Marriage for all in France

Same-sex marriage was legalized in France on May 17, 2013. On December 31, 2022, more than 70,000 same-sex couples in France had gotten married (the equivalent of 3% of marriages between a man and a woman). The 70,000 figure can be compared to past numbers of cohabiting same-sex couples in the country: 173,000 in 2011; 266,000 in 2018 (amounting to 0.8% of all couples). It is estimated that around 40% of same-sex couples are married (Rault 2023). 

Drawing on civil register marriage data and INSEE’s 2011 “Family and housing” survey, Gaëlle Meslay, a post-doctoral fellow in sociology at INED, has analyzed the numbers and socio-demographic characteristics of same-sex couples who have chosen to get married. (The data used here concern the 2013-2017 period, except those on seasonality, where the period runs to 2018.) 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 their male counterparts to the legal issues involved in adoption. 

Gays marry later in life than lesbians

Relatively strong discrepancies are observed between the two groups of same-sex couples. There seem to have been six male-couple marriages for four female-couple marriages. Older men (over 45 at the time of marriage) are overrepresented among gay couples, whereas among lesbian couples, the 25-34 age group is highly overrepresented.

The vast majority of same-sex couples with children are women, some of whom gott married for filiation reasons, since both partners may now be officially recognized as parents. In this connection, and despite the fact that fewer lesbians than gay men initially decided to get married (lesbians accounted for nearly 40% of same-sex marriages in 2013), the number of female couples has been rising over time and in 2017 was slightly higher than the number of male couples. Among men who choose to get married, the main criterion 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.

Male same-sex couples more often live in Paris

Over the 2013-2017 period, female married couples lived more often than their male counterparts in small to medium-sized towns in relatively rural areas; male marrieds were much more likely to live in the greater Paris region (28%, compared to 16% of female married couples and 19% of different-sex married couples).

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 spend time in places of gay sociability, whereas lesbians tend to socialize in private frameworks. This difference is also explained by the wish—stronger among women than men—to live 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.

Wedding seasonality

Same-sex weddings follow the seasonal norms: most take place on weekend days in spring or summer. From 2013 to 2018, the probability of choosing an atypical wedding month was higher among older couples (of both the same and different sexes). Female couples are more likely to choose an atypical month, male couples an atypical day of the week. 

Same-sex marriages reached a peak in April 2017, just prior to France’s presidential election, while the number of different-sex marriages remained fairly stable. These variations may reflect a fear that the law legalizing same-sex marriage could be amended: the couples in question may have gotten married earlier than originally planned. It would be interesting to analyze the impacts of different elections on number of same-sex marriages. And in the near future, it will be important to study whether France’s new bioethics law (passed August 2, 2021), which legalized female couples’ use of assisted reproduction technologies, has impacted marriages. The law allows female couples to establish filiation between themselves and their child regardless of marital status, rendering marriage virtually unnecessary from legal and administrative standpoints.