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Sam Brownback
stated on September 5, 2007 in a debate in Durham, N.H.:
In countries that allow gay marriage, the rates of heterosexual marriage "have plummeted to where you have counties now in northern Europe where 80 percent of the first-born children are born out of wedlock."
true barely-true
Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan September 6, 2007

Marriage rates declined before same-sex unions legalized

In a Republican debate on Sept. 5, 2007, Brownback cited an argument that social-values conservatives have been making for years about gay marriage: that it causes declining marriage rates and more births to unmarried couples.

But the trends of declining marriage rates and births out of wedlock started before gay unions were legalized.

M.V. Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the research director of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA, wrote a detailed study that examined rates for marriage and birth rates in Scandinavian countries.

"Marriage rates, divorce rates, and nonmarital birth rates have been changing in Scandinavia, Europe, and the United States for the past thirty years," Badgett writes. "But those changes have occurred in all countries, regardless of whether or not they adopted same-sex partnership laws, and these trends were underway well before the passage of laws that gave same-sex couples rights."

In, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, same-sex partnerships were legalized in 1989, 1993 and 1994, respectively. Generally speaking, gay partners in these countries have the legal and financial protections of marriage, but they are not allowed to marry in church or adopt children.

The county-level statistics Brownback cites about first-born births are correct, Badgett said, but that trend also started years before the legalization of same-sex unions.

Conservative author Stanley Kurtz is a prominent advocate of the argument that gay marriage hurts heterosexual marriage. Kurtz responded to Badgett's study by arguing that marriage rates in Scandinavia and other European countries are still declining, and that the legalization of same-sex partnerships "reinforces and intensifies parental cohabitation."

But even Kurtz acknowledges that the decline began before the legalization of same-sex unions.


Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

M.V. Lee Badgett, "Will Providing Marriage Rights to Same-Sex Couples Undermine Heterosexual Marriage? Evidence from Scandinavia and the Netherlands." July 2004.

Stanley Kurtz, "The End of Marriage in Scandanavia." The Weekly Standard. Feb. 2, 2004.

M.V. Lee Badgett, "Prenuptual Jitters: Did Gay Marriage Destroy Heterosexual Marriage in Scandinavia?" May 20, 2004

Stanley Kurtz, "Unhealthy Half Truths." National Review Online. May 25, 2004.

Times Interview with M.V. Lee Badgett, Sept. 6, 2007.

Eurostat, Live Births Outside Marriage.

Eurostat, Marriages.

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Marriage rates declined before same-sex unions legalized

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