One of the footnotes in the debate over gay marriage has been the discussion between Stanley Kurtz (on one side) and just about everyone else (on the other side) over what effects, if any, gay marriage has had on the European societies where it has recently been recognized. Over at Marriagedebate.com, Maggie Gallagher has posted a response by William Eskridge and Darren Spedale to Kurtz's latest attempt to show that gay marriage is harming marriage in Europe, specifically the Netherlands.
Kurtz has done so much switching back and forth between European countries, and between time frames that he says show some causal relationship, and has done so much to confuse causation and correlation, that I confess I don't follow his work that closely anymore. (Maggie, to her credit, has never relied on Kurtz's claims about Europe and has even seemed to distance herself from them. Also to Maggie's credit, she has repeatedly sought out and posted at Marriagedebate.com the serious work of authors who disagree with her, like Eskridge, Spedale, and Jon Rauch.)
Eskridge and Spedale have actually been patient enough to refute Kurtz, however, including in their new book on the effects gay marriage where it's been tried. An excerpt from the latest post over at Marriagedebate:
For several years, Kurtz argued that same-sex marriage (in the form of registered partnerships) in Denmark and other Nordic nations had meant the "end of marriage" in Scandinavia. This was an overstated claim, at the least. As we document in our new book, the marriage rate actually increased and the divorce rate declined after Denmark adopted its same-sex registered partnership law in 1989.
This 'end of marriage' argument was accompanied by a similar argument, that same-sex partnership legislation has inspired straight couples to bear and raise their children outside of marriage. This, too, is not factually correct. . . .
Finally, as we document in our book, the long history in Scandinavia with registered partnerships has seen some benefits accrue to the institution. Not only have long-standing trends in lower marriage rates / greater divorce rates / greater numbers of out-of wedlock births reversed themselves or stabilized, but same-sex unions have also proven themselves to keep relationships stronger, strengthen families, protect children, promote tolerance, and possibly lead to benefits on a national scale such as lower national rates of STD and HIV infections.
Sensing that he is losing the case with those countries with these longer-lived partnership laws, Kurtz has substantially shifted to the Netherlands, as illustrated by his recent article "The Smoking Gun" (National Review On-Line, posted June 2, 2006). . . .
Kurtz argues that he finally has data that support his claim that same-sex marriage 'causes' high rates of children born outside of marriage. For several reasons, this data reveal no causal link.
First, the Netherlands' institution of same-sex marriage is too recent to draw any conclusions at this point. Kurtz responds that the Netherlands recognized registered partnerships in 1997 (they became available in 1998). Unlike the Scandinavian laws, however, the Dutch partnership law was, and remains, available to different-sex as well as same-sex couples. In fact, more heterosexuals take advantage of registered partnerships in the Netherlands than same-sex couples. Hence, the symbolic message it was sending was different: not just recognition of lesbian and gay unions, but also providing straight couples an alternative to marriage. Providing them another option might be expected to draw straight couples away from marriage.
Kurtz also claims that the 'campaign' for same-sex marriage began in a big way much earlier, perhaps 1989-90. The mere possibility of same-sex marriage, he seems to be saying, 'causes' straight couples to abandon the institution and have children outside marriage. This is a lavish understanding of social causation. . . .
Second, an event does not 'cause' a trend if the trend pre-existed the event. . . . The nonmarital birth rate in the Netherlands has been increasing exponentially since the 1970s. It galloped up in the 1980s, and continued that gallop in the 1990s and the new millennium. The rate doubled between 1982 and 1988, doubled again between 1988 and 1997, and is on the way to another doubling. These are significant increases, but registered partnerships, not to mention same-sex marriage, came right in the middle of this demographic trend. . . .
Third, and perhaps most important, Kurtz makes the mistake David Hume calls the 'post hoc proper hoc' (after that, therefore because of that) fallacy. (1) The U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state laws barring different-race marriage in 1967, and (2) American divorce and cohabitation rates went up dramatically after that. This sequence does not mean, however, that (3) the first event caused the second trend.
To figure out why Dutch nonmarital childbirth rates have gone up so dramatically in the last generation, we need to look at other variables -- including changing attitudes about women working outside the home, the trends in neighboring countries as Europe became more integrated, and evolving social mores. To "blame" this trend on same-sex marriage, which came at its tail end, is like blaming the last batter in a 10-0 baseball game for 'causing' the home team to lose. . . .
It seems fairly clear that gay marriage did not cause the bad marital trends in Europe Kurtz points to. At least, it's clear there's no good evidence yet to support that claim. I'd like to believe that gay marriage/partnership has had some of the positive effects in Scandinavia that Eskridge and Spedale suggest, but I'm not quite there yet either. I still need to read their book, which may convince me. In the meantime, I'm skeptical of all claims that the addition of about 1-2% more couples to marriage has had or will have any effect on marriage, good or bad. Marriage is important for gay families who want and need it, but probably not earth shattering for anyone else, despite all the excitement the issue generates.