional tactics during an argument (Gottman Relationship Institute, 2003).
A study published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology found that gays and lesbians in committed relationships resolve conflict better than heterosexual couples who are dating, and that lesbian couples are especially effective at resolving problems harmoniously (Roisman et al., 2008). Another study, published in the same journal, compared gay couples, lesbian couples, and heterosexual married couples in Vermont over a three-year period. In that study, same-sex couples were found to be similar to heterosexual couples on most variables, but reported more positive feelings, more satisfaction, and less conflict than heterosexual married couples (Balsam et al., 2008).
These findings supported earlier studies showing that lesbian couples tend to be emotionally closer than gay male couples who, in turn, tend to be emotionally closer than heterosexual married couples. Qualities of closeness and flexibility were found in 79% of lesbian couples, 56% of gay male couples, and 8% of heterosexual married couples (Green, Bettinger, & Zacks, 1996).
Finally, sociologists Dr. Judith Stacey from New York University, and Dr. Timothy Biblarz from the University of California, reported on their five-year review of 81 studies comparing a variety of family configurations; including heterosexual, lesbian, and gay households. The results, published in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, revealed that the quality of the parent's relationship and parenting style are more important than their gender. In fact, the research suggests that two women raising a child together tend to be slightly more committed to active hands-on parenting than heterosexual parents (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010).
The next time you find yourself, or someone else, doubting your ability to love your partner or a child because of your sexual orientation, remember these words from Gottman:
"Gay and lesbian relationships are the vanguard of what heterosexual relationships could be. Heterosexual couples have a lot to learn from gay couples"(Lutes, 2007).
"Gay and lesbian couples are a lot more mature, more considerate in trying to improve a relationship and have a greater awareness of equality in a relationship than straight couples. I think that in 200 years heterosexual relationships will be where gay and lesbian relationships are today" (University of Washington News, 2003).
I share these words with you because our beliefs greatly determine our actions and outcomes. Author Anais Nin once said, "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." So today, hold your head up high with confidence and celebrate the SCOTUS victory, knowing that as a gay man or lesbian woman you are fully capable of having the meaningful and satisfying love relationship you desire.
Balsam, K., Beauchaine, T., Rothblum, E., & Solomon, S. (2008). Three-year Follow-Up of Same-Sex Couples Who Had Civil Unions in Vermont, Same-Sex Couples Not In Civil Unions, and Heterosexual Married Couples. Journal of Developmental Psychology, Vol 44. No 1.
Biblarz, T., & Stacey, J. (2010). Does the Gender of Parents Matter? Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol 71, Issue 1, 3-22.
Green, R.J., Bettinger, M., & Zacks, E. (1996). Are lesbian couples fused and gay male couples disengaged? Questioning gender straightjackets. In J. Laird & R.J. Green (Eds.), Lesbians and gays in couples and families: A handbook for therapists (pp. 185-227). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lutes, J. (2007). What science says - and doesn't say - about homosexuality: Research-based answers to ten of the most commonly asked questions about lesbian women, gay men, and their families.
Roisman, G., Clausell, E., Holland, A., Fortuna, K., & Elieff, C. (2008). Adult Romantic Relationships as Contexts of Human Development: A Multimethod Comparison of Same-Sex Couples with Opposite-Sex Dating, Engaged, and Married Dyads. Journal of Developmental Psychology, Vol. 44, No 1.
The Gottman Relationship Institute. (2003).
University of Washington News. (2003).