Divorce and Social Science

On Thursday USA Today reported on what has been the next shoe waiting to drop for a long time: the first gay divorces:

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The mood was festive as Judge Valeri Haughton spent the morning of June 26 presiding over marriage ceremonies for gay couples who rushed to the Monroe County courthouse here after a federal judge struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage.

That afternoon, the judge took on a more somber task — and one likely in the cards for at least some of the couples who she had just married.

Haughton granted the state’s first sanctioned same-sex divorce.

The ruling — which came during a three-day window last week when same-sex marriage was legal in Indiana — brought an official end to the broken personal and legal relationship of former Indianapolis residents Melanie Davis and Angela Summers.

The social scientist in me (yes, there is one, though it only comes out about every other new moon) has been looking forward, 20 years or so from now, to seeing the data on gay divorces.  Will gay marriages be more durable than heterosexual marriages have been over the last generation?  Let’s face it: it is not as though traditional boy-girl marriage has been a world-beater lately in the U.S.  Will gay breakups differ from hetero marriages, given that in most cases there will be fewer child custody battles or alimony payments to haggle over?  I have no idea, and make no prejudgments about the matter.  This will be a great time to follow the data.

But that may be a problem.  I do have one hunch about what will happen: social science research in to gay marriage will be discouraged, when it is not suppressed or demonized because any finding that might deviate from the current triumphalism will be politically incorrect.  Just as most graduate students in social science stay away from certain aspects of research on minorities (see Jason Richwine for what can happen when you try it), this will become another area marked off limits.

It’s already happened to two researchers who attempted to assemble and analyze statistics on adopted children raised by gay couples, Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, and Loren Marks, a sociologist at Louisiana State University.  In separate studies using standard panel large-scale survey methodology, they each concluded that children raised in same-sex marriage households had higher rates of various social dysfunctions than children raised in traditional married households.  As with almost every social science analysis, there is ample room to criticize the research design, and Regnerus’s sample size (only about 250 parents) may be too small and over too short a span to bear the weight of any conclusions at this point.

But of course that’s not the way people responded to his work.  The liberal establishment, and Regnerus’s own university, went to DefCon1 to denounce his work in all of the usual ways. A group of 200 professors signed a letter denouncing the study.  I wonder how many of them actually read it?  I wonder how many of them will conduct similar research?  There’s a survey I’d like to do, and on these questions I’d be happy to offer a confident prediction about the results.

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