This study is provided by Resource Center for Minority Data (RCMD).

Civil Union Study 2000-2002, United States (ICPSR 31241)

Principal Investigator(s): Rothblum, Esther, San Diego State University; Balsam, Kimberly, University of Washington


Vermont was the first state in the United States to legalize same-sex relationships in mid-2000, so that same-sex couples could have the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples at the state level. Same-sex couples came to Vermont from all over the country to legalize their relationships. During the first year that this legislation was enacted, 80 percent of civil unions were acquired by out-of-state residents. In 2002, a project was conducted that compared couples who had civil unions in Vermont during the first year of that new legislation (July 2000-June 2001) with same-sex couples in their friendship circles who had not had civil unions, and with heterosexual married siblings (Solomon, Rothblum, and Balsam, 2004; 2005). The focus was on demographic factors, length of relationship, social support from family and friends, contact with families of origin, social and political activities, degree of "outness," and division of housework, child care, and finances. This was the first study to focus on same-sex couples in legalized relationships in the United States. It was also the first study to examine same-sex couples recruited from a population instead of a convenience sample, because civil unions are a matter of public record. Results indicated very few differences between same-sex couples in civil unions and those not in civil unions, particularly for women. Women in civil unions were more "out" about their sexual orientation, and more likely to consider themselves married than were women not in civil unions. Men in civil unions were more likely to have children, joint bank accounts with their partner, mutual friends with their partner, more connection with their family of origin, and to consider themselves married. They were less likely to have seriously discussed ending their relationship than men not in civil unions (Solomon et al., 2004). In contrast, both types of same-sex couples differed from heterosexual married couples in numerous ways. Same-sex couples were in their current relationship for a shorter duration, less religious, less likely to have children, more likely to share housework and finances, and less close to their family of origin than heterosexual couples. Women in same-sex relationships were more highly educated and perceived less social support from their family of origin than heterosexual married women. Men in same-sex relationships lived in larger cities, were less monogamous and more likely to agree that non-monogamy was acceptable, and perceived more social support from their friends than heterosexual married men. It is not surprising that same-sex couples differed from heterosexual couples. Prior research on lesbians and gay men from convenience samples that compared them to (a) United States census data (e.g., Bradford and Ryan, 1988), (b) their heterosexual siblings (e.g., Rothblum, et al., 2004; Rothblum and Factor, 2001), and (c) representative national samples (e.g., Laumann, Gagnon, Michael and Michaels, 1994) have consistently indicated demographic differences. It was also not surprising that same-sex couples in civil unions were quite similar to same-sex couples not in civil unions given that the first study was conducted after the first year of the new legislation. Consequently, that study was more about who chooses to have a civil union versus those who do not. It was less about how being in a civil union changes a relationship -- for that, follow-up research is needed. Demographic variables include age, race, education, religion, sexual orientation, income, and occupation.

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Study Description


Rothblum, Esther, and Kimberly Balsam. Civil Union Study 2000-2002, United States. ICPSR31241-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2014-09-26. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR31241.v1

Persistent URL: https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR31241.v1

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This study was funded by:

  • Gill Foundation
  • University of Vermont. University Committee on Research and Scholarship

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    bisexuality, civil union, domestic partnership, gay community, gay rights movement, gays and lesbians, homosexual relationships, homosexuality, household composition, living arrangements, marital relations, marital status, marriage, marriage ceremonies, same-sex marriage, sexual preference

Smallest Geographic Unit:    United States

Geographic Coverage:    United States, Vermont

Time Period:   

  • 2000--2002

Date of Collection:   

  • 2001--2002

Unit of Observation:    individual, couples (civil union, married, and unmarried partners)

Universe:    Universe 1: Individuals who obtained civil unions in the state of Vermont during the period July 1, 2000-June 30, 2001; Universe 2: Married heterosexual siblings of those in Universe 1 and their spouses; Universe 3: Same-sex partnered couples not in civil unions in the social network of Universe 1.

Data Type(s):    administrative records data, survey data

Data Collection Notes:

A three-year follow-up was conducted.


Study Purpose:    When Vermont became the first state in the United States to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, it marked an important milestone in lesbian and gay Americans' struggle for equal rights. This study, examined experiences of same-sex couples who have undertaken civil unions in Vermont.

Study Design:    This study compared 212 lesbians and 123 gay men who had civil unions in Vermont (during the first year legislation made this available) with 166 lesbians and 72 gay men in their friendship network who had not had civil unions, and also with 219 heterosexual married women and 193 heterosexual married men consisting of civil union couples' siblings and their spouses.

Sample:    Sample 1 of Universe 1: population-based sample of individuals who entered civil unions in the study period obtained from the Vermont Office of Vital Records. The sample consisted of the first 400 couples who replied to a request to participate. Sample 2 of Universe 2: paired sample consisting of a heterosexual married sibling and their spouse, nominated by participants in Sample 1. Sample 3 of Universe 3: paired sample consisting of a same-sex couple not in a civil union, nominated by participants in Sample 1. Described in Methods section of Solomon, S.E., E.D. Rothblum, et al. (2004). "Pioneers in partnership: Lesbian and gay male couples in civil unions compared with those not in civil unions and married heterosexual siblings." Journal of Family Psychology 18,2 (Jun 2004), pp 275-286.

Time Method:    Cross-sectional

Mode of Data Collection:    mail questionnaire

Data Source:

agency-sponsored surveys

Description of Variables:    Variables include demographic (year of birth, race/ethnicity, years of education, individual income, religion while growing up, current religion, importance of religion, frequency of attending religious services, size of city or town, years lived in current location, distance of last move, and military service.), sexual orientation, relationship profile of couples (length of relationship, leisure activities, conflict, home ownership, housework thoughts about ending the relationship), social support (friends and family of origin), leisure activities, and measure of outness.

Response Rates:    Sample 1: 82 percent; Sample 2: 52 percent; Sample 3: 58 percent

Presence of Common Scales:    Numerous subscales of the American Couples Study (Blumstein and Schwartz, 1983). Outness Inventory (Mohr and Fassinger, 2000) Perceived Social Support from Family and Friends (Procidano and Heller, 1983).

Extent of Processing:   ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Performed consistency checks.
  • Created variable labels and/or value labels.
  • Standardized missing values.
  • Created online analysis version with question text.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.


Original ICPSR Release:   2014-09-26

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