Cohabitation and Domestic Partnerships
Attitudes about cohabitation have changed in the four decades. Until recently. the Census Bureau fined cohabitation as the sharing of a household hl one man and one woman who are not related to each other by kinship or marriage. but now the Census Bureau is using a more inclusive definition. For our purposes. we will define cohabitation as referring to two people who live together, and think of themselves as a couple, without being legally married. It is not known how many people actually cohabit because the Census Bureau does not ask about emotional or sexual involvement between unmarried individuals sharing living quarters or between gay and lesbian couples. Based on Census Bureau data. the people who are
most likely to cohabit are under age 45. have been married before. or are older individuals who do not wanl to lose financial benefits (such as retirement benelits) that are contingent upon not remarrying. Among younger people. employed couples are more likely to cohabit than college students. For couples who plan to eventually get married. cohabitation somewhat follows the two-stage marriage pattern set out by the anthropologist Margaret Mead, who argued that dating patterns in the United States are not adequate preparation for marriage and parenting responsibilities. Instead. Mead suggested that marriage should occur in two stages. each with its own ceremony and responsibilities. In the f rst stage. the individual marriage. two people would make a serious commitment to each other but agree not to have children during this stage. In the second stage, the patental marriage, the couple would decide to have children and to share responsibility for the children's upbringing (Lamanna and Riedmann, 2009). Today. some people view cohabitation as a form of "trial marriage." Some people who have cohabited do eventually marry the person with whom they been living. whereas others do not. A recent study of 11.000 women found that there was a 70 percent marriage rate for women who remained in a cohabiting relationship for at least 5 years. However. of the women in that study who cohabited and then married their partner. 40 percent became divorced within a 10-year period (Bramlett and Mosher. 2001). Whether these findings will be supported by subsequent research remains to be seen. But we do know that studies over the past decade have supported the proposition that couples who cohabit before marriage do not necessarilyhave a stable relationship following marriage (Bumpass. Sweet. and Cherlin.1991; London. 1991). Among heterosexual couples. many reasons exist for cohabitation; for gay and lesbian couples. however. no alternative to cohabitation exists in most U.S.states. For that reason. some lesbians and gays seek recognition of their domestic partnerships-household partnerships in which an unmarried couple lives together in a committed, sexually intimate relationship and is granted the same rights and benefits as those accorded to married heterosexual couples (Aulette, 1994; Gerstel and Gross. 1995). Benefits such as health and life insurance coverage are extremely important to all couples. as Gayle. a lesbian. points out: "It makes me angry that [heterosexuals) get insurance benefits and all the privileges. and Frances [her partner] and I take a beaung financially. We both pay our insurance policies. but we don't get the discounts that other people get and that's not fair" (qtd. in Shelman. 1992: 197). Over the past few years. much controversy" has arisen over the legal status of gay and lesbian couples. particularly those who seek to make their relationship a legally binding commitment through marriage. Some states have allowed marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples only to have voters decide or courts rule that such marriages will not be allowed. Other states. such as Vermont. Iowa. Connecticut. Maine. New Hampshire. and Massachusetts. have legalized same-sex marriages. and similar decisions are pending in several other states. Clearly. opponents of same-sex marriage will continue to press for state and national constitutional amendments to restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman ..