New Williams Institute study finds that same-sex couples prefer marriage over other legal relationship statuses; Over 140,000 have formalized their relationships under state law in the U.S.

November 9, 2011


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LOS ANGELES, CA – Over 140,000 same-sex couples have formalized their relationship under state law in the United States.  Nearly 50,000 same-sex couples have married.  These findings from a new Williams Institute study, Patterns of Relationship Recognition by Same-Sex Couples in the United States, are based on state administrative data from those states where same-sex couples can marry, enter civil unions or domestic partnerships, or enter other legal relationship statuses.  The study also finds that same-sex couples prefer marriage over other non-marital legal relationship statuses.


“We see a lot of evidence that same-sex couples strongly prefer marriage over civil unions or domestic partnerships. Same-sex couples marry at higher rates in the first year they have the option than we see in civil union states, for example,” M.V. Lee Badgett, Research Director of The Williams Institute and professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  “Our findings are consistent with other research showing that couples value marriage more for its social meaning than for its practical benefits.”

The new study also provides a snapshot of the couples who enter legally-recognized relationship statuses.  These couples are predominantly female, tend to be younger than currently married different-sex couples, and tend to be older than newly-married different-sex couples. When a state allows marriage for same-sex couples, couples will travel to that state to marry from other states in which they do not enjoy that same opportunity.


“When we look at the residency of same-sex couples who marry, around 60 percent live outside of the state where they got married,” said Jody L. Herman, Peter J. Cooper Public Policy Fellow at The Williams Institute.  “Couples are much less likely to travel out of state to enter non-marital legal statuses.  This is further evidence that same-sex couples prefer marriage.”


If present trends continue in Massachusetts, same-sex couples will reach parity in marriage rates with different-sex couples in 2013, a mere nine years after such couples first were allowed to marry.


For the full report, visit

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy advances law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates its work through a variety of education programs and media to judges, legislators, lawyers, other policy makers, and the public. For more information, please visit

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