Gay Marriage at Cato

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Much as I'd like to follow up that headline with a moving account of a ceremony officiated by Ed Crane in the glass-enclosed atrium, I'm actually referring to a forum on Gay Marriage, from which I've just returned coinciding with the release of a new Cato paper opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment, at which Yale law prof William Eskridge (author of Gay Marriage: For Better or Worse?: What we've learned from the evidence) debated marriage pundit Maggie Gallagher (with whom I recently had a little exchange of my own) on the question of whether Scandinavia's experience with same-sex registered partnerships show that such legal recognition undermines marriage.

Or, at any rate, that's what they were supposed to be debating. Actually Eskridge opened with quick survey of the data from those countries as a test of the argument made popular by Stanley Kurtz that such partnerships were undermining marriage and encouraging out-of-wedlock births. It would, of course, be a tricky social science question to determine whether the increase in such births following the legal recognition of gay unions were caused by such recognition… but fortunately, we get to avoid that thicket, because there's been no such increase. Out-of-wedlock childbearing skyrocketed in Scandinavia in the decades before laws recognizing gay unions passed, and plateaued or declined thereafter. Now, Kurtz himself has attempted to adress this sort of counter with a variety of argumentative gymnastics about what periods of time it's relevant to look at and what kinds of confounding factors need to be controlled for. But, interestingly, we got almost nothing of that sort from Gallagher on what was, in principle, the core of the debate: She just conceded that Kurtz fails to make his case, and that it's too soon to say anything with confidence about how gay partnerships have affected heterosexual marriage.

Instead, Maggie rehearsed her by-now-familiar case against gay marriage, centering on its importance for children. The interesting thing about her standard argument, as I've noted before, is how much of it has nothing to do with establishing the case against gay marriage. (Unlike Kurtz, she actually seems perfectly happy to recognize gay civil unions… which seems a little strange to me, if you're making an argument centrally about cultural spillover effects, because it seems inevitable that in the broader culture, the distinction would disappear for practical purposes. People aren't going to say "we got civil unioned; this is my civil union partner." They're going to say "we got married; this is my husband.") A supporter of gay marriage can basically agree with 99 percent of what she says: the stuff about the benefits of marriage to children that she spends the bulk of her time on.

The crucial claim she makes, the point of dispute, is whether conceding that providing a framework for the rearing of a couple's own biological children (and this is crucial, since of course gays can adopt or have kids from previous relationships or make use of reproductive technologies) is not the unique function of and justification for marriage will change people's martial behavior in a way that leads to more kids growing up outside of marriage. And I think I now finally understand her argument for why this might be a little more clearly than before. She thinks that the logic of permitting gay marriage either is premised on and sends the signal that marriage and procreation are not at all connected. And I guess she might have a point if that were the case. But it's just mystifying to me why we can't instead say: "Marriage serves many important personal and social functions. One of them is regulating procreation and childrearing, but there are others." And her own arguments actually entail that you don't want people thinking of marriage just in terms of childrearing, but in terms of romantic commitment, because it's better if hetero couples who are having regular sex but have no intention of having kids are married, both to cement the norm of marriage and because, hey, the condom might break despite their intentions, and it'd be good if they were married when that happened.

She might, one supposes, argue that you could say childrearing is one among several important functions of marriage, but that people are more likely to draw the "no relation" inference. I'm not sure why. She sometimes says some very weird things on this score, to the effect that allowing gay marriage is a symbolic affirmation that children don't need fathers. I still have no idea how that's supposed to work. But it seems like someone who's making this argument would want to test whether, in fact, there is some kind of correlation like this. Is out-of-wedlock childbearing strongly correlated with having a view of marriage such that you endorse extending it to gay couples?

gaymarriage-edu.gif

I don't know if anyone's studied this directly—it would probably be hard to single out the effects of this particular attitude from a whole complex of more or less traditional views and dispositions that might affect procreative and marital behaviors. But as a rough-and-ready proxy test, we might try looking at some groups where marriage and childbearing remain strongly connected, and some others where the link has been broken, and then see if it looks like there might be some reason to expect a correlation. This is, admittedly, a very sloppy way to go about it, but I figure it's at least up to Kurtzian standards. The chart on the right shows that college graduates are across the board more supportive of gay marriage than non-grads, and since support in these surveys seems to rise steadily with education, it's a safe bet you'd see an even bigger gap if we were comparing college grads with people who never finished high school. And while maybe some of those supporters hold that view only because they think it's important that gay couples who adopt kids be able to marry, I think we can safely read support for gay marriage as generally inolving a view that marriage is at least not exclusively about childrearing—that uniting a loving and commited couple is a sufficient reason.

Now, as Kay Hymowitz recently noted in City Journal, there's a huge economic and educational gap when it comes to out-of-wedlock childbearing. Let me quote her on this:

As of 2000, only about 10 percent of mothers with 16 or more years of education—that is, with a college degree or higher—were living without husbands. Compare that with 36 percent of mothers who have between nine and 14 years of education. All the statistics about marriage so often rehashed in magazine and newspaper articles hide a startling truth. Yes, 33 percent of children are born to single mothers; in 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, that amounted to 1.5 million children, the highest number ever. But the vast majority of those children are going home from the maternity wards to low-rent apartments. Yes, experts predict that about 40 to 50 percent of marriages will break up. But most of those divorces will involve women who have always shopped at Wal-Mart. "[T]he rise in single-parent families is concentrated among blacks and among the less educated," summarize Ellwood and Jencks. "It hardly occurred at all among women with a college degree."

eduilleg.gif

There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, and I looked at a lot of them in my review-essay in the June Reason. Obviously, it's not the case that opposition to gay marriage causes out-of-wedlock childbearing or anything silly like that. Still, it seems at least suggestive that the marital trends conservatives fret about have "hardly occurred at all" among the group most likely to hold a view of marriage compatible with extending the institution to gay couples. Again, this is scarcely definitive, but just eyeballing the rough shape of the trends, it looks like the Gallagher thesis is at least tentatively falsified. People who do not view marriage as an exclusively procreative institution do not appear to invert that conclusion and decide that procreation ought to be non-marital.

NEXT: Rebellion of the Seminole Maroons

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  1. Maggie is a dirty, dirty, little prude. I think she needs a spanking! Owww!

  2. Maggie is a dirty, dirty, little prude. I think she needs a spanking! Owww!

  3. B, feel free to engage in all the wishful thinking you want, but Julian is *not* going to fuck you.

    Ok, back on topic, holy cow that’s a long blog entry. Gotta work now, but will read it and look at the graphs later and have a response. (If I can muster one. Gay marriage is one of those issues that I can’t fathom the controversy on in the first place.)

  4. B, feel free to engage in all the wishful thinking you want, but Julian is *not* going to fuck you.

    Ok, back on topic, holy cow that’s a long blog entry. Gotta work now, but will read it and look at the graphs later and have a response. (If I can muster one. Gay marriage is one of those issues that I can’t fathom the controversy on in the first place.)

  5. Julian, do you get a bonus for having the longest post ever?

  6. …why we can’t instead say: “Marriage serves many important personal and social functions. One of them is regulating procreation and childrearing, but there are others.”

    For the same reason we can’t say “babies come from storks” — because it’s patently false.

    Nowhere, not anywhere, in the heterosexual marriage process does the question of children ever arise. We do not require married couples to have children, we do ban unmarried persons from having children. We do not ban infertile persons from marrying. And so on.

    The moment you let “children” enter the marriage debate, Gallagher has won.

  7. make that: we do NOT ban unmarried persons from having children

    aarrgghh…

  8. to mediageek: homo

  9. I support gay marriage for two reasons only: some gays raise children and some gays fall in love with foreigners. These are the only two reasons I support hetero marriage as well.

  10. The moment you let “children” enter the marriage debate, Gallagher has won.

    That depends how far you drag them in. Marriage is for making babies? Great. You’re married when the first kid is delivered–or, for the “zygote = person” crowd, at conception. If the mother miscarries (and the couple doesn’t have a living child) they have six months to get started on another or the marriage is annulled. The same goes for an untimely death. Infertile couples may adopt, but only if both are involuntarily infertile. Any couple that raises two children to age 18 may remain married till death do they part in recognition of their service to the nation.

    And a child needs both a mother and a father, right? No divorce unless the would-be custodial parent has a replacement spouse lined up. Widow(er)s have six months to remarry or their child(ren) go up for adoption.

    Reductio ad absurdum doesn’t win many converts, but it separates “the children” from “the gays” effectively.

  11. The problem with debating the merits of “gay marriage” with people is that the debate itself is a red herring. People aren’t anti-same sex marriage because they’ve weighted the pros and cons and arrived at their choice logically. They’re emotionally grossed out, or religiously offended, or both. They then try to fit any facts that can be grasped at to fit their pre-determined conclusion.

    People who dislike same sex marriage for emotional reasons aren’t going to be won over, either with logic or anything else. The good news is that any FMA is dead on arrival, so for the next few years we’re going to have MASS with real marriage, and a couple others with civil unions. Until the rancor dies down; then a new generation of voters with more tolerance will start revisiting the issue state by state.

  12. to mediageek: homo

    What the hell … Is that you, Jersey?

  13. I must also say that as someone married for a decade, marriage really doesn’t offer any advantage over a committed domestic partnership.

    Here are some main points:

    Taxes

    If you itemize, you don’t gain anything by being married, and if the domestic partner doesn’t work, he/she can be claimed as a dependant

    Heath benefits

    Most large employers provide domestic partner benefits, regardless of gender.

    Visitation rights, etc

    If you have power of attorney, you can make any decision on behalf of your partner if an emergency arises

    Adoption

    Most states don’t have requirements for the marital status of a potential adoptive parent

    Social recognition is about the only reason I can come up with for a key benefit of marriage. If you don’t believe in the idea of sin, then you won’t care. If you’re a same sex couple, society at large isn’t going to bless your union anyway, even if you have a piece of paper.

  14. With both Westly and Angelides (Dem. candidates for CA governor) on the record as supporting gay marriage, and Arnold saying he’ll accept a decision from the courts, my golden state may soon be another haven for us marriage-minded ‘mos.
    Although assuming that one of the two Democrats topples Arnold, I have to wonder if the Democrat-controlled legislature will be so willing to pass gay marriage when a D has to take the hit for signing the bill. Interesting thought: are Republicans signing off on gay marriage the legislative equivalent of “only Nixon could go to China”?

  15. Much of the current discourse over the issue of gay marriage suffers from confusion of the sacred and the secular. Long ago (and to our shame) we allowed the secular institution of state to co-opt the sacred institution of marriage. While the state has legitimate secular reasons for recognizing the union of two people, it has no authority to sanctify that union. Furthermore, the equal protection guaranteed by the constitution requires that such recognition be granted to the union of any two adults, without regard for gender.
    Sacred institutions must be free to place any and all restrictions proscribed by their faith on the marriages they choose to sanctify.
    Libertarians would prefer the state cease the licensing of marriage all together (perhaps replacing it with civil union registration). So long as it continues to do so however, the package of rights, privileges, and responsibilities bestowed by the state upon married couples, must be made equally available to all citizens.

  16. Actually one of the traditional requirements for a marriage was that the persons to be married be capable of having children.

  17. I realize this isn’t likely to be seen, but…

    kmw:

    Some (many? all?) states have laws extending fifth amendment protections to one’s spouse. At least, I know that’s true here in Ohio.

  18. Since Reasonoids like to make policy decisions based on emotions rather than information:

    “Risks of Homosexual Lifestyle to Children
    Violence among homosexual partners is two to three times more common than among married heterosexual couples. 10,11,12,13,14 Homosexual partnerships are significantly more prone to dissolution than heterosexual marriages with the average homosexual relationship lasting only two to three years. 15,16,17 Homosexual men and women are reported to be inordinately promiscuous involving serial sex partners, even within what are loosely-termed “committed relationships.” 18,19,20,21,22 Individuals who practice a homosexual lifestyle are more likely than heterosexuals to experience mental illness,23,24,25 substance abuse,26 suicidal tendencies,27,28 and shortened life spans.29 Although some would claim that these dysfunctions are a result of societal pressures in America, the same dysfunctions exist at inordinately high levels among homosexuals in cultures were the practice is more widely accepted.30 Children reared in homosexual households are more likely to experience sexual confusion, practice homosexual behavior, and engage in sexual experimentation. 31,32,33,34,35 Adolescents and young adults who adopt the homosexual lifestyle, like their adult counterparts, are at increased risk of mental health problems, including major depression, anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, substance dependence, and especially suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.36″

    Heh. No, it wasn’t from some Jesus nuts, it was from the American College of Pediatricians:
    http://www.acpeds.org/?CONTEXT=art&cat=22&art=50


  19. Heh. No, it wasn’t from some Jesus nuts, it was from the American College of Pediatricians:
    http://www.acpeds.org/?CONTEXT=art&cat=22&art=50

    Interesting, since according to Wikipedia: The College was founded in 2002, out of protest against the mainstream American Academy of Pediatrics support for LGBT parental rights. The College states that allowing LGBT adoption is “dangerously irresponsible”.

    Additionally: ACPeds has spoken out on a number political issues. These statements include, but are not limited too, condemnation of :
    * Same-Sex Marriage
    * LGBT Parenting
    * Contraception other than sexual abstinence (including Emergency contraception)
    * Reproductive rights

    Sounds like Jesus nuts to me.

  20. “Sounds like Jesus nuts to me.”

    get yer jesus nuts! red hot jesus nuts! can’t save your soul without a bag! salted from the sea of galilee! from his ears to your mouth! get yer jesus nuts!

    barring some sort of catastrophe, i look forward to talking about this a decade or two from now the same way you’d talk about jim crow.

  21. Differences between legal marriage and a committed domestic partnership: Here in Virginia, insurance companies are prohibited BY LAW from offering plans to businesses that would cover health insurance for domestic partners. Inheritance laws are also a problem: married couples can leave an unlimited amount to the surviving spouse, whereas with DPs, not so. Also Social Security benefits (yeah, I know, we don’t believe in SS, but still): no benefits for DPs at death of a partner. These are three from off the top of my head, but there are a bunch more.

  22. The College was founded in 2002, out of protest against the mainstream American Academy of Pediatrics support for LGBT parental rights. The College states that allowing LGBT adoption is “dangerously irresponsible”.

    Hilarious. Yes, F. Le Mur, a really unbiased source there. That entire list screams bullshit. Come on, just come out and say it: gay people scare me and I wish they would go away. Lets just get down to the heart of the real reasons conservatives are up in arms about such a ridiculous issue.

  23. The funniest part about lines of “reasoning” like FLM’s up there is that they invariable turn the joke on to their owners: all his “facts,” even if they were true (or true in a vacuum, more likely), all add up to one thing: sounds like a pretty good reason to extend the stablizing benefits of marriage to gays, huh? We could use it!

  24. The funniest part about lines of “reasoning” like FLM’s up there is that they invariable turn the joke on to their owners: all his “facts,” even if they were true (or true in a vacuum, more likely), all add up to one thing: sounds like a pretty good reason to extend the stablizing benefits of marriage to gays, huh? We could use it!

  25. “Gay marriage”? As appossed to regular marriage? If you are in favor of marriage between homosexuals, please do not call it “gay marriage”, like it is different from marriage between heterosexuals.

    Homosexuals who want to get married want the exact same thing that straight people get, not an alternate item that is different.

    If you believe “gay marriage” equals “marriage”, do not call it “gay marriage”.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if people prefer the term “gay marriage” simply because it is shorter. At least try to use “marriage for gays”, which is only longer by one single-syllable three-letter word.

  26. Put it back in your pants, HeroreV; some people use that phrase as a dig against the pro-FMA types. No need to get hot and bothered.

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