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Concerning Chicken Little (Gay Marriage Part Deux)

April 14, 2009

Special thanks to Jeri for taking up the challenge to provide a logical argument against gay marriage. She writes in the comments:

the family unit, whether we like to admit it or not in our individualistic society, is the very basis of our culture, and it always has been. the very etymology of the word “marriage,” with implications of “impregnating,” reflects this…to allow two men or two women to take part in this institution makes no sense whatsoever, because, by definition, they can’t achieve the intended goals. we can bring up all kinds of exceptions (people basic child-bearing age, sterility, etc), but when it comes down to it, those things are irrelevant because we’re talking about principles here–this is the stuff laws are made of.

It’s honestly the only non-religious reason why gay marriage should be disallowed, but I don’t find it to be very in tune with American reality.

First, marriage is not a necessary condition for procreation; rather, I’d argue that more marriages are caused by procreation than vice versa. It’s too bad that neither case currently happens often enough.

Teenage pregnancy rates are on their way back up after a 15 year decline, and adult single motherhood has sharply increased. Regardless of the original intent of a law, if its current incarnation is ineffective then we need to search for alternatives. This is especially true when the law effectively discriminates against a minority group. A more restrictive marriage policy has simply not demonstrably promoted or even correlated with the success of the nuclear family.

Secondly, disallowing gay marriage (probably not from Jeri’s perspective, but many on the religious right) rests on the erroneous assumption that either marriages will encourage homosexuality, or that preventing marriages discourages potential homosexual couples, creating incentives for them to turn to heterosexual lifestyles.

This is a key pillar to the “further the species” argument. If homosexuals were going to have relationships with each other regardless of whether they were married, then what is the net-benefit of preventing their marriage?

Let’s consider each person an investment in producing new citizens. Since they will already not create offspring, gays are a sunk cost (I like to think that Octomom was a windfall profit for America) in this regard.  Since gay marriage won’t stop heterosexuals from having children by becoming homosexuals, nor discourage homosexuals from becoming heterosexuals (assuming this is even possible), the result is zero change.

Fighting gay marriage also misdirects our energy from addressing the real threat to the family unit – divorce. Divorce rates are roughly at 50%, and often take place either before children are born (threatening the supposed ‘point’ of marriage) or during a child’s early childhood when feelings of abandonment and emotional trauma are especially high-risk. Same-sex marriage has no demonstrated impact on this phenomenon, despite the overactive imaginations of people like James Dobson.

Lastly, Jeri mentioned the possibility of civil unions with the same legal force as marriage. I am personally all for the incrementalist approach to rights and privileges as long as this goal is directed toward the eventual end of full equality.

However, I would think that the incremental solution, which would require weakening the incentives to enter into a marriage contract in the first place by offering a less serious legal arrangement (with the requisite less social consequences for breaking it) with the same benefits, would be more of a threat to marriage then just getting over the idea that sometimes men like to kiss men and allowing them to marry each other in a courtroom.

Furthermore, so many legal obstructions to making civil unions work the same way as marriages exist that it seems like a much easier path just to call them both marriages and get on with our lives. Something about the “just give the gays civil unions” smacks of separate but equal doctrine to me.

In the end, the argument from ‘continuation of species’ is unpersuasive because it either boils down to a specious slippery slope or a frivolous semantic quibble. Even if we concede that there are some principles at stake, are they particularly precious ones? Couldn’t we easily imagine a harmonious world in which the nuclear family includes two men with adopted children (likely from unwed teenagers) just as easily as it does the time-honored traditions of impromptu Las Vegas mistakes, gold-digging hussies after geriatric estate money, and mail-order brides?

Which principle do we care more about: the principle of equality before the law or the principle of keeping things the way they’ve always been?

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