Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Just saying...

Interesting to read last week about new estimates of the number of legally married gay couples in the US.

As explained in the New York Times, it's actually not as easy as you might think to know the number of married gay couples across the nation:
One reason it’s hard to get a fix on the marriages is that detailed marriage records are not tracked at the federal level. They’re managed by counties and states, which report the count of marriages and not much else. The Census Bureau isn’t always a lot of help either. Methodological problems like sample size and false positives have long plagued census estimates of this relatively small group.
But a new research paper published by the Treasury Department on Monday has found an interesting way around these problems: tax records.
By linking the tax returns of same-sex couples who filed jointly in 2014 with their Social Security records, researchers are able to give us the most accurate picture of same-sex marriages to date. And their estimate is this: In 2014 there were 183,280 same-sex marriages in America, roughly a third of 1 percent of all marriages.
Of course, implicit in this estimate is the assumption that all married couples file their returns jointly. But as a proxy for that, it’s pretty good. The Treasury Department estimates that 97.5 percent of married couples who file taxes file them jointly.
The article goes on to note a reason why it might be a bit of an underestimate.  On the other hand, Census estimates are likely to be way over.   (This report from last year says survey and census date indicated 390,000 married gay couples - a very big difference.)

Another report from 2014 said census date indicated 252,000.

And the LA Times, confusingly, said last year that:
About 780,000 Americans were married to same-sex partners before the high court's decision, according to Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute, who analyzed the Gallup data. That number has now risen to about 972,000.
Even if you say that you divide that number by two to get the number of gay marriages, that would be about 480,000!

In fact, the tax estimate now seems to be thought to be pretty accurate, so the real figure might be much closer to 200,000.

As to what percentage that represents of gay cohabiting couples:  well, who knows how accurate the estimate for that figure is.   One of the links above says there were 1.2 million adults living in same sex domestic partnerships (that's all? - out of 242 million adults?).  So if that means 600,000 "partnerships", does that mean 1 in 3 chose to marry?

But, going forward, you would have to allow for the initial rush that legalising gay marriage causes, when old couples who have wanted to marry finally do.   Taking that into account, I think it still seems a fair guess that clear majority of cohabiting gay couples are not going to marry.

While I'm sure people will say "so what?  - that's not reason to not allow those who want to", but as my post title says, I'm just saying.... that people seem to be often overestimating the number of gay couples who do want to go through with marriage.

And as for the effect of gay marriage on gay mental health - it seems mean spirited to point it out, but sorry,  there's not exactly strong reason to believe it will be remove higher rates of suicide amongst gay and lesbians.  This report, from the Netherlands, with its 12 years of gay marriage and famously liberal attitudes to sex education, euthanasia laws and soft drug use, still indicates high rates of suicidal thoughts amongst gay youth.   Anti gay marriage sites like to point out studies like this one from Sweden, where gay married men still seem to have a 3 times higher suicide rate.  Again, this seems mean spirited, but when an argument is based a lot on anticipated emotional reaction to a legal change, facts are still worthy of consideration, aren't they?  

Gay marriage activists make the obvious point that the symbolism of legal recognition of gay marriage can only help with societal and family acceptance of gay folk, and thereby reduce suicide;  but honestly, I think they're overestimating the extent of likely positives outcomes.  It seems to me that the process over the last 20 or 30 years of recognizing gay partnerships as civil unions (either by being registered as such, or those jurisdictions which have simply allowed them to be treated the same as a de facto heterosexual marriages), legislating  against workplace discrimination, and high profile media, sporting and other personalities coming out as gay, have collectively had a much greater chance of modifying gay suicide rates than the final step of gay marriage.

Update:   part of the reason for this post is that my 13 year old daughter recently told me that her favourite high school teachers are all gay (3 male teachers - although one or more of them I think are not her permanent teachers.)    This led to her asking what I thought of gay marriage, and her obvious annoyance when I said I did not support it.

I didn't try to launch into a detailed explanation - but there is no doubt that most teenagers and supporters see this through an emotional prism that is not very interested in numbers and an independent look at the psychology of the issue.

And, as usual, part of the problem with not supporting it is that it is embarrassing to sound aligned with those who really do take the opportunity to insult and demean homosexuals per se - such as many of the losers who comment at Catallaxy.

But I'll still try to stake out a position that I think is reasonable....

Update 2:   But I have to admit, the re-framing of the question of gay marriage to one of "marriage equality" has been brilliant marketing.  

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