[Maggie Gallagher (guest-blogging), October 21, 2005 at 10:47am] Trackbacks
The Marriage Debate, a few last thoughts:

Well, bad time management on my part.

No time to introduce you to the joys of theories of the cognitive nature of social institutions, the relevance of the New Institutionalist Economics understanding of isomorphic institutional change, the developing legal pressures in Canada to repress opposition to its new normative understanding of marriage, or even why I think the most likely outcome of same-sex marriage is not polygamy but the end of marriage as a legal status.

Lucky you.

Thanks Eugene, for this opportunity. I know you know this, but you've constructed a pretty rare and special place here. I appreciate your generosity to me, and to those who disagree with you on this issue.

The wall is still up pretty high there. Maybe a few chinks of air and light that open up the possibility of understanding each other. But clearly not many.

A few last thoughts:

Remember how we were promised that unilateral divorce would expand liberty, and only affect people in bad marriages? Meanwhile the government reduced everyone's marriage contract to the status of a gambling debt--alone of contracts, marriage promises cannot be enforced. Unilateral divorce changed the whole culture of marriage, not just those who divorce. And the people who advocated for it were so sure that more divorce would make children better off, weren't they? Only a fool, or a religious zealot, could disagree.

Or think about legal polygamy. Seriously, how would other people's polygamy affect your marriage? Even in polygamous societies most people are monogamous after all. Why would anyone imagine that change in the law would matter? If you can imagine how, you can at least begin to see why so many of us think SSM is going to profoundly change the meaning of marriage in this society.

Or take the fact that marriage is an economic partnership. Suppose we expand the definition of marriage to include two business partners? How could that possibly hurt marriage? After all we aren't running out of marriage licenses, are we? Those who want their marriage to have something to do with sex and intimacy, would still be free to do so, no?

Ridiculous, I can hear SSM advocates say. SSM is not like that. Because in their heads the core definition of marriage is already personal intimacy and commitment, and gay people already "fit." For some people, that's the answer. For me and I think millions of American children, that is the problem.

But of course if you are advocating for SSM, you really do know that social meanings matter. You've made passionately clear that an identical institution called "civil unions" that delivered all the legal incidents of marriage just wouldn't be good enough, because it doesn't mean the same thing. You seek to use the power of government to take all those accumulated meanings of marriage (which were not created by the government) and re-direct them to same-sex relations, and many of you clearly also want to discipline those who don't accept your moral view, to the best of your abilities. And so many want to do this in the name of liberty, without even acknowledging what SSM is: the use government power to impose a new morality on a reluctant people.

After SSM, the law will be committed to reclassfying the once-privileged conjugal vision of marriage—with its deep roots in the reality that humanity comes in two halves, male and female, who are called to join together in love, not only as a private satisfaction, but in order to make the future actually happen—as at best a private understanding and most likely a discouraged, discriminatory understanding of marriage.

If two men are married, then marriage as a public act is clearly no longer related at all to generativity, and the government declares as well it has no further interest in whether children are connected to their own mom and dad. So long as they have love, money and stability, fathers (or mothers) are equally dispensable. That's what "no difference" means. The institutions of government, including public schools, will begin to enforce this new concept of marriage. This is not a conservative case for marriage; it is the final triumph of the family diversity argument.

The internal contradictions are intense: Gender doesn't matter, except when orientation is involved, in which case gendered sexual desire matters so much we are morally obligated to restructure our most basic social institution for protecting children, so that all adults get their needs for intimacy and social affirmation met equally. Orientation, as a classification, assumes gender is a real and significant category of human existence; but apparently only for gays, and not for children.

And the people who advocate SSM do so (mostly) with very little insight into the magnitude of the change they are asking us to accept. After all you've decided SSM is a civil right, so you get to impose your morality on people in good conscience (that's what civil right means), and so you now don't have any responsibility or burden of proof in this matter: it is totally up to others to prove to you there will be any negative consequences.

I have most of human history on my side. You have your personal moral conviction that only hate explains why people object.

This is my one big message for SSM advocates: don't minimize what you are proposing. Take responsibility for it.

I'm grateful to the reader who described my view as saying that SSM will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. But that straw thing doesn't quite capture it. Because to me, SSM is a much greater change in marriage than either unilateral divorce, or polygamy. From where I stand, it is about as big a change as one can propose.

Imagine you stand in the middle of vast, hostile desert. A camel is your only means of transversing it, your lifeline to the future. The camel is burdened-- stumbling, loaded down, tired; enfeebled-- the conditions of the modern life are clearly not favorable to it. But still it's your only hope, because to get across that desert you need a camel.

Now, chop off its legs and order it to carry you to safety.

That's what SSM looks like, to me.

Same-sex marriage is not a civil right, because marriage is not discriminatory. It has its own dignity and purpose, rooted in real and enduring human realities. Marriage is deeply important not just to those who personally do it, but to anyone who cares about the future of the society we share.

Every society needs some social institution that channels the swirling erotic energies of young men and women towards each other, and towards generativity both in the negative sense (avoiding unwed childbearing) and the positive sense (encouraging babies). You need some way to tell men (and women) that fathers matter. In absence of some such powerful social institution, children suffer enormously, communities and societies are burdened with all kind of costs, government gets more deeply and intrusively involved in directing the details of family life. And yes, if the social institution weakens enough, the actual future of the society itself is threatened.

Sex makes babies. Society needs babies. Babies need mothers and fathers. This is the heart of marriage as a universal human idea.

SSM advocates instead demand we reshape this institution in law to be more equally affirming of adults' diverse intimacy needs. That is some people's idea of the great moral crusade of our time. Here's mine:

Children have a right to a society that respects their deep, passionate longing for a mother and a father; one that calls on adults to make significant sacrifices to satisfy this longing.

In the middle of a crisis of fatherlessness of unprecedented proportions, proposing to conduct this kind of legal experiment on marriage is not reasonable. It is not kind; it is not compassionate and it is not remotely just.