Gay and lesbian couples often live together as happily as straight couples; their main challenge tends to be society’s intolerance for their lifestyle. Contrary to the image of gay and lesbian couples having one dominant and one submissive partner, such rela­tionships are actually characterized by greater role flexibility and partner equality (Risman & Schwartz, 1988) and lower levels of sexual jealousy (R. O. Hawkins, 1990) than are heterosexual relationships.

One interesting area of research has looked at differences between gay and lesbian couples. Because women are socialized to connect with others (Cross & Madson, 1997), female partners tend to have a better grasp of relationship problems (Gottman et al.,

1998) and are often viewed as relationship “experts” (Kurdek, 2001). These relationship strengths benefit lesbian couples in that there is a double dose of relationship-enhancing influences in lesbian couples that may contribute to the higher levels of relationship sat­isfaction among lesbian couples (Kurdek, 2001).

On the other hand, because men have been socialized to be independent (Cross & Madson, 1997) and to withdraw from conflict (Heavey et al., 1995), they have been found to be more prone to distraction when relationship conflict exists (Buysse et al.,

2000) . These factors may put gay men at a disadvantage in relationships in that there is a double dose of relationship-destroying influences (Kurdek, 2001).

One more finding from this research deserves mention. Compared to heterosexual couples, gay and lesbian couples have a limited number of partners to choose from. Because of this, it’s possible that they work harder on their relationships and make the best of them in times of crisis, unlike heterosexual couples who might think there is someone else out there (Kurdek, 2001). Research has also found that gay and lesbian couples reported higher levels of connection to ex-partners than heterosexuals after a breakup (Harkless & Fowers, 2005).

As we discussed in Chapter 9, although same-sex marriages are legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, and parts of Canada, in the United States, only the state of Massachusetts gives full marriage rights to lesbian and gay couples. In some states same-sex couples can register as domestic partners or for civil unions, which may provide certain benefits.

In 2003, a United States Supreme Court decision, Lawrence et al. v. Texas, struck down the Texas “homosexual conduct” law that criminalized oral and anal sex by con­senting gay couples. This decision has far-reaching consequences for same-sex couples and could help pave the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage or create a bigger storm of antigay protest throughout the nation. The majority of Americans support some relationship recognition for same-sex couples (Evans, 2004), and the American Psychiatric Association supports for legal recognition of same-sex marriage.