In April 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages over the objections of conservative activists, who predicted that gay people would undermine the institution. Now, one year later, preliminary data from the Iowa Department of Public Health finds that marriage rates are up and divorces are down:
– Iowa posted the lowest number of divorces since 1970.
– 21,139 marriages occurred in Iowa last year – the most since 2000 and the first increase since 2005. The 1,573 jump in marriages over 2008 included the first-ever same-gender unions.
– 2,020 same-sex couples – 728 male partners and 1,292 female partners — were married during that time span while 16,869 opposite-gender marriages were recorded.
It’s unclear to what extent same-sex unions are responsible for the spike — the economic downturn also contributed to the statistical change — but what is certain is that the doomsday predictions of extending marriage to same-sex couples are as unfounded in Iowa as they are in Massachusetts. Change.org’s Michael Jones points out that Massachusetts — which extended marriage to same-sex couples in 2004– recorded the “the lowest divorce rates in the entire country.” “In fact, divorce numbers were so low in the Bay State last year, they rivaled statistics stemming all the way back to World War II.”
Allowing gay people to marry will certainly lead to more marriages, but I suspect that the future of the institution is shaped by far more complicated economic and social factors. If the family values groups are so convinced that marriage is the most effective social arrangement for children and adults, they should probably spend most of their time dealing with those factors rather than trying to prevent people from entering into the institution. But then again, that kind of work would create far less sensationalism, fear, or donor dollars.