Exploring gay marriage

Article dated: 24 July 2008

One of the significant social reforms of this decade came with the Civil Partnerships Act in 2005. This law gave same-sex couples rights equating to civil marriage, and while the initial headlines focused on show business couples such as Sir Elton John and David Furnish, a new study release by ESDS Qualidata considers the wider impact of gay and lesbian 'marriage'.  

Study number 5900, Gay and Lesbian 'Marriage': an Exploration of the Meanings and Significance of Legitimating Same Sex Relationships, 2003-2006 is a qualitative study examining the socio-legal, cultural and familial dimensions of homosexual couples seeking formal recognition of their relationship. The study, deposited by Professor Carol Smart of the University of Manchester, interviewed one or both partners in 54 same-sex couples living in England who had, or intended to hold, some form of commitment ceremony prior to the introduction of civil partnerships. Its scope covered the motivation of couples in entering partnerships, attitudes towards the nature of the ceremony, and their understanding of the meaning of the term 'marriage' in a legal and spiritual sense. It also explored the wider impacts on attitudes in the immediate and extended family, friends, and the homosexual community. 

The findings indicate an overall level of acceptance within families of same-sex couples; however there were indications from some that the decision to 'marry' disrupted uneasy truces or provoked outright refusal to accept relationships, with some families excluded or excluding themselves to avoid confrontation and distress. The study also investigated ambivalence in sections of the gay community to what is seen as oppressive submission to heterosexual norms. However, for most couples the important impact of commitment ceremonies was to endow their relationship with a social and legal recognition that they felt was deserved.