Completed in 2005

Project Director: Sumru Erkut, Ph.D.

Researchers examined the ways in which same-sex couples in Massachusetts perceived marriage. Interviews with couples and children illuminated reasons why same-sex couples may or may not marry and related social influences.

The overarching aims of the study are to explore how same-sex couples in Massachusetts have experienced the legalization of same-sex marriage and to describe the diversity of their experiences along the lines of gender, race/ethnicity, social class, age, and parenting status. The study will also examine how children in same-sex families perceived and have experienced this social change. Specific research questions include:

  • How have same-sex couples in Massachusetts experienced the legalization of same-sex marriage?
  • For couples who have – and have not – gotten married, how do they describe their joint and individual decision-making? What narratives do they share about the impact of this decision on their relationship and family unit and their relations with families of origin, co-workers, houses of worship, and communities? 
  • For couples who have married, how do they describe their motivation for doing so, e.g., for legal protection, love, economic reasons (including health benefits), children, activism, legitimization, etc.? 
  • Do patterns of motivation appear to be different along the lines of gender, race/ethnicity, social class, age, and parenting status? 
  • How have children of same-sex married couples experienced this social change? What are their perceptions of same-sex marriage and what narratives do they share about the impact marriage has had on their lives?

Below are posted abstracts of four discrete presentations made at the American Psychological Association meetings in Washington, D.C., in August, 2005, as part of the symposium, “What I Did for Love, or Benefits, or…: Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts.” The symposium, and these abstracts, presented data from this Exploratory Study of Same-Sex Marriage.

A compilation of the full text of the abstracted articles is available at the WCW Publications Office. Additionally, more detailed study results are available in two Working Papers: The first is “Tying the Knot: The Context of Social Change in Massachusetts” by Michelle V. Porche, Diane M. Purvin, and Jasmine M. Waddell. Also, Ellen Schecter, Allison J. Tracy, Konjit V. Page, & Gloria Luong present more detailed results in their Working Paper “Shall We Marry? Legal Marriage as a Commitment Event in Same-Sex Relationships During the Post-Legalization Period.”

“Tying the Knot”: The Context of Social Change in Massachusetts
Diane M. Purvin, Ph.D. , Michelle V. Porche, Ed.D., & Jasmine M. Waddell, Ph.D.

In this paper we present the framework, research design, and methods of a WCW study that explores how lesbian and gay couples in Massachusetts, including families with children, have experienced the legalization of same-sex marriage. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health: Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, 5,994 same-sex couples were married in Massachusetts in the year the court ruling was enacted (May 17th, 2004) For our research study, we gathered data from 50 couples, both married and unmarried, in committed relationships within this historic time. A primarily qualitative mixed-method design was used. A purposive sampling strategy yielded 50 couples of varied socioeconomic, gender, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. These same-sex couples were engaged in long-term committed relationships and expressed high levels of satisfaction in those relationships, and were comfortable being out to family and community. They reflected a wide range of views regarding the importance of marriage in making choices about their own relationships, while at the same time being like-minded in stressing the importance and value of the legalization of same-sex marriage. Key themes included aspects of relationships that changed or remained the same in light of legalization, legitimacy that legal marriage confers, benefits and their limits, LGBT marginalization contrasting with mainstreaming of married life, and the public spotlight on previously private relationships.

“Doing Marriage”: Same-Sex Relationship Dynamics in the Post-Legalization Period
Ellen Schecter, Ph.D., Allison J. Tracy, PhD., Konjit V. Page, M.S, & Gloria Luong

While there is substantial literature on the development of heterosexual relationships in the context of normative stages marked by events such as marriage and the transition to parenthood, we know considerably less about the developmental course of committed same-sex relationships. When Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. in 2004, an unprecedented opportunity appeared for studying the impact of legal marriage upon the development of same-sex relationships. This paper examines whether and how legalization of same-sex marriage impacted same-sex partners’ commitment to one another, presentation to others as a couple, and treatment as a couple by others. Relationships in this sample were found to generally follow a common sequence of commitment development. While roughly one fourth of the couples chose not to mark their commitment with ceremonies of any kind, nearly three quarters of the couples had either commitment (non-legal) ceremonies, legal weddings, or both. Decisions to legally marry were largely based on gaining legal protections, but unforeseen implications for self, family, friends, and society revealed multiple layers of meaning.

“Goin’ to the Chapel?”: Same-Sex Couples’ Religious/Spiritual Perspectives on Legalized Marriage
Anne E. Noonan, Ph.D. & Catherine Senghas, M.B.A.

Given the strong public positions taken by some religious traditions on homosexuality, the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts represents an important opportunity to examine if and how same-sex couples view legalized marriage through a religious and/or spiritual lens. Analyses of the qualitative data of the WCW study revealed that in many participants’ description of their experience of legalization, multiple levels of religion/spirituality were influential, ranging from the individual and couple level to the level of institutional and cultural religion. Similarly, religion/spirituality influenced multiple levels of the experience of legalization ranging from the creation of individual marriage ceremonies to beliefs about marriage as a social or cultural institution. Findings are discussed in terms of the potential influence — positive and negative — of religion on same-sex marriage, even among those who do not identify with a faith tradition. The paper concludes with observations about the mismatch between “supply and demand” — between the desire for many LGB individuals to have religion and spirituality in their lives and in their marriages, and the relatively short supply of faith traditions that welcome such individuals.

“These Are My Parents”: The Experiences of Children in Same-Sex-Parented Families during the First Year of Marriage Legalization in Massachusetts
Georgia Hall, Ph.D.

Data for this paper came from interviews with parents and children and youth in same-sex parented families. Fourteen couples in the study reported having children. There were 27 children among the couples with an average child age of 13 years. The majority of the children were biological children of one of the members of the couple and in most cases the other member had adopted the child. Some of the children were adopted or living with a couple in foster care. The couples with children had been together as partners for an average of 13 years. Children in same-sex parented families did not express any discomfort or awkwardness in talking about their parents’ relationships and family structures. For most of the children who grew up in gay or lesbian families, their family structures seemed “ordinary” to them. Children were insistent that same-sex marriage is a necessary right that should be granted to same-sex couples, but upon having that right available did not necessarily attach importance to the ceremony itself. To some extent, the “legal” marriage ceremony was less meaningful because most the couples had previously participated in a commitment ceremony, often in the presence of their children, which solidified the parental relationship in the children’s minds. Same-sex parents articulated numerous advantages both for themselves and for their children in “getting married.” Same-sex couples reported believing that their children would feel a greater sense of belonging, pride, or permanence by having “legally married” parents. The children, however, were mostly happy that their parents could get legally married because it made the parents feel good.

The legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts sets an historical precedent, thus it is important to capture the effects of this change in a systematic and timely manner. Understanding the impact of legitimacy that a legal union confers on same-sex couples is an important contribution to furthering our knowledge of marriage and family in general, and, in particular, the wellbeing of children affected by this change. This exploratory study of same-sex marriage will not only be ground breaking in its own right, but will also provide the necessary information for the development of a larger mixed-methods study using representative sampling methods for couples in Massachusetts. In this larger study we will examine the married lives of a random sample both same-sex and heterosexual Massachusetts couples.

The members of the study group on same-sex marriage at WCW designed this project. Group members include Ineke Ceder, Diane Dana, Georgia Hall, Amy Hoffman, Nancy Marshall, Karen McCormack, Jean Murphy, Anne Noonan, Konjit Page, Michelle Porche, Diane Purvin, Jan Putnam, Lisa Sankowski, Ellen Schecter, Catherine Senghas, Joyce Shortt, Allison Tracy, Jasmine Waddell, Nancy Wechsler, and Jodie Wennemer. The project is funded in part by gifts from individual donors.

Read a paper by Michelle Porche on same-sex marriage:

Never in our lifetime: Legal marriage for same-sex couples in long-term relationships. Porche, M. V. & Purvin, D. M. (2008). Never in our lifetime: Legal marriage for same-sex couples in long-term relationships. Family Relations, 57, 144-159.

"Marriage in God's eyes"

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Conferences and Presentations
  • Block, S.D., Williams, L.M., Shockley, K.L., Johnson, H, & Widaman, K.F. Seeking Justice for Child Victims of Sexual Abuse - Understanding Prosecutorial Outcomes. Presented at the ISPCAN Caribbean Conference 2018, Montego Bay, Jamaica. (December)
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