Society has long dictated that men and women have different roles in relationships. The extent to which these roles have left them with genuine equality within a couple has often been questionable. Women have traditionally been the homemakers, keeping on top of the housework, washing, cooking; men have been the breadwinners. Thankfully, this is now a fairly archaic way of thinking.
What happens to egalitarianism, though, when one considers gay couples? This question became all the more relevant once gay marriage became legal in 2013. Up until this point, gay couples could only enter into civil partnerships at most to illustrate their devotion to one another, but this was simply not enough. With marriage, they now had the same imperative legal rights as heterosexual couples, as well as other romantic benefits – such as tax breaks!
The legalisation of gay marriage gave researchers more opportunities to conduct comprehensive comparisons in relationships. Research into couples of bothorientations sheds light on the conflicts that can endanger heterosexual relationships. After Vermont became the first US state to legalise same-sex unions in 2000, researchers surveyedalmost 1000 couples of both orientations:
- Whilst straight couples tended more towards stereotypical gender roles, gay couples tended to share these burdens more equally.
- Even more tellingly, whilst gay couples had the same level of conflict, how they dealtwith such conflict was healthier – and they therefore had generally higher relationship satisfaction.
This means that what couples argued about wasn’t overly important; the crux of the disparity was in how they argued:
- Gay couples were shown to argue more fairly, using fewer verbal attacks and making more effort to defuse confrontation.
- Conversely, straight couples’ arguments were more often characterised by hostile emotional tactics; belligerence; and domineering.
- Gay couples would more commonly neutralise negative interactions with humour and affection, allowing conversation to continue calmly and without exploding into all-out shouting matches.
Decades of research at The Rockway Institute for Research into LGBT Psychology has corroborated these findings. According to its founder, Robert-Jay Green, the egalitarianism observed is rooted in the fact that gender roles go out the window in gay relationships. Both partners feel equal on a fundamental level, transcending outmoded societal gender roles.
The Institute also showed that gay couples share childcare more equally. Childcare is a fascinating facet of same-sex relationships; the fact that children are not a natural consequence of homosexual relationships has led to a huge amount of backlash and stigma against gay couples who decide to parent – and, by extension, against the children they raise. Nevertheless, an Australian studyhas shown that children from same-sex couples grow up slightly (but still significantly) happier and healthier. This was likely due to the reduced conflict between their parents and naturally more egalitarian home life.
These children would probably be even happier were they not weighed down by the discrimination they faced on a daily basis from peers, society and the media. Discrimination is, of course, a key factor in the happiness of gay couples themselves. Despite the academic consensus that same-sex couples are happier and more optimistic about their relationship prospects, they are far less likely to be openly affectionate, for fear of attracting disapproval.
All of this research points to gay couples being able to teach society a lot about what is needed to increase the health and happiness of straight couples. For gay couples at least, the issue of ‘who wears the trousers’ seems rather redundant. When it comes to egalitarianism, the current issue would seem to lie very much with society as a whole, and how much we need to progress culturally in our considerations of same-sex relationships.
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