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Does gay marriage legalization lower the divorce rate?

With the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, it is becoming increasingly likely that other states may soon follow its lead. We realize that gay marriage is the subject of heated debate in Nevada and throughout the country, with valid arguments on both sides of the dispute. Recently, pro-gay-marriage advocates are citing new census data indicating that states with legal gay marriage have a lower rate of divorce. However, as the divorce rate is affected by several different factors, it may be too early to claim that gay marriage alone is responsible for a decrease in divorce.

Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. New York will join this rank on July 24, when its same-sex marriage law takes effect in the state. According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the state may soon see a decrease in its divorce rate. Per the Census Bureau data, five of the 10 states, plus D.C., with the lowest divorce rate per 1,000 people, are also in the list of jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage.

In addition, in states that allow gay marriage, the number of divorces made up a smaller share of the total marriages in the state in 2009. For example, the number of divorces was 41.2 percent of the number of marriages in states that recognized same-sex marriage, while the number of divorces was just over 50 percent in states that did not. After removing Nevada’s inaccurately low 16 percent divorce rate (due to the high number of couples that marry in Las Vegas and divorce elsewhere), the latter number rose to 53.2 percent.

However, the last statistic is from 2009, when only two states allowed gay marriage during the entire year (two additional states passed a law during that year). So what this means, essentially, is that there is a lot left to learn about the effect of same-sex marriage on divorce rates.

Source: U.S. News and World Report, “Divorce Rates Lower in States with Same-Sex Marriage,” Danielle Kurtzleben, 6 July 2011

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