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What Half-In, Half-Out Relationships May Do To Health

High on most checklists for ensuring a long and healthy life is being married. Marriage is said to bestow protective health benefits, such as low blood pressure and better cholesterol numbers.

But does putting a ring on it confer the same well-being to all married couples or even most? No, according to a recent study out of Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City. It suggested that people in “ambivalent marriages” are not so healthy as other married couples.

This and similar studies have their critics, but they provide a needed deeper look into the nature of each marriage. The Brigham Young researchers asked married people without children to answer questions on how their spouse responds to their worries, their requests for advice and, importantly, their good news. Does the spouse share in their happiness?

About three-quarters of the husbands and wives surveyed see their spouse as sometimes supportive, sometimes not. They are ambivalent.

The researchers repeatedly took all the respondents’ blood pressure readings. Not surprisingly, those in relationships with mixed levels of support had higher blood pressure than those in consistently supportive marriages.

Some social scientists looked at the Brigham Young study and suggested that the health drain in an ambivalent marriage may not be the spouse’s negativity so much as the unpredictability.

“When you know someone is not going to be supportive, you acclimatize to that,” Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University in New York told a reporter. “But if they are sometimes one way and sometimes the other way, it’s much harder.”

Ambivalence could help explain why so many couples live together rather than marry. Some of that could be a matter of keeping one’s options open and, with it, an expectation of constant change reinforced by the gig economy. In other, more bloodless words, staying a free agent leaves a path open “should something better come along.”

Surely, some of these couples end up marrying to end the craziness of having options. Not that divorce isn’t a possibility. It obviously is, but it’s a lot less traumatic to simply pack one’s suitcase and, as the song goes, “hop on the bus, Gus” than to go to court.

In olden times, marriage was an unbreakable lifetime vow for all except heiresses and Hollywood stars. The joke went: “Would I ever consider divorce? Never. Murder, frequently.”

The anthropologist Margaret Mead saw the growing acceptance of divorce as a destabilizing influence on marriages way back in the 1940s. She wrote: “Quarreling, sulking, neglectfulness, stubbornness, could be indulged very differently within a frame that could not be broken. But now over every quarrel hangs the questions: ‘Do you want a divorce? Do I want a divorce?'” And so forth.

In the interest of full disclosure, let us note that Mead herself was married and divorced three times. And she famously said that all her marriages were happy ones.

Mead knew that access to divorce had become an escape hatch adding an element of unpredictability to the marriage bond. This form of unpredictability wasn’t a measure of a spouse’s day-to-day reaction to his or her partner’s successes or need for comfort and advice. It was the growing unpredictability of the whole marriage enterprise.

In light of the Brigham Young study and the role the divorce option might play in undermining marital stability, one may question whether marriage is much of a health benefit at all. Perhaps the growing popularity of cohabitation simply took the ambivalent couples out of the marriage statistics. Perhaps living alone is not so bad.

More study warranted.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM

Photo: Rosemarie Voegtli via via Flickr

After Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, States Reconsider Domestic Partner Benefits

By Rebecca Beitsch, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, some states that offer health and retirement benefits to their employees’ domestic partners are considering changing those policies, in large part to save money or avoid discrimination lawsuits.

Before the ruling, 34 percent of state and local governments allowed unmarried same-sex couples to receive health care benefits, while 28 percent did so for domestic partners of the opposite sex, according to a study of public sector benefits by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Based on what happened in states that legalized gay marriage on their own, those numbers are about to dwindle.

Maryland ended domestic partner benefits for state employees, which it offered only to same-sex couples, just a few months after it legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. Arizona did the same after its legalization in 2014. Alaska still offers same-sex domestic partner benefits to the roughly 6,000 state employees it covers, but it is now reviewing that policy. The majority of Alaska state employees get their health insurance through state-funded union health trusts, and the state’s largest union, the Alaska State Employees Association, ended same-sex domestic partner benefits for the more than 8,500 state and municipal employees it covers.

Connecticut and Delaware never offered domestic partner benefits to their workers, but they did allow those in civil unions to add their partners to their health and retirement plans. The two states scrapped those benefits once same-sex couples could marry.

Of the 13 states that prohibited same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court’s June ruling (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas), only Michigan offered anything similar to domestic partner benefits, as employees could add to their plan one adult they were not related to. Matthew Fedorchuk with the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which oversees state benefits, said the fate of those benefits could be hashed out in ongoing labor negotiations.

Government workers are likely to see more changes than those in the private sector.

Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), cited a survey of 153 companies by Mercer, a health care advocacy group, which found that although some companies had plans to get rid of their domestic partner benefits, many were not planning changes. Of the 19 percent that offered domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, 23 percent said they would drop the option in the next year, while another 23 percent said they would do so over the next two or three years. The majority of companies offered domestic partner benefits to both homosexual and heterosexual couples, and 62 percent of those said they were not planning any changes.

Elliott said domestic partner benefits may be more vulnerable within state and local government, where competition over employees isn’t as fierce as in the private sector and where leaders have been under pressure to keep finances in check since the recession.

Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, said the group is encouraging public and private employers to keep offering domestic partner benefits. But she said employers that offer domestic partner benefits exclusively to same-sex couples should extend them to heterosexual couples to avoid discrimination lawsuits.

That risk is part of the reason the capital city of Annapolis, Md., decided to end its domestic partner benefit program.

“We had added it because the law didn’t treat people equally,” Paul Rensted, former human resources manager for the city, said of the program, created in 2010. Now all city employees must be married to add an adult to their benefits package, and Rensted said couples were given six months’ notice, with four employees ultimately marrying.

Many in the gay rights community say keeping domestic partner benefits would continue to benefit some in the gay community as well as other nontraditional families. But straight couples would continue to be the biggest user of the benefits, they say.
“Millennials are waiting longer to get married, but that doesn’t mean they’re not living together — they’re not all living with mom and dad,” said SHRM’s Elliott.

Nancy Polikoff, a family law professor at American University Washington College of Law, said she likes “plus one” policies that allow employees to take care of their families, whether it be a spouse, a partner or an aging relative.

“The purpose of providing benefits is to help employees fund the financial and emotional obligations in their homes, and marriage is not always a part of that,” she said.

She pointed to Salt Lake City’s plan as a model. City employees can add any adult to their plan as long as they live together.
Jodi Langford, who oversees the benefits program for the city, said it has been used to cover parents, siblings and unmarried children older than 26 who would otherwise age out of their parents’ health insurance plans. Of the 60 people on the plan before same-sex marriage was made legal, only about 10 have switched to spousal benefits.

“If we stop, we would have parents, siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends who would be without benefits,” Langford said. While the program is secure for now, she said there’s been some talk about reviewing it within the next year.

In Florida, public universities are planning to review their domestic partner benefits. Because only spouses are eligible for state-funded benefits, state universities had to come up with creative solutions to offer benefits to gay employees’ domestic partners. It was an anonymous gift that covered the additional cost of adding an adult beneficiary to a health plan at Florida State University (FSU) starting in 2014, while the University of North Florida (UNF) began covering the additional cost to employees through its fundraising foundation in 2006.

Spokesmen for both universities said the programs played a role in attracting talent. UNF is winding down its program, which had only been offered to same-sex couples, said Vice President and Chief of Staff Tom Serwatka.

“When we went to this, we did so on the basis that heterosexual couples had a choice whether they wanted to marry and understood the full implication of that choice. Homosexual couples didn’t have that choice.” Now that they do, Serwatka said, it makes less sense for the university to raise private funds to pay for the benefits.

“The university wasn’t trying to change the idea of marriage as the policy for the state, and state funding required marriage,” he said.

FSU is reviewing its program, which only paid for health insurance for domestic partners who could not get insurance through their work, said spokesman Dennis Schnittker.

“The gift was made under the belief of the donor that the state would be funding the benefit in the near future,” he said.
In some states, however, domestic partner benefits are likely to continue.

California’s domestic partner benefit statutes remain intact, and in Massachusetts the policy is part of a still-standing executive order. Maine and Vermont, which was the first state to offer domestic partner benefits, are not planning to change their programs.

“We wouldn’t just get rid of it because same-sex marriage has come about,” said Tom Cheney, deputy commissioner for Vermont’s Department of Human Resources. “The state of Vermont has long seen the value in offering domestic partner benefits to couples of all types. It’s a useful recruitment and retention tool for the state as an employer.”

Elliott believes it’s too early to know what most employers — both public and private — will do with domestic partner benefits.

“Once we get past this year into next year’s open enrollment, we’re going to see some real change. The tea leaves haven’t dried yet,” he said.

Photo: Paola Perez, left, and her partner Linda Collazo, dressed as bride and groom, kiss as they march in the annual Gay Pride parade in Greenwich Village, in 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Kentucky Clerk’s Office Issues Marriage License To Gay Couple, Ending Ban

By Steve Bittenbender

MOREHEAD, Ky. (Reuters) — A county clerk’s office in rural Kentucky issued a marriage license to a gay couple on Friday morning after defying a federal judge’s orders for months.

While Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was jailed on Thursday for refusing to follow the orders of U.S. District Judge David Bunning, her deputies processed a license for James Yates and William Smith, who had previously been denied five times, after the clerk’s office doors opened on Friday.

The issuance of the license followed months of legal wrangling between Davis and the courts that drew global attention and protests from supporters and opponents of gay marriage.

Davis, who has become a darling of social conservatives, had refused to issue any marriage licenses under an office policy she created after the U.S. Supreme Court in June made gay marriage legal across the United States. She cited her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Yates and Smith, who held hands entering and exiting the building, paid $35.50 in cash for the license. Deputy clerk Brian Mason, who had a sign in the office reading “marriage license deputy,” shook their hands and congratulated them.

As Yates and Smith exited the building, supporters chanted “Love has won!” Yates said all he wanted to do was hug his parents.

“We were more optimistic today,” Yates said, when asked if the couple had been nervous about their sixth attempt to get a license. They now have 30 days to get married, and he said they had two dates picked out, depending on when guests can attend.

Off to the side, a Davis backer holding a bible preached against homosexuality.

It was the 100th marriage license issued by the clerk’s office this year and the first one since the Supreme Court ruling. Last year, the clerk’s office issued 214 marriage licenses.

Emotions have run high on all sides as Davis and an attorney for one of the four couples who sued the county clerk said they had received death threats. A Kentucky legal trade publication reported the judge had also received a death threat.

Outside the Morehead, Kentucky, courthouse where the clerk’s office is located, there were about 40 demonstrators, far fewer than the 200 or so who showed up on Thursday in Ashland, the site of the federal courthouse where Davis was found in contempt and jailed. Morehead is about 90 miles from the state capital of Frankfort.

Davis’ husband stood outside the courthouse on Friday morning, holding a sign that read, “Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah.” He said his wife was in good spirits after her first night in jail at a county detention center, adding she had no plans to resign and was prepared to remain in jail for as long as she felt necessary.

“We don’t hate these people,” he told reporters. “That’s the furthest thing from our hearts. We don’t hate nobody. We just want to have the same rights that they have.”

Describing himself as an “old country hillbilly” with an 11th grade education, Davis said he knew more about the law than most because he worked in corrections. He said he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s June ruling.

On Thursday, Bunning ordered Davis jailed, saying he did not think a fine would be effective. He also got pledges from five of Davis’ six deputy clerks that they would issue licenses to anyone, including same-sex couples, in her absence. The judge told them they would be ordered to return to the U.S. District Court in Ashland, Kentucky, if they did not.

Some reluctantly agreed, saying they were balancing personal convictions and family responsibilities, and faith. The sixth deputy clerk, Davis’ son Nathan, would not agree to issue licenses, but he was not jailed.

Davis’ stance and whether she should be forced to issue marriage licenses has split Republican presidential candidates.

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Kentucky; Writing by David Bailey and Ben Klayman; Editing by Ken Wills and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Photo: Demonstrators stand on the front steps of the federal building waving a rainbow flag in protest of Rowan County clerk Kim Davis’ arrival to attend a contempt of court hearing for her refusal to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples at the United States District Court in Ashland, Kentucky, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Tilley

Do Republicans Really Have Happier Marriages? Probably Not

Widespread gloating erupted on the right last week when a paper by sociologists Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia and Nicholas Wolfinger of the University of Utah showed that Republicans say they have happier marriages than Democrats. Predictably, that study richocheted around the Internet — but other researchers are raising hard questions about its validity,

Doubts arise because more extensive and reliable data have consistently showed that couples living in red states tend to have higher divorce rates than those in blue states  – and higher divorce rates, of course, indicate fewer, not more, happy marriages.

David Leonhardt’s conclusion in The Upshot, based on Wilcox and Wolfinger’s analysis of county and household data, was that the differences among self-reported Republicans and Democrats could be based on culture.

Conservatives stress traditional admonishments to remain married through thick and thin, but conservative policies – promoted in many red states – don’t necessarily support strong marriages and families. Abstinence-only education can leave teens and young adults ill prepared for an adult sexual relationship, and at worst, may pressure young people into marrying an unsuitable partner.

As Emma Green observes in The Atlantic, communities shape people’s lives in untold ways. “Kids who are raised in two-parent households, for example, and whose friends are mostly raised in two-parent households, tend to fare better. Plus, the civic life and institutions of a place really matter; this is the Robert Putnam theory of stability and happiness. It’s possible that the happily married couples Wilcox and Wolfinger have identified are just living in places that are more conducive to happiness.”

Moreover, as noted in Wilcox and Wolfinger’s conclusion, Republicans are largely white, meaning that “they are less likely to face the discrimination, segregation, and poverty that minority couples often experience in America, all of which can compromise the quality of married life.”

The database for the study is quite small — especially contrasted with the results gathered by sociologists Jennifer Glass of the University of Texas at Austin and Philip Levchak at the University of Iowa, who also studied marriage at the county level, using a larger sampling of government data.

Glass and Levchak found that counties with the highest proportions of conservative and evangelical Protestants were also the counties with the highest divorce rates. This finding isn’t just an artifact of regional poverty — although conservative religious groups are usually concentrated in areas with higher poverty rates and lower wages — because Glass and Levchak controlled the results for income and geography; nor does it result from rates of marriage overall (as compared to cohabitation, which they found no link for); or even a regional culture that in their words, promotes “factors that destabilize marriage.”

High divorce rates among religious conservatives, they found, correlate closely with earlier ages of first marriage and lower educational attainment, which often translates to lower incomes. But religion wasn’t a factor in predicting divorce; the best predictor was where a couple lived.

“Living in a cultural climate where most people expect to marry young and there is little support from schools or community institutions for young people to get more education and postpone marriage and children” encourages people to get married early, say the researchers:

“Abstinence-only education, restrictions on the availability of birth control and abortion, support for marriage as the resolution of unexpected pregnancies, and distrust of secular education (especially higher education) among the populace in religiously conservative counties work to create an environment where young people of every religious belief – or none – tend not to pursue higher education or job training, and instead to engage in early marriage and child-bearing.”

Their analysis doesn’t explicitly study political affiliation — and it further distinguishes among Christians by their level of church affiliation. Those most active in church are less likely to divorce, while those who are “nominal” Protestants – attending services fewer than twice a month — fare much worse than both the actively religious and those who aren’t religious at all.

Sociologist Philip N. Cohen of the University of Maryland, College Park, reminds readers that “Republican” and “conservative” aren’t interchangeable. Indeed, Wilcox tells The Atlantic that conservatives, of course, aren’t only in Southern red states and vice versa. His study, which breaks down and in some ways replicates Wilcox and Wolfinger’s data, shows that its conclusions, in his words, are “not supported.” When Cohen expands the data to seven categories of political affiliation, not just three, he finds the left-right conclusion unsupported, since those identifying as strong Democrats also exhibit a high percentage of respondents claiming they are in a happy marriage. He also notes that Wilcox and Wolfinger  don’t specify whether the Republican “advantage” is over Democrats or just everyone else.

In her Atlantic article, Green also acknowledges that the data are specious. “Most of all, pay attention to the warning labels all over Wilcox and Wolfinger’s research: ‘More research is needed to investigate the effect of ideology and region on family stability over the life course [italics hers].'” That line? Written by Wilcox and Wolfinger.

When analyzing marriage data, the truth isn’t always obvious – just like in marriage itself.

Photo: Is this something a Republican or Democrat would use? Does it matter? AForestFrolic/Flickr