Click below to listen to Professor Katherine Franke on NPR’s All Things Considered July 11, 2011 episode on “Lesbian Couples Boosting Gay Marriage Numbers”

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I’m Tovia Smith in Boston, where experience suggests pent-up demand among gays and lesbians does drive an initial wedding windfall, but it’s usually short-lived.

Mr. GARY GATES (Demographer, University of California Los Angeles): When marriage is new in a state, there’s a surge at the beginning. But then after about a year, that rate starts to slow down. So you see patterns in which same-sex couples are marrying at roughly the same rate as different-sex couples.

SMITH: UCLA demographer Gary Gates estimates that in Massachusetts, where gay marriage has been around the longest, about 65 percent of same-sex couples have tied the knot. That’s still well below the 90 percent of straight couples who are married. But Gates says that gap may well fade away with time.

Mr. GATES: We don’t know yet whether it will ultimately reach exactly similar proportions, but for same-sex couples, the trend line is clearly pointed up.

SMITH: Helping to drive the trend are lesbian couples, who are twice as likely as gay men to get hitched.

Ms. LISA LUNT: The lesbian joke is: What does a lesbian bring to a second date? A U-Haul.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Lisa Lunt, a 45-year-old from Rhode Island, married her girlfriend less than a year after they met, but also somewhat typically, they broke up shortly after.

Gates says lesbian couples tend to be quicker to get into relationships and out, especially the young ones. Older folks, however, are much less likely to officially tie the knot.

Ms. LESLIE COHEN: I’m not sure we’ll do it. We may do it. But I’m not sure.

SMITH: That’s 65-year-old Leslie Cohen, who along with her partner, 63-year-old Beth Suskin, were the models for a gay liberation statue built three decades ago in New York City.

They are literally a symbol of the movement, together 35 years and definitely committed and in love.

Ms. COHEN: I mean, I know it sounds really, you know…

Ms. BETH SUSKIN: Nauseating.

Ms. COHEN: Nauseating, but we’re really…

Ms. SUSKIN: And we laugh about it because here we go again.

Ms. COHEN: But we have an incredible thing.

Ms. SUSKIN: But we have an incredible relationship.

Ms. COHEN: I love her. I don’t know what else to do but marry her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: On the other hand, Cohen and Suskin say they are products of the ’60s and always believed marriage was just a piece of paper they didn’t need. And after decades on the outskirts of societal norms, they say it’s hard to suddenly pull a 180 and go all conventional.

Ms. COHEN: When you’re an outsider, in order to make it OK, you have to embrace that otherness of yourself, you know, that you live on the outside. And many of us unconsciously don’t want to totally give that up. I like it.

Ms. SUSKIN: Yeah, I do, too.

Ms. COHEN: In a way, we get used to being different and being on the outside. And, you know, now with marriage, you’re just like everyone else. You know, so there is a resistance to it.

Ms. SUSKIN: Right.

SMITH: Like many same-sex couples, Cohen and Suskin also worry that financially, marriage may actually hurt them more than it helps, since their marriage wouldn’t be recognized in Florida, where they’ve now retired or by the federal government.

Indeed, many couples around the nation who want to marry are holding out for full recognition.

Ms. JOYCE KAUFMAN (Attorney): It’s like no. It’s insulting. You know, until it’s the whole loaf, I’m not buying into it.

SMITH: Joyce Kaufman, an attorney in Massachusetts, has been with her partner for eight years but doesn’t want to marry until the Federal Defense of Marriage Act is repealed.

Ms. KAUFMAN: Why would I do that if I’m not going to get all of the rights and benefits that every other married person in the world gets? You know, it infuriates me.

SMITH: Some, however, believe no matter what, same-sex marriages will never approach straight proportions, since many gay and lesbian families just can’t fit within such a narrow definition of marriage.

For example, says Columbia law professor Katherine Franke, in many cases, there are more than two parents in the picture.

Ms. KATHERINE FRANKE (Law, Columbia University): Sometimes, it’s a sperm donor, but it can also be just another important person. So, lesbian and gay people have formed very complex families and need more flexible norms about how we care for one another and who’s important to us.

SMITH: Franke says her phone has been ringing off the hook with friends and family wanting to know if she and her longtime partner have set a date yet. But Franke says, they’re not going to. She’s one of many same-sex couples hoping that winning the right to say I do doesn’t also mean losing the right to other options like civil unions or domestic partnerships.


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