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Data shows link between same-sex marriage, divorce rate

Critics and supporters of same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland and elsewhere have long argued over the consequences of such laws on divorce, with some fearing it could raise divorce rates. According to data from the National Vital Statistics System at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, states that currently allow same-sex marriage generally see lower divorce rates.

Six states currently grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Maryland recently passed a law allowing same-sex marriage, but this legislation has yet to take effect. In 2010, the two states with the nation's lowest divorce rates, 2.4 per 1000 residents and 2.5 per 1000 residents, both allowed same-sex marriage.

According to researchers from the Williams Institute, a slightly smaller proportion of same-sex couples pursue divorce than their heterosexual counterparts. While most states do not track divorces specifically for same-sex couples, the data does suggest that divorce rates are generally lower across all same-sex unions. For instance, one state with a 2010 divorce rate of 3.8 per 1000 residents sees a yearly average of 0.3 divorces per 1000 residents for same-sex couples only.

One attorney speculated that the reduced divorce rate among same-sex couples could be due to the young age of the laws allowing them to be married. "My guess is they are less likely to get a divorce because they have been together for so long, and the opportunity has only been recently granted for them to get married," he said.

Some people also say that states that do not allow same-sex marriage are lacking in the ways they deal with couples wishing to separate. One woman recalls splitting from her partner of 15 years in a state that did not allow same-sex marriages or civil unions. The couple's only option was mediation, as they could not file for divorce. She says that states need to establish clear "action plans" for same-sex couples that wish to separate or divorce.

Mediation remains an option for most couples, no matter their status. It allows people to amicably reach a settlement and avoid a long court battle.

Source: Medill Reports, "Divorce rates lower in states that allow same-sex marriage," Donesha Aldridge, March 1, 2012

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