Courtesy of an essay titled “How to Make Your Marriage Gayer” (Feb. 13, 2020) readers of the New York Times were informed that if straight couples want more satisfying marriages they need to “take a few lessons from their same-sex counterparts.” According to the essay, authored by Stephanie Coontz, who is history professor emeritus at Evergreen College, same-sex couples have a more equitable arrangement for domestic tasks, are able to handle conflict better than straight couples, and enjoy what some researchers have called a significant “parenting advantage.”
Coontz’s essay is just another attempt by progressives to demonstrate the superiority of same-sex “marriage.” Coontz—the author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap and a former leader of the Young Socialist Alliance, a sub-group of the Socialist Workers Party—has devoted much of her career to debunking what she sees as myths about the happy heterosexual families of the past. Claiming that there was never a “golden age” of family values in the 20th century, Coontz has been the favorite historian for those wishing to “expand” the definition of marriage and family.
Coontz has claimed that early Catholic traditions concerning marriage were “far more flexible about the place of divorced or single people and cohabiting couples” than current Catholic teaching. Yet, despite her faulty ideas about the Church, Coontz was invited to participate in Pope Francis’ World Meeting on Families in Philadelphia in 2015. Coontz suggests that she was invited to speak at the meetings in order to “remind people that we should not romanticize the family of the past…to remind people that the traditional two-parent nuclear family was not always idyllic.”
In arguing for the superiority of same-sex parenting, Coontz reports that straight fathers devoted the least time in parenting tasks; they spent, on average, about 55 minutes a day focused on child-care tasks including reading, playing, homework, and physical needs. In contrast, Coontz says, gay fathers spend one hour and 23 minutes focused on their children’s needs. And although lesbian mothers spend significantly less time involved in parenting tasks than straight mothers, Coontz suggests that since there are two mothers in the same-sex household, there is an advantage for children raised in same-sex families.
Coontz suggests that another “parenting advantage” for gay men and lesbian women is that “they seldom end up with an unintended or unwanted child, which is a risk factor for poor parenting”—and she warns that if opponents of abortion continue to gain ground, “same-sex parents may find themselves increasingly advantaged.” In doing so, she ignores data from nationally normed representative samples that show a distinct disadvantage for children raised in same-sex households, as analyzed by Dr. Paul Sullins, a researcher from Catholic University, and Mark Regnerus, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Instead, Coontz bases her conclusions on the same-sex parenting advantage on self-reports from same-sex couples.
Coontz also cites data from a non-representative sample, which she claims indicates that same-sex couples settle disagreements more amicably than straight couples. She cites a study by John Gottman and Robert Levenson, which looked at the conflict management styles of 21 lesbian couples and 21 male gay couples and found that the gay and lesbian couples handled disagreements with their partners in “less belligerent, domineering, and fearful ways than different-sex individuals.” Publishing their research in the Journal of Homosexuality, Gottman and Levenson concluded that “fairness and power-sharing between partners is more important and more common in gay and lesbian relationships than in straight ones. In a fight, gay and lesbian couples take it less personally.”
Ignoring the research on the significantly higher rates of intimate-partner violence within the LGBTQ community, Gottman and Levenson laud same-sex couples for their ability to fight fairly and without rancor. But a major 2015 study from the progressive Williams Institute of more than 40 previous studies of intimate-partner violence and sex abuse among LGBTQ people revealed that lesbian and bisexual women are significantly more likely to have experienced intimate-partner violence than heterosexual women. The studies, based on representative samples, found a “lifetime prevalence of 31.9% and a past year prevalence of 10.2% among lesbians asking whether an intimate partner, a ‘husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, or someone [the participant] lived with or dated,’ had ‘hit, slapped, pushed, kicked, or physically hurt’ the survey participant.” It refers to a previous study that “found that 14.5% of lesbians, compared to 21.9% of bisexual women and 12.2% of heterosexual women, reported experiencing sexual abuse by a partner.”
Finally, couples involved in same-sex “marriages” are much more likely to report multiple partners outside the relationship. A 2016 study reported in The Guardian found that for gay couples, “non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship…their communication is better than among monogamous couples because they’ve had to negotiate specific details.” But as one man admits, while having specific rules to follow is essential, sticking to the rules is not only difficult—it rarely happens, leading to conflict and creating ”a sense of doubt of whether someone is telling the truth…”
One problem with Coontz’s New York Times op-ed is that such opinions are taken seriously by decision makers and cultural elites. In his 2015 majority opinion legalizing same-sex marriage in Obergefell vs Hodges Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy twice cited Professor Coontz’s opinions on the “tremendous variety of marriage through the ages.” Coontz—along with 25 other historians—claimed in an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage that it is a myth that marriage was ever based on procreation. It is likely that Justice Kennedy believed her.
In the end, Coontz can’t demonstrate same-sex marriages are “better” than heterosexual ones because the metrics Coontz uses are, from a Catholic perspective, fundamentally flawed. Coontz wants open communication, equal distribution of household tasks and childcare, and satisfying sex to be the measures of a successful marriage; from a Catholic perspective, those things may be features of a happy marriage, but they aren’t the essence of what marriage is about. The Church understands that by its very nature “the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring, and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1652). In addition, the “vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes” (CCC, 1603).
For faithful Catholics, marriage is a natural institution and matrimony is a sacrament, established by Jesus Christ, ordered to the procreation of children, and for the mutual—and exclusive—love of the spouses. In addition, “family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life.” This natural society provides the authority and stability that “constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. the family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom” (CCC, 2207). The past several decades have demonstrated clearly the connections between marital fidelity and social stability, as well as how sex severed from marriage leads to both personal confusion and social chaos. Thus, the sacrament of marriage has always held this ideal—and can never change no matter how much the culture appears to change or wishes to change.
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