A Consequential Month

What a month it’s been. Our black-robed overlords rescued Obamacare (again) and wrote same-sex marriage into the Constitution. Charleston continues to mourn even as the Confederate battle flag suddenly disappears from the public square and from retail shelves. Pope Francis decided he’s an environmentalist. The surviving Boston bomber got the death penalty, as did one of two prison escapees from New York, and police continue to be recorded while mistreating blacks. And it turns out the IRS has been playing games with Lois Learner’s emails — just as Hillary Clinton has played games with hers. All while Republican presidential candidates pretend that gay marriage really isn’t a thing and no one seems too concerned that the Office of Personnel Management suffered one of the most catastrophic, and most damaging, security breaches in U.S. history.


I survey all of this, but am relatively unmoved by most of it; the one truly touching moment was the way Charleston as a community and the families of the victims as a group came together after the church shooting to be, well, adult in the face of evil.

Perhaps my lack of engagement is a twofold function of my disappointment in the reflexive groupthink increasingly ingrained in public debate, and my belief that deep down, Fukuyama is right and the real crisis facing America isn’t the Red/Blue divide but rather the conflict between various elites seeking to colonize the country’s commanding heights. “Partisanship” is a chimera used to render into the binary a sociocultural struggle that crosses many different subpopulations and many different interest groups.

Take the twin colossi of Obamacare subsidies and gay marriage. On the outcome, I am satisfied with the high court’s conclusions. But in both cases, I think the majority opinions are dangerously wrong-headed, and it doesn’t take a law degree to understand the danger in both majority holdings. The chief justice’s dissent in Obergefell outlines why: It wasn’t the conclusion, but the logic model, that sets us up for more of the same. Kennedy’s majority opinion is filled with trite slogans that retrofit a hodge-podge of vague metaphysical assertions about human nature to justify a foreordained policy preference. And despite the acid of his dissent, Scalia’s rebuttual in King v. Burwell highlights that the majority elected to finesse a partially dishonest read of Congressional intent instead of agreeing that words have meaning and that it’s not the court’s job to pass laws that are internally coherent.

Distilled, my discomfort lies with the regrettable predictability of the political process, leavened with my increasing disdain for activists of any stripe. (Yes, I even loathe activists for my own causes. Do, or do not; there is no protesting.) More and more, I care less about the what and more about the why, and it’s an extrapolation of all these little whys that leave me slightly bearish about the future.

A lot happened this month. Inasmuch as some of what transpired might feel definitive, I cannot help but wonder whether all of these matters — gay rights, Obamacare subsidies, pulpit environmentalism, police aggression — aren’t truly concluded, but rather enter a new phase of social discord.

Like I said: Bearish.

On Bakeries, Pizza Shops, Florists and Same-Sex Nuptials

I can’t think of any other word to describe my impression of the brouhaha sweeping the country about the collision of same-sex marriage and the religious beliefs of small-business owners.
Off the bat, I’ll declaim what I believe to be self-evidently true: The radical monoculture of the Totalitarian Left tears at our shared social fabric. I could go on at length about the subject, but there’s not much I can add to what’s already been published by conservative commentators the last few weeks. Even for conservatives like me, who are supportive of gay rights, it’s difficult to be allies when the most prominent spokespeople of the Left have gone Full Alinsky on us, adopting hate-filled rhetoric and violent intimidation along the You Will Be Made To Care axis of “argumentation.”
That said, I am skeptical that a plain and faithful reading of Scripture justifies a small-business owner refusing to supply a same-sex wedding. There’s plenty in both Scripture and Tradition to bar a faithful Christian from being one of the spouses in a same-sex marriage … but serving as a contractor? One could, I suppose, elucidate a fairly subtle theological argument to justify non-engagement with a same-sex wedding in any capacity, including as a vendor, but it’s an argument — an interpretation of religious norms, not a plain-text reading of one. And the nature of many of these arguments I’ve encountered recently suggest that there’s not much theological nuance there; the arguments have all the superficiality of a post-hoc rationalization, a thin veneer disguising overt discrimination.
In other words: I throw the bullshit card on the idea that there’s a specifically religious reason compelling enough to justify the denial of service to same-sex clients. Especially when the very folks who argue their religious rights are violated by acting as vendors for a same-sex wedding also argue that those weddings are invalid in the eyes of God. So what’s the religious problem, then, in catering a make-believe wedding? The only way the religious-exemption logic holds is if the objector conceded that same-sex marriage (even civil marriage) is divinely sanctioned — but then, divine sanction erases the claim for a religious exemption. The mind boggles at the irrationality of it all.
To be sure, many Christians profess significant problems with homosexuality and the expansion of marriage to same-sex partners. Those problems are rooted in valid readings of Christian theology. I believe very strongly that Christians should not be targeted or persecuted for adhering to those beliefs. I also believe very strongly that gays and lesbians should not be ostentatiously refused public accommodation by businesses, through the self-serving and open-ended assertion of religious liberty.
These Christians are also Americans. The civil law has recently opened a gulf between what’s legally permissible and what many Christians view as being morally permissible, regarding the institution of marriage. Squaring the circle between private faith and the public Constitutional order isn’t easy, but there are ways beyond public foot-stomping to remain true to your faith while fully participating in even today’s more permissible social climate.
In fact, the real problem here is the perfect storm of a brand of Evangelical conservative Christians who want to make a stand, and be seen making a stand, for their disapprobation of gay rights — in opposition to far-Left ideologues eager to pick a fight with the “bitter clingers.” So we’re left with the rank idiocy of the Indiana and Arkansas RFRA bills but also uncharitable lawsuits against bakers and florists who prefer not to celebrate that which they morally oppose. The veiled threats of the far-right blogosphere contributes, too, with its denunciations of the “caving” by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, while far-left activists delight in vitriolic denunciations of alleged intolerance that are untethered to reality. All of this drama constitutes a self-inflicted injury for Christian conservatives.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of a devoutly Christian baker, caterer, florist or wedding planner. You’re behind the counter, conducting your trade in peace. You go to church on Sunday, you tithe, you pray. And then Adam and Steve sashay into your storefront, ready to place an order for a sheet cake for their upcoming wedding. What do you do?
When you walk the Path of Martyrs, eager to be seen as making a stand for Jesus, you tell Adam and Steve that you can’t support them because you’re a Christian and won’t be a party to their sin. Cue the raging public shitstorm. (And, in a sense, the religious hypocrisy — viz Matthew 6:5.)
In a more reasonable world, when Adam and Steve cross your threshold, you smile at them, congratulate them on their engagement, ask friendly questions about their color choices, and enquire about the date of their ceremony. Then you appear crestfallen when you say that you can’t accommodate that date because you’re already booked solid that weekend, but you’d be happy to refer Adam and Steve to Jane’s Bakery across the street. And wouldn’t you know it, Jane just came back from a confectioner’s conference and she has some really great designs for contemporary his-and-his cakes!
Better yet, you mark that date on your calendar and genuinely take it off as a day of prayer, thus protecting you from the accusation of lying while deepening your relationship with Jesus. Sure, you’ll lose some revenue, but consider it as an investment in your treasure in Heaven. Net result: Happy customers, happy proprietors. You have rendered on to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and onto God that which is God’s.
The cynic view, of which I’m increasingly persuaded, is that all of this drama has very little to do with gay marriage. If Adam and Steve want to get married, fine; you’d think they’d find vendors who support them, instead of compelling vendors who don’t. Human decency, and all that. And you’d also think that small-business owners would recognize that baking a cake isn’t a sin, even if you don’t like your customer.
What we’re seeing is, I think, less a genuine question of gay rights or religious freedom, and more a paradigmatic question of whose orthodoxy will govern the terms of engagement in the naked public square. So in a sense, all of this drama is small-small potatoes skirmishing in a much larger and more significant cultural war, a conflict wherein certain modes of thinking that contradict the Authoritarian Left must be rooted out, suppressed, denounced — while certain practices that conservative activists despise must be de-legitimized in the name of “freedom.”
Don’t be distracted. None of this is really about a nuanced view of Christianity, or about gay marriage. Rather, it’s about competing claims to the power to coerce normative values on the larger body politic.
Hence, dismay.

Heterosexual Fecundity: A Coda to the Gay Marriage Argument

Of all the reactions I’ve seen to my recent blog post against gay marriage, the one that surprises me the most (besides Frankie Machine’s half-assed non sequitur) is the curious counter-claim that homosexual marriage should be permissible because straight people who cannot or will not reproduce can also get married.

I think people who raise the “sterile heterosexual” rebuttal believe they’ve advanced an intellectually serious counterfactual to my central claim, but I don’t think their logic holds.

Let’s begin by assuming that my central argument is correct and we all concede that by definition, marriage is no more and no less than a legally and culturally respected contractual framework that provides for the rearing of children and offers a socially useful infrastructure for protecting and privileging close-kin relationships while legitimizing the intergenerational transfer of property.

The state’s compelling interest in supporting child rearing — augmented by a series of tax benefits and an inheritance mechanism — confers publicly financed incentives, some of which are conditioned on the actual production of children and some which are latent in the structure of the marriage institution itself. People who take advantage of those financial benefits without producing offspring are functioning as free riders: They’re being unfairly enriched by participating within a system for which they aren’t entitled to membership, draining the state’s resources without upholding their end of the baby-making bargain.

A few observations:

  1. That heterosexual free riders unfairly benefit from marriage doesn’t mean that homosexuals also deserve a free ride. It’s illogical to claim that one abuse of a system justifies a second abuse; the logical solution is to limit heterosexual free ridership, instead of opening the floodgates to homosexuals. This counterpoint highlights the most significant deficiency with the “sterile heterosexual” rebuttal.
  2. In a practical sense, it’s very easy to see that homosexual couples are biologically incapable of procreation. Heterosexual couples, by contrast, are almost never obviously sterile; the only way to tell for sure whether a heterosexual couple is capable of procreating is to subject both parties to invasive and expensive fertility testing. Were the state to require fertility testing as a prerequisite to obtaining a marriage license, the result is either a very steep bill for the state (and almost surely, in the aggregate, failing a cost/benefit analysis) or the effective restriction of marriage only to the wealthy (which contradicts the purpose of marriage as the optimal family structure for child rearing). The least-worst outcome is probably something very similar to what we have today: Marriage open to heterosexuals on the belief that enough will procreate to justify the public expenditure on tax benefits without incurring extra costs assocated with new barriers to entry.
  3. In a cultural sense, admitting non-fecund heterosexuals into the institution of marriage serves a secondary purpose of reinforcing the desirability of marriage as a normative family structure. Socializing children to look to marriage as a bedrock social arrangement serves a useful public purpose in itself — enough, I think, to partially mitigate the free rider problem for sterile couples.

Thus, although sterile heterosexuals are certainly a problem, they’re not the problem that gay-marriage advocates think. The free-rider nature of non-fecund heterosexual unions is a defect that requires amelioration, not a systemic defect that therefore justifies gay marriage.

Indeed, it’d be more rational to exclude known sterile heterosexuals (e.g., the elderly) than to include homosexuals within the marriage institution, because as long as the state provides taxpayer-funded benefits to married couples, then the state incurs a cognate obligation to ensure that those tax dollars are expended for that purpose with as little “leakage” as possible. Free riders constitute a “leak” in the system — one that should be plugged, not enlarged.

From a purely public perspective, the only way to get around the free rider problem is to create an institution (e.g., civil unions) that don’t confer the same family-raising economic benefits as marriage.

If, and only if, the state removes all child-rearing economic benefits from the institution of marriage, does it make sense for the state to sanction marriage among the homosexual sterile or deliberately non-fecund.

Until then, no number of childless married couples will ever justify opening floodgates to even more free riders.

A Comprehensive Case Against Gay Marriage

Few subjects prompt acrimonious ideological warfare as effectively and as swiftly as gay marriage. In one corner, social conservatives and some libertarians offer a host of religious and secular arguments against the idea; in the other corner, progressives and activists pile on their mostly emotive counter-arguments. The scene evokes an 18th-century gunship battle, with both combatants firing their broadsides yet despite barrage after barrage, both miss more often than they hit.

Introductory Points

No intellectually honest discussion of gay marriage can proceed without a few ground rules:

  1. Rational discussion requires the concession that local communities have the right to set normative standards that circumscribe the outer bounds of individual behavior. If you believe that “society” (defined variously as the government, or a local cultural group, or local community) lacks the right to set authoritative cultural standards that can bind individuals within that polity, then there’s no possibility of reasonable discussion on the subject of gay marriage.  There is simply no way around this barrier: Either you accept that the community can set the boundaries of acceptable social behavior, or you don’t.  If you don’t, then your radical individualism — however laudable in principle — sets you in a sociopolitical framework too far removed from mainstream thought and too absolutist in its inclinations to accommodate your views in the context of a pro/con debate. But be careful: Lots of people think “society” has no right to legislate against what they favor, but does have the right to legislate against what they oppose.
  2. Opposition to gay marriage does not imply anti-gay prejudice.  Claims that gay-marriage opposition necessarily constitutes bigotry or homophobia are intellectually dishonest at best and morally grotesque at worst. For the record, this writer is a practicing bisexual who has had relationships with both men and women. My opposition to gay marriage is based on principle, not a disdain for The Other, and I’m perfectly comfortable on a personal level with gay marriage (including participating in one).
  3. However, prejudice is real and it does play into the debate on a pre-rational level.  There’s plenty of disdain for gay folk out there; to pretend that anti-gay sentiment doesn’t color opposition to gay marriage in at least some contexts is to stake a position ridiculous to the point of irrationality.
  4. Homosexuality occurs naturally. It’s OK to be gay or lesbian, and homosexuals and bisesxuals should enjoy the full scope of their rights and liberties under the law. Adopting a contrary position changes the nature of the debate.
  5. Marriage as an institution has a purpose that isn’t subject to individual, personal redefinition. Some people choose to view marriage as meaning one particular thing instead of accepting its full definitional context — a situation rather like someone looking up a word in a dictionary, discovering that the word has five different lexical entries then deciding that the word can only mean entry No. 2. Preferential emphasis is one thing; willful blindness to the full scope of the subject is quite another.
  6. The definition of marriage has both secular and religious characteristics. Sectarian arguments won’t persuade unbelievers, so they won’t be emphasized in this discussion. Sectarian arguments often prove powerful but they only persuade people who are sympathetic to the sect’s epistemological framework. In the context of a broad public debate about gay marriage it’s preferable to set aside sectarian rationale so as to maximize one’s argumentative reach.

Six starting principles. Let’s explore, next, the outer boundaries of the subject matter.

What Marriage Is

In its most fundamental sense, marriage is no more and no less than a legally and culturally respected contractual framework that provides for the rearing of children and offers a socially useful infrastructure for protecting and privileging close-kin relationships while legitimizing the intergenerational transfer of property.

In almost every known civilization, marriage’s first function was to support child rearing. Plenty of evidence suggests that children flourish best in a stable two-mixed-sex-parent household; the evidence is sufficiently compelling that the best study to date, the New Family Structures Survey recently compiled by Texas researcher Mark Regnerus, prompted a violent reaction from sociologists and gay-rights activists, who attacked the conclusions but could not successfully counter the research.

Because of the central role marriage plays in the formation of stable environments for child-rearing, the state has a compelling interest in developing a robust marriage framework.

Marriage’s roots draw nourishment from two separate springs. First, from a biological perspective, traditional marriage marks the social manifestation of pair-bonding for the purpose of mating. Evolutionary biologists suggest that the long-term survivability of offspring is highest with both parents supporting the child during infancy; both parents have a vested interest in their offspring surviving to adulthood. Because a woman always knows that she’s the mother of her child, whereas a man has to take it on faith that the resources he’s expending to raise a child are in fact supporting his child, human pair-bonding keeps men around to support the woman and child and gives the men reasonable assurance that the children they’re raising are their own. Perhaps the best treatment I’ve seen on this point comes from noted scholar Jared Diamond’s short but powerful book, Why Is Sex Fun? — his overview addresses the principles of evolutionary biology that lead to enjoyable sex, pair bonding and child rearing.

Second, marriage provides a legally binding infrastructure to help determine legitimacy (e.g., inheritances and other forms of intergenerational wealth gransfer) and provide for kin support (e.g., a widow’s maintenance or the guardianship of minor children). Without the web of relationships that attend to marriage, chaos would result in any human settlement that wasn’t already comprised of pure-blood kin. Imagine life in an early Iron Age village of 100 people — without universal respect for marriage, any man’s woman is fair game for rape. If parents die, children may simply have their parents’ assets seized by the strongest neighbor and in general authority would flow solely by force of will without being circumscribed by culturally endorsed networks of relationships. In addition, marriage to an “outsider” becomes legitimate, improving the genetic diversity of the local community and building networks among micro-communities.  Marriage as a child-rearing institution, then, has proven necessary for human flourishing.

Clear-headed understanding of marriage requires careful delineation of purpose against possible use. Consider the case of a simple hickory hiking staff. The purpose of the staff is to stabilize a hiker’s gait and provide additional support while crossing uncertain terrain. The staff may well permit ancillary uses like serving as a tarp pole, rattlesnake mover or makeshift camera stabilizer, but the purpose of the staff isn’t to do any of those extra things. A thing — a cultural institution as well as a simple material object — has a purpose (a teleology or final cause), but it also admits to ancillary uses that may or may not be related to its purpose. Likewise with marriage: Its purpose is child rearing in a social setting, but its ancillary benefits include nurturing love and helping your mate in old age. Too many conflate “ancillary benefit” and “purpose” in ways that make a clear understanding of marriage more difficult to share across ideological lines.

Over time, marriage as an institution has changed and different cultures have embellished the institution in different ways. Among the wealthy throughout history, for example, marriage rarely dealt with love — parents arranged marriages among their offspring for political or economic advantage. In some places, plural marriage took off; in other places, divorce is illegal. Inheritance laws differ widely, with the British aristocracy adopting an “everything to the firstborn male heir” custom and the French often diluting an inheritance among sons. In some places, marriage is a state affair; in other places, marriage is foremost a religious event that receives civil recognition.

Although the specific forms of the institution change, its purpose — to create a cultural and legal framework for child rearing and intergenerational property transfer — remains constant. And throughout history, there are very few recorded instances of socially acceptable same-sex marriage. Why? Because same-sex couples don’t participate in the purpose of marriage and therefore have no claim to its ancillary benefits.

What Marriage Isn’t

Jonathan Rauch argues, in a book-length treatment, that marriage is merely a culturally and legally recognized relationship for long-term aid and mutual support.  As such, its primary goal is to encourage pair bonding, not child rearing. For Rauch, marriage protects against loneliness; child-rearing isn’t a primary focus, and gay marriage in particular provides assorted social benefits like “civilizing” young gay men into less risky relationships.  His line of reasoning provides a philosophical framework for much of the pro-gay-marriage argument. The problem with it, though, is that by cutting out child rearing from his definition, he’s made the case for an institution that isn’t marriage. As we’ve noted earlier, you cannot decide that a word with five dictionary entries really only has one, two or three. You cannot write child-rearing and intergenerational property transfer out of the picture simply to re-define the term in a way that fits your latent political preferences and their attendant arguments. Marriage is what marriage is; what Rauch describes is a different institution altogether. (Perhaps, I’d respectfully suggest, civil unions.) In a very real sense, what Rauch did has all the semantic value of pointing at a pitchfork and calling it a “pointy thing” and then suggesting you can use that pointy thing as a shovel because, well, it’s long and has a point at the end.

It’s common among the hipster crowd — the oh-so-trendy folks whose knowledge of complex social issues is no deeper than the smarmy slogans distilled into a bumper sticker or a button — to support gay marriage “until love is equal.” This sentiment confuses the purpose of marriage with its ancillary benefits. The purpose of marriage isn’t to legitimize love. Indeed, if you require the state to affirmatively recognize your emotional attachment to someone else, then you might have a self-esteem problem.  Marriage and love aren’t synonyms. The state has no compelling interest in splitting apart or de-legitimizing same-sex love nor does the state have a compelling interest in recognizing it. The state does have a compelling interest in creating a web of legal and financial relationships — that thing we call marriage — to nurture the next generation of citizens. In Michigan, for example, the state is blind to whether two people love each other but pays very close attention to those who enter into marriage, because the state’s interest in raising that next generation is expressed in part through a system of tax credits, tax rates and related benefits intended to support family growth. Because same-sex couples do not raise children except in fleetingly rare instances, the state obtains no greater good from conferring the benefits of child-rearing upon those who don’t procreate — indeed, the state loses dollars in the long run. Thus, from a governmental perspective, supporting same-sex marriage with the financial benefits intended for child rearing constitutes a waste of tax dollars by the state and unjust enrichment by those who receive those benefits.

Finally, many gay-marriage activists claim they’re advocating “equality” but what they’re really fighting for is a very specific lifestyle. They want the social benefit and prestige of marriage and condemn as “haters” any who oppose the goal. Yet it’s instructive to see that the fight for gay marriage is very much a cause célèbre of the wealthy Left — the folks who already have access to money and prestige and power. There’s very little activism among the poor and among minorities for gay marriage. In fact, African Americans constitute the biggest block against it in the U.S., a point that’s making Democratic Party mechanics increasingly strained.  Marriage isn’t a marker of social status, a thing to be acquired like a Porsche or a midtown condo or a Pomeranian. That the activism in favor of gay marriage hails mostly from wealthy elites is … curious.

Bad Arguments, Rebutted or Refuted

Many bad arguments muddy the waters:

  1. Gay marriage will “civilize” gay men. In fact, 75 percent of same-sex marriage licenses in San Francisco and Massachusetts were issued to lesbians. Current statistics on gay men raise real questions about whether marriage will do them more harm than good. There’s ample survey data to note that gay men who’ve been together for one year as a couple nevertheless have an average of eight different sexual partners, and that of gay men in a relationship when surveyed, 42 percent of them have been together for three years or fewer. In addition, in jurisdictions that have authorized same-sex marriage or legally equivalent unions, less than five percent of eligible couples pursue marriage in the first place. When you add the social, legal and cultural costs of such marriage-related problems as divorce, property splits, alimony and child custody, it’s not altogether clear that the permanence implied by marriage (despite the impermanence of so many recent heterosexual marriages) is a good fit with current gay culture.
  2. You can’t exclude gays from marriage unless you exclude sterile heterosexuals. It’s a common, sophomoric retort that limiting marriage to those who can naturally reproduce is a farce because sterile heterosexuals, or heterosexuals who don’t intend to procreate, can still get married. Such statements constitute a red herring. No social institution paints with a fine brush; in any case, the institutional cost of testing each and every heterosexual couple for their capacity to procreate would impose significant costs that aren’t offset by avoiding the provision of benefits to non-reproductive hetero couples. Simple cost-benefit arithmetic says it’s expensive to test hetero couples for their fecundity, whereas you can just eyeball same-sex couples for free to know that they are incapable (as a couple) of procreating. Regardless, from a cultural perspective, admitting sterile heterosexuals into marriage reinforces the validity of marriage as both an ideal outcome and a normative institution for mixed-sex couples — a point worth celebrating as an object lesson in cultural success during a child’s socialization.
  3. Objections to gay marriage hail from religious bigotry.  The insinuation that the only reason to oppose gay marriage is because one’s pastor wills it constitutes a flimsy straw man. Although it’s true that many faith traditions oppose gay marriage, not all opposition to gay marriage arises from within organized religion. The suggestion that all opposition to gay marriage secretly hails from the pulpit, and therefore may be dismissed, is merely a bald attempt at de-legitimizing the integrity of those who oppose gay marriage.
  4. There won’t be a slippery slope for the redefinition of marriage and families. Some breathless social conservatives complain wistfully about all sorts of potential future redefinitions of marriage along a very slippery slope. While slippery-slope arguments, in themselves, are inherently weak, there’s some evidence that the logic of same-sex marriage doesn’t create the firewall between same-sex marriage and many other sorts of legally sanctioned relationships that proponents claim. For example, the California legislature is debating a bill that would authorize judges to find that some children have more than two legal parents and Brazil recently recognized a civil union consisting of a man and two women. Decrying the slippery-slope argument is harder when you’ve already begun the slalom.
  5. Same-sex partners deserve equal treatment under the law. This point is freely conceded, and any legal impairment ought to be dismantled. However, it’s worth pointing out that marriage in itself, because it excludes homosexuals on a purely functional basis, doesn’t provide a silver bullet. For example, there’s no effective difference in joint ownership of property or banking accounts between married and unmarried couples — in both cases, the paperwork to add a name is exactly the same.  Even the lament about visiting a same-sex partner in the hospital is a bit of a diversion, since any patient can allow any visitor at any time, and even things like end-of-life choices are governed by advanced directives, living wills and such — documents that could specify a spouse, or anyone else. Other goods, like retirement benefits, are trickier in that there’s a presumption of intergenerational wealth transfer at stake, and most employers are free to set survivability policies on their benefit plans.
  6. Marriage equality.”  There’s been an astonishingly effective turn of phrase of late, that instead of calling it “gay marriage” we call it “marriage equality,” ostensibly to evoke a parallel to the civil-rights era. The trouble is, the homosexual cause isn’t analogous to the civil-rights movement, insofar as gays can hide their minority status at will whereas a black man or a Hispanic woman cannot hide his or her physiology. You cannot identify a gay person by sight unless that gay person presents himself in a manner that deliberately evokes homosexual stereotypes — for example, by wearing that lovely T-shirt that asks, “Does this cock in my mouth make me look gay?”  (Yes, hon. Yes it does.)  In any case, the “marriage equality” construct presupposes that barring gays and lesbians from the institution of marriage is, ipso facto, an act of overt discrimination. If you accept, however, that marriage properly understood cannot admit homosexuals, then “marriage equality” becomes a slogan that obscures more than it illuminates. Gay marriage simply isn’t a civil-rights issue in any standard sense of the idea.
  7. Heterosexuals have already messed up marriage.  While it’s undoubtedly true that a divorce rate above 50 percent, the trend of “starter marriages” and longer periods of cohabitation have undermined a traditional cultural conception of marriage, no amount of hetero misbehavior serves to change the qualitative definition of marriage such that the child-rearing aspect is removed. It’s unfortunate that straight people have screwed up a good thing, but their behavior doesn’t thereby legitimize further violence against the institution of marriage.

Critical Questions

As a means of arriving at a deeper understanding of the relevant issues, it’s worth both sides asking a few questions:
  • Does it make sense to impose a costly legal framework upon a complex web of interpersonal relationships — including divorce, alimony, property splits, child custody — for a gay population that (statistics show!) is likely to demonstrate a higher relationship churn rate than heterosexuals?
  • Should states that recognize common-law marriage recognize common-law same-sex marriage? What might common-law same-sex marriage mean for child custody?
  • Is the benefit of a stable, two-parent (male/female) household upon a child’s long-term success vector sufficient in itself to justify opposition to gay parenting?
  • If future medical advances allow two same-sex couples to procreate without the use of a surrogate, should the law recognize the couples’ parenthood? If so, must conservatives re-evaluate whether parents so situated have overcome the child-rearing barrier and thus are candidates for civil marriage?
  • Can homosexuals obtain the effective benefits of marriage without entering into the institution of marriage? If so, then why push the issue?
  • If homosexuals really respected the institution of marriage in the first place, why are so many activists working so hard to tear it down and replace it with something it isn’t?

An Ideal Outcome?

Compromise is the art of the possible. Remaining affixed to a point in the distant past and clinging to some prior time’s specific implementation of a social institution may feel natural for conservatives, but if conservatives want to “conserve” the institution, they must allow the minimally necessary changes that arise as a given society matures. Liberals, for their part, cannot continue to foster a radical individualism that paints today’s pleasures as the highest good — sacrificing a child (through abortion on demand) or a child’s long-term success (through sub-optimal family structures) simply because adult liberals want to have their cake and eat it, too.

In other words: In this particular ideological debate, I declare a pox on both houses.

Perhaps the best solution is to pull out Solomon’s sword to give each side their half of the baby:

  • All must accept that marriage exists as the union of one man and one woman oriented toward child rearing, with socioeconomic benefits that reflect the state’s interest in raising new citizens and a body of supporting regulations that protect the intergenerational transfer of wealth and recognize close-kin lineage for the purpose of successor guardianship, etc.
  • All must support easier access to civil unions. Note that these unions need not be limited to same-sex partners nor be exclusive, nor limited even two people; it’s reasonable that a mother and son who live together to save on expenses could have a civil union that recognizes their shared financial arrangement. Or, the members of a frat house could engage in a group civil union that acknowledges their shared liability or property interest. People could engage in several “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” at once and these legally recognized relationships could be created or broken with ease. In short, it’s an extension of standard contract law — but one that explicitly identifies social relationships instead of the transfer of goods or services.
  • Religious marriage should retain its religious character; faith traditions that decline to honor same-sex unions should face no discrimination penalty.
  • Same-sex marriage warrants further review if and when same-sex couples can routinely procreate without the use of a donor or surrogate.

Concluding Thoughts

Inasmuch as I loathe the self-righteous posturing of someone like Rick Santorum, who tells Chicken Little stories about the collapsing sanctity of marriage, I cannot bring myself to support the disestablishment of a cultural institution that has served human flourishing so well for so long. Especially when the argument in favor is so distressingly weak.

You cannot remove child-rearing from the definition of marriage without turning the institution into something that’s different from marriage. And if you do that, then what’s the whole point behind the original redefinition? More than anything, this is a fight over what a word means, and semantic arguments usually aren’t worth the bother.

I am pro-gay. I very strongly desire that gays, lesbians and bisexuals should have equal access to happiness and personal fulfillment. I just don’t think that the argument in favor of gay marriage is persuasive enough; what’s more, I think the motivation behind the push for gay marriage isn’t as pure as it seems. Too many wealthy Progressives are pushing for it as if it were a fashion accessory, with almost no concern about the damage they’re inflicting on institution per se or acknowledgement of their access to alternative options (like civil unions) that are just as effective at rendering the economic and legal framework they need to facilitate long-term loving relationships. And how many urban poor or lower-middle-class minorities are clamoring for gay marriage?

The real solution rests in a different understanding of contract law — one that makes it easier to establish or dis-establish legally recognized and lawfully binding interpersonal relationships.

The rest is merely sound and fury.

[EDIT 9/9 … several post-publish language tweaks.]