Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How Does Same-Sex Marriage Affect Your Marriage?

Proponents of same-sex marriage almost always phrase public arguments in its favor as a matter of civil rights. By definition then, anyone that disagrees with them is a bigot. This tactic is used to halt debate without actually discussing the merits of opposing arguments. Some civil rights leaders take exception to this approach (see Weekly Standard article), claiming, “It is precisely the indiscriminate promotion of various social groups' desires and preferences as "rights" that has drained the moral authority from the civil rights industry.”

I also find it interesting that same-sex marriage advocates frequently trot out gay or lesbian couples with children in an effort to try to make that construct look as similar as possible to the average American family. But no one ever points out that same-sex relationships of that nature are an aberration among the homosexual community. Studies show that there are a relatively small number of homosexuals that demonstrate any desire to live this way.

This morning I heard a radio news broadcast featuring a lesbian woman commenting on the current US Senate debate of the Marriage Protection Amendment. The woman asked why she, her partner, and their son should not be considered a family. She said, “They are voting to harm my family.” Doesn’t fairness dictate that this woman should be able to marry the person she loves so that they can raise a family together with all the legal antecedents accorded heterosexual couples?

One of the favorite debate tactics used by same-sex marriage proponents is to ask, “How does the marriage of two people of the same sex impact your (or my) marriage?” These last two questions appeal to the universal desire for fairness—something regarded in all cultures as natural law. This appeal is often used in the same-sex marriage debate because it is simple to do and is easily understandable, while answering such an appeal is complex and not easily understandable.

J. Max Wilson at Sixteen Small Stones published a link (here in comment #3) to an April 2005 post by libertarian blogger Jane Galt that addresses head-on the issue of how same-sex marriage impacts heterosexual marriage. Galt takes no position either in favor of or against same-sex marriage. Rather, her essay examines the wisdom of casually reforming social constructs to address obvious or perceived unfairness.

Galt specifically discusses three law changes, two of which are directly related to marriage and are also related to fairness. She shows how the sowing of well intentioned laws in each case have ultimately reaped whirlwinds of unanticipated changes that exceeded the direst warnings of opponents.

Galt says that when social conservatives argue that legalization of same-sex marriage would affect the complex interplay of elements at the basis of society to the effect that the institution of marriage would fall apart, proponents mock them by saying something like, “Why on earth would it make any difference to me whether gay people are getting married? Why would that change my behavior as a heterosexual?”

Galt argues that this is a flimsy, arrogant retort that ignores market realities. “The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can't imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining.”

Galt also makes an economic case to address the question above:
“Now, economists hear this sort of argument all the time. "That's ridiculous! I would never start working fewer hours because my taxes went up!" This ignores the fact that you may not be the marginal case. The marginal case may be some consultant who just can't justify sacrificing valuable leisure for a new project when he's only making 60 cents on the dollar. The result will nonetheless be the same: less economic activity. Similarly, you--highly educated, firmly socialised, upper middle class you--may not be the marginal marriage candidate; it may be some high school dropout in Tuscaloosa. That doesn't mean that the institution of marriage won't be weakened in America just the same.”
The three cases Galt uses to bolster her contention are the defeat of the proposed 10% cap on income tax, the extension of welfare to single mothers, and the relaxation of divorce laws. Galt painstakingly takes the reader through each case, showing that opponents of each gave warnings that proponents could not imagine could ever become actual. She then shows how in each case, the new law created a sea change that fundamentally altered the previously existing social understanding—not immediately, but over a generation or two.

In the case of income tax, it seemed unimaginable that the public would ever tolerate a tax rate as high as 10%. In the case of welfare for single mothers, no one could imagine that it would literally destroy the institution of marriage in inner cities, raising rates of unwed births to 70%. In the matter of divorce, not even anti-reform people foresaw a day when 50% of all marriages would end in divorce.

Galt argues (and most social scientists agree) that the relaxation of divorce laws 40 years ago resulted in an overall weakening of commitment in the institution of marriage. She finds truth in the assertion of David Brooks that weddings have become extravagant affairs “because the event itself doesn't mean nearly as much as it used to, so we have to turn it into a three-ring circus to feel like we're really doing something.”

Galt has no desire to return to the days of the Scarlet Letter, or hard-core divorce laws; although, she wouldn’t mind returning to the sub-10% income tax days. Nor does she argue that we should never legalize same-sex marriage. Instead, she calls for deep understanding and extremely cogent reasoning before messing around with this important social construct.

She says, “If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that's either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed [********]s with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it.”

Marriage researcher Stanley Kurtz has gone to great lengths to show that research (even by same-sex marriage advocates) demonstrates that same-sex marriage weakens and destroys the institution of marriage. He shows that many European researchers acknowledge and are enthused about this fact. You can start by looking at this article and this article. These articles link to additional articles that link to additional articles, and so on. If you have the will, you can spend hours reading through Kurtz’s conclusions. He actually has a very cogent body of work, with 11 years of articles here. I would also recommend his articles, the End of Marriage in Scandinavia and Beyond Gay Marriage.

In short, there is a great deal of research to show that same-sex marriage actually does harm the institution of marriage itself. But proponents of same-sex marriage in the U.S. are quick to brush aside and mock the documented problems in order to correct what they see as a social injustice. I’m not worried about gay marriage affecting my marriage; I’m worried about it affecting the marriages of my children and grandchildren.

I agree with Jane Galt that it is wrong to approach the fundamental changing of the institution of marriage so casually. If there is a social injustice, let’s see if there is a way to address it without destroying marriage. If that is not possible, then let’s accept the fact that sometimes life isn’t fair and that everyone is called upon to make some sacrifices for the good of society as a whole.

3 comments:

That One Guy said...

Reach, I prepared this yesterday, but since blogger was STUPID yesterday, and most of the day today, I was unable to get it up here... so here it is:

Reach, I find your research and arguments (as ALWAYS) very well executed and supported. Frankly, while I don't agree with everything you write, I do appreciate it, and we need more people like you around, in general. You are very compelling.

That being said, the last part of your last paragraph above states: "If that is not possible, then let’s accept the fact that sometimes life isn’t fair and that everyone is called upon to make some sacrifices for the good of society as a whole."

I can't accept this and it feels like you are just casting off a hard problem and telling those who aren't like you or me to just suck it up and get over it. Boo-hoo. I can't accept this. Our country was founded on fair priciples with equal rights for all. This is not that.

How about something like this: If we want to define "marriage" as a solemn union between one man and one woman, great. But if that's the case, we need to also allow some sort of "domestic partnership", or whatever you might want to call it, to allow all citizens a fair shot at all the rights that are part of what citizenship is all about in this country. Do we need to address adoption issues? Yes. Are there other things that need to be addressed here? Yes. However, these are not people that should just be cast aside and told to "get over yourselves". These are people, just like you and me. They should have legal rights, like you and me. Part of those rights should include access to the rules of law that are allowed for other spousal partners.

I don't think an amendment to the Constitution is the right way to go in any direction here. I do think, though, that the right thing to do is set up a way whereby EVERYONE in a committed, long-term domestic relationship situation has access to the rights that are afforded ALL other people who are afforded rights in that condition.

The entire debate with regard to a Constitutional amendment has come from a waning Republican party that is feeling the pressure from those who elected them, and are working toward divisiveness, political bait and switch, shell games, and diversion. All involved knew there would not be enough votes to invoke cloture, and now the Senate has spent time, and newspaper column-inches, on this when it was not going anywhere in the first place.

Tomorrow (today now) they tackle what to me is a much more important issue, and, even more importantly, one for which they can actually make a difference on: Estate taxes. New reports published by Public Citzen and United for a Fair Economy, say that over the last decade, the 17 wealthiest families in America have spent nearly $200 million lobbying Congress to repeal the estate tax. As an example, the repeal of this tax would give the Walton family a $32 billion tax cut while other Americans struggle just making ends meet under a tax burden that they struggle with every day. That's Billion with a "B".

Thanks for listening, Reach.

Cameron said...

Reach,

Another great post. I appreciate the points you bring up regarding the gay marriage debate:

-Is gay marriage a civil rights issue?

-Gay marriage and gay families are an aberration in the gay community.

-Is it fair to disallow marriage to people that love each other?

-Will gay marriage affect marriage as a whole?

I think all of these are valid, thoughtful and thought provoking points. They should be part of the debate. Unfortunately, there is too little of real debate and too much of insults and politics. Beyond the insults there are well meaning folks that don't see the big deal. I think your points show what a big deal it is.

I cannot fathom why an issue as large and as heated as gay marriage can be seen as just a political ploy aimed to divert the American public. News Flash: the public began debating, and even voting, on this issue long ago. It's about time the US Congress did the same thing.

A friend of mine once told me that no one has the right to tell anyone else who they can love. Yes they can. It's done all the time. It has been done for centuries. It's done to protect people. To change that based solely on our perception of "fairness" is short-sighted. It isn't "fair" that single mothers have a hard time paying the bills. So we have our gov't pay them to be single mothers. Lo and behold if the number of single mothers doesn't increase dramatically. That has weakened the family structure, which has in turn led to a variety of social ills. Knee-jerk reactions to solve what we view as fairness problems always have unintended consequences. Radically changing what marriage is, after millenia of man-woman marriage, is wrong. No matter what we might think is "fair".

adam said...

Thanks for the link to this post, and the links to the studies. I am very interested in reading them.

Cameron said: "So we have our gov't pay them to be single mothers. Lo and behold if the number of single mothers doesn't increase dramatically."

In a related principle, since abortion became legalized, crime rates in inner cities have decreased (from Freakonomics). And I'm not necessarily pro-choice either, just pointing out (as you have done in this post) how changes can have unexpected effects.