Enough about Marriage, Let’s Talk About Me

When Gay People Get Married What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage M. V. Lee BadgettNYU Press, 2009; 285 pages, $35.00 In 2001, the Netherlands became the first nation in the world to legally and fully redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. The experience of the Dutch with same-sex marriage would, therefore, seem to offer a case study for examining the effects of this most novel of social experiments. This, at least, is the premise When Gay People Get Married by M. V. Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and the research director of the Williams Institute, a “sexual orientation law and public policy” think tank at UCLA. The subtitle frames a very relevant question: “What happens when societies legalize same-sex marriage?” Readers looking for answers to that thorny question will be disappointed, as Badgett weaves a relentless subjectivity into the entire narrative, from design to execution. Her research, based more on dinner-party discussion than empirical data, reflects this limitation. The economist seems to think that personal interviews with thirty-four homosexuals, representing nineteen couples, can provide a quantitative understanding of the social consequences of Netherlands’ experiment with same-sex marriage. The couples had been recruited through social and email networks of her Dutch friends and colleagues as well as from their friends and colleagues. Participation was solicited by an email message in which the author identified herself as “a lesbian (with a partner) who has been active in the U.S. lesbian community for 20 years.” So much for the rigors, usually followed by economists, of representative sampling. Consequently, the book offers little generalizable information and no conclusions verified by data about the effects of same-sex marriage on matrimony and society in Holland. The work does not even attempt this. It focuses instead on the experiences, perceptions,
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