Are Lesbian Marriages Doomed for Failure?

Are Lesbian Marriages Doomed for Failure?

"Lesbian break-ups can apparently be bitchier than gay men's.” wrote columnist Giles Hattersley in the Sunday Times this weekend as he speculated his way through a piece on why 62% of civil union dissolutions (i.e. divorces) in the UK are between women despite the fact that lesbian relationships only represent 44% of civil partnerships in that country.

Hattersley gives several reasons for why married lesbians can’t seem to stay together (which I will outline below) but ignores the obvious explanations – divorces are almost always instigated by women and people who have already been married once are more likely to divorce in the future.

In the UK, same sex couples can form legally recognized relationships, akin to marriages, and have had this right since the Civil Partnership Act came into effect in December 2005. Just like marriages these unions can be dissolved via a legal process similar to a divorce (which in the UK requires someone to be at fault).

The most recent evidence from the UK Office of National Statistics finds that homosexual couples that joined in 2005 were significantly less likely to have filed for dissolution four years later than heterosexual couples were to have filed for divorce: 2.5% compared to 5.5%.

As Hattersley points out, however, male couples were much less likely to dissolve their relationship than were female couples: By the end of 2010, 1.6 % of male civil partnerships had ended in dissolution compared to 3.3 % of female partnerships.

This is not to say that women in homosexual partnerships are more likely to experience dissolution than are women in heterosexual partnerships, however, but Hattersley ignores this when he comes up with his list to reasons why lesbian women dissolve civil unions more frequently than gay men.

His list of reasons include:

1. Women are impulsive when it comes to commitment and without having men to temper that impulsivity lesbians rush into relationships too quickly. (He writes “Could it be that the cliché of a woman's thirst for commitment is more dangerous when directed at another woman?)

2. Men are more pragmatic when it comes to relationships whereas women are overly emotional and tend to react to small things men would ignore.

3. Lesbian women have higher standards for their partner’s behavior than do heterosexual women who are more willing to accept that boys will be boys (specifically when they unfaithful).

4. Women in relationships “often fuse themselves too closely together,” leaving one or the other feeling the need to be out just so they feel like themselves again.

He also says something about women not being able to think straight with their biological clocks pounding in their ears, but to be honest with you I had no idea what the argument was.

Despite all the thought that has gone into why two women married together are doomed for failure he ignored the most obvious explanations.

For example, women are far more likely to instigate divorce than are men.

Over 2/3 of divorce proceedings in the US are brought forward by wives and, in one study at least, divorced women were three times more likely to agree with the statement “I wanted the marriage to end but my husband/wife did not” than were divorced men.

If women are more likely to want to end a marriage then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that marriages with at least one woman in them (regardless of sexual orientation) are more likely to end in divorce.

This argument does not depend on women being emotional basket cases. At least one study has found that the differential filing rates between men and women is very closely tied to disputes over property and child custody.

Women who want out of their heterosexual marriages file for divorce much sooner than do men who want out of their heterosexual marriages.

Same sex unions (and dissolutions) have only been legally permitted for a very short period of time. If women are more likely than men to dissolve their relationships quickly (and statistically that appears to be true) then the observation that lesbian women dissolve their relationships at higher rates than gay men isn’t that surprising given that we only have a few years of data available at this moment.

Finally, people who have been divorced in the past are far more likely to divorce in the future.

In the UK in 2010, 19% of male civil unions were between a previously single man and a previously married man while 27% of female civil unions were between a previously single woman and a previously married women.

If lesbian women are more likely to have been in a heterosexual relationship in the past that ended in divorce (which appears to be true) than are gay men, then there is nothing surprising about their higher divorce rates in that gender group.

I suspect that if Hattersley read this he would smile smugly, shake his head and think: “Silly little ninny.”


Allen, Douglas and Margaret Bringig (2000). ““These boots are made for walking”: Why most divorce filers are women.” American Law and Economics Review Vol. 2 (1).

Office of National Statistics (7 July 2011). “Civil Partnerships in the UK, 2010.”

Ross, Helen; Karen Gask; and Ann Berrington (Autume 2011). “Civil Partnerships Five Years On.” Office for National Statistics.

“Giles Hattersley investigates the rise of the pink divorce.” The Sunday Times, 1 April 2012.  (No public link available right now, I will keep checking)

COVID-19 amplified America’s devastating health gap. Can we bridge it?

The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.

Willie Mae Daniels makes melted cheese sandwiches with her granddaughter, Karyah Davis, 6, after being laid off from her job as a food service cashier at the University of Miami on March 17, 2020.

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
  • Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
  • To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
Keep reading Show less

There is no dark matter. Instead, information has mass, physicist says

Is information the fifth form of matter?

Photo: Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • Researchers have been trying for over 60 years to detect dark matter.
  • There are many theories about it, but none are supported by evidence.
  • The mass-energy-information equivalence principle combines several theories to offer an alternative to dark matter.
Keep reading Show less

10 ways to prepare for rise of intelligent machines – MIT study

A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.

An employee cleans around early test robot displays at the Akin Robotics factory on March 15, 2018 in Konya, Turkey.

Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • A new report by MIT experts proposes what humans should do to prepare for the age of automation.
  • The rise of intelligent machines is coming but it's important to resolve human issues first.
  • Improving economic inequality, skills training, and investment in innovation are necessary steps.
Keep reading Show less

What the Greek classics tell us about grief and the importance of mourning the dead

The rites we give to the dead help us understand what it takes to go on living.

Photo by Stavrialena Gontzou on Unsplash
Culture & Religion

As the coronavirus pandemic hit New York in March, the death toll quickly went up with few chances for families and communities to perform traditional rites for their loved ones.

Keep reading Show less

Bruce Lee: How to live successfully in a world with no rules

Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."

Scroll down to load more…