Around ten years ago, I noticed something different about gay women. I noticed that the strong and sturdy image most of us had had of gay women had started to crumble in places. I noticed changes in the emotional and mental well being of some gay women and I noticed differences in relationship patterns.
Traditionally in the UK, gay (lesbian and bisexual) women were the backbone of modern Britain. Gay women worked in social services and the teaching profession, they opened the first domestic violence shelters and children’s services. They cared for the homeless and the mentally ill.
When I first started out in social care and voluntary work, I noticed half the volunteers or staff were Christian and half were gay, and some – like me – were both. Gay women – although shunned by mainstream society – were the ones who could be depended on.
I’m going to do a series of modern issues affecting gay women. The first I will tackle today is the female-female divorce rate. In the UK, historically, gay men often had a promiscuous image and approach to sex and relationships, but some did maintain monogamous life long relationships like some men I have known. Female couples, though, tended to meet when they were young – at school, university or in their first job – and they stayed together for life. In 2022, we find ourselves in the situation where 56% same-sex marriages are female-female, yet female-female divorce makes up 72% of same-sex divorces. While opposite-sex divorce figures have fallen in the last year, same-sex divorce figures are rising.
What is going on?
The main reason why female-female couples divorce is unreasonable behaviour, and this parallels women in opposite-sex relationships filing for divorce, mainly for unreasonable behaviour. Among female-female couples, the top reason for citing unreasonable behaviour is infidelity, and the second reason is domestic violence. We do not see the same pattern among women filing for unreasonable behaviour in opposite-sex divorces, where the women cite many different behaviours as being unreasonable, although with adultery being the top reason.
The stark contrast in the divorce rates of female-female marriage compared to opposite-sex figures is not limited to UK couples. The same pattern has been found in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Norway – countries which had same-sex civil partnerships twenty years before the UK did. In both civil partnerships and in same-sex marriage in those countries, 30% or more of female-female civil partnerships and marriages end in divorce, whereas around 18% opposite-sex marriages end in divorce. We also see a similar pattern in the USA.
Opposite-sex marriages that end in divorce do so after on average12 years, whereas same-sex marriages that end in divorce do so after an average of 4 years. This could reflect the fact that same-sex marriage became legal in the UK in 2014.
One of the explanations given for the high divorce rate between female-female couples is U-hauling. This was an American term that most gay women around the world know through TV dramas like The L Word. U-haul is a furniture removals company in the USA. Female couples tend to move fast. Meeting, falling in love and moving in together can happen in the space of a month, which has been the case for several of my friends.
Ayesha Verdag of Verdags solicitors said that women are loss tolerant than men of infidelity, domestic violence and one person doing all the heavy lifting in a relationship. Gunnar Andersson, Professor of Demographics at Stockholme University, agrees with this, and said that women look for quality of relationship and women have higher standards of what they expect in a relationship.
Nathalie Drew, a same-sex fertility clinic manager in the UK, who herself has divorced her wife, said that same-sex marriage puts pressure on same-sex couples to behave in gender roles, for example one is the breadwinner and the other is the stay at home parent, and same-sex relationships never had this ideal of roles in the past. She asserts that same-sex marriage has put pressure on lesbians, and in doing so has done lesbians and lesbian relationships no favours.
I remember reading in Cleve Johnson’s memoir that Harvey Milk had said to him that gay people were not the same as heterosexual people and we should never try to be. At the time, I thought that that was a really negative comment for Harvey Milk to have made. Now, thinking about what Nathalie Drew has said and having seen the same-sex divorce figures, I see Harvey Milk’s comment in a different light.
Also, many women in female-female marriages have been married before, and a second marriage is more likely to fail than a first marriage.
Infidelity and domestic violence have been mentioned as the top two reasons why women in same-sex marriages file for divorce. I will investigate domestic violence between women in an upcoming blog post because I am aware that that is a huge issue for female couples today, and I want to explore the data and the possible reasons why domestic violence is much higher between female-female couples than opposite-sex couples.
It is clear that there are genuine problems for female-female couples in marriage, and perhaps beforehand. We need genuine research so that we can identify the exact issues and how women wanting relationships and marriage with women can avoid these problems.
The majority of LGBT people in the UK do not get married, but of those who do marry, more marry someone of the opposite sex than the same-sex. This is in line with studies following bisexual people’s attractions and choices of relationships, and most LGBT people are bisexual. However, we cannot ignore our friends who are not bisexual and/or have a relationship with another woman.
I believe honest and open dialogue between LGBT people about relationships and marriage is a good idea. Perhaps those in long term marriages can give advice to those starting out in a marriage or a relationship? Perhaps more research can be done in this area? If we can arm women with the facts so that they can avoid the pitfalls and strengthen their relationship before any problems arise? Perhaps U-hauling needs to be looked at and women could slow down, take time to date their new love and get to know the other person more before moving in?
If we care about our womenfolk, we need to break the taboo of talking about unpopular subjects.