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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in the Netherlands:

Part 2: Looking back at the impact of the first
decade of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands:

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This topic is a continuation of the previous essay which described how
the Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage

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2011: A look backwards at ten years of marriage equality:

A full decade has passed since same-sex couples in the Netherlands were the first in the world who were able to obtain marriage licenses. During this interval, marriage equality has spread throughout much of the developed world. The expansion rate appears to be accelerating.

So far, most of Father Welch's predictions of the evils of marriage equality have not materialized. He was the president at the time of Human Life International (HLI), a pro-life group. He predicted that Western European countries and their people would be driven to self-destruction by marriage equality. It would cause the:

"... end of marriage and the legitimizing of perverse sexual unions of every type."

Marriage and culture in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe did not self destruct. Loving committed same-sex couples have been able to enjoy the status, privileges, and protections of marriage for themselves and their children throughout much of Western Europe, North America, South American, the country of South Africa, etc. Unfortunately, even as untold numbers of married same-sex couples are "sentenced" to a life together -- predominately in industrially developed Christian countries -- same-gender sexual behavior, same-sex cohabiting, and same-sex marriage remain illegal in most countries. In some countries such behavior can result in a sentence of capital punishment.

As Father Welch predicted, faith has died to a degree since marriage equality was first attained. But this appears to be a result of the general secularizing of developed societies which started long before the Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage, and continues today. In the case of Ireland which, in mid-2015, was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a public referendum, a major pro-equality driving force was the anger that many of the public felt toward the sexual abuse of minors by some priests in the Roman Catholic Church, and the subsequent failed attempt by the Church to engineer a cover up. Also, there has been a major exodus from organized religion by older teens and young adults. This has been partly driven by the discomfort young people have had with the teachings of various Christian denominations on science in general and on human sexuality in particular.

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How do children cope in families led by same-sex parents?

There have been many dozens of studies on this topic. Most indicated a slight advantage for children raised by same-sex parents, compared to those from families led by opposite-sex parents. Unfortunately, prior to 2013, the studies had only involved small numbers of couples and are thus not particularly significant statistically.

One often quoted study was headed by Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas. It was published in 2012 with the title: "The New Family Structures Study (NFSS)," and was based on sampling about 3,000 families. 1,2,3 The authors concluded that same-sex parents were relatively incompetent at raising children. This study has been quoted in many -- probably most -- of the 70 lawsuits related to same-sex marriage that were filed after the Windsor v. United States decision in mid 2013. However, the Regnerus study has been criticized because it was based on a sample size of only 2 children who were actually raised by same-sex parents for their entire childhood. According to Zack Ford writing at Think Progress:

"... almost all of the rest were the product of 'failed heterosexual unions' who happened to have had a parent who at some point had a 'romantic relationship with someone of the same sex'." 1

Thus, no really meaningful information can be extracted from this study concerning the ability of same-sex parents to raise children. However, the study might have limited usefulness at helping to understand difficulties faced by children who had been raised by a mother and father and who experienced a marriage breakup of their parents caused by one of their parents having had an affair with a member of the same sex.

According to the "Regnerus Fallout" web site

"The intention of Mark's research review was to slam the American Psychological Association’s [APA] position that same-sex parenting is not harmful to children and to take down 30 years of scientific research showing that having gay or lesbian parents does not predispose children for negative sociological outcomes. Marks blasted most of the 59 studies cited by the APA for involving small, convenience sampling (where subjects are selected by the researcher because they are close at hand or otherwise easy to access), -– among other criticisms. The problem with these studies, Marks argued, was that most of them were not large, random, or population-based. 4

The world's first large, detailed and statistically conclusive study that compared how well children succeed in families headed by same-sex parents with those headed by opposite-sex parents was published in mid-2013. This was the large-scale ACHESS study in Australia. It produced encouraging and meaningful results. It found that children raised by same sex parents:

  • Thrive equally well when compared to the other children in self-esteem, emotional behavior, and the amount of time spent with parents.
  • Scored higher than the national average for overall health and family cohesion. The latter is a measure of how well family members get along.
  • Experienced "no statistically significant differences" on all other health measures.

The often repeated saying that "children need a mother and a father" which is intuitively believed by many religious conservatives, and others, appears to be incorrect in practice. Instead, children seem to benefit, very slightly, if they are have the opportunity to be raised by two mothers or two fathers.

In Australia, where the ACHESS study was conducted, a substantial majority of the public favors marriage equality. There appear to be a sufficient number of votes in Parliament to attain marriage equality. However, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbot of the Liberal Party, continues to refuse to allow legislators a free vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage there. If and when same-sex couples become able to marry in Australia, such couples should benefit from the improved status, stability, benefits and protections of marriage. The outcome of the children in these marriages should improve even more when compared to that of children raised by a mother and a father.

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2011: How stable are same-sex marriages in the Netherlands?

Between 2001-APR-01, the date of the first same-sex marriages, and 2011-JAN-01, there were about 15,000 same-sex marriages and 1,078 divorces in the country, for a failure rate rate of 7.2%. During the same time interval, there were about 761,000 opposite-sex couples who married, and 323,549 divorces, for a failure rate of 42.5%. 5 The latter number is close to the value seen in the U.S. A casual look at these numbers might indicate that marriages by same-sex couples are about six times more stable as those by opposite-sex couples. However, that might not be particularly accurate. It will take a few decades of data before an accurate estimate of stability can be computed.

In retrospect, it might be argued that the increased stability of same-sex marriages might have been expected for a number of reasons:

  • Females and males are socialized differently as children and youths. Therefore two women or two men in a marriage should be able to understand each other better, cooperate better, and have fewer conflicts.

  • Society expects men and women to perform different roles when married. But a married couple consisting of two men or two women have no predetermined duties about who does the meal preparation, who does the cleaning, who handles the finances, who works, who stays home with the children, etc. So they have to negotiate these duties and probably end up with tasks that are well matched to each spouse's personality.

  • Rejection, homophobia, and hatred directed at the LGBT community remains at a high level everywhere. This might well drive a married closer together for mutual support.

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In mid-2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Windsor v. United States. It overturned a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. This gave access for many same-sex married couples to 1.138 benefits, protections, and program that were previously restricted only to opposite-sex married couples. A second impact of that ruling was that many dozens of lawsuits in state and federal courts were filed to legalize same-sex marriage in dozens of states. The plaintiffs were able to convincingly argue in favor of marriage equality using the same reasoning as had been used in the Windsor hearing. The defendants in these cases were less successful in arguing against marriage equality using fear-based predictions of massive increases in divorce rates, reductions in marriage rates, lowering of birth rates, long-term harm to children, etc. Only one of their arguments really gained traction. That was concern that same-sex marriage was so new that it could have long-term negative effects on society in the future that had not yet been detected. Many plaintiffs used this argument to urge delay and caution when implementing marriage equality.

Experience with same-sex marriage in the Netherlands which has now passed 12 years, the ACHESS study in Australia, and -- hopefully -- new unbiased studies similar to ACHESS in the future, should go a long way to quiet fears about any negative long term effects by marriage equality on the culture.

More details should emerge in the future as additional countries attain marriage equality and experience it for longer intervals.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Zack Ford, "Mark Regnerus’ Own Sociology Department Calls His Anti-Gay Conclusions ‘Fundamentally Flawed',"Think Progress, 2014-MAR-04, at:
  2. "The Regnerus Fallout," The Human Rights Campaign, at:
  3. Mark Regnerus, Abstract, "How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study," Social Science Research, Vol. 41, #4, 2012-JUL, Pages 752-770. Access to the full article costs U.S. $35.95!
  4. "Videos," The Regnerus Fallout," 2013-OCT-23, at:
  5. "Reflecting on 12 years of gay marriage in the Netherlands," Euronews, 2013-APR-01, at:

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2015-MAY-26
Latest update: 2015-MAY-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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