NY Mag: Gay Couples at the Start of a Divorce Boom


The flipside of the blossoming of marriage equality:

Mag1From “I do” to “I’m done” is a well-­traveled road—for straight couples. When their legal marriages are over, they pretty much know they will need a legal divorce. But for gay couples, the promise of marriage is still so new and incomplete that the idea of matrimonial courts, equitable settlements, and all the rest barely registers. How do you process the undoing of a bond that until a moment ago in history you were not allowed to form?

It’s not a subject that marriage-equality groups tend to trumpet on their websites, but gay couples are at the start of a divorce boom. One reason is obvious: More couples are eligible. According to a report by UCLA’s Williams Institute, nearly 50,000 of the approximately 640,000 gay couples in the U.S. in 2011 were married. (Another 100,000 were in other kinds of legal relationships, such as domestic partnerships.) The marriage rate, in states that allowed it, was quickly rising toward that of heterosexual couples: In Massachusetts as of that year, 68 percent of gay couples were married, compared with 91 percent of heterosexual couples. Another reason for the coming boom is that while first-wave gay marriages have proved more durable than straight ones (according to the Williams Institute, about one percent of gay marriages were dissolving each year, compared with 2 percent for different-sex couples), that’s not expected to last. Most lawyers I spoke to assume that the gap will soon vanish, once the backlog of long-term and presumably more stable gay couples have married, leaving the field to the young and impulsive.

From ‘‘I Do’’ to ‘‘I’m Done’’ [ny mag]


  1. Paul R says

    So glad that I never entered a legal relationship of any sort with my ex. We were together for 17 years, and I obviously fully support marriage equality. But the split would have been a nightmare.

  2. says

    With marriage comes divorce–part of the protections and responsibilities of marriage, even if it’s not the loving part.

    It makes sense that in the first wave of marriage–still going on–there were lots of couples who’d been together for years; they just didn’t have the opportunity to marry. If they were going to split, they would have. There were also probably some couples caught up in the exhilaration of being able to marry who did so because they could, before they were ready. (Not that heterosexual couples don’t do the same, without the novelty aspect.) When gay people grow up having the right to marry, then the rates will likely be comparable to hetero couples.

  3. JAMES P KELLY says

    My BF was partnered for 17 years and eventually married in MA. I’m glad they were married because had that not been the case his bullying ex would have taken their entire mutual holdings. As it is, I am confident that the court system will not allow that kind of post-spousal abuse. It’s not final yet so I don’t really know the outcome but my BF has offered a 60/40 split in his ex’s favor but the jerk wants alimony on top of that (no, BF is not wealthy but he’s on disability and ex wants a cut of it – go figure!)

    No, I did not break them up I came along two years after they had separated.

  4. JT says

    I think gay people should have every right to get married if they want, but I also believe that monogamy for an entire lifetime is crazy. I couldn’t imagine spending 40-50 years with the same person. Some do it, and I’m glad they’re able to, but I’d say they are the exception.

    People grow, people change, I don’t see why it’s a bad thing to say: “We had a great time. Thank you for the wonderful memories, you’ll always have a special place in my heart. Now goodbye and good luck.”

  5. Stefan says

    I hope that marriage doesn’t become a default position for gay couples like it has for many straight couples. I’ve noticed that my boyfriend/partner of four years and I have endured many more “when are you marrying?” questions in the last couple months. And many very young gay couples we know are planning on marrying after just a couple months (as one said “we’re in love, and now we can, so why not?”). I think having a marriage option is important, but it’s not for everyone. Members of the LGBT community, especially those who coupled before marriage equality even seemed possible, seem to have a good understanding of how relationships change over time, what keeps them going, how much work they are, etc. I hope that as we enter this new era that we also don’t learn too much from the mistakes of our straight counterparts.

  6. BobN says

    I expect no “boom” in gay divorces. There can’t be a boom in divorce if we’re still lagging way behind the marriage rate of heterosexuals (which is a good thing). The “statistics” they cite are ridiculous. The only relevant ones are the number of same-sex marriages versus opposite-sex ones and the number of same-sex divorces versus opposite-sex ones. I doubt we’ll EVER overtake the straights. Too many of them get married for all the wrong reasons.

  7. Duncan Osborne says

    Less than 10 percent of the same sex couples identified by the Williams Institute are married, but 68 percent of the same sex couples in Massachusetts are married. That isn’t possible. And 91 percent of heterosexual couples in Massachusetts are married? So only nine percent of heterosexual couples in Massachusetts are co-habitating? I don’t believe that stat for a second.

    And this gem — “Already, the data suggest that there are hundreds of gay ­divorces each year.” What data is that? But let’s take this at face value. There are 50,000 married same sex couples, but just “hundreds of gay divorces” a year. We’re told that half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce so, in comparison, I’d say we are not seeing a boom in gay divorces, but we are doing extraordinarily well.

    There is not a shred of data to support the notion that married same sex couples are ending their relationships at a rate that is faster than the rate at which unmarried same sex couples end their relationships. On the contrary, because divorce is expensive, time consuming, embarrassing, and sometimes unpleasant, it is a safe to assume that married same sex couples end their relationships at a rate that is below the rate seen among unmarried same sex couples.

    Gay and lesbian couples have been ending their relationships well and badly for as long as there have been gay and lesbian couples. New York magazine is trying to puff up this very old stuff into a dramatic, new trend.

  8. Fensox says

    Well it would be great if people could you know, look at this for what it is.

    Clearly marriage as is does not work. Everyone needs to establish their special and unique marriage and stop comparing them to each other to create a sense of normal.

  9. Fensox says

    Well it would be great if people could you know, look at this for what it is.

    Clearly marriage as is does not work. Everyone needs to establish their special and unique marriage and stop comparing them to each other to create a sense of normal.

  10. Paul R says

    @Duncan, I agree with your general notion, but the percentage of divorces (gay or straight) isn’t based on annual data. It’s multiyear. That said, these data don’t seem entirely reliable.

  11. gregorybrown says

    Just as gay couples should be able to enjoy the perk and benefits of “marriage”, including the excesses of grotesque wedding ceremonies, they will have to expect that ends come to situations.
    Divorce is more complicated than saying “this isn’t working”.
    I wonder how may couples–gay or straight–consider the implica
    tions of such legal entanglements.

    A reality check may be in order. Some same sex couples actually need the protections granted by marriage. Many don’t. Of course, part of the deal is that same sex couples considering marriage can’t be expected to be any more informed or aware than the hetero couples whose marriages fail at about the 50% level.

  12. reality says

    A little tired of people assuming it’s impossible for monogamous relationships. Just because you can’t do it, doesn’t mean a majority of people (including gays) don’t want it. NYC gay life is different from midwestern, southern, rocky state, etc. gay life. I’m not knocking it either way, but a lot of people use it as an excuse to sleep around and justify it with “monogamy is over! it’s for straight people!” … A little off subject from the article, but needed to be said b/c of comments here.

  13. LCR Jay says

    “Divorce equality,” I’m done.

    For the last 2 decades homosexuals have throw toddler-like temper tantrums over getting to marry…let a boom in divorce happen for homosexual couples, and it will be poetic justice.

  14. Duncan Osborne says

    @Paul R: You’re absolutely correct. That half of all marriages ending in divorce stat is based, I believe, on 25 years of data or something like that.

    But let’s assume that NY mag’s “hundreds of gay divorces” a year means 750. Multiply that by 25 and you get 18,750. If no same sex couple married after that first 50,000, we would still be below half after 25 years.

    The reporter who authored this and the editors at NY mag are innumerate. Instead of trying to fabricate a trend, they should have published a story about what happens when same sex couples divorce. Of course, that’s been widely covered in the gay and mainstream press so they had to cook up this trend.

  15. says

    When Civil Unions were invented in Vermont it was not just marriage that was a sacred, hets-only term. They wouldn’t let us use “divorce” either.

    One clearly comes with the other, and many of those 1000+ rights etc. have to do with what happens in a divorce.

    People should be thinking about this when they spontaneously decide to marry in several states in a row! In Vermont you have to live in the state for 6 months to get a divorce, so it’s harder than marrying.

  16. Randy says

    If you aren’t marrying someone for life, you probably shouldn’t be married at all. I fully support conservatives who want to do away with no fault divorce. Even they can be right about one thing.

  17. Chitown Kev says

    well then do you want a two-tiered level of unions…civil unions/domestic partnerships and marriage with marriage being available for all but very, very hard to dissolve?

  18. KeepItSimple says

    There is no such thing as monogamy in New York. Being as that is the case, I’m sure NY divorce rates will be much lower. If we divorce it most certainly because outside sex was involved. It’s part of the marriage.

  19. andrew says

    Gay men, not Lesbians, will undoubtedly have a higher divorce rate than straight couples. Shocking? I think not. Marriage is largely something women want. Some gay men are buying into this new idea of marriage for two men. For most, it won’t last. I think all should have the right to try it, but for most men I don’t think it will last a lifetime. Just sayin!

  20. Bill Michael says

    Yes, there’s a dark side to this thing called marriage. For as little as $350.00 you can hire a thug to rip the heart out of the man you used to love so dearly. The laws in this country aren’t made to keep people together.

  21. says

    Speak for yourself @Andrew. That’s BS. I and many men I know have had no great trouble staying together for years and years, as long or longer than our lesbian friends, and a whole lot longer than many of the straight couples we know. Gay men who can’t hold relationships always presume other men have the same issue.

  22. UFFDA says

    ERNIE – you speak with the admired authority of experience and consistent sanity. We are in a new world now with men able to marry other men in the setting up of happy households. I believe that untold numbers of homosexual people have wanted to do this for centuries and now, able to, will hold to a steady tiller never permitted them before.

  23. garryo says

    @Andrew. In Canada, where, depending on the province, same sex marriage has been legal for nearly 10 years, the rate of divorce among female couples has been higher than that among male married couples, going all the way back to 2005. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend holds up over time.
    (garryo. married ten years in 2013)

  24. Bebo says

    I’ve been talking about this inevitability for over a year on this site. So, before it becomes fully legal, let you all eat crow. The push for gay marriage is tripping over itself. Reality will level the playing field. Opponents will feast on the divorce statistics, while gays try to navigate their way out of sticky legal complications. There’s no TV show for this one yet.

  25. Mary says

    My life and the lives of so many people I know were so messed up by one divorce after another (our parents, ourselves, our friends) that I want nothing more than to see marriage invigorated. I would be thrilled if gay and lesbian couples had a far lower divorce rate than straights and brought a new sense of seriousness to the institution of marriage. I wouldn’t care about social conservatives being proven wrong (some of them could use a good reality check anyway.) And I wouldn’t care about straight people being shown up by the LGBT world. Keeping marriages together is not easy. If gays can do it well they’ll serve as a good example to straight people, who need all the help they can get in field of marriage.

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