Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Opened Doors

"If the law redefines marriage to say that fathers are optional, then it's hard to make the argument that fathers are essential," says Ryan T. Anderson, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
[...]
But the state does have an interest in seeing that relationships that result in children are permanent and monogamous, to ensure their care and feeding, he says. Otherwise, the state might have to help with their support.
"Marriage is the way the state non-coercively incentivizes me to be in the institution that does best for children," Anderson says.
[...]
Caitlin Seery shares Anderson's concern that weakening the "marriage culture" could lead to more government intervention and expenditure of resources to aid children who would have been better off raised by a mother and a father.
[...]
"Most of use grew up thinking marriage is about romantic love and living happily ever after, whereas when we grow up, we realize it's about raising children and providing them with a mother and a father," Seery says.
[...]
Still, [Sam Schulman, a journalist who has written a number of articles on the subject over the past decade] says that because marriage is an essential part of the broader kinship system that protects women and children, redefining it so thoroughly could weaken it in ways as yet unforeseen.
Granting marriage rights to gay couples "dilutes the currency that makes a woman married to a man a wife," Schulman says.
[...]
Procreation is necessary for the species, and marriage is the best way to ensure thriving families, says John C. Eastman, a Chapman University law professor and chairman of the National Organization for Marriage.
Allowing gays to marry, he says, would be "almost the nail in the coffin" in terms of a trend toward the "delegitimizing of marriage," through no-fault divorce, out-of-wedlock births and other phenomena he says weaken marriage.
[...]
Although there were broken homes long before the political and legal debates about gay marriage began, marriage as a socially sanctioned institution is meant to ensure children are raised by a mom and a dad, [Minnesota state Sen. Warren Limmer(R)] says. Gay marriage lacks that "unique" quality that is beneficial to society.
'Severing Love From Diapers': The Other Case Against Gay Marriage
The logic of these arguments seems to be that as long as same-sex couples are barred from marriage, there is still a chance to roll back the clock and re-impose the old marriage as wedlock institution on a society that appears to have been in the process of walking away from it for several years, if not the past several decades. Not only has that horse bolted from the barn, but the barn has burned down, the farmer has packed it in and taken up mobile application programming and the land has been redeveloped into condominiums. Even if you could find the barn doors, closing them now seems quixotic.

"No-fault divorce, out-of-wedlock births and other phenomena [that] weaken marriage" aren't the fault of same-sex couples wanting to be married, and despite having asked any number of people, I have yet to hear a coherent argument for why simply denying the term marriage or state sanction to same-sex relationships will "correct" said phenomena. People, both as individuals and as couples simply aren't as dependent on the small communities of people around them to get by. And that freedom from reliance on an immediate, localized group for sustenance has lead to the inability of the community to indoctrinate people into their mores and values, and from effectively sanctioning people for non-compliance. But just as importantly, couples that are engaged in traditional marriages don't understand these "weakening" trends as realistic threats to their own marriages anymore. And this is, in part, a result of the very factor that the proponents of traditional marriage decry - the idea that marriage serves, first and foremost, the interests of the married adult couple. If one's own marriage isn't held together by the threat of social sanction in the event of a separation, why should someone care if other people are free to separate? Why should someone care if someone else has children outside of a marriage if they themselves have not been forced into being married as the price of having their own children? As the idea of marriage (and perhaps parenthood, as well) as an unwelcome, burdensome requirement has faded, the perceived need to force others into the institution has also faded. To be sure, it hasn't gone completely away. But today, finding someone who will condemn an unmarried adult as somehow immature or irresponsible based on nothing more than their status as a single adult is actually fairly difficult. Freed of the requirement to subject oneself to the institution of marriage, whether they want it or not, in order to be viewed in a positive social light, people are less likely to impose that requirement on others.

Whether same-sex marriage critics such as Anderson, Serry, Schulman, Eastman and Limmer simply don't realize that the underlying social currency has changed or if they actively intend to re-institute broad, or even universal, public opprobrium for the single and/or childless is not for me to say. (And personally, since I understand their task to be even more Sisyphean than Sisyphus' original punishment, I don't really care.) Their attempt to stand in the path of history and shout "Stop!" seems pointless at best, and painfully deluded at worst. Virtue is born of necessity. Marriages have been, for a very long time, less about children, than they were about property rights (children were, at times, included in said property) and political alliances between families. Yes, public marriage ceremonies did establish who the father of any given child was. But in any place and time where people were mobile enough to be able to leave the immediate community of people who knew them it didn't make too much of a difference. A father who had left for the next valley may as well have fled to another planet. The community may have been aggrieved that they had to pitch in his share of support for his children, but that didn't mean that they considered it worthwhile to have him tracked down and brought back in chains. And once the value of women's work and the social safety net increased, women were no longer as dependent on male support. And as the necessity for marriage eroded, so too did the virtue assigned to it.

This is not to say that those days will never return - after all, a comet might hit the Earth, and blast us all back into the Stone Age, at which point it's likely that a LOT of things that we've left behind - like stone tools, animal furs as common clothing or Disco - may make a comeback. But, as was mentioned in a conversation I had yesterday, 1850 isn't with us anymore. And pretending that one can stop tomorrow from coming won't bring it back.

1 comment:

John McGuinness said...

I give you credit for actually engaging their argument rather than just calling them bigots or saying that anyone with a heart would support marriage equality, as much of the commentary I've seen has applied.

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To carry on your horse metaphor, I think what these commentators (and myself, somtimes) see same sex marriage representing is just removing the barn doors, abandoning all hope that the horse will ever return. Chances are, many people would not do that until long after it was clear the horse was returning, and it was the right thing to do. They have to mourn what has been lost, even if it was lost years ago.

I'm of the opinion that if it is going to be restored, it will have to happen from the ground up. Communities with a strong marriage commitment will need to demonstrate their way is better, and make people want to join them.

That's a lot harder than just opposing same sex marriage, but I think it's the only way.