Response to commentators – Day 2:

Some brief responses to some very good and provocative comments today:

First, one commentator asks for “evidence” that gay marriage will produce the individualistic and communitarian benefits I predict. Asking for evidence of results is perfectly appropriate once a proposition has been tested somewhere. But of course there were no gay marriages anywhere until the day before yesterday, so there’s no direct evidence about the effects yet. It’s coming, now that we’ve got gay marriage in one state and several countries. I expect it will favor the argument for gay marriage, though even then we’ll be having lots of debates about what the evidence means. This subject is full employment for family policy wonks for many years to come.

In the meantime, the lack of direct evidence is hardly decisive against any proposed reform. The best we can do when any reform – like giving women the right to vote – is proposed is to reason from our common experience, our values, and whatever evidence we have that seems relevant to the question. I’ve tried to do that.

Second, one commentator notes a potential contradiction in my claim that gay marriage will give state-provided benefits to gay families and at the same time reduce services those families demand from the state. It’s not a contradiction, but perhaps a paradox, that’s true of all marriages. Most of the legal marriage “benefits” that cost the government resources come at the end of the relationship or at selected points of weakness during the relationship. The relative service reduction, on the other hand, is an ongoing product of the fact that people with caretakers already have a triage expert on hand to deal with health and other problems that arise.

Third, some commentators have suggested that the best thing would be to give up on marriage entirely, for libertarian or practical reasons, and leave the marriage business to churches. I think this would be a bad idea for lots of reasons, but it’s beyond the scope of the argument about gay marriage. I am arguing for gay marriage within the existing framework, a framework that is likely not going away.

Fourth, please have patience with me on polygamy and questions like, why experiment now with an institution that’s already in trouble? etc. I promise I won’t let the week go by without dealing with these very important considerations.

Fifth, in response to “Humble Law Student” and “Law Student Kate”: Great ideas. I’d seriously consider reforms to strengthen marriage, like divorce reform, counseling periods, etc. Even civil adultery penalties, enforced at dissolution. Perhaps covenant marriages, for people who really want that old-time commitment. It’s not in the interest of gay families to go to all this trouble only to enter a weakened and dying institution. I think these other reform questions can and should be addressed independently of gay marriage because I think gay marriage is a proposal to strengthen marriage, although almost nobody except Jon Rauch has yet thought of it that way. This very debate, through which the traditionalist case for gay marriage is reaffirming what’s best and most important about marriage, is in its own way a contribution to revitalizing marriage. Gay marriage is a good idea, but it also matters how and why we get there.

By the way, Rauch’s book, “Gay Marriage: Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America,” is the best single book making the case for gay marriage.

Finally, I want to thank the commentator who noted that, in linking two otherwise distinct families, marriage also provides spouses with a network of supporters (or caregivers) who now take a special interest in their in-law that they tend not take before the marriage. And, of course, the children in the marriage get two sets of families to care about their future. Double the birthday presents!

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