You know, every now and again I start to feel sorry for Maggie Gallagher. I think, well, people of good will can be opposed to gay marriage; it's not their fault that Gallagher is incapable of mustering any premises, or conclusions, or even any convincing Burkean hand-waving. It's wall-to-wall camel snuff porn. So, a little early Fitzmas present for Gallagher and co.: the best arguments I can muster against same sex marriage. (Needless to say, I favor same-sex marriage. Actually, if we're being honest here, I don't much care about the legalization of polygamy. Insofar as I oppose polygamy, it is on the grounds that the societies which practice it are profoundly anti-feminist (is that strong enough to say about southern Utah or Saudi Arabia?) and regard young women and girls as property. If this could be solved, and men and women wanted to enter polygamous or polyandrous marriages free of any coercion, then, big whatevs. The "it would be too complicated for the courts to unravel" argument can be refuted as follows: tax law.) That said, let Bizzaro World Belle convince you that same-sex marriage is a bad, bad idea:
UPDATE: I have responded to commenter Uncle Kvetch's quite legitimate complaint above.
Many who wish to establish a right to SSM have mocked the anti-SSM arguments that harm will come to society if SSM is enacted. What is the mechanism, they ask? This sidesteps the fact that it is not incumbent upon those who would maintain the status quo to prove a harm; rather, the responsibility to provide a compelling argument falls entirely on those who would enact a radical change to our laws and traditions. They must prove that there will be no harm, or that the harms to society will be outweighed by gains in liberty for some individuals. Likewise, many SSM supporters have accused SSM opponents of hypocrisy, on the grounds that we are not currently waging war against divorce. What could be motivating us besides anti-gay animus? Both these complaints are wrong-headed, and in the case of the latter, the taint of hypocrisy falls altogether on those who support SSM.
Consider: before the legalization of no-fault divorce there were "progressive" supporters of change arrayed against conservative defenders of marriage. What sorts of things did the divorce proponents say? They argued that the right to an easy divorce would not affect married couples in general, but only that small subset who were trapped in terrible marriages. To the conservative defender who worried that all marriages would be weakened by this change, they had a ready response: "don't be silly. The state of my marriage does not in any way depend on what some small number of other couples may do, and if yours does I dare say it may be on shaky ground already. Some people can divorce now, after all, even if only with difficulty, so it seems ridiculous to argue that the mere existence of divorced couples will infect our society-wide conception of marriage." (Sound familiar?) And the result? So far from being the last resort of troubled couples, divorce has metastasized so widely through our society that nearly half our marriages end in divorce.
At this point the conservative defender would complain about harms to children, that tired old refrain, and in response, the "progressive reformer" offered nothing more or less than a lie (or, if we are to be very charitable, a deeply mistaken claim). "It harms children immesurably to be part of an unhappy family. Divorce will be painful for these children, but less so than the home lives they currently endure."
No honest student of the intervening years can agree. Divorce is profoundly harmful to children. Hundreds of thousands of children have been scarred by this pain since the spread of no-fault divorce, with grave effects on their own ability to have happy marriages. Children are self-centered. They do not care if their parents are happy, or sexually satisfied, or personally fulfilled. They only care that their home life be moderately quiet and that mommy and daddy are there to tuck them in at night. Allusions to what children might suffer in truly abusive marriages are red herrings; the previous laws already considered abuse a legitimate cause for divorce.
What would a more truthful argument in favor of no-fault divorce have looked like? Just this: "the happiness of the individuals who form the married couple; their personal fulfillment; their continuing sexual satisfaction--these things are paramount. Whatever the harm to children, whatever the harm to society, the institution of marriage must be remade into one which promotes the personal fulfillment of its two members above all else. In the past, the creation of a home for children was the prime purpose of the institution. We propose a radical change, which places the sexual and emotional well-being of the two atomised members of the couple first and foremost."
Divorce has already seriously harmed the American institution of marriage. This harm cannot be undone. To argue that defenders of marriage cannot oppose future harms is specious. Imagine that you are a medic who has stabilized a fellow soldier with a chest wound. You shoot an enemy soldier who is about to shoot your soldier-patient. Would it be at all convincing for him to complain indignantly as he lies on the ground, his weapon just out of reach, "I was only going to shoot him in the foot! A wound like that wouldn't kill him unless a lot else went wrong. Why weren't you focussing on that other wound? Are you prejudiced against people who want to shoot other people in the foot?"
I argue that the extension of marriage to same-sex couples would represent a further, more dangerous change in the meaning of marriage. The trend towards regarding the personal fulfillment of individuals as the goal of marriage has already harmed our society in ways that even pro-SSM reformers can acknowledge. If we grant to a couple who are definitionally incapable of producing children the same status as a traditional married couple, we are taking this harmful trend to a new level, one which may destroy the institution as we know it. Now, you may argue that recent advances in reproductive technology, or future exspansive liberalization of our adoption laws, make this distinction moot. Nonetheless, just listen to the arguments that same sex marriage proponents themselves offer. They are about individual rights. They are about personal fulfillment. They are about liberty. They are not about children. They are not about the health of society. They take the new social ideal of marriage as a route to individual happiness, an ideal which has already caused incalculable harm to family life, as a basis on which to build ever higher towers of selfish personal gratification.
What of the fact that marriage has undergone countless changes in the history of our culture, and exsists in various permutations in other cultures? I grant it. You may argue that marriage in Western European culture, and subsequent American culture, has often amounted to nothing more than a mechanism for property transfer, where the bride was herself the property, or served as a proxy for land or gold. I grant it. Yes, things have changed for the better. Does this mean that I must agree with every proposed change, whatever its nature, for ever and ever, world without end? Can it not be the case that good things happen, and then bad things might happen, and people object to the bad things?
In truth, those who are on the very weakest ground in this debate are those who, like Andrew Sullivan, support SSM but regard polygamy as out of bounds. Polygamous marriages are practiced throughout the world; they also form the prehistory of today's Judeo-Christian monogamous marriages and are well attested in the Bible. When SSM proponents argue that emotionally healthy children can be raised in same-sex homes they are asking us to take it on faith. Why should we be willing to experiment with children's lives? When proponents of polygamous marriage argue that healthy children can be raised in such homes, they have millions of healthy children to offer as evidence: children in Africa, in Indonesia, and so on.
When we come to consider the historical case for SSM we confront feeble precedents. Should I be swayed by the ability of some North American native tribes to accomodate passive homosexuals in their tiny social groups by redefining them as women? Or by the fact that Thai people don't utterly despise male cross-dressers? Or by the fact that in societies such as Ancient Greece, in which sexually mature girls and women led such cloistered lives that the only outlet for male sexual passion was adolescent boys, such sexual encounters were only moderately severely discouraged? This is thin gruel indeed, and the most passionate SSM proponent must admit it. Even in Taliban-led Afghanistan, where the penalty was being crushed to death under a mud-brick wall, homosexual sex was fairly widespread. Could it have been because the only women many a sexually mature man would ever see were either his sisters or a fleeting, shapeless passer-by, even her eyes hidden by a fabric grille?
Yes, humans have had homosexual sexual encounters throughout human history, in every society. Such encounters have always been most prevalent in settings where men had no access to women: prison, the British Navy, and so on. But, there has always been a very small number of men, and a vanishingly small number of women, who preferred homosexual sex above all. Yes, I freely grant this. Now, you must grant to me that although this has always been the case, almost no human society, ever, has legitimized homosexual marriage on the same basis as heterosexual marriage. Maybe, just maybe, they were on to something?
Finally, let us consider this. However progressive you may be, it will certainly happen in the future that someone will propose a change to societal institutions of which you disapprove. How not? For example, in a future world of cheap DNA analysis and greater understanding of human genetics, it may be genuinely possible to identify those who carry a gene or group of genes for irrational violent behavior. It may even be the case that some groups in society are found to possess this genotype in a higher proportion than other groups. Now, let us imagine that reformers call for society to mobilize in an effort to prevent the carriers of these harmful genes from reproducing. Do not forget that the original calls for eugenics came not from fascists but from progressive reformers such as Sanger who also fought for the reproductive freedoms you hold dear.
Or this: imagine that advances in neurological imaging and greater understanding of the human brain leads scientists to conclude that children pass a significant milestone around their seventh birthday, a milestone which enables them to make informed decisions about their future happiness in a way younger children cannot. Now, imagine that pro-liberty reformers want to use this discovery to argue that the absolute age of consent for sexual encounters be lowered to 7, or to the age at which a scan of the child's brain shows this crucial change, whichever comes first. You are a crusty curmudgeon of 65 at this point. What arguments do you have? (You may object that this change is particularly unlikely given our current panic about child sexual abuse. Was white panic about interracial sex any less acute in 1945? What do you imagine that a far-left reformer of 1945 would say if she were told that her current proposed societal changes would lead, in only 60 years, to widespread legal agitation for homosexual marriage?)
"I don't care about your brain scans, children can't give meaningful consent to sex with adults!" Now you are an anti-science conservative who is unable either to understand new discoveries about the mind, or to grant that the conception of who is a "child" is something fluid and subject to societal revision. Are progressives not likely to smirk at you? Consider: adult humans have had sex with pre-pubescent children in every society, at all times, even when the punishments are severe. There have always been people whose whole sexual identity consists in a desire for pre-pubescent children; these people have willingly risked death to satusfy these desires. Is this not a natural part of human sexuality?
Now you say, "here are all these people who have suffered grevious
harm as a result of child sexual abuse! How can you seriously propose
to offer up more children to the Moloch of this perversity?!" And the
progressives of the day say, "if it comes to that, I can let you talk
to adults who began their sexual lives as children and are all the
better for it. The problem with child sexual abuse is not the child
sexual part, but the abuse part. There are many adult victims of
forcible rape who bear emotional scars and are unable to form intimate
relations with others, but you do not consider this an argument against
consenting adult sex!" And now you say...what? I imagine you fall back
on some Burkean hand-waving, convincing or not as is your talent for
it. Are you still not right and they wrong?
Progressives may rightly oppose slippery slope arguments because they believe something will stop the slide. But what is that proposed mechanism, if not Burkean conservatism: a core of values, an unstated repugnance, the wisdom of crowds? Every progressive must grant that there will come a time, sometime, when Burkean hand-waving is enough, when the bottom of the slope looms large and deep. And I ask, if not now, when?