Marriage for all in France

Same-sex marriage was legalized in France on May 17, 2013. Drawing on civil register marriage data and INSEE’s “Famille et logement” survey, INED PhD student Gaëlle Meslay analyzes the numbers and socio-demographic characteristics of same-sex couples who have chosen to get married. Male couples are older than different-sex couples and more likely to live in Paris, while the characteristics of female couples more closely resemble those of different-sex couples. However, there are fewer bi-national female than male married couples. Women couples attach greater importance than men to the legal issues involved in adoption.

Gays marry later in life than lesbians

Between 2013 and 2017, there were 39,916 same-sex marriages in France (of the total 1,180,637 marriages). Many were celebrated in that first year. There seem to have been male-couple marriages for four female-couple marriages. Relatively strong discrepancies are observed between the two groups. Older men (over 45 at the time of marriage) are overrepresented among gay couples whereas among lesbian couples, the 25-34 age group is overrepresented.

The vast majority of same-sex couples with children are women, some of whom have gotten married for filiation reasons, since the parental status of both partners may now be recognized. In this connection, and despite the fact that fewer lesbians than gay men initially decided to get married (nearly 40% of same-sex marriages in 2013), the number of lesbian couples has been rising over time and in 2017 was slightly higher than the number of gay male couples. Among men who choose to get married, the main criteria is age. Gay marrieds include partners in relatively long relationships who married for legal reasons, as a matter of personal-political conviction, or simply because they saw it as the destination and culmination of their relationship. This probably explains the catch-up effect.

Same-sex couples live more often in Paris

Female marrieds more often live in small to medium-sized towns in relatively rural areas; male marrieds much more often live in the greater Paris region (28%, compared to 16% of female marrieds and 19% of different-sex marrieds).

Residing in Paris seems a gay male specificity that may be due to a residence change. The choice of the Île-de-France region as national migration destination is much stronger among gay men than lesbians. For example, some gays report choosing Paris in order to meet other men and invest places of gay sociability, whereas lesbian sociability more often occurs in a private framework. This difference is also explained by the wish—stronger among women than men—to be relatively close to parents.

Fewer bi-national female than male married couples

The proportion of bi-national female married couples is sharply lower than that of bi-national male married couples: at 5%, it is three times lower than the relatively similar figures for bi-national male (16%) and different-sex (14%) marrieds. These differences seem based on stronger female couple homogamy. Female spouses “resemble each other” more than male spouses in terms of age, for example, and nationality. This may also be explained by the fact that female future partners are more likely to meet in private frameworks and so are more likely to have similar profiles.

One in five same-sex married couples (male or female) has already been in a different-sex marriage

Women’s marriages to women are slightly more likely to be remarriages: in 20% of cases, one of the women has been married before; the figure is 18% for male married couples. Those first marriages are extremely likely to have been different-sex, as the law seems too recent for gay persons of either sex to have already been in and out of a same-sex marriage. There is a generation effect: different-sex relationships and their institution through marriage used to be more of an obligation; as same-sex relationships gained greater legal and social recognition this aspect has been attenuated.

Some older persons may have chosen different-sex marriage to achieve parenthood in a context where the possibilities of doing so were much more limited than they are today. We know, for example, that in lesbian couples, children under five were much more often born via assisted reproductive technology whereas children above that age were more frequently conceived in the framework of an earlier different-sex union.

More information:

Gaëlle Meslay, 2019, « Five Years of Same-Sex Marriage in France: Differences Between Male and Female Couples », PopulationEF, December 2019.