Religion and LGBT rights often stand in opposition. A new study (PDF link) in the June 2008 Journal of Family Psychology, however, found that “religiously invested lesbians and gay men, and those with children, were the most likely to cohabit and to legalize and ritualize their couple relationships.”
Study participants were residents of Illinois, so legal recognition through marriage was not an option. Cohabiting same-sex couples who legalized their relationship by making wills or granting powers of attorney to each other, however, were more likely to belong to a supportive religious congregation than non-legalizing cohabiters. The researchers say, “it may be that faith communities encourage the structural validation of same-sex couples, even if partners do not desire ritual,” an intriguing and little-explored example of the positive impact of religion on same-sex relationships.
Among cohabiting same-sex couples, those with longer relationships were more likely to have legalized them. Among those who legalized, parents were 3.5 times more likely than non-parents to have had commitment ceremonies. Those who had ceremonies were also more religious than those who didn’t.
Most children in the study were from partners’ previous relationships. One of the reasons for the higher incidence of ceremonies among couples with children, the researchers speculate, is that “parents may be using the ritual to build cohesion within stepfamilies.” In addition, those who had been heterosexually married “may have retained their value of wedding rituals.”
One of the researchers, Ramona Faith Oswald of the University of Illinois, also observes that most children in the study were teenagers when the parents had their ceremonies, She says the parents may have wanted to present good examples of commitment at a time when their children were beginning to have their own romantic relationships.
Oswald hopes this study will help explain the motivations of same-sex couples who want to have civil unions. The state House is currently considering civil union legislation. She notes, “Not all same-sex couples want legal protection or ritual recognition. However, those who do appear to take these steps for the same reasons straight people often do—parenthood and religious commitment. This common ground should be part of our policy debates.”
Oswald’s co-authors on the study were Eric Clausell of the University of Illinois, Kate Kuvalanka of Miami University of Ohio, and Abbie Goldberg of Clark University. For more about current research on LGBT parenting, see my interview of Goldberg from last August.