Thursday, February 7, 2008

Real world benefits of legal marriage and the research that proves it #1

This will be the first in a series of articles, similar to Fannie's Room's "Benefits of Marriage" series, where I discuss the real-world benefits of a legal marital relationship in the context of scientific research.

In this series, I will pick studies from a number of professional and/or scholarly journals, and discuss their findings. They will all deal with same-sex relationships as compared to heterosexual relationships in some way. This is important because most of the research that anti-gay websites and groups (mis)use to promote their anti-gay agendas usually don't even have same-sex relationships or gay people as the test subjects.

When anti-gay websites and groups discuss gay parenting and its evils, I have yet to see them use any reputable studies that involve gay parents.

When anti-gay websites and groups discuss the pitfalls of gay marriage, they have yet to display any evidence that anyone or any society will be hurt when gays are allowed to marry. They expect their pessimistic predictions to stand on their own (broken) feet.

Here, I will discuss current research that explicitly includes gay people, gay parents, or gay relationships as compared to heterosexual relationships. Further, I will discuss why and how these findings prove that same-sex couples are missing out on the pursuit of happiness that opposite-sex couples have and (often) take for granted.

Let's begin, shall we?

The first study in this series is from a 2005 issue of The Journal of Family Communication. It was conducted by Stephen M. Haas (University of Cincinnati) and Laura Stafford (The Ohio State University), and is titled, "Maintenance Behaviors in Same-Sex and Marital Relationships: A Matched Sample Comparison."

The purpose of the study was an "attempt to explore relationship maintenance behaviors of on-going same-sex relationships through direct comparison with those used in heterosexual marriages" (p. 43).

For some background, the concept of "relationship maintenance" in romantic relationships has been gaining increased attention for about the past 15 years. The existing research has delved into the strategies and behaviors that romantic partners use in sustaining intimate relationships. For purposes of this article, I will use the same defintion of "relationship maintenance" that the co-authors in the study use: using communicative strategies and behaviors to prevent relationship dissolution through "parties' efforts to sustain a dynamic equilibrium in their relationship defintion and satisfaction levels as they cope with the ebb and flow of everyday relating" (Baxter & Dindia, 1990, p. 188).

What is also important is that the researchers specifically make note of the unique place in everyone's lives that romantic relationships play. While distractors and anti-gay opponents often denouce gay couples as mere "friendships" (not to take away from any friendships per se out there) or the lack of procreative abilities of gay couples, most researchers in every discipline recognize the truly unique functions and roles of romantic relationships.

For example, several studies in the field of communication alone have shown that romantic relationships fulfill several needs that other "confiding" relationships--such as with a parent, sibling, or friend--do not. In other words, these other "confiding relationships," though important in their own rights, can not and do not compensate for the "confiding intimacy" of a romantic relationship (for all the studies cited, and there are many, please see original article). Among other needs that romantic relationships fulfill are are love, affection, intimacy, sexual activity, and social support.

The authors acknowledge that the existing research has focused almost exclusively on white, heterosexual, middle-class couples. Therefore, research involving racial minorities, different income levels/socio-economic status, and sexual orientation is lacking. Haas and Stafford, as a result of this, are exploring the relationship maintenance behaviors in same-sex couples as compared to opposite-sex couples in an attempt to begin to make up for the lack of diverse research.

Or, as they explain:

This study seeks to extend our understanding of relationship maintenance behaviors by explicitly comparing the strategies and behaviors reported in ongoing, same-sex relationships to those reported in ongoing heterosexual married relationships. Directly compared similarities or differences between these two groups have the potential (a) to increase our understanding of maintenance strategies and behaviors used in the understudied population of gay and lesbian relationships and (b) to move beyond using marital couples as a standard, in favor of studies that directly compare relational maintenance behaviors across couple types (p. 44). [emphasis added]

I'll discuss why the emphasis was added to the above paragraph when I discuss the findings, which relate to the real-world benefits of marriage, and how not being able to get married affects real people in real ways.

While gay couples are understudied when compared to heterosexual married and dating couples, studies dating back to 1983 and beyond have found that people enter into same-sex relationships for the same reasons they enter into opposite-sex relationships: to establish long-term, committed, and satisfying relationships for love, affection, and companionship. [again, see original study for sources cited]


Open-ended questionnaire responses were solicited from a convenience sample of 30 individuals involved in ongoing, committed gay or lesbian relationships (15 men and 15 women). Participants were chosen through a community-based network sampling technique, and they all described themselves as being "committed" when given the options of "dating," "seriously dating," or "committed." In order to directly compare same-sex with opposite-sex maintenance behaviors, 30 married individuals were then chosen from participants in a larger study regarding maintenance behaviors. The heterosexual individuals were matched the gay and lesbian individuals as closely as possible based on the following characteristics: biological sex, age, education level, and length of relationship.

The average age of the gay and lesbians was 34 years 3 months, and the average age of the heterosexuals was 34 years 5 months. The average length of relationships for both groups was 5 years 4 months (range 1 year to 10 years 3 months). The gay and lesbian group's education level was relatively highly educated (50% obtaining graduate level degree), and the heterosexual cohort matched this education level.

The first portion of the questionnaire asked for demographic information. The second portion consisted of an open-ended question concerning maintenance behavior use ("Please offer examples of behaviors (positive and/or negative) that you have used to maintain your relationship. This was followed by a question to probe "routine" behaviors. Participants were then asked to answer these same two questions regarding their partner's maintenance behaviors.


After all the responses were examined for goodness of fit, duplicate answers (by the same participant) thrown out, remaining answers coded into the chosen behavior categories (Stafford and Canary's typology from 1991), content analysis was performed and the responses were ranked for each of the two groups (gay/lesbian commited couples and heterosexual married couples) based on prevalence.

Hypothesis 1 proposed that individuals in same-sex and heteresexual relationships would report similar behaviors in maintaining their ongoing relationships. Overall, the findings supported this hypothesis. The typological behaviors reported in the original typography from Dainton and Stafford's heterosexual studies were reported by the gay and lesbian couples in this study.

But is anyone really surprised?

Our opponents like to compare the gay or lesbian romantic relationship to a "friendship," when in reality they must know that the relationships are much more analogous to the heterosexual romantic relationship. But they will do anything to make gay people and their relationships appear "less real" or "less than."

Now, on to the discussion and interpretation of the results.

The following is a list of most prevalent relationship maintenance behaviors of opposite-sex couples compared to same-sex couples:

Top 5 relationship maintenance behaviors in opposite-sex couples:
1. Shared tasks (83.3%) [eg-making dinner/paying bills together]
2. Proactive prosocial behaviors (66.7%) [eg-"I use humor"]
3. Favors/gifts (60%) tied with comfort/support measures (60%)
4. Self-disclosure (53.5%) [eg-"she is always completely honest with me."]
5. Affection (50%) [eg-displays of fondness or sexual intimacy]

Top 5 relationship maintenance behaviors in same-sex couples:
1. Shared tasks (73.3%)
2. Meta-relational communication (53.3%) [discuss the relationship]
3. Joint activities (50.0%) [spending time with each other]
4. Reactive prosocial behaviors (46.6%) [eg-"I'm willing to change things that bother her."]
5. Overt expressions (43.3%) [eg-"I tell her I love her."] tied with Empathic behaviors (43.3%) [eg-"We respect each other's differences."]


So, what are some implications of this study? First, the authors fully admit that there are limitations to the study, the small sample size being the most obvious one. It is difficult, as in most research involving gay people, to find willing participants from any marginalized or stigmatized group of society. It is even more difficult to recruit a subgroup of said marginalized group of society. That being said, the open-ended nature of the methodology provided a broader means for participants to provide insight into their maintenance behaviors.

I would like to focus on the differences this study found between the maintenance behaviors of the two groups. While both groups overall used similar behaviors, the frequency of of some versus others is evidence of some important differences.

For example the second-most common relationship maintenance behaviors in the heterosexual couples was "proactive prosocial behaviors" (like gift-giving), while the second-most common in the gay and lesbian couples was "meta-relational communication" (eg- discussing the actual relationship). This finding may indicate an important focus in same-sex relationships.

Whereas heterosexual couples have legal status and documentation to reflect their commmited, long-term relationships, gay and lesbian couples only have the emotional commitment. As Haas and Stafford note, "the focus on meta-relational communication...may be a reflection of lacking a legal bond to hold the relationship together...It appears to some degree that heterosexual married couples may take for granted that they are bound together through legal marriage, whereas gays and lesbians must frequently 'take the pulse' of the relationship to assess its status."

In many ways, it seems that committed gay and lesbian couples, no matter how long they have been together, often do not get past a "dating" mentality. Without a legally recognized step up on the relationship hierarchy, it opens the door for many gays and lesbians to walk out on a relationship much easier than heterosexual people. If people are against gay marriage on the grounds that "gays are promiscuous and don't want to get married anyway," then why not at least give them a chance to prove it? Without a legal option for marriage, yes, I imagine more gays and lesbians will be more "promiscuous" than heterosexual people.

That's not to mention the emotional security and stability that legal marriage provides to people.

But wait, I forgot. Conservatives don't care about emotions. It's all about procreation and coitus and "natural families." Oh. And The Children.

Another interesting finding, speaking of qualitative differences, is the fact that heterosexual couples are able to focus on positive things (proactive prosocial) like giving gifts and using humor more frequently, while the gay and lesbian couples were assessing the relationship status at nearly the same frequencies.

I suppose it is easier to focus on the little pleasantries in your relationship when you have a legal commitment to your committed partner.

In all, this study suggests that there are, in fact, qualitative differences in relationship maintenance behaviors between same-sex and opposite-sex couples that married heterosexual couples take for granted.

Cite for Article:

Haas, S.M. & Stafford, L. (2005). Maintenance behaviors in same-sex and marital relationships: A matched sample comparison. The Journal of Family Communication,5(1), 43-60.


John said...

And this is why I remain in awe of your insight.

Your analysis of the differences between relationship management of the two groups answers a question I have been asking for years.

Why do heterosexuals in co-habiting arrangement do, as a group. more poorly than those who are married?

You provide the answer:

"In many ways, it seems that committed {gay and lesbian} couples, no matter how long they have been together, often do not get past a "dating" mentality."

Take out the words "gay and lesbian" and I think we'll find the same dynamic works for all couples.

And that should come as no surprise.

Jane Know said...

John, I agree completely. It is much easier to walk away from any relationship when there is no legal tie holding you in it. That's not to say marriage is a way to "trap" people into staying in unhealthy relationships... but relationships require work, they aren't always easy. If anti-gay families are pushing for families to stay together and people to be less promiscuous (hence their focus on AIDS and gay sex), I really don't understand why they wouldn't want gay couples to commit.

But I don't expect them to really care about gay people and their well-being, even if we provide answers and rebuttals to all of their flawed arguments (with research to back it up). They just like to hunt their witches and point their fingers at everyone but themselves.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jane Know said...

"Anonymous," either contribute to the discussion or article I wrote, or leave. This is no place to advertise *your* misguided agenda.

Paul Jamieson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John said...

"Tells us about Stanley "Tits" McGee and his wonderful marriage".

The reprehensible behavior of Carl Stanley McGee is not germane to this conversation.

Paul Jamieson said...

oh really John

The man who touted this social experiment and twisted leges to subvert the will of the people?

The man who is 2 years married and finds himself alone in a steamroom with a 15 year old?



Jane Know said...


Exactly. Glad we agree on that much, Paul. :-)

But please, tell me what any of your comments have to do with the study I wrote about. Unless you have something that DIRECTLY relates to the article, please stay off my blog. Your other comments aren't welcome here. At all.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fannie said...


Thanks for writing this article... I look forward to reading and responding to it in more depth when I return from my vacation :)

Paul Jamieson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jane Know said...

Paul, you're psycho. Stay away from my blog. It's not optional anymore. You aren't welcome here.

Fannie said...

What this study has shown is something that is obvious to gay people and our allies: that our relationships are often just like heterosexual ones.

Many of the people opposed to gay rights, however, couch their opposition in terms of the so-called "complementarity" of men and women. That is, men and women are complementary because they have different sex parts and therefore the relationships between men and women are more "real" than the relationships of those of the same-sex. Note, however, that they never cite evidence for this proposition. It is just intuitive to them that because men have male parts and women have female parts that men and women should be romantically paired.

To me, the so-called "complementarity" of the sexes shows only that men and women are capable of procreating together. It is just a biological fact that doesn't dictate who one should live one's life with or raise a family with.

Jane Know said...

Thank you for the insightful comments. I agree, of course.

What I also want to address is the way "the other side" conveniently disregards studies like this as "evidence of liberal bias in academia." Yet they will utilize studies from MUCH less acceptable (professionally and academically) sources as evidence for their own malignant, biased viewpoints.

For example, Fitz or someone over at Opine recently cited an article from "Lifesite." You know, the cite that claimed lesbians were responsible for spreading STDs?

And just the other day I saw Renee referencing the APA in one of her articles... a mere few weeks after flippantly dismissing the organization as "anti-father" or some paranoid baseless accusation (after I had mentioned the APA's recommendations and official statement advocating FOR same-sex parenting.)

It's funny how hypocrital those assholes are.

Oh wait. No. It's not funny at all. Quite sad on their parts that they have to construct an entire false reality that fits their narrowminded, scared, little viewpoints.

Fannie said...

You mean people actually quote Lifesite out of seriousness and not to document its flaws and propaganda tactics?

The Opiners never cease to amaze and amuse me!