Reseach shows same-sex couples face hostility

Paul Gustafson April 24, 2015

Many same-sex couples arranging civil partnerships and marriage encounter hostility.


NEW research shows that many same-sex couples arranging civil partnerships and marriage ceremonies encounter hostility and disrespect from families, colleagues and the public.

However, others did find respect and affection when they announced their decision, Dr Mike Thomas told the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Glasgow on Friday, April 17, 2015.

Dr Thomas, of the University of Kent, interviewed 13 gay couples and five lesbian couples in the UK, and another 27 same-sex couples in California and Canada. They were aged between 21 and 75 and had been together for up to 40 years.

His research was carried out from 2010-12, after legislation was passed in the UK to allow same-sex civil partnerships but before same-sex weddings were legalised in 2014. Same-sex marriage had been legal in California and Canada during his research.

Dr. Mike Thomas
Dr. Mike Thomas

Dr Thomas told the conference:a number of narratives highlighted what couples interpreted as being denied respect or recognition, or not being listened to. Equally, these stories revealed a sense of powerlessness and a degree of anger, resentment, and fatalism about the disrespect couples received. Negative reactions from family members were a regular theme.

In the UK, Martin, a man in his 50s, told Dr Thomas about informing his father of his forthcoming civil partnership ceremony. “My father, when I told him, sort of hung his head and I said, ‘what’s wrong, dad?’ And he said, ‘well, you’re abnormal.’ So I spent about two days working through this bloody shame that I’ve been carrying for 40 years.”

Dr Thomas said that Martin recalled this extreme reaction as replicating his experience of coming out to his father as gay many years previously.

Another gay British man, Fred, told Dr Thomas about the preparations for his civil ceremony: “We invited my brother, sister-in-law and their two children and I think eventually my brother said he would come, but he would be coming on his own. I think the official reason was that my sister-in law had come to the conclusion that she wouldn’t know how to explain it to her children, which I can’t say I was particularly impressed with. And I’d been best man at his wedding.”

Dr Thomas also told the conference that the task of organising a ceremony brought couples into contact with a range of service providers, including registrars and local government officials, celebrants, hoteliers, caterers, jewellers, photographers and outfitters.

In the UK, Hamish and Drew, a couple in their mid-30s together for six years, recalled their trip to the jeweller’s to buy rings for their civil partnership ceremony.

Hamish told Dr Thomas: ‘We found the guy who was doing it quite frosty and we just weren’t sure what he was making of the fact that two men were coming in to buy rings. He wasn’t nasty, he was just very matter of fact. He was just a bit cold with us. I mean, we spent quite a bit of money. I wouldn’t go back there again though.’

Dr Thomas said: “For those who took part in the study, there was a depressing familiarity and even a predictability to the stories they told. If legal recognition raised couples’ expectations about their social status, the response of hostile relatives, indifferent officials and disrespectful service providers sometimes provided a check on these aspirations.”

However, there were also positive stories.

Eric, a 47-year-old British man, in a relationship with Tom, his civil partner for 27 years, said: “I’ve always been treated very much as an in-law, but now in my brain I do think I’m an in-law and I definitely am my nephews’ uncle now. I remember Tom’s sister introducing me as her brother-in-law for the first time and it felt good.”

Dr Thomas said this and similar stories can be seen as evidence of the successful deployment of couples’ new status in a range of contexts, from legal recognition, to respect and goodwill from officials, service providers, family and friends.