Do gays want to get married?

One suprising aspect of the 2005 Private Lives report, to date the biggest survey of gay Australians, was the limited expressed interest in a ‘commitment ceremony’. Just over half of gay men and 40% of lesbians in a relationship said they had no intention of having such a ceremony.

It’s never been clear whether this meant that there was little gay interest in gay marriage, a reluctance to commit to their particular current partner, or whether it was the nature of a ‘commitment ceremony’ with no legal or accepted community status that meant support was low.

Another survey of gay Australians carried out this year finds that there is strong gay support for gay marriage. Only 1% favour no legal recognition, and more than three-quarters support gay marriage.

However, in response to the question

“If you are or were to become involved in a long-term committed same-sex relationship, in what way would you prefer Australian law to recognise your relationship?

just over half chose marriage, with most of the rest preferring either some other form of federal relationship recognition (28%) or de facto status (15%).

So while the overwhelming majority of gay people think that gay marriage should be an option, only a slim majority personally aspire to it. By contrast, a 2008 survey of young Australians found that about 80% expect to marry. Gays and straights seem to aspire to different things in their romantic relationships.

13 thoughts on “Do gays want to get married?

  1. Regarding your conclusion: You don’t expect that the difference in aspirations between the young and not-young to be greater than that between straight and not-straight? (As it happens, I do.)

    Moreover, from the link you provide to the Qu & Weston report:

    Participants were asked to indicate their agreement or disagreement with the statements “Marriage is an outdated institution”…

    which sounds very different to my ear than the question you indicate in the post. How would you suppose each group would answer the complementary question?

    I conclude from this that sexual identification may or may not affect romantic aspirations.


  2. Berian – On a quick search, I could not find survey research on marital intentions across the whole population. However the census found that among 40-44 year olds in 2006, 78% of men and 84% of women either were or had been married, with the figures being 69% and 78% in the 35-39 age group. So it looks like among the straight population actual marriages exceed aspirations in the gay population.

    I wasn’t using the ‘marriage is an outdated institution’ question – it’s interesting, but as you suggest not what I was looking for. General questions often get quite different answers to personal questions on the same subject.

    I was using another question further down, ‘How likely is it that you will marry someday?’, and taking ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ as affirmative answers.

    It’s hard to get consistent questions, as marriage is possible for one group and hypothetical for the other.

    There are plausible reasons why the groups may differ in attitudes: gay couples are less likely to have children, so removing one reason for marriage; some gays oppose gay marriage on religious or political grounds (eg John Heard on the Catholic conservative side, and some radicalised gays used to oppose bourgeois hetero institutions like marriage); and some gays who grew up with no expectation that they could ever get married may just have accepted that situation and/or arrived at arrangements they are happy with without marriage.


  3. These surveys are meaningless, from a policy viewpoint. If you asked women whether they would like an abortion sometime in the future, probably only a small minority would say yes. But they might also want to keep the option open.


  4. S of R – Believe it or not, surveys don’t exist entirely for policy purposes. However these particular surveys are not meaningless. If very few gays wanted to get married it could plausibly be claimed (as John Heard has, based on the earlier survey) that this should not be major issue.


  5. Andrew, even if only a small minority of gays want to get married, that is not a reason to stop them. I agree it should not be a major issue, but the people making it a major issue are those opposed to gay marriage.


  6. If you put any reasonable value on individual liberty, or in more prosaic terms, people not sticking their nose into other people’s personal affairs, Hyacinth Bucket style, it is a ridiculous reason.


  7. S of R — one of the characteristics of modern government — at least in the inner sanctums — is how extraordinarily busy life is. People want so much from modern government that the to-do list is always huge, even when the ministerial staffers and sometimes their bosses too are regularly putting in 16-hour days.
    So although politicians giving low priority to an issue that affects only a small number of people might be unjust in the terms of an abstract theory of justice, practically speaking it is far from being ridiculous.


  8. I think the polling reflects the alienation many gays feel from society. Amongst my gay friends there is an attitude that marriage is a an institute designed by homophobic conservatives to alienate Gays. There is definitely an element of “If you won’t let me in, i don’t want to come in”. I would be very surprised if 15 years after the introduction of gay marriage the figure goes up from 50%.

    Also, a “slim majority” really isn’t anything to sneeze at.

    Also I think the point is irrelevant. gay marriage has nothing to do with marriage, it has to do with discrimination. Do you think Rosa Park’s feet were really THAT sore? It was about rights.


  9. “marriage is a an institute designed by homophobic conservatives to alienate Gays.”

    I thought it was designed to keep heterosexual men around long enough to raise the kids.

    But if lomlate is right, it shows that implausible marriage theories (eg gay marriage will undermine the family) are not restricted to conservatives.


  10. “That’s as may be, but there’s more important things for Government to focus on right now!” is the age-old cry of Governments that have run out of other arguments against a proposal.


  11. A ‘slim majority’ of gays want marriage, say 50 percent. 80 percent of straights want marriage. 20 percent of straights don’t want marriage.

    looks to me like 30 percent of the difference in wanting marriage is explained by sexual preference. Is this sufficient to warrant the phrase:

    ‘Gays and straights seem to aspire to different things in their romantic relationships.’


    …and to alanc

    It’s not the busy-ness of government that stops things from getting done. much boring legislation is passed every session. There are thousands of public servants developing endless policy options that go nowhere. Minor injustices are fixed by various levels of government all the time.

    What stops minor injustices from being righted is the media-cycle / public opinion. A party isn’t likely to go for gay marriage when they know their opponent can whip up a media frenzy to motivate those who would stymie them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s