Friday, March 10, 2006

S-squared, Sykes and same-sex marriage, pt. 1

As I have blogged in the past, I, like Charlie Sykes, am still uncertain on the marriage amendment. The "second sentence" is problematic although I think there is a certain amount of demagoguery around it. It seems implausible, as some have suggested, that it will eliminate private contractual arrangements and the provision of discrete benefits, as opposed to the creation of a status coming with a bundle of rights and responsibilities. But its precise effect is a fair question. Moreover, prohibiting the legislature from creating an institution of same-sex civil unions is not necessarily the same question as the extension of marriage to same-sex couples.

But before we get there, we need to define whether gay marriage could weaken the institution of marriage and, if so, how?

I can't blog my way to a resolution of that question in a single post, but I would like to suggest what are, for me, a set of ground rules for further discussion.

First, I am not interested in arguments based on the supposedly immoral nature of homosexuality. I respect the traditional Judeo-Christian position on this (as well as the arguments of faithful Jews and Christians that the Scriptures do not proscribe committed same-sex relationships). I fundamentally disagree with the blanket notion that morality is none of the government's business. But we are not at a time and place where it is reasonable to think that the government can and should regulate homosexuality.

Second, I think the argument that divorce is a greater threat to marriage than same-sex marriage could be is a red herring. The prevalence of divorce has had baleful social consequences as has the increased incidence of out-of-wedlock births. But that we cannot force people to remain married or prevent childbirth out of wedlock does not mean that we must ignore all other potential threats to marriage.

In my view, there is no anti-poverty initiative that is more important than strengthening marriage. If same-sex marriage would undermine marriage, then it ought not to be permitted.

Third, while not entirely irrelevant, the argument that marriage is not limited to children who want to - or even can have - children is not dispositive on the argument that marriage is based upon procreation. The state might rationally determine that it ought to channel heterosexual relationships into marriage because they can result in children and that this is furthered by holding it out as a norm for all heterosexual relationships.

Finally, Sykes' column (as well as pro same-sex marriage columns by conservatives like David Brooks) - and, on a far less popular level, my own uncertainty - belies the notion that conservatism is fueled by homophobia and that the marriage amendment is some grand Republican strategy to turn out the yahoos.

The best arguments against same-sex marriage are advanced by people like Maggie Gallagher. One thoughtful exposition of her views is here.

I will try to lay out those arguments later. But note that they really have nothing to do with the morality or immorality of homosexuality.

Update: Go to Shark and Shepherd for parts 2,3 and 4.


elliot said...

Hey Rick,

As I wrote in this post, until someone explains to me how a gay couple being "married" diminishes the worth of my marriage (and, in real life, I AM married to the most wonderful woman in the world (with apologies to the lovely Reddess of Roscommon)), I will be voting against the amendment.

collins said...

Hey Elliot,

Creating same-sex marriage as a legal status will not diminish the worth of your marriage. But it does redefine what the institution of marriage is about in our culture. It completes the shift from kid provision to fickle love as the center of that institution--a shift going on for quite some time and for which homosexuals are not fundamentally responsible.

As Rick says, stable heterosexual marriages are the best way to keep kids from starting life in poverty. Redefining marriage so as to include gay relationships will accelerate the dissolution of the institution, as the European experience demonstrates. Then you will need a big welfare state, as in Europe, to care for all of the one-parent families.

The referendum is a genuinely conservative measure--an effort to save the vestiges of a valuable institution already in decline. By contrast, recognition of same-sex marriage is a revolutionary measure, part of a long cultural revolution to base every relationship and institution in our society on choice and free will. But children do not fare well in that kind of a world.

elliot said...

"Redefining marriage so as to include gay relationships will accelerate the dissolution of the institution, as the European experience demonstrates."

Why would more people wanting to participate in an institution weaken it?

And don't you need to be careful about "causality" in a statement like the one above?

Europe has also become much less religious in the last 100 or so years. That may have much more to do with the "dissolution" of marriage as an institution than including homosexuals did.

Jay Bullock said...

[Things belie the notion that] the marriage amendment is some grand Republican strategy to turn out the yahoos.
Sorry, Rick, but the Wisconsin GOP have admitted that turnout--in their favor--is at least a partial consideration.

But what I really wanted to ask about was this:
In my view, there is no anti-poverty initiative that is more important than strengthening marriage. If same-sex marriage would undermine marriage, then it ought not to be permitted.
Can you connect these dots for me? How would permitting same-sex marriage dissuade those most in need of anti-poverty solutions--and, here, I'm thinking, for example, of urban single parents, or the rural poor--from marrying?

In my job, I meet a ton of single parents, most minority, and most in or near poverty. While I don't broach the subject, it is very hard for me to imagine that any of them would put on hold any plans they may have to seek out a spouse simply because gay men and lesbians would be allowed to marry.

I guess what I'm asking is, exactly how does same-sex marriage weaken heterosexual marriage? I realize that Collins has offered on answer--the divorcing (no pun intended) of marriage from child-rearing. Yet many gays and lesbians already rear children, and more probably would knowing that they could more easily both be granted parental rights.

Besides, you know as well as I do that this whole tangent of the argument is moot, as Wisconsin law, sans amendment, does not allow same-sex marriage. We also lack the kind of language in our state constitution that Vermont's and Massachussetts's high courts relied on to make their rulings. Defeating this amendment will not suddenly permit gay marriage.

Rick Esenberg said...


No need for spousal competition since we can't really swap, it no longer being 1971.

I don't have an answer but I will try to lay out the argument.

If there is an impact, it would lie in changing the norms and rules surrounding marriage.

As for our constitution not containing the type of language that could be used to impose same sex marriage as in MA and VT, who says that it doesn't? It certainly does.

Billiam said...

After you legalize same sex, what's next? Rick, couldn't the polygamist then sue under equal protection to have that legalized? This is my problem. The proverbial slippery slope. As the old saying goes, "Done bun can't be un-done". This is aside from my religious beliefs.

collins said...

On the connection between same-sex marriage and the dissolution of the family in Europe, see Stanley Kurtz's writings. For example:

Jay Bullock said...

collins, Kurtz's arguments don't hold water. I've challenged them before; start at the bottom and read up.

David Schowengerdt said...

For some other thoughts on this, perhaps you could read our blog sometime. Only fair since I'm over here.

Anyway, with gays and lesbians, we really have two options. Ask them to be single or ask them to lie and deceive.

This mythical third option, that they can just marry someone of the opposite sex and everything will be great is actually harmful to society. It ignores the depth and complexity of who they are as gay people. It assumes they can have stable and healthy relationships with someone of the opposite sex.

Ask yourself, what straight woman wants to marry a gay man and what straight man wants to marry a lesbian. Is this in the interest of a stable society?

And for the person who says same-sex marriage would reduce marriage to an institution built on ficklness, tell that to the gay and lesbian couples who have been together for 10, 20, 30, 50 years.

Although I've only been with my partner for 6 years, I can tell you there's nothing fickle about it. It's work...a lot of work and a lot of communication..and facing my own immaturities. It's about compromise and sharing and mutual support. So please, don't tell me long term same-sex relationships are borne out of fickleness.