More Women Than Men Affected by Marriage Inequality

Lesbian-hearts-symbol-3D.svgAs the nation prepares for next week’s historic Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality, it is important to note that women will be disproportionately affected by whatever decisions get made. That’s because female couples account for roughly two-thirds of existing legal same-sex marriages. This underreported fact is highlighted in an amicus (friend of the court) brief submitted last month by the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF, publisher of Ms.) and the National Organization for Women (NOW) in support of abolishing California’s  marriage ban, Proposition 8.

The brief cites research indicating that in states with some type of formal recognition of same-sex marriage, legally married lesbians outnumber married gay males almost two to one. In California, 65 percent of “legally registered same-sex couples” are female pairs.

Marriage equality is intrinsically bound up with feminist goals (see my earlier pieces, here and here, that make this point). Aside from the statistics on the lesbian marriage majority, consider the  argument made by marriage equality opponents about “responsible procreation“–the absurd idea that allowing lesbians and gay men to marry will increase the number of children born out of wedlock–and the historical power imbalances within marriage that have adversely affected women.

As the FMF/NOW brief points out, significant advances in women’s rights have been hard-earned and of recent vintage: “The struggle for equal protection under the laws for women is not ancient history.” The fundamental rights to vote, to have sexual privacy, to choose whether or not to bear children and to receive equal protection under the law should not be subjected to the “whims of the voting majority.”

Because Proposition 8 was passed as a ballot initiative, NOW and FMF connect the precedent set by the California same-sex marriage ban to more broad infringements on the right to privacy:

Real threats to this fundamental right already exist, including threats to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Thus, for example, even though the California Constitution and the United States Constitution guarantee women an inalienable right to privacy, religious lobbies have attempted to circumscribe this right by using the initiative process to make it more difficult for women to access abortion services. The votes on these measures are consistently close enough to raise concern that the fundamental rights upon which women depend may be in jeopardy.

In making the case against Proposition 8, the brief affirms the main arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case–that the marriage ban violates equal protection under the law and due process. Rather than repeating those constitutional arguments, the brief calls attention to an additional constitutional problem that ought to be taken seriously in the Supreme Court hearing:

Not only does Proposition 8 have no legitimate purpose, as determined by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but it has an affirmatively illegitimate purpose under both California and federal law–taking a side in a religious debate [emphasis in original].

During the Proposition 8 trial back in early 2010, the marriage equality opponents sought to distance themselves from the religious focus of the campaign they had waged, thus providing some rational basis for the constitutional amendment and distancing themselves from charges of bigotry and intolerance. But the FMF/NOW brief notes that religious organizations provided much of the funding for the Proposition 8 campaign, and that “Mormons provided between 80 and 90 percent of the volunteers.” As a result of this strong religious presence, “religious themes and references dominated the campaign for Proposition 8.” One source cited in the brief points to the campaign’s “frequent invocation of religious beliefs not only to oppose same sex-marriage but to condemn homosexuality as well.”

In the brief, a line is drawn in the sand that’s significant not just for same-sex marriage rights but civil rights in general:

Religious groups are free to continue to engage in discourse over issues of public importance; they are not, however, entitled to have the State’s imprimatur on the endorsement of their religious beliefs.

In other words, the government should not choose sides in questions of religious morality.

The Proposition 8 case will be heard on March 26. The next day the court will take up the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It’s worth noting that, as a result of DOMA, legally married lesbians and gay men are denied federal benefits and viewed by the state as “legal strangers.” Since we now know that women make up the majority of legally married same-sex couples, then we should also recognize that the additional tax burden and benefit restrictions by DOMA affect women in disproportionate numbers. Combined with women’s lower earning power, this federal discrimination just adds another layer of insult to the injury of unequal rights.

Meanwhile, earlier this week another prominent feminist, Hillary Clinton, came out in favor of marriage equality :

LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones, and they are full and equal citizens who deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage. … That’s why I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law.

If the Supreme Court upholds the U.S. Constitution, then marriage equality will prevail–a victory for civil rights and a cause for feminist celebration.

Audrey Bilger is co-editor of the anthology Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.


  1. I love the simple factual, logical tone of this piece. I 100% concur with the ideas put forth here. I’m not lesbian, gay or trans-gender, if that even matters. I am a happily married (nearly 20 years) suburban 46 year-old with a 6 year-old child. I am for all people to be treated equally, fairly and with respect, and will continue to speak out for those who are not. Again, this is an excellent piece. Thank you Audrey.

  2. ToppHogg says:

    This makes sense to me. Women really want each other more than they want men. They want someone who talks, shares feelings, likes shopping, and doesn’t want sex all the time (read: more than once a month, if that). So for those brave enough to follow the sapphic path to true happiness (and lesbian bed death), not being legally allowed to enjoy the exact same rights and privileges must rankle.

    • Women only want sex about once a month? Is this what you gleaned from your previous relationships with women? Because if so, you need to stop putting women through the miserable experience you call ‘sex’. This lesbian can keep her girlfriend on edge for over four hours — and does so more than three times a week. (The other three times a week, I’m the one on edge. And on the seventh day they rest.)

  3. DarkZephyr says:

    This rubs me the wrong way. I DESPERATELY want to marry the man I love. I know MANY gay men who feel the same way. Why turn this into a women’s issue? Its a human issue. Please do not underplay the pain that marriage inequality causes gay males.

    • You are right on; however the author clearly states that 2/3 of marrried LGBTQ people are lesbians. And women have been disproportionately served by the law since, well, as long as history has been written. I think her point is that because women have had to fight for equal treatment under the law, and still do, the Supreme Court decisions will have vast impact on us, ultimately securing more equal protections for us, which have been lacking, in healthcare, pay, reproduction, etc. But minimizing gay love and the desire for marriage, as well as how this hurts our gay friends and family is silly. Every one of us has suffered from discrimination, locally and federally. Here’s hoping the Supreme Court gets it right!

    • I believe you are completely right it is not just a women issue. This is a human issue and I believe everyone should have the right to marry who they want.

  4. I like the article, but the headline is an oversimplification (and I think y’all know it, but just wanted an attention grabber), and a silly reason to support marriage equality in general. More women may be affected by these unjust laws in sheer numbers alone, but I don’t think that is a reason that we as feminists should pay attention to and fight toward marriage equality. Really, this is about fighting patriarchal religious “values” and those who wish to enforce their (misguided) interpretation of Biblical law on the rest of us. Those are feminist values in and of themselves, we don’t need to look at statistics and figure out that 65% of same sex marriages are between women to support marriage equality. At least, we shouldn’t need to do that. It is a good point to bring up, but I don’t like the way the headline and article framed it.

  5. Charlie Rose says:

    Agree completely. But no mention of children and their care? When over 30% of lesbian couples already have children (as compared to under 20% for gay men), and among women of color that figure is closer to 60%, marriage is very much a women’s issue – and a poor women’s issue at that.

    The body of well established law surrounding marriage that gives advantages in regard to taxes, property rights, income sharing, etc. for the cost of a marriage license – no lawyer required – is one big bargain.

  6. Within 30 years of widespread passing of gay marriage bills, It will be virtually IMPOSSIBLE for a gay male married or otherwise, to raise a child. Lesbians are the activists pushing this whole thing and with two fertile females per household, population density will rise as they select dna from sperm banks to eliminate any paternal issues. Large communal living areas are already popping up for women and their kids. These will rapidly become female “corporations” that actively seek unwed mothers and their children just like the church does now. It’s a proven technique to maintain group identity over time. Once a significant portion of young ladies are raised in these communal , female biased cultures, public sentiment towards males will reflect isolationist fears and intense legal management of males and their interaction with females will develop.

    If gay men would think about the long term ramifications of this issue they’d be STRONGLY against it. The proponents of gay marriage don’t see just how much hatred towards MALES, gay and straight is involved in retrofitting a hundred thousand year old social institution.

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