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Posted at 6:20 AM ET, 09/19/2007

Sam Brownback and Gay Marriage

By washingtonpost.com Editors
Sam Brownback
"In countries that have redefined marriage, where they've said, 'OK, it's not just a man and a woman, it can be two men, two women,' the marriage rates in those countries have plummeted to where you have counties now in northern Europe where 80 percent of the first-born children are born out of wedlock... And currently in this country -- currently -- we're at 36 percent of our children born out of wedlock." -- Sen. Sam Brownback, Republican TV debate, September 5, 2007.

The Facts

Republican candidate for President Sam Brownback posits a strong correlation between the introduction of civil unions and gay marriages and the rise in children being born out of wedlock. His argument appears to rely on two premises: (1) the marriage rate has plummeted in countries that have "redefined" marriage; (2) the declining marriage rate has in turn resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of children born out of wedlock.

For full text of Brownback's remarks, click here.

Both parts of Brownback's claim are questionable. Both the decline in marriage rates and the rise in numbers of children born out of wedlock long precede attempts to "redefine" marriage by permitting civil unions and gay marriages. Domestic partnerships or civil unions were introduced in Washington D.C. in 1992, Hawaii in 1997, Vermont and California in 2000, Maine in 2004, Connecticut in 2005, and New Jersey in 2006, and Washington in 2007. Only one state, Massachusetts (2004), permits same-sex marriage.

Marriage rates have been falling steadily since at least 1960, according to the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. They have not fallen appreciably faster in the last decade than during the preceding four decades.

YearMarriage Rate
196069.3
1970 66.7
198063.2
199060.7
200057.9
200656.3

SOURCE: National Marriage Project, Rutgers University

According to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 36.8 per cent of all children born in the United States in 2005 were born out of wedlock. (The senator is correct on this detail.)

As support for his statement, the Brownback campaign cited articles in the National Review by Hoover Institution adjunct fellow Stanley Kurtz on marriage rates in northern Europe, particularly Holland. Kurtz has also cited counties in northern Norway where 80 per cent of first-born children are born out of wedlock.

While it is true that there has been a sharp rise in out-of-wedlock births in Holland since the introduction of domestic partnerships in 1997, there has been no appreciable increase in several other countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, that changed their marriage laws at the same time. In general, the rise in out of wedlock births in Europe predates changes in marriage legislation, according to the European commission.

Stephanie Ventura, chief of the reproductive statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, said she was unaware of any provable correlation between changes to marriage legislation and the rise in out of wedlock birthrates in the United States. She said the recent increase in the percentage of births to unmarried women was due to a declining birth rate among married women and a rising birth rate among unmarried women. (Telephone interview, September 7, 2007.)

The Pinocchio Test

We are prepared to be persuaded otherwise if more experts weigh in, but for the moment we can see no factual basis for Brownback's assertion of a connection between gay marriages and out-of-wedlock births. We award him three Pinocchios. (About our rating scale.)

By washingtonpost.com Editors  | September 19, 2007; 6:20 AM ET
Categories:  3 Pinocchios, Candidate Watch, Social Issues  
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