Q&A: These researchers examined 20 years of data same-sex marriage. They didn’t find any harms

Karen Kaplan | (TNS) Los Angeles Times

Twenty years ago this month, Marcia Kadish and Tanya McCloskey exchanged wedding vows at Cambridge City Hall in Massachusetts and became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the United States.

The couple had been together since 1986, but their decision to wed was radical for its time. In 2004, only 31% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while 60% were opposed, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

Much of that opposition was fueled by fears that expanding the definition of marriage beyond the traditional union of a man and a women would undermine the institution and be destabilizing to families. Researchers at the Rand Corp. decided to find out if those predictions turned out to be true.

A team from the Santa Monica-based think tank spent a year poring over the data. The result is a 186-page report that should be reassuring to supporters of marriage equality.

“If there were negative consequences in the last 20 years of the decision to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, no one has yet been able to measure them,” said Benjamin Karney, an adjunct behavioral scientist at Rand.

Karney, who is also a social psychologist at UCLA, led the report with Melanie Zaber, a labor economist and economic demographer at Rand. They spoke with The Times about what they learned.

Does marriage make people better off?

Benjamin Karney: On average, yes. People who are married experience fewer health problems, they live years longer, they make more money, and they accumulate more wealth than people who marry and divorce or who don’t marry at all. People who are married also experience more stable and positive psychological health, and they have sex more frequently than people who are not married.

All those benefits accrue primarily to people who are in happy marriages. Unhappy marriage is very, very harmful. But most people who are married are happy — that’s why they stay married.

What prompted you to examine same-sex marriage now?

BK: At the time that these policies were changing, there were a lot of arguments on both sides about whether the consequences would be positive or negative. Twenty years is a long time, and during that time, a lot of research has been conducted. It seemed like a good time to ask the question: What did happen as a consequence of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples? So that’s one reason.

The second reason is that in the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion said explicitly that this Supreme Court should consider reviewing and potentially overturning other decisions, and he named the 2015 Obergefell vs. Hodges decision that legalized marriage for same-sex couples by name. Given that people may be wondering about the merits of that decision, it seemed like a good time to evaluate the consequences of that decision, and that’s what we’ve done.

What did you find?