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Lessons From a Gay Marriage

Despite stereotypes of gay relationships as short-lived, gay unions highlight the keys to success.

The Gay Divorcee is not just an old Fred Astaire musical. In Denmark, where homosexuals have been legally able to get hitched (and unhitched) since 1989, it's a modern reality. But despite stereotypes of gay relationships as short-lived, the divorce rate among Danish homosexuals is only 17 percent, compared to 46 percent for heterosexuals. Can gay Danes teach us something about lasting marital bliss?

One lesson may be to wait before tying the knot. Many of the gays and lesbians who've married had been in their relationships for years beforehand, notes Dorte Gottlieb, a Danish psychologist who studies homosexuality. They have also been older on average than newly married heterosexuals.

Another likely reason Danish gays and lesbians rarely divorce is that only those who are strongly motivated to marry do so, given society's disapproval of overt homosexuality. "It takes courage to marry and then live with information about your sexual orientation mentioned in your official documents," says Danish psychologist Vibeke Nissen, herself a married lesbian.

However, the low gay divorce rate may have as much to do with gender as sexual orientation, Nissen believes. The vast majority of gay marriages in Denmark are male-male, and only 14 percent of these end in divorce, compared to 23 percent of female marriages. The higher rate for lesbians is consistent with data showing that women initiate most of the heterosexual divorces in Denmark. (In the United States, women request about two-thirds of divorces.) "Women simply expect different things from marriage than men do," says Nissen. "And if they don't get them, they prefer to live alone."