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June 15, 2004

An Obfuscatory House of Cards

Lucia of Alas, a Blog, has responded, in three separate posts, to my criticism of an earlier post in which she put forward the theory that some improving trends in American family statistics have been a positive result of advocacy for same-sex marriage. Some folks, in her comment sections, have suggested that her effort is more satire than argument, and she hasn't disabused them of the notion.

That may be the case, although it would represent a disproportionate effort on her part, if you ask me. For my part, since Lucia has been cordial in private email, I'm inclined to pursue the most charitable interpretation. (I'll leave it to others to decide whether satire would, in fact, be the charitable interpretation.)

It seems to me that the distinction is largely irrelevant, anyway. If her essays represent a sincere argument, then they ought to be rebutted as such. If they don't hold up as if they were sincere, then they fail as satire, as well. And herein lies my difficulty: I'm not sure how to respond in either case. In some places, it is as if she's just taken the first link of a Google search as evidence. In other places, it's as if she didn't read what I wrote.

Here's the point from her original post to which I most specifically objected:

A careful look at the campaign for same sex marriage in the US shows that its principle themes are to promote responsible parenthood and long term commitment. Advocates of same sex marriage like Jonathan Rauch and court cases like Goodridge vs. Massachusetts stressed both themes. This important message seems to be getting out; American parents seem about to reverse the long term trend of forgoing marriage.

The largest flaw that I see in this theory is that responsible parenthood has by no means been a principal theme of the campaign. As I wrote at the time:

The first thing to note is that one must look carefully indeed — some might say narrowly — to believe that the principal themes of the same-sex marriage movement have been as Lucia describes.

Note that I wrote that one must look narrowly, not "define the themes too narrowly," as Lucia rephrases in her first response. Be that as it may, Lucia does nothing to disprove either accusation. Instead, she offers this (emphases in original):

The way I define a "principal theme" is related to how I categorizes the numerous campaigns operating simultaneously under an umbrella or parent campaign. In this context, the campaign for same sex marriage falls under the parent campaign for gay rights. I see the assertion of the right to marry as the one of the principal themes of the parent campaign for gay rights. Other themes in the parent campaign include the right to nondiscrimination in employment and housing, and decriminalizing gay sex. Looked at individually, many of the themes of the parent campaigns are themselves campaigns, which we could call child campaigns. Each child campaign has its own principle themes.

The campaign for gay marriage as a child campaign, has its own principal themes which distinguish the child campaign from the parent campaign. Promoting long term commitment and responsible parenthood number among the principal themes of those advocating legalized same sex marriage.

I apologize for my candor, but this is just obfuscatory nonsense, which Lucia employs in order to notch up the theme that she wishes to declare as principal. If the central declaration on behalf of same-sex marriage is the rights-based theme, the fact that it is the central declaration for every campaign under the "gay rights" umbrella does not make it less principal to this one. This is particularly true in light of the observed effect that Lucia proposes, a cultural one having to do with the message that people are hearing for this specific movement.

This accords entirely with Stanley Kurtz's ideas, which Lucia mistakenly characterizes as follows (emphases in original):

Dr. Kurtz seems to think one of the principal themes of those advocating same sex marriage is the idea that parents should not be married, or that unmarried parents are preferable to married parents. Right or wrong, his theme and mine are equally narrow, and being excessivly narrow is the flaw Mr. Katz finds in my choice of theme.

That strikes me as a dramatically distorted paraphrase of Kurtz's argument. He argues that, as an underlying necessity of the rights-based assertions, the effect of SSM advocacy is to disconnect the presumed ability to conceive mutual children from marriage, which is supposed to lock biological parents into child-rearing families. But once again, the flaw to which I pointed is not that the theme is excessively narrow, but that Lucia must have looked narrowly to see it as central, not to mention that her evidence post-dates the effects that it supposedly had — all of which she only proves in attempting to address the complaint as she phrased it.

For the "love and commitment" theme, she cites Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch, providing (without citation) a single line from Sullivan. I'm willing to concede that this theme has been significant with these two authors (although still subordinate to civil rights). Nonetheless, as far as I know, Rauch didn't enter the scene until after the window of influence for Lucia's theory, and even Sullivan has admitted that his argument has represented only part of the internal debate among homosexuals:

... there has been a long debate among gays about marriage rights and those of us who took the conservative position, despite enormous pressure and vitriol from our peers, have largely won the argument.

I'm not in a position to put a date on that ostensible victory, but I will point out that Sullivan's first book on the topic, Virtually Normal (which was groundbreaking at the time) didn't come out until 1995, and that he had not declared the battle even "largely" over by the time of his Same-Sex Marriage: A Reader in 1997. But my point put more emphasis on the idea of parenthood, and to this Lucia offers the following (see her post for the links):

Sullivan discussed the need to unite gays and lesbians with their own children, the importance of marriage as a place to nurture children, and the benefit of providing a stable home headed by a married couple in at least three articles available on the web, published in 1989, 1997, 1998. While promoting his book, Jonathan Rauch observes ".... marriage is the best environment for raising children and wonders why conservatives don't seem to consider the 28 percent of homosexual couples with children." He reiterates the importance of marriage to children here.; he laments the trend toward unmarried cohabitation particularly when children are involved here.

With one exception, every single one of these articles falls after the beginning of the trend that she's following. And here's the entire appearance of this "principal theme" in the one exception:

Since there's no reason gays should not be allowed to adopt or be foster parents, it could also help nurture children.

One sentence. With a "could." Every one of the Sullivan articles cited is equally brief on the matter. Rauch's comments are all from the '00s, as are the blogs that have emerged "recently." Sorry, Lucia. That won't do. It certainly doesn't justify the subsequent racial aspersions with which she closes the first post.

Frankly, the execution and end of part one make me hesitant to bother going on to the second, but as I suggested, I'm taking Lucia at her word that she's not simply wasting my time. First, she responds to my mention of "welfare reform in the '90s":

Justin Katz is correct; I did not consider that the 1995 deceleration might have resulted from The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, signed into law in late August. Women who became pregnant the day the bill was signed would give birth in May 1997, contributing to the 1997 birth statistics. In any case, one might expect a somewhat longer time lag. After all, it is possible that co-habiting couples might spend a few months deciding to marry and then a few more planning their wedding.

It's difficult to know how to respond. First, I didn't mention the specific act. If we're going by the actual enactment of laws, then same-sex marriage is entirely outside of consideration for a trend starting in 1995. (Judicially imposed SSM in Hawaii never went into effect.) Since attitudes and arguments are more significant to this discussion, here's the third promised law in the "Contract with America," which was released as part of the Republicans' 1994 campaign:

THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.

The Republicans won the House and took over in 1995. That year, the percentage of births out of wedlock overall actually dropped (PDF), despite an increase among white non-Hispanics. Now, I'm not stating that the election or the results thereof should receive the full credit for the shift. However, I will stress that — if there's at least loose alignment between welfare and race, on one hand, and socially liberal family theories and race, on the other — the group about which Lucia is apparently talking, "co-habiting couples," has had very little to do with the overall trend. More significantly, the group that did drive the overall trend would have been that most affected by welfare reform.

Thereafter, Lucia offers a barrage of points that all miss my characterization of a "boost effect," which I described thus:

For example, I've suggested that the debate itself can cause a healthy boost in marriage statistics, as those inclined to support traditional marriage strengthen their own. If same-sex marriage is in the news and a person opposes it — for whatever reason, but using traditionalist rhetoric — that person is less likely to devalue his or her own marriage.

This is one of the instances in which I question whether Lucia was reading the post that I actually wrote, because she declares, "I thought that general theory was precisely the one I suggested!" Obviously, a negative boost and a positive boost are substantially different.

She writes of SSM advocates' describing "the numerous advantages of marriage, and how marriage benefits children," although she's shown no evidence that this was a principal theme in the relevant timeframe. (And no evidence as to why blacks and Hispanics would be so disproportionately persuaded by the arguments.) She writes that the "pure joy of watching happy people marry often causes people to value marriage," although not a single gay couple had been married, yet, and marriage rates were falling. And to top it all off, she quotes Gabriel Rosenberg arguing (recently, I presume, although there's no direct link) that the terms of the debate should be changed to make the argument akin to that which she says has been "principal" all along.

She then goes on to do to the opposition to SSM what she did to those who support it, anachronistic elevation of specific factors:

If the eight messages I found were the dominant themes of opposition to SSM during in the nineties, as they currently seem to be, it is unlikely opponents' arguments contributed to the deceleration in the non-marital birth ratio. More likely, it would lead to an acceleration. So, I find idea that the deceleration in the non-marital birth rate was due to the themes promoted by the opponents of same sex marriage highly unlikely. It seems fortunate to me that people listened to the advice of advocates of SSM who said marriage is valuable, and all parents should be married.

This is deceptive on every level. Every single one of the pieces that Lucia cites is too recent to apply. Most of the linked points are presented within larger arguments or are made within the context of specific aspects of the debate. Moreover, none of them conflict with my characterization of the boost effect. If the majority of Americans oppose marriage — which the majority most definitely did in the '90s and still do — then having the threat of decadence laid out will make them move away from that which they oppose. A straight man's statement that gay men should not be able to marry because they will not be monogamous is another reminder that he, himself, should remain monogamous.

Last point on part two, and then I'll moving on (emphasis Lucia's):

Katz provides lengthy direct quotes wherein Dr. Kurtz speculates as to the various stages involved in destroying matrimony as an institution. Dr. Kurtz finally concludes "this will result in a rapid increase of out-of-wedlock births as a result of loosening sexual and marital mores and laws".

Suffice it to say that Dr. Kurtz's theory which predicts a rapid increase is not supported by the US data which shows a factor of four deceleration in the rate-of- change in out-of-wedlock births during the American campaign for sex marriage.

All I can say is that Lucia completely missed the point. Moreover, the quoted conclusion was actually my rephrasing of the first stage. (Although it might not have been clear to what I was specifically referring, it should have been clear that it was my writing.) Here's what I wrote:

Generically, this will result in a rapid increase of out-of-wedlock births as a result of loosening sexual and marital mores and laws. At some point, this levels off, if only for a time. His argument is that separating the notions of procreation, parenthood, and marriage kicks off another increase. ...

Given the various arguments, or even just looking at the chart that accompanies Kurtz's "Going Dutch?" piece, the question is whether the trend up to [the issue's coming to the public's attention over the past year or so] does in fact represent a reversal, or merely a temporary plateau.

Let me be more clear: Looking at Kurtz's chart, and reading his argument, what he is saying is that loosening sexual mores cause an increase in out-of-wedlock births, which we've seen in this country. At some point, this can level off, as it did in Kurtz's chart for the Dutch and as it is currently doing in the U.S. Next, according to Kurtz, as advocates for SSM argue that the mutual creation of children is not central to marriage, another increase begins, this one steeper and perhaps fatal to the institution. We have yet to see this in the United States, and those who oppose SSM hope to avoid it altogether.

As I said, Lucia has a third post, which just went up this afternoon, but I don't have the energy to give it a thorough review. To be honest, my confidence that she isn't playing games with me has decreased significantly since I began to respond. Suffice to say that she cites me, of all people, arguing that effects of changes in the law will be delayed, in order to suggest that:

Because of this delay, one would expect 1995 would be first year when the birth rate might be unambiguously affected by the 1993 Hawaii ruling. That is precisely when the transition became evident, and supports my contention that the transition occurred after the Hawaii Ruling which brought the pro-family pro-commitment message of those advocating legalized same sex marriage to national attention. American's listened and responded.

Now, apparently, her argument isn't that the points made on behalf of SSM affected out-of-wedlock births, but that a specific ruling in Hawaii did so. The first problem with the new tack is that Lucia does not address why subsequent events in the opposite direction — e.g., national DOMA legislation in 1996 and the amending of Hawaii's constitution in 1998 — had no apparent effect. Second, she ignores that Baehr v. Lewin did not make the argument that is central to her theory, instead confirming my assertion that the principal argument for SSM has been rights-based:

The result we reach today is in complete harmony with the Loving Court's observation that any state's powers to regulate marriage are subject to the constraints imposed by the constitutional right to the equal protection of the laws. If it should ultimately be determined that the marriage laws of Hawaii impermissibly discriminate against the appellants, based on the suspect category of sex, then that would be the result of the interrelation of existing legislation.

In sum: having raised numerous objections to her argument, and with the underlying sense that I may have been had in doing so, I reject Lucia's assertion that it "is now up to the opponents of same-sex marriage to show why we should believe them when they say that same-sex marriage will weaken American marriage as a social institution." Her move has not been successfully made, whether it's sincere or satirical.

Posted by Justin Katz at June 15, 2004 9:59 PM
Marriage & Family