Gender Plays Role In Walk Down The Aisle

The Columbian | June 24, 2013 2:06 p.m. | Updated: June 24, 2013 9:06 p.m.

Contributed By:

Paris Achen / Columbian staff writer

Same-sex marriage trends suggest that men — whether straight or gay — have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the altar.

In the first six months of same-marriage in Washington, just one male couple married in Clark County for every two lesbian couples that tied the knot. That mirrors what’s happened in other states and countries where marriage equality laws exist.

“Bottom line: gender matters,” said Amy Wharton, sociology professor at Washington State University Vancouver.

Gender, rather than sexual orientation, is a better predictor of marriage and family choices, she said. Women are more likely to crave marriage and children; men are more likely to have and act on sexual urges.

In Clark County, 230 female couples and 116 male couples applied for marriage licenses between Dec. 9 and June 13, according to a count by The Columbian. Those figures mimic findings of a 2011 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA that found 62 percent of same-sex couples that married in the eight states where it was legal were female.

Both biological and social influences may be responsible for the same-sex marriage disparity between the genders, according to experts.

“Whenever we talk about gender differences in social behaviors, including sex and marriage, the nature versus nurture debate always comes up,” said Lindsey Wilkinson, assistant professor of sociology at Portland State University. “I think it’s much more accurate to discuss these gender differences as a consequence of complex interactions between biology and socialization, interactions that we are just now beginning to understand, how the social world impacts behavior, which impacts hormone levels and brain structure, and vice versa. So, though there may be theories that could help explain these differences in same-sex marriage rates, I would be careful to suggest that any one theory can explain them.”

M.V. Lee Badgett, research director at the Williams Institute, thinks children are the greatest driving force in lesbian marriage rates. Lesbians are more likely than gay men to have or want to have children, Badgett said.

“It’s easier for them to produce children to raise in their relationship,” Badgett said. “They’re more likely to think about marriage as being connected with kids.”

Women may prefer marriage and civil unions because of the stability such relationships provide for raising children, Wilkinson said.

Marriage also offers health and other benefits through employers that might encourage couples with children or those planning to have children to marry, she said.

Katie and Ashley

Katie Goforth and Ashley Spiering of Washougal met in 2001 when Spiering moved into Goforth’s apartment complex. A month after the couple started dating, they moved in together. Both were already mothers when they met, though neither had primary custody of their kids.

“I was ready to settle down,” Goforth said. “I had done my time running around doing things I shouldn’t have been doing, and I fell in love with her. It was the right time.”

“I think most women are kind of hard-wired to want to be married, have children and settle down,” she said. “(Fewer) men are that way. There are always exceptions to the rule.”

Seth and Alvin

Seth Hutton of Vancouver and Alvin Black of The Dalles, Ore., met on the social network site MySpace in 2006. The topic of children came up in chats and email even before the pair met in person a year later.

“We both couldn’t imagine a fulfilling life without being parents, and neither of us thought being gay meant you couldn’t have a family,” Hutton said. “It just takes a little more work, planning and money.”

Black moved to Portland in June 2007, and the men finally met for a coffee date. A week later, they became a couple.

“After that, it was history,” Black said.

Two years into the relationship, they explored ways they could start a family.

The couple turned to an egg donor and surrogate to have twin boys two years ago. Oregon Reproductive Medicine used each man’s sperm to fertilize separate eggs from the same mother. Nine months and more than $100,000 later, the result was Alvin Junior, or A.J., and Sterling, who are the spitting images of their respective fathers.

“For us, personally, it wouldn’t have mattered if we had children or not. We would have committed to each other,” Hutton said.

The couple had considered marrying in New York after that state legalized same-sex marriage in 2011 but held out hope that they would eventually be allowed to marry in their home state.

Their wish came true in November when Washington voters approved marriage equality. The couple made their union legal April 5 in a private ceremony conducted by Clark County Commissioner Carin Scheinberg, but they saved their rings and vows for an island wedding June 9 by the Aegean Sea in Santorini, Greece. Their yoga instructor, Shiva Rea, officiated.

Roxanne and Ruth

Girls, more so than boys, are socialized to aspire to marriage, said Vancouver resident Roxanne WhiteLight, who recently married.

WhiteLight and Ruth Langstraat have been together for 19 years through better and worse, cancer and remission. Their marriage on Dec. 9 at Vancouver’s All Saints Episcopal Church celebrated society’s recognition of their union.

The couple met at a medical conference in Spokane, where WhiteLight was a presenter and Langstraat, a physician, was an attendee. They dated long distance between Spokane and Salem, Ore., for more than a year. Then WhiteLight moved to Spokane to be with Langstraat, and the couple later migrated to Vancouver.

WhiteLight cared for and comforted Langstraat after Langstraat was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2008 and then slipped in and out of remission. Langstraat was still going through chemotherapy when the couple married. The cancer is now in remission again, WhiteLight said.

The couple also had endured skepticism within their church about the need for marriage equality. During the campaign for Referendum 74 to allow gay marriage, the women had worked hard to share with members of the congregation why it was important to formalize their love and have the same status as straight couples. In the end, the referendum and their wishes won out. The church allowed them to marry Dec. 9 during the regular Sunday service. Both women wore white dresses and veils.

Girls grow up dreaming about getting married, WhiteLight said.

“Just think about how many bride magazines are on the shelf at the grocery store,” said Wharton, of WSU Vancouver. “Are there any groom magazines?”

Among heterosexuals, women marry at younger average ages than men.

“As marriage equality becomes more institutionalized, we will probably see that the average age for lesbians marrying is lower than for gay men,” Wharton said.

Sexuality may also affect same-sex marriage rates.

Men, whether straight or gay, are more likely than women to engage in recreational sex, have more frequent sex and/or masturbation and view pornography, Wilkinson, of PSU, said.

“It’s not clear, however, whether this is due to biology, especially a greater sex drive related to higher levels of testosterone, or if it’s due to socialization, with boys and men learning early on that sexual desire is socially appropriate and rewarded and girls and women learning to repress sexual desires,” she said.

Women are biologically programmed to bond with and hence want to stay with their sexual partner. They produce more of the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which connects the act of sex with feelings of trust and well-being, Wilkinson said. Oxytocin also plays a role in bonding with children during childbirth and breast-feeding, she said.

“All of this suggests that gay men would be less likely to marry because they are less likely to settle into monogamous relationships with exclusive sexual partners,” Wilkinson said. “Gay men, as stereotypes suggest, are more sexual than are lesbians.”

Jeff and Robert

Jeff Sgro, 34, and Robert Beaubien, 33, plan to marry May 31, 2014, after they finish building a house together in Vancouver.

The couple met in February 2009 through mutual friends during a karaoke gathering in Portland.

Sgro said he was immediately smitten with Beaubien. Beaubien was slower to warm up to Sgro.

“For Robert, it was scary because he is quiet and reserved,” Sgro said.

It took Sgro about eight months to woo Beaubien into taking their relationship beyond friendship. In October 2009, the couple started dating. Less than a year later, they moved in together.

“I would have had children 10 years ago,” Sgro said. “He’s not sure he wants to have kids at any point.”

Wilkinson of PSU said it’s unlikely that the nature versus nurture debate will ever be resolved.

“It’s almost impossible to design a research study that can isolate biological and social influences,” Wilkinson said. “Individuals, including their biology, are influenced by the social world before they are even born.”

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.

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