Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Challenges and Opportunities for Research on Same-Sex Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Challenges and Opportunities for Research on Same-Sex Relationships

Article excerpt

One of the most high-stakes debates in the United States today concerns whether and how same-sex relationships influence the health and well-being of individuals, families, and even society. Social scientists have conducted studies that compare same- and different-sex relationships across a range of outcomes (see reviews in Peplau & Fingerhut, 2007; Rothblum, 2009), and state and federal judiciaries have drawn on this evidence to make critical legal decisions that affect same-sex partners and their children (e.g., American Sociological Association, 2013; DeBoer v. Snyder, 2014; Hollingsworth v. Perry, 2013). Therefore, it is critical that family scholars develop a scientifically driven agenda to advance a coordinated and informed program of research in this area.

Advances in theory and research on marriage and family are inherently shaped by the changing contours of family life over time. For example, during the past decade, increases in the number of people who cohabit outside of marriage have been accompanied by vast improvement in the methods and data used to study cohabiting couples (Kroeger & Smock, 2014). A number of factors point to similarly significant advances in data and research on same-sex relationships in the near future. First, the number of individuals in same-sex unions is significant; recent data from the U.S. Census indicate that about 650,000 same-sex couples reside in the United States, with 114,100 of those couples in legal marriages and another 108,600 in some other form of legally recognized partnership (Gates, 2013b). Second, the increasing number of states that legally recognize same-sex marriage (now at 19 states and the District of Columbia and likely more by the time this article is published) and the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 suggest there will be many more legally married same-sex couples in the years ahead. Third, growing efforts by the federal government to identify same-sex couples in U.S. Census counts and national surveys (e.g., the National Health Interview Survey) and to fund research on sexual minority populations mean that researchers will have new sources of data with which to study same-sex relationships in the future.

We organize this article into three main sections. First, we provide a brief overview of current research and data on same-sex relationships, distinguishing between studies that examine individuals in same-sex relationships and those that examine same-sex couples (i.e., dyads). These two approaches are often conflated, yet they address different kinds of questions. For example, studies of individuals can assess the health benefits of being in a same-sex relationship by comparing individuals in same-sex relationships with individuals in other relationship statuses, whereas a focus on couples allows researchers to examine how same-sex partners compare with different-sex partners in influencing each other's health. In the second section we consider common methodological challenges encountered in studies of same-sex relationships as well as strategies for addressing these challenges, with particular attention to identifying individuals in same-sex relationships and sample size concerns, addressing gender and sexual identity, recruiting respondents, and choosing comparison groups for studies of same-sex relationships. In the third section we discuss promising strategies for future research on samesex relationships, with a focus on gendered relational contexts and dyadic research designs, quasi-experimental designs, and a relationship biography approach.

We hope that this article, by drawing on multiple perspectives and methods in the study of same-sex relationships, will advance future research on same-sex unions. Although we discuss details of specific studies, the present article is not intended to be a comprehensive review of research findings on same-sex relationships; our primary focus is on data concerns and methodological strategies. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.