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October 27, 2005

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» Taking On Bizarro Belle from Pandagon
Belle Waring, as an intellectual exercise, sets out to provide a good argument for opposing same sex marriages. In her own words. “You know, every now and again I start to feel sorry for Maggie Gallagher. I think, well, people... [Read More]

» Taking On Bizarro Belle from Pandagon
Belle Waring, as an intellectual exercise, sets out to provide a good argument for opposing same sex marriages. In her own words. “You know, every now and again I start to feel sorry for Maggie Gallagher. I think, well, people... [Read More]

» On Nurturing as the True Purpose of Marriage from Positive Liberty
Here I argue that the reason for marriage is neither solely to produce children, nor to seek romantic fulfillment, nor merely to contract with the government for rights or benefits. I propose another model, arguing that it explains the institution of... [Read More]

Comments

Mandos

Wow Belle the White House should hire you or something.

OK OK I'm sorry.

belle waring

I'm totally qualified to be on the Supreme Court, too.

Kieran

I was half-way through drafting a post like this, after reading Gallagher and Leon Kass, but now I can abandon it as this does what I had in mind, only better. Like I said about Kass, "the sad thing about this sort of thing is that the entry of women into college and the workforce since 1945, the sexual revolution, and the increase of geographical mobility really are huge social changes. They really have had tremendous consequences of all kinds for individuals, families and whole societies." This means there really is room to make a plausible anti-SSM argument. It's a pity that we're going to have to rely on the likes of Maggie Gallagher and Clayton Cramer to make it.

Jeremy Osner

Man oh man, this is what you spend your time on when you could be creating fish-cake recipes for us? :-)

On the "no society has ever legitimized homosex relationships", I hear this a lot, and it just occurred to me to wonder, leaving aside Greece and Rome, which other people have written about: what about Sodom? Anyone know if there's any historical research into the biblical description of Sodomite society?

LizardBreath

And the real question: what hideously perverse sexual acts constitute Gommorahmy?

Belle-- You're very, very frightening. Please don't ever start working for bad people.

Russell Arben Fox

Belle, this is perhaps the second best post I have ever read against SSM. I think the reason why you can make this argument as persuasively as you do is because you avoid the trap which so many of those who come out in opposition to the legalization of gay marriage fall into: they start talking about "nature." I know why they do it: a lot of them are Catholics steeped in natural law theorizing, and a lot of the rest are Protestants and Mormons and Jews who have been hypnotized by the bright glare of that theological spotlight. But nonetheless, it's a terrible road to take. Once you start arguing about homosexuality and its place in our culture in reference to the "nature" of homosexuality or the "nature" of marriage, then you're obliged to explain how it is that a theologically, teleologically natural grounding supports all that one's culture does. (Like allow infertile people to marry, or allow for legal use of birth control, and so on.) It can't be done, not without doing far more damage to liberalism than any modern could possibly want to see done (and I say that as a sincere critic of philosophical liberalism), and not without imposing an ontology of social life that make a mockery of history (or force us to engage in a weird theologizing of history along the way). In the end, opponents of SSM have to stick with such communal matters as traditions and roles; as you put it: "a core of values, an unstated repugnance, the wisdom of crowds."

Sorry for the long comment; as someone who favors coming up with some legal category that would include gay civil unions, but who opposes gay marriage, and who thinks that no-fault divorce has turned out to be a far worse blight on our society then anything gay marriage might add to the mix anyway, I've thought several times over the last couple of weeks of trying to come up with a contribution of my own. You've removed the need. My thanks, even if it is a thank-you you'd rather not receive.

(Oh, and the best post I've ever read against SSM? This one, written by Noah Millman, a conservative Jew, who similarly makes a case premised almost entirely upon the tutelary function which exclusively heterosexual marriage norms have in helping men and women maintain a decent society. I think I agree with just about everything in it.)

Russell Arben Fox

Belle, this is perhaps the second best post I have ever read against SSM. I think the reason why you can make this argument as persuasively as you do is because you avoid the trap which so many of those who come out in opposition to the legalization of gay marriage fall into: they start talking about "nature." I know why they do it: a lot of them are Catholics steeped in natural law theorizing, and a lot of the rest are Protestants and Mormons and Jews who have been hypnotized by the bright glare of that theological spotlight. But nonetheless, it's a terrible road to take. Once you start arguing about homosexuality and its place in our culture in reference to the "nature" of homosexuality or the "nature" of marriage, then you're obliged to explain how it is that a theologically, teleologically natural grounding supports all that one's culture does. (Like allow infertile people to marry, or allow for legal use of birth control, and so on.) It can't be done, not without doing far more damage to liberalism than any modern could possibly want to see done (and I say that as a sincere critic of philosophical liberalism), and not without imposing an ontology of social life that make a mockery of history (or force us to engage in a weird theologizing of history along the way). In the end, opponents of SSM have to stick with such communal matters as traditions and roles; as you put it: "a core of values, an unstated repugnance, the wisdom of crowds."

Sorry for the long comment; as someone who favors coming up with some legal category that would include gay civil unions, but who opposes gay marriage, and who thinks that no-fault divorce has turned out to be a far worse blight on our society then anything gay marriage might add to the mix anyway, I've thought several times over the last couple of weeks of trying to come up with a contribution of my own. You've removed the need. My thanks, even if it is a thank-you you'd rather not receive.

(Oh, and the best post I've ever read against SSM? This one, written by Noah Millman, a conservative Jew, who similarly makes a case premised almost entirely upon the tutelary function which exclusively heterosexual marriage norms have in helping men and women maintain a decent society. I think I agree with just about everything in it.)

horus

I guess the best argument against SSM is one that doesn't actually say anthing about SSM.

If you replace "SSM" with "getting my hair cut" and left everything else the same, the argument would be just as sound, since nothing in the argument is specific to SSM.

On the other hand, with the part at the end about DNA profiling and child brides, you do make an important point (if I understand you) having to do with the lack of an objective definition of what is moral. So I wouldn't propose to support SSM becuse same sex relationships are moral in any universal sense. Rather I would argue that since same sex relationships are considered acceptable by our society (prejudice notwithstanding), we can extend the right of marriage to those relationships.

Richard Bellamy

The relevant distinction between "no fault divorce" and "polygamy" on one side, and "same sex marriage" on the other side, is that divorce and polygamy laws change the nature of YOUR marriage -- the divorce makes it easier to end it, and polygamy removes the implied "no dating" rule for marrieds. (If you are married, and your spouse goes on a date, they are no longer being unfaithful -- just test-driving potential additional marriage partners).

Same-sex marriage -- contrarily -- has no actual impact on YOUR marriage. (I guess technically, it makes it more likely that your spouse will leave you to marry a same-sex partner, but that's a vanishingly small change, considering that it is almost as likely to happen already, without SSM).

The best argument against SSM, oddly, would be the slippery slope to no-fault divorce laws! If marriage is about "fulfillment", then when you are no longer fulfilled, you should no longer be married.

Now, however, at the bottom of the slippery slope, we are realizing that we left a few wickets standing further up.

Dan Simon

Uh, Belle, have you not seen this widely-discussed Jane Galt posting?

alex

I merely wish to express my deep admiration for this:

It's wall-to-wall camel snuff porn.

The world is a better place with this sentence in it.

SamChevre

Belle,

Very good argument; certainly more comprehensible (or recognizable as an argument) the Ms Gallagher's.

Another very good argument against SSM is this from Eve Tushnet.

Key quote: Homosexual relationships don't interact with the hardest parts of a marriage culture the same way heterosexual relationships do. Some of the hardest parts, homosexual relationships don't need as desperately: for example, the part about not having sex with anybody out of wedlock. Other "hardest parts" bring with them corresponding rewards that are less available to gay couples: for example, if you stick by your children's mother through thick and thin, it might be really painful but she's the mother of your children, and the reward of contact with one's own children is pretty huge.

It's worth noting that many of the outspoken opponents of SSM are also vocal opponents of no-fault divorce (notably, Ms Gallagher).

Andrew Edwards

I used to say I'd never heard a good argument against gay marriage, let alone one I agreed with.

The former is no longer true, although the latter still stands.

Good work.

Uncle Kvetch

Some of the hardest parts, homosexual relationships don't need as desperately: for example, the part about not having sex with anybody out of wedlock.

What is this based on, SamChevre?

Other "hardest parts" bring with them corresponding rewards that are less available to gay couples: for example, if you stick by your children's mother through thick and thin, it might be really painful but she's the mother of your children, and the reward of contact with one's own children is pretty huge.

Gay couples are already raising children, both biological and adopted. Why is it any different for them?

Richard Bellamy

One wonders whether there might be a grand compromise somewhere where SSM is permitted in exchange for the tightening up of divorce laws, including ending most "no fault" divorces.

I can't, personally, imagine whether or not any liberal or conservative groups or leaders would support that sort of compromise -- my first guess is that neither would.

It makes for an interesting through experiment, at least.

SamChevre

Uncle Kvetch--those are Eve Tushnet's comments, not mine.

Glenn Bridgman

There is a flaw that underlies this type of excercise, a flaw that has permeated pretty much the entire SSM debate. Belle has constructed a surprisingly compelling argument here, given that she is playing the devils advocate. However, the *type* of argument that she uses is a policy argument, designed to argue that policy A is better than policy B. This is de rigeur among UMC liberals and intellectuals of various stripes--for them(and by them I mean the culture that Belle and 95% of the readers of this blog inhabit) a political argument is a policy argument by definition. However, in the wider American political scene, this equivilence does not neccesary hold. A policy argument implies the weighing of the various possibilities and deciding which one is best, but this requires seriously considering the alternatives as at the very least feasible. When argument is considered to be "right," this whole framework goes right out the window--consider the arguments about how "marriage is defined as between one man and one woman." Someone who is proffering that argument isn't seriously considering SSM, even if only to later discard it. Insofar as Anti-SSM people make policy arguments, it not always, but usually is only designed to provide a figleaf to certain intellectuals or high profile people, especially those who tread in waters where policy arguments are the norm. This is why you see Burke invoked with such consistancy. Burkean arguments allow you to speak out of both sides of your mouth. The "policy" argument half of it usually talks about how policies can't be considered in the abstract, and regardless of whether X is wrong or right , it is possible for the implementation of X to cause great suffering and disorder, so we should be cautious about making changes. The other half is essentially that the organic whole of the society is not only neccesary, but *right*, and thus should not be changed. Many anti-SSM articles combine these two halves, allowing them to maintain the appearence of legitimacy while still saying all the right things to the base who isn't interested in real policy arguments.

I should not that this type of distinction is essentially sociological, a feature of the current population of conservatives in power. There is nothing especially intrinsic to it with regards to conservative political philosophy. There other areas where left-liberals fall into similar traps.

jim

The problem with this argument (and the reason that anti-SSM campaigners don't explicitly make it) is it proves too much. Not merely does it oppose SSM, but also opposes (easy) divorce. And merely saying, "[t]his harm cannot be undone" doesn't undercut its effect. Of course the harm can be undone (or future harm prevented). Just abolish no-fault divorce. But it won't be.

You say, "divorce has metastasized so widely through our society that nearly half our marriages end in divorce" like it's a bad thing. But most people don't think it's a bad thing. Or at least they don't think the (easy, relatively cheap) divorces of people they know are a bad thing. Typically they think the marriage that was ended by the (easy, cheap) divorce was the bad thing -- youthful error, rebound affair taken too far, whatever. Good thing she can get out of it and get on with her life.

The reason Maggie Gallagher waves her hands around instead of linking easy cheap divorce to SSM is she knows, despite her own views on divorce, that saying SSM is the same sort of thing as easy cheap divorce would make people favour it.

Uncle Kvetch

Uncle Kvetch--those are Eve Tushnet's comments, not mine.

I understand that, Sam--but you cited those comments approvingly, which led me to believe that you agree with them. Tushnet baldly asserts a qualitative difference between homo & hetero relationships without offering a sliver of evidence. So I thought I'd ask: what am I missing here?

More generally, I have to say that this whole exercise is leaving me feeling ever-so-slightly queasy. I really don't understand the burning desire among so many of my "allies" in the pro-SSM camp to come up with better anti-SSM arguments than those that have been proferred to date.

Will Belle next be writing an eloquent, reasoned defense of the Japanese internment during WWII, just to show Michelle Malkin how it's done? Or is SSM such a uniquely abstract subject that it can be batted around every which way without cost, like a high-school debate team topic?

SamChevre

Uncle Kvetch,

I wasn't trying to be flippant--just wanted the source of the quotes to be clear. They are in the context of a several-page argument, and her grounds for arguing them are more thoroughly explained there than I will explain them here.

That said, here's my argument in support of Eve.

On "homosexual relationships not needing as desparately to oppose sex outside wedlock". One of the big purposes of marriage law has historically been to manage child-bearing and child-care. Homosexual relationships simply do not pose the same chance of children; an affair does not run the risk of producing unwanted and inconvenient children.

Relatedly, I know of no SSM advocates who are firmly committed to an ideal of "sex only within committed lifetime relationships." From Andrew Sullivan to my lesbian friends, NONE of the advocates for SSM that I'm aware of think that is a desirable ideal for homosexual couples.

On "gay couples having less incentive to stick together due to being less likely to have children," I would consider that self-evident. My observation is that gay couples may have children, but it is less common for them than it is for straight couples. Further, I know of no gay couples with children that were unplanned results of their passion for one another.

Uncle Kvetch

I know of no SSM advocates who are firmly committed to an ideal of "sex only within committed lifetime relationships." From Andrew Sullivan to my lesbian friends, NONE of the advocates for SSM that I'm aware of think that is a desirable ideal for homosexual couples.

Fine. How does this possibly contribute to the argument against SSM? Tushnet doesn't say; can you?

My observation is that gay couples may have children, but it is less common for them than it is for straight couples. Further, I know of no gay couples with children that were unplanned results of their passion for one another.

Fine. How does this possibly contribute to the argument against SSM? Tushnet doesn't say; can you?

SamChevre

Uncle Kvetch, Eve explains why those points are important in great detail and at great length. Have you read her series of posts?

To summarize, two key goals of marriage are to ensure that children are born within committed relationships, and to keep relationships with children together. Neither of these goals are as important for same-sex marriages. Thus, the social recognition that these are the primary goals of marriage (as opposed to the satisfaction of the married coupel) is weakened by SSM.

Uncle Kvetch

Sam, thanks for your patience--I'm not being deliberately obtuse here.

Yes, I did read Tushnet's piece, and it's clear to me that she's of the "it's all about the children" camp. And until such time as the members of that camp can explain why straight couples who remain childless (by choice or otherwise) should be entitled to benefits denied to committed same-sex couples, I will continue to find that argument singularly unpersuasive, if not downright offensive.

Cala

Will Belle next be writing an eloquent, reasoned defense of the Japanese internment during WWII, just to show Michelle Malkin how it's done? Or is SSM such a uniquely abstract subject that it can be batted around every which way without cost, like a high-school debate team topic?

One would presume, however, that the point isn't just to pat Belle on the back for formulating a good argument, but to find compelling ways to respond to it. We could keep torching strawmen, of course, and there's an endless supply of camels from Gallagher, but having the position set out clearly will allow for better arguments against it.

The 'camels?!? wtfuckityf' line gets tiresome after a while.

Uncle Kvetch

We could keep torching strawmen, of course, and there's an endless supply of camels from Gallagher, but having the position set out clearly will allow for better arguments against it.

But no one had made the argument, Cala--at least not nearly as coherently--until Belle did.

It would be one thing for Belle to say "Here's what I think the anti-SSM crowd is attempting to argue, only they haven't managed to put the pieces together coherently." But that's not what I read above; instead, it's much closer to "The anti-SSM crowd hasn't come up with a convincing argument yet, so I'm going to provide them with one--just to make things interesting."

You'll pardon me if I don't have the luxury to treat this like a game or an exercise in rhetoric. It's about my life.

Maureen

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.

What happens when two traditions conflict? In the United States, liberty--the freedom to choose the direction of one's own life--and equality--the equal status of all before the law and before government institutions--are traditions. Although these traditions are new relative to that of Western marriage, these traditions have prevailed in our courts and in our hearts over other ancient traditions, such as those of slavery, segregation, and female servitude. Moreover, the founding documents of this nation emphasize liberty and equality over all other human institutions; only Nature (as seen by the Enlightenment, not by Aquinian natural law theory) can overturn these conditions. Thus, when barriers that were once thought of to be 'natural', such as cognitive differences between ethnic groups or sexes, were shown to be cultural constructs, these barriers were (and are being) removed from our laws.
Marriage is not a natural construct; it is an invention of man. Our foundational traditions of liberty and equality therefore compel us to override the tradition that states that marriage can only occur between members of the opposite sexes. To do otherwise would be to flout our country's most enduring traditions.

Ampersand
Relatedly, I know of no SSM advocates who are firmly committed to an ideal of "sex only within committed lifetime relationships."

Aside from Jonathan Rauch, you mean?

Jason Kuznicki

I'd be worried along the lines of Uncle Kvetch above, but I don't think that this is a compelling argument at all. In fact (and nothing personal against Belle), I think it stinks.

Start with this:

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.

As many have noted above, this reasoning proves far too much. If we had thought along these lines, we'd never have abolished slavery, never have given women the right to vote, never have ended child labor, etc, etc... As Belle might have put it, this is just a lot of Burkean hand-waving.

hasty

Thanks (Bizzaro World) Belle, that's a very cogent argument. The fact that it's the only cogent argument against SSM that I've ever seen says something about the state of political debate not just in the popular culture, but also on at least one side of the blogosphere.

Anyway, I think your burden of proof claim is way too strong. You wrote:

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.

But how could we ever succeed in proving that there'll be no future harm, short of trying out the new policy for a couple of generations until we can see the results of it? Admitting that we could not do so is not to concede to the SSM-opponents, because neither could we ever have proven in advance that allowing women to leave the home and go to work, or publicly shooling children (or girls), would not produce a harm that "cannot be undone". Are we to deny ourselves any social progress because a harm (we know not quite what harm, but perhaps a great harm) might result from it?

Fortunately for your argument, I don't think you really believe your own burden of proof claim, because you go on to try to spell out some reasons to think that a certain kind of harm is likely to result from SSM. This is that the institution of marriage will further metamorphose from something designed to protect "children" and the "health of society" into a vehicle of "personal fulfilment" and "selfish personal gratification". I guess I want to know then, why the choice is presumed to be either-or, between children and society or personal fulfilment (not all of which, by the way, is best described as either "selfish" or "gratification")? Can't marriage be designed to promote the interests of children to be raised in stable families, and the personal fulfilment of partners in meaningful, committed relationships, both at once? Indeed, isn't this exactly the kind of institution that many gay couples seek to be members of? If you are really concerned about wanton behavior, such as people considering it legitimate to change married partners according to whether they estimate their sexual or other personal gratification of the moment to be adequate, then it is not SSM that you should oppose, but no-fault divorce, and you should positively welcome the fact that gay couples as well as straight would choose to participate in your institution, with or without easy divorce.

Perhaps you think that it is obvious that children are better off brought up with parents of both genders rather than two parents of the same gender. But there is no evidence to support your claim, and what evidence there is tells against it. Moreover, for the reasons above, it is incumbent on you to show how the harm you allege is likely to come to them, given the obvious benefits at stake (in terms of both the liberties of gay couples, and the benefits to children who might otherwise be denied the opportunity to grow up in stable families at all).

Finally, your two examples of possible "progress" that we would rightly oppose are unconvincing parallels, because there are very good reasons for thinking that credible harms would come about in each case. The case of the eugenics program to eliminate reproduction of violence genes yields an obvious immediate harm in the form of an assault on personal liberties. The case of lowering the age of consent to 7 on the grounds that a "brain scan" shows 7 year olds can make "informed decisions" about their future happiness conflicts with the self-evidence of personal experience. We have all, after all, been 7 years old. We are aware that 7 year-olds are impressionable, inexperienced, and vulnerable people who must trust, and must be able to trust, adults. In short, we are quite aware that what it was like to be 7 years old is not what it is like to be an adult. That is why it will always be wrong to engage in sexual relations with 7 year olds. A "brain scan" could not lend any credibility to the opposing view, because nothing short of 7 year olds thinking and acting in the same way as adults could show us that they ought to be be treated like adults. So I'm not sure where you think the slippery slope of progress is supposed to take us.

Johnny

Does it strike anyone else that this reminds one of Tory debate points against colonial independence?

Or that it is the same one used against freemarkets now?

Uncle Kvetch

What Jason said. I'd like to add an observation.

I've seen the "Burkean" argument invoked many times, along exactly these lines:

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.

Curiously, though, once this cursory acknowledgment that some people will directly benefit from SSM is gotten out of the way, those people simply disappear from view, never to be heard from again. We get paragraph upon paragraph about the conceivable damage to the "institution of marriage" that might possibly result from SSM, while the other side of the equation is simply elided. We never get the promised cost-benefit analysis; all we get is costs.

Iron Lungfish

This whole exercise strikes me as grotesque in the extreme, a venue for debate club back-slapping around an issue that involves actual human lives.

That said, it's a pretty lousy argument: it completely ignores society's obligation to preserve the liberty and equality of its citizens even in the face of long-cherished tyranny. At its core it's little more than the same cheap slippery slope gimmick invoked by every shrill homophobe from James Dobson to the Man On Dog himself, the one that assures us that equal rights among consenting adults will inevitably lead to a nonstop orgy of child-rape and bestiality.

Like every slippery slope argument, the response to this one is to point out that logic isn't greased: each step should be evaluated on its own merits instead of shrieking hysterically that the first step away from the planned purchase of wifely chattel will lead to a dystopian hellscape in which teams of pedophiles sodomize puppies in the town square.

If this was merely an exercise in showing us how stupid anti-civil marriage arguments are, well, congratulations, but we kind of knew that already. Bigotry is stupid, and you can't divorce the anti-SSM crowd from the bigoted premise that gays are meant to be treated as second-class citizens. Looking back at Belle's argument, same-sex marriage can be easily swapped out for interracial marriage; in fact, it really does imply that the undoing of anti-miscegenation laws was a bad thing. Nevertheless, I somehow doubt that Belle would have felt as comfortable playing devil's advocate for Jim Crow.

hasty

Iron Lungfish: You have completely missed Belle's argument. You can't simply substitute "interracial marriage" for "SSM" because her argument is that SSM could only be justified by what she calls the "truthful argument for no-fault divorce" - essentially that the personal fulfilment of individuals, rather than a stable child rearing environment, is the true goal of marriage. There is no reason to think that interracial marriage would not be just as much aimed at the conservative, stable child rearing, goal as intraracial marriage would.

As for your complaints, shared with Uncle Kvetch, that it's some kind of "grotesque" exercise to construct the best argument you can for something you do not believe about a real-life issue, I disagree entirely. For one thing, in doing so you might come across a persuasive argument that changes your mind. Short of that, the exercise can reveal your own prejudices or assumptions, or explain how other people can reasonably disagree with you. Or you might be able to convince the other side that the inchoate concerns or prejudices they hold are attempts to grasp the reasoned argument which you proffer, which in its completed form can then be better demolished. Let's hope the other side will do the same. Even if they don't, won't your own knowledge be firmer if you've truthfully defended it against the best objections you can imagine? Mill wrote much the same about the importance of freedom of thought and liberty of speech.

James Stevenson

You string together this chain of reasoning:
SSM defenders often emphasize individual rights and personal fulfillment as reasons for SSM => the majority of same sex marriages will be entered into mainly for reasons of individual rights and personal fulfillment => marriage as an institution will come to value individual rights and personal fulfillment more highly b/c of this => incalculable harm to family life will result from this change of values => the health of society will suffer.
Now I'll come from the opposite direction and get to your endpoint in one move, for what does it say about a society when it refuses to allow it's citizens equal access to its benefits, when it sets impossible hurtles for one group while smoothing the way for another? What can we infer about the health of a nation that would deny participation in its institutions to a group of citizens (a group it has long treated as second class citizens anyway) unless they can conclusively prove a negative?

I find myself agreeing w/ Uncle Kvetch and others here: a morass of tortuous, scattershot arguments and accounts of cultural history that are flat-out wrong does not constitute a valuable intellectual exercise. As someone who is gay and who would very much like to have children one day (preferably as a married man) why is it my responsibility to prop-up the hetero couples who can’t keep their interpersonal relationships together? And how would doing so by abstaining from participation in their institution even work? How is it necessary that I should have to sacrifice my individual freedom (and, if we follow Belle’s arguments, the well-being of my potential child) to the same people, many of whom believe that my very existence is an abomination? Those who ask for such sacrifices; who make such elevated-sounding arguments about the “health of our children,” and the “health of society;” those who casually dismiss “individual rights” and “personal fulfillment” and who enjoy the deploying such elegant and convoluted logical structures in favor of denying SSM ought to think about what they are asking for very hard. Frankly, I don’t believe they know a thing about what’s at stake here.

Christopher M

Uncle Kvetch--

[I]s SSM such a uniquely abstract subject that it can be batted around every which way without cost, like a high-school debate team topic?

What a totally weird comment. As far as I can tell, your point is that we shouldn't spend time debating gay marriage because it's just too important. Apparently our limited resources of analysis and rhetoric should be carefully conserved so that they can be expended on trivia.

violet crazy girl

I think this argument has the same fundamental problems as Gallagher's argument (but fewer in number and magnitude; it's a proper subset). Come to think of it, just about every SSM argument I can think of seems to go like this,

“Here's my theory of what marriage is…”

“Here's my how badly SSM would interact with my theoretical model of marriage…”

“And so clearly, it's a bad idea.”

Which is all very nice, but it rides right on by the part where we somehow discover that the proposed theory of marriage provides a largely complete and correct model of how marriage works. This is generally because it doesn't.

Marriage (as social institution, rather than as legal code) occupies a huge, messy, complex, and spectacularly mutable set of societal niches. Trying to pin down its exact place is like trying to pin down the exact grammar of English—it can't be done, because English grammar is defined by the practices of every speaker of the language. To say the least, marriage seems to be pretty clearly deep in the grey zone as regards SSM. Whatever else is at issue, nobody seems confused as to how the term “married” could apply to a gay couple, what a gay marriage might consist in, why gay people might wish to get married, and so forth. And I suspect that it's this drift which conservatives are reacting to, and which is driving the current debate.

Of course, an opponent of SSM might say (as Belle does, actually), “So what if this is an organic change? So was the fall of Rome. We can oppose things that are happening.” To which I'd say (that is, after saying, “Funny, isn't Christianity widely credited with the collapse of Rome?”), now you're talking about social engineering, which is all well and good, but it is actually not totally unlike engineering. You need to do studies, and we need to agree on what, exactly, it is that we're trying to build. The data thus far doesn't look good for you, I don't think we agree on the specifications, and while we're on the subject, aren't there some equality-based, freedom-maximizing principles currently being violated in the working prototype?

Uncle Kvetch

As far as I can tell, your point is that we shouldn't spend time debating gay marriage because it's just too important.

Not really, no. This isn't about "debating gay marriage." This is about ostensible supporters of SSM who are so frustrated by the inability of the anti crowd to come up with a reasonable argument that they feel compelled to do the job for them.

I'm trying really hard to imagine a supporter of civil rights in the '60s coming up with "The segregationists haven't managed to come up with an argument that doesn't boil down to 'I don't like n****rs'; let's see if we can help them out."

Is it beyond the pale to think that maybe Maggie Gallagher & her friends haven't come up with a better argument because there isn't one to be made?

asg

So you feel that Belle's argument is no better than Gallagher's?

Doctor Memory

Kieran: you give Clayton Cramer far too much credit by mentioning him in the same breath as Maggie Gallagher. Cramer may be a competent 2nd amendment scholar, but on the issue of gay marriage and homosexual in general, he is simply batshit insane, and has been so for much longer than most people realize.

Iron Lungfish

You can't simply substitute "interracial marriage" for "SSM" because her argument is that SSM could only be justified by what she calls the "truthful argument for no-fault divorce" - essentially that the personal fulfilment of individuals, rather than a stable child rearing environment, is the true goal of marriage.

Of COURSE you can substitute SSM for interracial marriage. Couldn't a 1950s segregationist plausibly argue that single-race homes were more "stable" family environments? Wasn't the whole point of making interracial marriage legal so that individuals have the personal freedom to marry who they want to marry - making marriage all about the personal fulfillment of individuals instead of steady child-rearing? Hell, Belle herself implies as much by drawing a direct connection between the movement to legalize interracial sex and the movement to legalize gay marriage - the same movement she connects to a hypothetical future movement to legalize Man-Boy Love.

As for the whole notion of this post, and your reaction to my reaction: if any new insight had come out of this, or even any new anti-SSM idea that might be worth shooting down, it might be an interesting exercise. As it is, it's just the repackaging of right-wing talking points for a college-educated crowd, and the motivation behind it, as far as I can tell, is pretty much "Look what I can do!"

belle waring

you know, Iron Lungfish and Uncle Kvetch, I think you guys are right. I was being a smartass. see new post above.

Charles

The "SSM is all about personal fulfillment, and doesn't have anythign to do with raising children" position, off of which this essay starts, is simply wrong. SS couples raise children. The children of SS couples would be better protected by their parents being married. Therefore SS couples should be allowed to marry. This is part of the basis on which the Mass SC ruled, and it is part of the basis on which Britain recently decided to allow SS civil unions (which will have full marriage benefits).

To simply pretend that SSM is simply about personal fulfillment makes the rest of the argument so much wasted time. Since the rest of the argument is simply slipper-slope hand waving about how we would oppose bad things, and we should have opposed no-fault divorce, therefore we should oppose SSM (without showing that it is either a bad thing or related to no-fault divorce).

Without even getting out of the subject of marriage, the slippery-slope argument is junk. Should we have also refrained from criminalizing marital rape? Surely this was one more step in the process of converting marriage from being about procreation to being about personal fulfillment, and in many states it came after we had seen the supposedly pernicious effects of no-fault divorce.

Nothing here I haven't seen plenty of times before, and nothing here I buy as being at all relevant to SSM. Bring back the camel snuff porn. At least that was funny.

me

Honest to god, Belle, I hope we don't find some of this backing up out of the CNN drainpipes next weekish...

I'd take it down... But that's just me.

Jeremy Osner

There is no reason to think that interracial marriage would not be just as much aimed at the conservative, stable child rearing, goal as intraracial marriage would.

This seems strange to me. Someone who opposed interracial marriage as unnatural would certainly see it as not being a conservative, stable environment for child rearing. And conversely someone who supports SSM is likely to view it as a potentially conservative, stable environment for child rearing. I don't get the disanalogy.

JR

The real question is, why is the state in the marriage business anyway? That is, what is the point of a legal relationship between adults that bundles consenting sexual relations, joint ownership of property, access to employment-related benefits, and inheritance rights? This is where any discussion marriage has to start.

Scott Martens

Bizarro Belle has certainly put forward a more coherent anti-SSM argument than most, but unless there is content here that I'm missing it boils down to this:

It's a mistake to allow marriage to become about the fulfillment of the marriage partners rather than the security of children.

I think this is in practice an excellent argument for gay marriage rather than what Russell Fox, for example, (and in the name of full disclosure, my mother) is arguing for. The French experience with civil unions is informative here. After the creation of PACS - a civil union scheme designed primarily for gay couples - the heterosexual marriage rate in France fell substantially and by almost exactly the same number of couples as the number of heterosexual couples getting civil unions. If the intent is to preserve the characteristics of marriage that are intended to protect children, civil unions appear to do more harm than gay marriages.

The alternative would be to allow civil unions only for gay couples and force heterosexuals to choose between marrying or not marrying. But this is troubling for other reasons. It suggests a troubling kind of "separate and unequal" logic that is hard to support; that a kind of marriage-lite should be available to gay couples but not to straight ones based on the often no more than theoretical possibility of children. Offering civil unions to both gay and straight couples creates exactly the kind of quasi-marital institution that Bizarro Belle wants to keep traditional marriages from turning into.

Alternately, one could create an institution exclusively for gay people that is identical to marriage but has a different name. I suspect this is actually what a lot of anti-SSM people would like to see, but it is silly to put so much stock in a lexical distinction. To fight so violently over nothing more than the meaning of words is just... well, dumb.

In short, gay marriage does less to undermine the child support plank of traditional marriage in practice than the development of alternate institutions does. Arguing that gay relationships merit no legal protections smacks of the kind of homophobia that well-considered arguments against gay marriage should try to avoid.

But I think the emphasis on children fails to address the other key social plank of marriage - the support of dependent spouses. There is considerably less dependency today than in the recent past, but that is still a real factor in marriage. Most women see very substantial drops in their standard of living after divorce, especially when they have custody of children. There is nothing intrinsically heterosexual about that aspect of marriage.

Public legal institutions should have a role in regulating private institutions to the degree that those relationships involve people with intrinsically unequal powers and unequal degrees of mutual dependency. This is the logic given for the state to interfere in otherwise private employment contracts, and I think it is a sounder logic for thinking about marriage. This broad principle at once offers an argument against pedophilia - children are intrinsically not as empowered as adults; against polygamy in practice - because in the real situations where polygamy is presently practiced, the relationship is generally profoundly unequal; and it offers one line of attack on gay marriage as well as one in its defense. Gay relationships may be less unequal than straight marriages in practice, but there is no reason to see this as an essential characteristic of gay relationships when compared to straight ones. Certainly marriages that include children have participants who are intrinsically unequal, even if we set aside the socially entrenched inequality of men and women. But this argument suggests that the only reason to give more protection to straight couples without children than to gay couples is that women are not equal to men in society as it really exists. Unless you believe that women should be less powerful than men, this is a very weak argument.

But this logic leads to a different conclusion than an anti-SSM argument. If there is to be greater legal protection for marriages in order to protect children, it would make more sense to make divorce more difficult for couples with children rather than to forbid gay marriages.

James Wimberley

The default marriage contract includes large sections about children born of the union, which don't as a rule apply to SSMs. Adoption, which is possible for SSMs, carries a separate contract anyway, which supersedes the default clauses. Lesbian SSMs have another biological possibility of insemination of one partner by a third party; I suppose the other spouse would by default assume a share of parental responsibility, but the case is infrequent enough not to greatly weaken the "marriage is about children" objection to SSM.

The damage easy divorce does to children is however a much greater social evil than any plausible scenario about the effects of SSM. There are 60,000 court judgementa a year in the UK about custody of children of divorced parents - arising from serious disputes about a question putatively settled by the parties and professionals in the divorce judgement. Personally I would favour a solemnisation of divorce. It should be a public ritual in which the couple declare their joint and several wish to end the marriage, accept th eterms laid down by the court, and (if there are children) affirm their continuing joint and several responsibility for their care. Parenthood is forever!
This scheme would not work where divorce is awarded against the will of one spouse, for instance in case of cruelty, but these are the minority.

Laura

I haven't posted on this topic of SSM. So far every anti-SSM that I've read or heard has been so lame that I haven't even mustered the energy to reply. (Mostly it has been the natural law stuff, Russell.) Thanks to you and your commenters, I've got my juices going.

Look, I'm a big fan of marriage and families. I think a stable, multi-parental situation is the best possible environment for kids and for economic security and for the mental health of the adults. We need to convince more people that a family is a preferred arrangement.

We can either go with the stick approach, like the one that Russell's link employs, but that leaves me cold. I could have remained happily single in the city with no censure. I would have lived a short, but happy life as a chain-smoking workaholic, party-girl. If I screened phone calls from my mother, there be zero pressure to get married.

I think that gays have helped make heterosexual marriage hip again. All this talk about love and commitment and stability is good for everybody. I see all those pictures of gay couples embracing on the sands of Cape Cod, and it makes me hug my honey a little harder.

Gay marriage is the best thing for heterosexual marriage, which has been on rocky times for years. It's like they're gentrifying a decrepit neighborhood.

RS

Jane Galt wrote a post much like this several months ago. It was thought-provoking.

RS

Jane Galt wrote a post much like this several months ago. It was thought-provoking.

Diane

Belle (and many anti-SSM commentators) are correct that SSM raises fundamental questions about marriage as a whole. But SSM is not the first development to do so, not by a long shot. It is best seen as the next chapter in a debate that has included the change in women's status in society and marriage, the change in individual determinations of paternity, and the changes in the kinds of social groups in which children are raised.

Marriage is fundamentally a legal contract. It is one of the few contracts whose terms are largely and often wholly dictated by statute and/or case law, and not amenable to change by the parties involved. The nature of the parties who are capable of entering the contract are legally defined, and dissolution of the contract is extensively defined by law. Pre-nuptial agreements can modify some of the terms as relates to financial issues; no such agreements are binding with regard to children. Participants in these private contracts are also offered a number of other benefits, and have a number of other obligations imposed upon them, provided and enforced by third parties.

So the central question should be, why is this contract different from all others? Why do we allow such a deep infringment upon our individual liberty to contract? Scott Martens offers one theory:

Public legal institutions should have a role in regulating private institutions to the degree that those relationships involve people with intrinsically unequal powers and unequal degrees of mutual dependency. This is the logic given for the state to interfere in otherwise private employment contracts, and I think it is a sounder logic for thinking about marriage.

And generally, the other theory is that one about protecting the children that may be implicated by this contract.

The third theory, only barely touched upon in these comments, but long a staple of feminist analyses of family, is that marriage is about protecting patriarchy, not in the big-P sense, but in the little-p, patrilineal descent sense. I.e., protecting men's interests in ensuring that their property stays in the family.

A tremendous number of changes have made obsolete all three of these theories as bases for marriage laws. First, the enormous change in women's status in society, making them far less susceptible to exploitation in the marital relationship. Inequality remains, of course, but it is much less than it used to be, and much less legally reinforced that it once was.

Second, changes in the accuracy of paternity determinations (and in child support enforcement), combined with the extraordinary expansion in out-of-wedlock births, have largely decoupled the relationship between marriage and ensuring patrilineal descent. You can know whether you are that girl's baby daddy easily without having to marry her. (And she can know that you are the one repsonsible for that baby too, and actually enforce that responsibility -- this change in law and practice is really the sleeper in this whole debate, the one that I believe will have the most wide-reaching effects.)

Finally, with regard to children, the evidence against no-fault divorce is so thin that it is amazing anyone takes it seriously. The groups studied have been small and the controls for other factors (especially class) have been minimal. There is abundant research to show that there is a difference between children raised by a single parent and chidren raised in homes with two adults. The status of those adults -- whether married, same sex, or even intergenerational (e.g., a parent + grandparent + kid) -- has been virtualy ignored. Of course kids do better with at least two caretakers in the home. Parenting is simply too hard a job to do really well by yourself. But that is as much as we can say either through research or through common sense.

Moreover, on the kid front, it is easy to have one without participating in marriage. It's not mandatory, this contract. So it's not really all that connected to childrearing as it is.

So we're left with the question of why we should possibly treat this particular contract so differently from all others? Why not, instead, allow two (or more?) people to enter into any contract they want with regard to sharing finances and childrearing? Let them set up their own rules for dissolving the partnership?

Oh, but what about the children? Again, there is an entire legal regimen regarding the parentage of kids, and all the attendant rights and responsibilities that is largely independent of the marriage rules. Custody, child support and visitation are contested and decided upon every day in every family court in the country for unmarried individuals. The current state of affairs is that these arrangements can be included as part of a marriage, but don't have to be. Until and unless we make marriage mandatory for all people with children in their homes (whether those children came by way of adoption, alternative insemination or the old-fashioned method), some significant portion of child-rearing will take place outside of marriage anyway.

This attempt to say that marriage is either about individual or about children is simply kind of silly. It's clearly about both. But it's just as clear that you don't have to have one institution that attempts to meet the needs of all the people that want to form some kind of partnership to address financial and child-related needs. The real question should be why we continue to have this one-size-fits-all system in the first place.

Jeremy Osner

Viewing marriage as as a contract between 2 spouses misses one key element of its legal nature I think -- beyond obligations spouses have to one another, being married has an effect on the way that third parties are obligated to treat the spouses. Hospitals are required (I believe) to allow spouses to visit each other, where they can limit (I believe) visitation by people who are not spouse or family. Companies frequently offer health coverage to spouses of employees. Spouses of prisoners are entitled (I believe) to conjugal visits, where I don't think this is allowed for partners who are not married.

brooksfoe

The only weak segment in this argument was the opener, where Belle tries on the notion that it's incumbent upon anyone who suggests a change in society to prove that it will not be harmful. This is a pretty weird claim in a society founded upon an expansive notion of liberty. If my state wants to allow people to make right turns on red, we don't have to first prove to the entire country that it will do no harm. Why should a state that wants to allow two men to marry have to prove it won't lead to the breakdown of society?

Oh - she also wandered into weird territory with the bit about homosexuality being more common in societies without free association between the sexes. Who cares? Why are the causes of homosexuality in any way relevant to the question of whether gays should be allowed to marry?

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