Earlier this week, I posted about the lengthy article in the NY Times Sunday magazine that profiled young, married gay couples in Massachusetts. The couples were all white and wealthy, and I took author Benoit Denizet-Lewis to task over that - it would have been great for the article to have been inclusive.
He did include an explanation as to why he only profiled white people that appeared on quite a few blogs discussing the issue:
To find out, I spent time over the next few months with a handful of young married and engaged gay couples -- including Joshua and Benjamin. All were college-educated and white. (A 2008 study of gay and lesbian couples in Vermont, California and Massachusetts -- three states that offer some form of legal recognition for gay couples -- found that "couples who choose to legalize their same-sex relationships... are overwhelmingly European American.")
Lots more after.
While I'm critical of the central role marriage has played in LGBT activism at the expense of other issues, I've never bought the idea that it's just a "white" issue. It'd be paternalistic of me to try to decide for Black LGBT folks what to work for and plain insulting to think that I would know better than leaders in the Black LGBT community. On the other hand, a false "we're all the same and equal already" would be wrong as it would mask racial disparity, if it exists.
I also didn't think it was true - same-sex couples come in all colors. But identifying as a couple isn't the same thing as registering as partners, getting civilly united, or marrying, where those options are available.
I was interested in that "2008 study of gay and lesbian couples," as were several friends I talked to, some people in the comments of the other post, a few of the listserves I'm on, and quite a few other bloggers (the Blade's blog, Visible Vote, Queerty, Tin Man, and Joan Garry, to name a few). So I emailed Denizet-Lewis and he responded with study, which was three questionnaire-based studies of registered/married same-sex couples in Massachusetts, Vermont, and California.
In each of these three states, the researchers found a list of same-sex couples and wrote them a letter asking them to participate in the study (which wasn't about demographics, exactly; the study was about their attitudes towards marriage and other information was collected as a part of that study).
Anyway, in Vermont, 18% of the civilly united folks responded (the questionnaire was to individuals, not couples). In California, 400 couples were selected (3.7% of the couples with same-sex DP's), and 258 completed questionnaires were received (that's 54% of those selected, 1.8% of the total). In Massachusetts, the researchers contacted the 422 same-sex married couples in Cambridge and Somerville who married in 2004. 31% turned in completed surveys.
In other words, the study can't be said to have found the demographics of same-sex couples in California, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The participants self-selected in many ways that led them to answer the survey or not, or, in the case of Massachusetts, living in Cambridge and Somerville was a requirement. The researchers even say (emph. mine):
Table 1 shows the gender and race/ethnicity composition of all 924 participants from the three states. The sample was overwhelmingly European American (83.1% in California, 88.8% in Massachusetts, and 93.3% in Vermont).
This is saying something different than Denizet-Lewis's paraphrasing of that sentence:
A 2008 study of gay and lesbian couples in Vermont, California and Massachusetts -- three states that offer some form of legal recognition for gay couples -- found that "couples who choose to legalize their same-sex relationships... are overwhelmingly European American."
Notice the shift? (And, being a little nit-picky, the sample wasn't even of same-sex couples; rather it was of people in those couples.) [Update: I fucked up. He was quoting another part of the report that uses the phrase "overwhelmingly European American," not the one that I quoted above. Furthermore, he obviously wasn't paraphrasing because it was in the quotation marks (you'd think an English teacher/former copy editor would notice something like that). The first quotation is still important to the bigger question of racial demographics, so it's staying up there, but as for Denizet-Lewis, his quotation is accurate. I apologize.]
Furthermore, "overwhelmingly" turned out to be "83.1% in California, 88.8% in Massachusetts, and 93.3% in Vermont." According to Census data (via Wikipedia; yeah, I'm a blogger, not an academic), California is 79.07% white, Massachusetts is 87.89%, and Vermont is 97.95%.
Californian same-sex couples who participated in the study are more slightly more likely to be white than their state in general, those in Vermont are slightly less, and those in Massachusetts are about the same.
In other words, the fact that most same-sex couples in those three states were found to be white can be attributed possibly to:
- self-selection via survey participation,
- selection by those performing the study, and
- a reflection of the state's demographics.
That data does not support the idea that same-sex marriage is just for white people, to answer the question in the title.
But I was also interested in why Denizet-Lewis chose to profile only white people, and he explains in an email to me:
You might also be interested to know that I spent a month looking for a young married couple of color from Mass to include in the story. I found one--an Asian couple, who were in their early 30s. But they had a long-distance relationship, so I wouldn't have been able to hang out with them together enough. I desperately tried to find a young married couple of color, because I knew I would be attacked for not including any. But, in the end, there wasn't anything I could do. I'm sure there must be a handful out there, but in my searching (and there is no statewide databse that has the race, or even the ages, of gay married couples), I didn't find any. The fact is that in Massachusetts, young gay men who are getting married are mostly white, and they're mostly middle and upper-middle class.
My story represented that truth.
He only looked in Massachusetts to find married-with-that-specific-word same-sex couples.
I'm still contacting more people and trying to find out more here, because this is a potentially large question with big, complex answer for the LGBT community, in terms of what it says about our activism, our race relations, what we think about marriage, and what the future of the LGBT community will look like.
I'll keep you posted.