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Psych Symposium studies civil unions

Mills College Weekly

Research on lesbians and gay men joined in legalized civil
unions in Vermont provided psychologists the first representative
population with which to examine the homosexual community and the
issue of marriage.

With same-sex marriage one of the hottest topics of
conversation, last week’s spring Psychology Symposium presented
research gathered on couples “married” in the first year Vermont
offered civil unions, as compared to other couples.

Dr. Esther Rothblum, a psychology professor at the Univ. of
Vermont and visiting member of the Women’s Leadership Institute,
spoke at “Pioneers in Partnership: Lesbians and Gay Men in Civil
Unions” at the Student Union on Wed., March 24.

Rothblum presented her research of nearly one-fifth of the 2,475
homosexual couples legally joined in the first year Vermont offered
civil unions compared to their homosexual friends in long-term
relationships who decided not to marry, as well as their married
heterosexual siblings.

Some of her findings were that lesbians tend to have higher
levels of education than their heterosexual counterparts, but there
was little difference in income between any of the women studied.
Among the men, there was little difference in income or education,
but gay men were less likely to have children and perceived more
social support from their friends, she said.

Primarily, homosexuals in or out of civil unions responded
similarly to questions. Rothblum found that homosexual couples were
more likely to share childcare, housework and expenses. Gay men
were more likely to think that non-monogamy is okay, and lesbians
tended to have sex less frequently than heterosexual women.
Rothblum said that “sex” was not defined in the survey, and was
left to the interpretation of the respondent.

But homosexuals in civil unions were more likely to have sent
holiday cards from both partners and received family cards
addressed to both partners, and were more likely to consider
themselves married than those who had not had an official ceremony.
Lesbians in civil unions were more likely to be ‘out’ about their
sexual orientation, though there was little difference in this area
among gay men.

She said many states are now seeking the type of data she
collected as they consider same-sex marriage laws. She said she,
like many others, is not necessarily in favor of the institution of
marriage but as a lesbian she would also be uncomfortable voting
against same-sex marriage, believing it should be an option for

Marie Roark, a senior Psychology major, said she loved hearing
Rothblum’s research. “For me, because my partner and I share a
home, I was doing a lot of mental comparison between our
relationship and the statistics.”

Liz Chinlund, also a senior and president of the Psychology
Club, has been working on the event since Mayor Newsom began
allowing same-sex marriage on Feb. 12. “It was really exciting to
be able to bring all of this together, and show a different angle
of the issue.”

Three countries have legalized same-sex marriages: Belgium,
Canada and the Netherlands. But Rothblum reminded the audience that
they sometimes differ in terms of what they do and don’t allow. In
Belgium, for example, homosexual couples still cannot jointly
adopt, even if they’re married. In Vermont, there’s a five month
residency requirement before couples can divorce, so couples who
have left the state cannot legally separate, though the marriage
benefits don’t extend outside of Vermont anyway.

When an audience member brought up the aspect of transsexuals in
the debate, Rothblum said they brought different issues to the
table: marriage is one of the ways they may have benefited from by
transitioning, but that doesn’t mean there might not be attempts to
change that.

“Because of the Puritan heritage of this country, we still have
a lot of weird old sex laws on the books,” Rothblum said. “No
politician wants to stand up and say they’re ready to get rid of

Rothblum is a visiting professor with the Women’s Leadership
Institute, a Psychology professor at the Univ. of Vermont and
editor of the “Journal of Lesbian Studies”. The Psychology Dept.
and the Psychology Club sponsored the event.