Following the coverage of the gay marriage debate in Commons, and only hearing those on the side of the status quo defend themselves from being called bigots and nazis, I went looking for arguments in favour of ‘preserving marriage’.
Sure enough I came across c4m.org.uk and their 10 Reasons Why the Government is Wrong to Redefine Marriage. Not having an unlimited amount of time, I decided to only dissect the first argument on their list; the exact text reads:
Evidence shows that redefining marriage actually undermines support for marriage in wider society. Neither has it delivered the promised stability for same-sex couples. In Spain, after gay marriage was introduced, marriage rates across the whole population plummeted. In the Netherlands too there has been a significant fall in the marriage rate since marriage was redefined. Same-sex marriage does not promote marriage.
Although there are a few statements in there (many that I take issue with), the thrust of the argument is that by looking at data from Spain & Holland, where gay marriage has been legalised, we see a falling number of marriages. This is due to said legalisation and we can therefore conclude that support for marriage is also falling.
The first point to make is that for this to be correct, the only way to support marriage is to be getting married. The figures only count marriages that take place, so anyone that is already married needs to get married again for their support to be registered.
What’s more, anyone not getting married after the legalisation of gay marriage does so because they do not believe in marriage. This decision has nothing to do with not having found someone to marry or not having enough money to do so.
However, I decided not to focus on the logic of the text (lack thereof?) and go hunting for the statistics.
Beginning with the Spanish figures, we can see that, since 2005 there has indeed been a decline in the number of marriages. But this is also true of the numbers since 2004, and in fact since 1989. So one could argue that this is part of a larger trend.
But even that is a simplification – between 1986 and 2007 we can see the figures rising and falling between 200,000 and 220,000. It is only after 2008 that the number of marriages really drops off. Exactly around the time of the financial crisis.
So what about the Dutch figures?
Well yes, since 2001 when gay marriage was legalised, the number of weddings has fallen from 82,000 to 71,500. But again this doesn’t take into account fluctuations like an increase to 86,000 in 2002, or slight jumps in 2008 and 2010. So there hasn’t just been a steady decline.
What’s more, the figures show a decline of 6,000 between 2000 and 2001. So once again, whatever the reason for the decline, I might easily argue that it began before gay marriage.
But what of other countries that have legalised gay marriage? After hunting for the statistics for Canada and Argentina (to no avail), I came across the figures for South Africa and Belgium [in French - 1st .xls on the right] (which go right back to 1830!).
For South Africa (gay marriage legalised 2006), the report I came across cites the 10 year period 2001-2010, that the year with the lowest number of marriages was 2001. In 2010 the figure stood at 171,000 (up from 135,000 in 2001), and so it might be argued (by c4m.org.uk’s logic) that gay marriage has increased support for marriage.
In Belgium the figures show a steady increase in marriages from 2003 (gay marriage legalised) until 2008, when they dropped slightly to 2001 levels to put them in line with a decline that has been taking place for far longer.
The figures from all four of these countries hardly demonstrate compelling evidence that gay marriage undermines support for marriage.
In order to explain any decline/ increase in marriages would be to do a far more thorough investigation and analysis of a huge range of factors.
And even then, you still wouldn’t have proved the link between the number of marriages and support for them.