Jun 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Study: Same-sex marriage in 20 years had no negative effects

Gail Stockman, 60, and Beth Black, 58, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, prepare to marry at a massive wedding in August 2013, along with other same-sex couples.

Gail Stockman and Beth Black prepare to marry at a massive wedding in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in August 2013, along with other same-sex couples. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

The U.S. has not seen any negative effects on marriage, divorce or living arrangements among all couples since Massachusetts issued the first state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage licenses 20 years ago, a new analysis says.

Why it matters: Two decades after that historic moment — and nine years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled state-level same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional — advocates worry that marriage equity is vulnerable despite its wide acceptance today.

The big picture: Some conservatives have signaled they will use the conservative supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge marriage equity following the successful challenge to the Roe decision.

  • For Pride Month this year, Axios will examine the legacy of the Massachusetts decision and see where marriage equity is at risk if there is an attempt to reverse the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Zoom in: A review of nearly 100 studies examining the consequences of same-sex marriage on multiple measures of family formation and well-being found no harm to different-sex unions, a report from RAND and UCLA found.

  • The analysis found that after states legalized marriage for same-sex couples, marriage numbers jumped in those states at rates greater than what could be accounted for by the new marriages of same-sex couples alone.
  • Researchers found no consistent evidence of an increase in divorce as a consequence of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.
  • The analysis suggests that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples had, if anything, led to a small positive impact on marriage attitudes among high school seniors.

What they're saying: "We find no evidence for a retreat from marriage," said Melanie A. Zaber, coauthor of the report and a RAND economist.

  • "In fact, there is evidence suggesting that by extending marriage rights to a greater number of couples, interest in marriage increased."
  • Zaber said the findings aren't limited to same-sex couples and it's true for the broader population.

State of play: Seventy-one percent of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal, a Gallup poll found in June 2023.

  • That's a dramatic increase from the time of the Massachusetts ruling when only 42% of Americans supported marriage equality.

Between the lines: A reversal of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling could mean states may adopt old bans on marriage equity just as states do with abortion.

  • Depending on what laws states passed before the court's decision — and if their own states had court challenges — the nation could again see a checkboard of different marriage equity laws.

Go deeper: Mass. celebrates 20 years of same-sex marriage

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