Over the past several years, same-sex marriage has been a central theme of the gay rights movement. The recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide is recognized as a landmark victory for advocates. But one detail that may have gone unnoticed is not only did the Supreme Court decision grant the right to marry, but also the right to divorce. According to The Wall Street Journal, many same-sex couples are jumping at the chance, and have been waiting years for the opportunity. As with all rights and privileges, however, there come both responsibilities and consequences.
Conventional wisdom suggests that marriage is about a relationship between a man and woman, which is an argument that actually fueled much of the opposition against legalizing same-sex marriage. In fact, historically, marriage has been a means to expand alliances and increase the family labor force, states Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College, in a LiveScience interview with Tia Ghose. Only in the last century has it been that marriage has transformed into what today is recognized as a bond between equals, which is a change that has paved the way for same-sex marriage.
Coontz points to several milestones in the history of marriage that have led up to the validation of same-sex marriage. The notion of monogamy replacing polygamy and monogamy becoming a guiding principle in relationships helped set the stage for what we see now as a standard romantic relationship. The church, by mandating what does and does not constitute a marriage, helped institutionalize the relationship between two people, which eventually led to marriage becoming a civil matter. And with love playing a role in who is matched with who, and a shift in the rights and responsibilities in marriage that move more toward equality between spouses, marriage has shifted and transformed for as long as it has existed.
Much like these past transformations, the modern view of divorce helps shape the perception of marriage as a whole, and the same can be assumed for same-sex divorce as it becomes more common.
How Gender Matters
Although changes in the perception of traditional marriage have helped set the stage for same-sex marriage, this shift brings other considerations, such as gender roles, socialization and marital conventions, into focus. In same-sex couples, gender roles actually influence family dynamics more than sexual orientation, according to Kathleen Ritter, Ph.D., author and professor of psychology at California State University, Bakersfield. Stereotypical male socialization involves organizing identity around an individualistic and competitive ideal. Women, on the other hand, tend to organize identity around establishing and maintaining relationships. Given this, Ritter points out, same-sex relationships have an added layer of complexity. Rather than the relative balance of socialization present in heterosexual relationships, socialization in same-sex relationships runs parallel, creating a unique, and potentially precarious, dynamic.
Same-Sex Divorce and Children
All things being equal, same-sex marriage brings with it the specter of same-sex divorce. There is no real practical or difference between divorce for same-sex and heterosexual couples. Bringing children into the picture, however, can add layers of legal complexity, depending on applicable state and federal laws, according to Nicole H. Sodoma, managing principal of Sodoma Law, P.C. Further complicating matters are considerations around alimony, child custody and how -- in matters of same-sex divorce -- social roles and social expectations play into the way courts handle such things.
Biology may very well play a factor as well; The Huffington Post reports that David Tutera, host of the television show My Fair Wedding, filed for divorce with his partner in 2013. When it was time to decide who received custody of his and his partner's children, it was decided that each father would retain custodial rights to the child he biologically fathered. This dynamic is not present in heterosexual relationships, thus adding a new level of consideration when children are involved in a breakup.