Today's gay marriage debate is the great civil rights debate of the new American Century. The United States is deeply divided on this issue. Many Americans favor gay marriage, others oppose it. Opponents of same-sex marriage often claim that allowing gay men and lesbians to marry will lead to the downfall of the institution of marriage and will do irreparable harm to children. But is this really the case?

According to authors William N. Eskridge, Jr. and Darren R. Spedale, the answer is a resounding "no." In their new book, GAY MARRIAGE: For Better or for Worse? What We've Learned From the Evidence (Oxford University Press, May 2006), the first of its kind to present empirical evidence about same-sex marriage, Spedale and Eskridge look to Scandinavia where gay couples have enjoyed the rights and benefits of marriage since 1989. They examine how same-sex marriage came to be in Scandinavia; who is getting married and why they are tying the knot; the Church's reception to same-sex unions; and how same-sex marriage has affected the couples, their families, their children, and their greater communities, both nationally and internationally, and find that the defense of marriage argument is inconsistent with the Scandinavian evidence. What Spedale and Eskridge find is that marriage in the Nordic countries has in no way suffered from legalization of same-sex unions; if anything, it has benefited. If we look at the proof from abroad, the authors argue, we must conclude that the sanctioning of gay marriage in the United States would neither undermine marriage as an institution, nor harm the well-being of our nation's children.

Reaching beyond ideology, GAY MARRIAGE: For Better or For Worse?, offers a unique perspective on same-sex marriage in practice, one which emphasizes evidence over rhetoric.
The Claims vs. The Evidence
Objections to Gay Marriage What the Evidence Demonstrates

Same-sex marriage would be a "cultural debacle," a disaster of "nuclear" proportions. - Former Judge Robert Bork, Author of the Federal Marriage Amendment (2004 article) Denmark has been recognizing same-sex marriage (as registered partnerships) since 1989, without nuclear incidents. The same can be said for Norway (since 1993) and Sweden (since 1995).

"Ten years of de facto same-sex marriage in Scandinavia has further weakened marriage." - Senator William Frist, Senate Majority Leader (2004)

In the 1970s, Danish heterosexuals weakened marriage by making divorce easier and recognizing cohabitation. Seventeen years of de facto same-sex marriage in Denmark (since 1989) has strengthened marriage.

"The greatest effect [of same-sex marriage in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden was] on the society at large. Sad to say, there has been an enormous rise of family dissolution." - Senator John Cornyn, FMA sponsor (2004)

After a rising divorce rate between 1971 and 1989, when Denmark adopted its registered partnership law it saw this rate plummet to its lowest level in thirty years. Norway and Sweden saw similar post-partnership declines in their divorce rates.

"Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. Sixty percent of the first-born children in those countries are now born out of wedlock." - Senator Rick Santorum, Republican Whip (2004)

The non-marital birth rate in Denmark soared from 11% to 46% between 1971 and 1989, before Denmark recognized registered partners. Since 1989, the rate has declined from 46% to 44%. The non-marital birthrate stabilized in Norway and Sweden.

"You know the family has disappeared in those Scandinavian countries" because of homosexual marriage. - Marriage Activist Evalena Gray (2005)

After decades of decline, marriage and family have made a modest comeback in Scandinavia after recognition of same-sex marriages.

"Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable." - Stanley Kurtz, National Review On Line (2004)

Scandinavian lesbian and gay marriages have revealed a renewed interest in this traditionalist institution as a source of support for committed couples. Lesbian and gay couples are raising children within their state-recognized partnerships.