FOUR SAME-SEX ‘MARRIAGE’ DIVORCES IN FIRST YEAR
That’s the headline on page 7 of this week’s Portugal News. The lead paragraph reads:
As Portugal’s first same-sex married couple prepare to celebrate their first anniversary it has been revealed that of the 410 homosexual weddings celebrated over the course of the past 12 months, four couples have already divorced.
“It has been revealed”? Four couples have “already” divorced? And how about those scare quotes in the headline?
Where to start…oh, heck, let’s start with the glaring error in the headline.
There is no such thing as same-sex “marriage” in Portugal. There is only marriage, which is now available to committed couples regardless of sexual orientation. While some may believe that marriages between people of the same gender are not as real or valid as marriages between people of opposite gender, that remains a personal belief and has no basis in fact or in Portuguese law. Therefore, putting the term “marriage” in quotation marks when referring to marriage between gay couples is erroneous and an expression of personal opinion. Errors and opinion have no place in news headlines.
The “it has been revealed” statement sounds as if something has been hidden until now. Is there something particularly shocking about people getting divorced? Heterosexual couples have been doing it for a very long time. But I suppose, given the use of the phrase “four couples have already divorced,” the shocking part must be that these couples have divorced after only one year of marriage.
Let’s take a closer look. Four couples out of 410 works out to a divorce rate of less than one percent (0.97 to be exact). That doesn’t seem egregious to me, but the Portugal News is implying that 0.97 percent is a high number. Okay, let’s verify that with a quick Google search.
According to the Instituto Nacional de Estatística Portugal, in 2001 the divorce rate for Portuguese heterosexuals married 0–4 years was 18.3 percent. In 2002 (the last year for which I could find records), that number had increased to 19.7 percent. Now, this isn’t an exact comparison — I couldn’t find a statistic for the number of heterosexual divorces in the first year of marriage — but it doesn’t look to me as if the gays are doing anything shocking. In fact, they seem to be in better shape than the heterosexuals.
I did find a better comparator in the US Census report of 2005, which examined the yearly percent of American women’s first (heterosexual) marriages ending in divorce (Figure 2). For women who married between 1970 and 2001, 2.5 percent were divorced in their first year of marriage.
That’s 2.6 times the rate of divorce of Portuguese gays.
Perhaps the shocking part is the fact that the divorce rate among gays is so low? But if that were the case, the Portugal News would have phrased its story a bit differently, and included the statistics I’ve noted above. Instead, it used scare quotes, misleading statements, and outright factual errors to imply that marriages among gays are neither valid nor holding up well.
Wrong on both counts, and not just wrong, but an excellent example of the judgment and discrimination that gays continue to suffer, despite recent legal successes.
I don’t know why it would be surprising that gays are divorcing at a lower rate than heterosexuals. When a minority segment of society has to fight long and hard for the same rights and recognition that everyone else takes for granted, they tend to value those rights and that recognition quite a bit more highly. Perhaps in another 50 or 100 years, when marriage between gays is no big deal anymore, they’ll be divorcing at the same rate as heterosexuals. But not right now.
A failure rate of less than one percent? I’d take those odds.
UPDATE 15 JUNE
Reader Ana_ñ, who is geekier than I am, dug through the site map of the Instituto Nacional de Estatística Portugal and found exactly the numbers I was looking for.
Number of Portuguese marriages in 2009 (all heterosexual, as this was the last year before equal marriage rights became law): 40,391
Number of divorces in 2009, marriage of less than one year: 453
Number of divorces in 2009, marriage of one year: 896
Total divorces, one year or less: 1,349
Heterosexual divorce rate = 1349/40,391 = 3.3%
Which leaves us with a heterosexual first-year divorce rate that is nearly three and a half times higher than the gay first-year divorce rate. Wow. I’d definitely take those odds.
(Note for the especially geeky and statistic-minded: it could be argued that some of the first-year divorces in 2009 were actually from 2008 marriages, but if you average out the numbers between the two years, the results are quite similar.)