Same-sex marriage can be safely called the newest form of relationships between people. The topic is far from unambiguous; indeed, people have become much more democratic about same-sex love in many European countries, as well as in some countries in North and South America and Africa. Every year the list of countries where same-sex marriage is legalized is expanding.
As a rule, in economically developed countries, people of homosexual orientation by law have equal rights with representatives of heterosexual orientation, which necessitates a sociological analysis of the characteristics of homosexual families and their mental health.
The Culture of Gay Family in Historical Overview and Dynamics
Permanent cohabitation of gays and lesbians with a lifestyle similar to the heterosexual family has become widespread not so long ago. Prior to the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, the lifestyle of a large number of gay men in metropolitan areas was directly based on entertainment and drugs (Grant, 2016). The cult of spontaneity, preached by hippies, gave rise to promiscuous unprotected sex and, as a result, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and then HIV infection within the gay community. Namely gay men became the first victims of the rapidly spreading disease in favorable conditions (Hart-Brinson, 2018).
Under the influence of the epidemic, sexual anxiety was growing, homosexuals were rapidly changing their sexual practices, striving to make sex as safe and protected as possible. In addition to the many psychological changes, in such conditions, the emphasis on fidelity as one of the basic values in relationships quickly increased. Stable partnerships, monogamy gradually became especially valuable and desirable, while not so long ago, “radical sex” that seemed attractive, began to be criticized.
At the same time, the new generation of gay men often hastily marry without going through the stage of emancipation that usually follows the realization of belonging to this group of people. At the same time, the experience of upholding a positive identity outside the mainstream of sexual morality makes one question everything that people have been taught about family, religion, social hierarchies, sex. It is possible, at the same time, that it also fosters a mature, rational, and honest relationship with the partner.
It is interesting to note that in general, preferences for certain qualities among gays and lesbians coincide with heterosexuals’ ones. In addition to the coincidence of sexual orientation, most also affection, reliability, and similarity in interests and religious beliefs are noted (Grant, 2016). For most heterosexual couples, despite the isolation of a woman’s place of work from home, the distribution of household responsibilities is still distributed according to the biological sex, and the male role in the family has a dominant status.
Due to the specifics of the distribution of any roles in same-sex families, the division of domestic work among gays and lesbians is in itself much more flexible and practically does not imply a heteronormative division into masculine/feminine roles of the “husband-wife” type.
This means that spouses tend to distribute the amount of work in accordance with their capabilities and preferences, and often so that each of them performs an equal number of different activities. It is also known that gays are more likely to have a separation of duties, provided that a particular partner is assigned a certain range of responsibilities (Grant, 2016). Specialization can also manifest itself as a related characteristic of a strong marriage that allows performing household duties most effectively.
Problems and disagreements are inevitable in any close relationship, and it can be argued that the roots of conflict in same-sex families are essentially the same as those of heterosexual partners. So intrafamily difficulties arise due to religious, racial, ethnic, socio-economic differences, as well as because of problems at work, financial difficulties, disagreements with relatives, etc. (Ruth & Santacruz, 2017). Rarely than among heterosexuals, the cause of quarrels for gays is the distribution of money (money management), which can be easily explained by the tendency of same-sex spouses towards financial independence.
A conflict area that is more relevant for same-sex couples is also distrust. The reason for this may be the fact that many gays and lesbians, parting with previous partners, do not cut ties with each other, as heterosexuals often do. They continue to communicate and even help each other, which may well cause jealousy in the current partner (Patterson & Daugelli, 2015).
In heterosexual unions, conflict often arises from the accumulation of systematic differences in the views of men and women about the world. At the same time, homosexuals manage to argue more effectively and constructively, denying heterosexual patterns of behavior and offering in return for them balanced possible solutions to the conflict and compromises (Umberson et al., 2015). Resolving conflicts between same-sex spouses is an easier process than between heterosexual ones, because partners of the same sex see the world from a relatively similar perspective.
Common Themes, Values, and Belief Systems
There are also some kind of stereotypes that homosexual couples cannot form a normal union. However, empirical evidence disproves this thesis. The duration of the relationship between partners who registered their cohabitation (8.91 years for lesbians and 12.25 years for gays) was longer than between those who did not (7.82 years for lesbians and 9.57 years for gays) (Bigner & Wetchler, 2017).
Research confirms that for same-sex couples, formal marriage provides emotional well-being and relationship satisfaction, which suggests a higher quality of such relationships and greater well-being (Hart-Brinson, 2016). In some surveys, gay men at one time happily gave birth or adopted children and, interestingly, consider their families the most traditional: in values, in lifestyle, in the style of raising children, and even in relation to religion (Ruth & Santacruz, 2017). To date, studies of same-sex couples point more to their similarities than to differences with heterosexuals.
Perceiving of Mental Health
Health issues of the LGBT community have long remained outside the attention of the LGBT movement. Nevertheless, the health issues of the LGBT community include, in addition to the HIV epidemic, topics such as psychological and mental health. In particular, despite the historically favorable landscape for today gay families, barriers still remain, preventing formation and functioning of such families. This can lead to specific challenges to mental health, connected with a kind of stigmatization, albeit mainly latent.
At the same time, it is important to understand that different groups of the LGBT community and subpopulations in it have their own specific needs, problems and barriers in the field of health. For example, in a Dutch study, gay men reported significantly higher levels of emotional and anxiety disorders than heterosexual men (Doyle, 2019).
Gender atypical behavior should also be noted: although it is not a disorder, gay men may face difficulties because they are more prone to gender atypical behavior than heterosexual men (Ruth & Santacruz, 2017). Conflict between religious identity and sexual orientation can also cause serious stress in families where one or both partners are practicing believers of “traditional” faiths such as Christianity or Islam.
Potential Treatment Issues
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and unchanging; however, sexual orientation develops throughout a person’s life. In a statement released jointly with other major American medical organizations, the APA claimes that different people realize at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, or bisexual (Bigner & Wetchler, 2017). Such instability and fluidity of gender and sexual self-identification can pose a serious problem both for intra-family relations in gay families and for the selection of treatment for mental illness.
However, even in the absence of such mobility, the lack of training of psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists to work with representatives of the LGBT community and same-sex families is a serious challenge to the effectiveness of treatment or counseling. In the case of gay families, a thorough understanding of all aspects of the gender identity of both partners is required. There are still many directions for studying same-sex families in the aspects of sociology and health care.
Moreover, in research, more attention should be paid to the composition of the samples, to bring them to the maximum possible representativeness in each specific situation. First of all, it can be done by expanding the base of respondents based on the principles of multi-ethnicity and the diversity of income and living standards of members of same-sex families participating in the study.
Bigner, J., & Wetchler, J. (2017). Handbook of LGBT-affirmative couple and family therapy. Routledge.
Doyle, C. (2019). The war on psychotherapy: When sexual politics, gender ideology, and mental health collide. Institute for Healthy Families.
Grant, P. (2016). Gay, explained: History, science, culture, and spirit. Guide Media.
Hart-Brinson, P. (2016). The social imagination of homosexuality and the rise of same-sex marriage in the United States. Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 2, 1-7.
Hart-Brinson, P. (2018). The gay marriage generation: How the LGBTQ movement transformed American culture. NYU Press.
Patterson, Ch., & Daugelli, A. (2015). Handbook of psychology and sexual orientation. Oxford University Press.
Ruth, R., & Santacruz, E. (2017). LGBT Psychology and mental health: Emerging research and advances. Praeger.
Umberson, D., Thomeer, M., Kroeger, R., Lodge, A., Xu, M. (2015). Challenges and opportunities for research on same-sex relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(1), 96-111.