Published: June 5, 2018

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2015-31


Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter.

An updated version of this paper has been published in Family Relations. DOI: 10.1111/fare.12293

Non-Technical Summary:

Same-sex couples have been the subject of a lot of media and political debates in recent years, primarily in relation to formal rights to marry and raise children. Similar to discussions about the rise of cohabitation and single-parent families in the 1970s, concerns have been expressed about how the emergence of same-sex couples could contribute to the demise of the nuclear family and the wellbeing of children. However, we still know comparatively little about the family outcomes, relationship dynamics and household arrangements of sexual minorities. Gaining a fuller understanding of these issues is important to contribute to legal and political discussions about human rights and strategies to reduce social inequalities. For example, state and federal judiciaries in the United States have relied on evidence from social science research to make legal decisions about marriage and adoption in same-sex couples.

Stereotypes depict homosexual relationships as unhappy and dysfunctional, especially when compared to heterosexual relationships. These negative perceptions can fuel negative public opinion about same-sex couples, but are based on questionable and untested conventional wisdom. In this paper, we investigate the quality of the intimate relationships of heterosexual, gay/lesbian and bisexual individuals in Australia and the UK using quantitative research methods. We contribute to previous research by considering bisexual individuals and mixed-orientation couples, and using recent, large and nationally-representative cross-national data.

Our results are timely and provide important information for policymakers in relation to current debates about same-sex marriage laws and adoption laws for same-sex couples. We find that relationship quality in same-sex couples is as high as, if not higher than, in heterosexual couples. These findings indicate that sexual minority couples are well-placed to raise children in warm and loving environments. They also suggests that policies to legalise same-sex marriage are well-guided, even though same-sex couples appear to do just as well as their heterosexual counterparts in the absence of such laws.

Another key finding is that the lowest relationship quality in both Australia and the UK is reported by bisexual individuals (who could be partnered to either homosexual or heterosexual individuals). This resonates with a wealth of literature reporting comparatively lower health and wellbeing outcomes for bisexual individuals when compared to homosexual and heterosexual individuals. Since most previous studies have neglected the category of bisexuality, our results highlight the need to pay further attention to this subgroup.


December 9, 2015