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Glenn Reynolds on Gay Marriage
06/20/2003

The gay marriage debate has reached Instapundit. In opposition to David Frum's suggestion that gay marriage will further undermine the idea of motherhood via divorce court, Glenn Reynolds places Rob Smith, who thinks that increased genderlessness in the divorce court would be a good thing. One point that bears mentioning, and even Rob Smith agrees that it raises questions about his qualifications to discuss gay marriage, is that Smith has been married and divorced twice.

More than anything, this factor highlights the dubiousness of judging a proposed new form of marriage on the basis of failed marriage — on the basis of another social allowance that is eating away at the institution. I'm being equal opportunity, here: I think Frum picked a poor example to illustrate why gay marriages would affect all marriages. On the specific point, however, I'm inclined to believe that we would, somehow, manage to reach the end of the series of legal decisions having brought about everything bad that we feared without gaining any of the good things for which we'd hoped. In other words, the ideal of motherhood would be diminished without purging the endemic bias against men.

One way this could happen would be the courts' adopting a policy that seeks to capture one superficial attribute of what we might consider "motherhood" and use that instead. For example: time (i.e., lack of career). For same-sex marriages, this could lead to one ex-spouse's becoming a lifelong dependent of the other, but it would more likely be arbitrary, with the custodial parent subsequently pursuing a career anyway (perhaps retaining the child-support). Meanwhile, there's no reason that judges would have to shed their bias against men, in cases of heterosexual marriage, in the face of such a policy; the guidelines would not affect consideration of the "special bond between mother and child" that seems generally to be true, although it would have to be unspoken and unacknowledged. This is not unlike the general danger of political correctness: it pushes the real questions, issues, and ideas a layer (or several) beneath the discussion or policy.

Beyond this particular argument, it is instructive to look at the construction of Reynolds's post in light of this statement of Frum's:

So many of the people who advocate gay marriage are smart and sophisticated — and then they turn around and ask a question that makes you wonder whether, for all their intelligence and sophistication, they have given even ten minutes' serious thought to the reform they are advocating.

Consider that Reynolds places Frum and Smith in opposition without noting Smith's conclusion: "Do you really believe that 'Gay Marriage' won't be twisted into something it was never meant to be?" Without this nugget, Reynolds moves on, having supposedly illustrated that "deep thinkers and great Americans" can conclude differently on this particular aspect of the discussion, to write:

Personally, I'm in favor of legalizing gay marriage. I don't see that gay marriage diminishes marriage, any more than the many Jerry-Springer types who are allowed to get married now diminish marriage. I have gay friends who are, for all practical purposes, married. I don't see why barring them from going to the courthouse benefits anyone.

There are some conservatives who say that the advocacy of gay marriage is part of a campaign by some liberals to undermine marriage in general -- and I think there probably are some people on the left (or in whatever la-la land the MacKinnon / Dworkin types and their near-kin inhabit) who think that it will do that. But I rather suspect it will have the opposite effect. Let gays get married and they'll become a bulwark of the bourgeoisie. That's my prediction, anyway.

The problem should be obvious: this doesn't address any substantive points. It is the equivalent of saying, "Well, these two cancel out on one specific question, and I don't see anything wrong with it, so here's my conclusion." Well, that certainly didn't take ten minutes.

Even within Reynolds's commentary there is room for discussion. He admits that there are some on the left who think gay marriage will undermine marriage in general. But he doesn't spot the relevance that this has to his comparison in the first paragraph with that dangerous "any more." The wackos on Jerry Springer do diminish marriage, as do the divorces of sophisticates, but neither of these drags on the institution justify or excuse an additional burden. Picture each of these issues as a three-ounce weight. The two that are already in place don't exceed the capacity of a half-pound scale. However, putting on the third might very well pitch the whole thing over, even though it doesn't weight "any more" than the others.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:28 AM EST



1 Comment


We need a "Definition of Marriage" amendment now.

Patrick Sweeney @ 06/20/2003 05:05 PM EST