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October 14, 2004

A Marriage Solution for an Isolated World

Right at the outset, let me say that I respect Noah Millman's thinking and writing. When I manage to read his blog, I find him always thoughtful and usually correct. Still, a recent post of his, arguing that "the fight to prohibit the redefinition of marriage as a unisex institution is deeply hypocritical," falls in the category of rhetoric that many conservatives find sufficiently persuasive to let a difficult practical decision loiter unto irrelevance.

To speak bluntly, Noah's is a dangerous, destructive argument to put forward without heavy disclaimers that some restrictions may apply — that the issue is beyond its reach when spilled from intellectual isolation into a society in which those who respect neither side of the intraconservative debate really do wish to institute their undermining policy. Consider, for example, the ease with which he slips by the entire same-sex marriage fight:

The only states that have even talked about redefining marriage this way have been forced to do so by the courts. The solution to that problem is to punish the courts - systematically, by reducing their power, and not in an ad-hoc fashion by exempting this or that law from review or amending the Constitution every time they rule in a way the people dislike. Believe me, they'll get the message; they sure did in the 1930s.

If you're a supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment and you didn't just slap your head in astonishment that you missed such a straightforward answer, then count me among your company. We face a judiciary with nigh irresistible momentum toward implementing a liberal cultural regimen as the law, and Noah's solution is not to stand firm on a specific issue about which a significant majority is in agreement in the hopes of bending back the culture.

Rather, his solution is to maneuver through procedural abstractions that are at least two steps removed from any specific matter that has the emotional power to raise the average American's ire. Not only would he leech the public will for action, but he'd attract another politically imposing group to the other side, because the attack would be more directly against their interests: lawyers. Restricting the judiciary on huge cultural questions is one thing; directly assaulting the power of the courthouse is another.

While writing about divorce, Noah mentions that "we're talking about changing a culture, not building a machine." His phrasing is so true, and so relevant, that it's jarring that he does not apply the principle to the ostensible topic of his post. In the process of cultural change, the first step is to arrest an insidious trend; only then can we overlay a beneficial one. Failing to work in that direction risks wasted effort, wasted ammunition, and broadcast strategies. Reducing the judiciary's power, as a cause of its own, would trigger red flags among any number of groups that find the political landscape such that they can't outright support same-sex marriage, or that haven't realized the judicial implications of resistence to same-sex marriage.

And the redirected action would very likely be for naught. The component of his suggestion by which he would fortify marriage — tightening divorce laws — would only further motivate the juristic incubi. Citizens who wish to leave open the option of divorce for themselves and citizens who wish not to have a previous marital decision come under retrospective scrutiny are not the only parties with an interest in maintaining a culture in which divorce is easy and in which that ease requires further contractual protections. Add children into the mix, and the number of forms and legal challenges only increases. Divorce is practically an industry unto itself.

If we believe in the undeclared intentions of the judiciary, generally speaking, to redefine marriage, as well as the difficulty of depleting the power of that branch of government, is it rational to trust that the judiciary would leave tightened divorce laws alone? Couldn't quick divorce suddenly become yet another invisible-ink right in the Constitution? I would suggest that the distinct matters of activists judges and protecting marriage coalesce such that those who oppose the former ought to, first, throw their weight behind those who support the latter, not the other way around.

The same-sex marriage issue pits traditional conservatives against a radical movement that simply does not accept basic premises of governance, culture, or even of rationality that one might suppose to be common ground. Therefore, if we address each battle without reference to the fundamental differences (as Noah has done in separating judicial activism and SSM as issues), then that radical movement — which readily subordinates all to its driving intellectual and emotional needs — will roll right over those who stand against it in any particular.

Noah's prescription, in other words, fits neither the circumstances nor the opposition. Nowhere is this impression more bolstered than in his closing "open question" to Andrew Sullivan. In response to a Sullivan post about an evangelical's call to shift emphasis to divorce, Noah writes:

So here's my question: are you *predicting* that an attack on no-fault divorce is coming ("divorce is next" is how you title this item) and hence warning straights, in effect, "first they came for the gays"? Or are you mocking the Christian Right for *ignoring* divorce and focusing only on sins their flocks would not commit ("Why not combine . . . amendments 'defending' marriage with bands on no-fault divorce? Well, you know the answer.")? Are you attacking your opponents for *not* really caring about marriage, or warning us that they *do* really care?

Consider, by way of indirect evidence, a bit of another post from Sullivan, from January:

So how does Derbyshire propose to "tighten access" to marriage, as currently conceived? He offers nothing. Would he crack down on Las Vegas marriage laws? Would he lobby for a constitutional amendment banning no-fault divorce? Would he require waiting periods before marriage is legal? No word yet. Methinks he's blowing smoke. When those in favor of traditional marriage start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, I'll take them seriously. Until then ...

The answer to Noah's either/or questions is: "Yes." Sullivan is mocking a group he sees as hypocrites. When they cease their hypocrisy, he will take them seriously... seriously enough to warn others what a bunch of oppressive, out-of-touch kooks they are. To my experience, most of those who actually advocate against same-sex marriage are not hypocrites, inasmuch as they would gladly put divorce laws on the table for reassessment. And Noah would surely agree that they are not kooks.

The topical sequence in which cultural change must be pursued and what can be accomplished at each stage are legitimate matters for debate. However, to pick up Noah's Biblical imagery, presuming a beam in the collective eye of heterosexuals, in order to characterize SSM supporters as having only a mote, tars even the most intellectually and personally consistent advocates for traditional marriage with the indiscretions of other heterosexuals — who, again to my experience, are exponentially more likely to support same-sex marriage anyway. Disparaging supporters of the FMA in this way is merely a method of obviating a somewhat cold, certainly difficult assessment of the choices that we actually face.

Posted by Justin Katz at October 14, 2004 6:50 PM
Marriage & Family
Comments

(sully) When those in favor of traditional marriage start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, I'll take them seriously.

I'll take this quote first, because i sense (see part 2) that it is at the core of your post.

First, what the %$#@^& does he think abstinence education is about? Or pledges of virginity until marriage? I suspect he would say that they are politically motivated reactions to planned parenthood's teaching of all sex is good sex, so long as it's (more or less) safe sex. Fine, then what's up with the whole "Til Death Do Us Part" thing? Fact is, everyone i know still holds that as THE IDEAL, even while they grudgingly accept that legally "irreconcilable differences" somehow trump such a grave oath. I personally cannot fathom it, and for that must give credit to my parents -- and their parents -- for sticking to their solemn oaths despite the reality of human weakness that plagues us all. I suspect what he really means is this -- "why aren't you hypocrites hiring lawyers to seduce activist judges into overturning laws that are duly created by the legislative powers of the peoples elected reprasentatives". Sorry Drew, that's your game, not ours. Like the FAM, we are not afraid to let the voice of the people be heard.

Second, I'm sorry if i completely missed the point of this post Justin, and far be it from me to criticize the work of a far smarter and better writer than i am, but sometimes I just can't grok your efflusive language. And i've guilty of it too. I only say so out loud, because i suspect i'm not alone in feeling too dumb to find your main point sometimes.

Thirdly, i think the main points of Noah's post are right on -- but of course so are yours. He understands that marriage is already near total ruin, and should be repaired. But he also incorrectly thinks that this is a valid reason to oppose FMA. As if there is any turning back from that degradation (SSM) of a horribly degraded institution...

Posted by: Marty at October 14, 2004 10:46 PM

Marty,
I think what Justin is saying is that it is bad enough when advocates of SSM use the absurd argument that FMA is hypocritical (of conservatives for wanting to ban SSM while they are not advocating a ban on no-fault divorce, which to liberal way of thinking is "willing to keep no-fault divorce"), but when an Evangelical starts picking up and repeating the same meme it is dangerous in that it delays needed action. In other words, Noah is a loss in the fight for FMA and should be written off. He's bought into the whole state's rights versus the federal rights decoy and thinking that applying a band-aid of reducing judicial powers would do the trick.

His comment about Sullivan is to the effect that if those of us who wish to enact FMA and ban No-Fault divorce started gaining ground, then Sullivan will start attacking our position enthusiastically, otherwise he believes we (as in - conservatives in general) are too hypocritical to take seriously. By the same token, I think Sullivan realizes as does Justin(and probably rightly so) that if we start aggresively pursuing banning No-Fault divorce along with FMA, we would lose a good portion if not a majority of our support from those heterogamous couples/individuals that would be more inclined to agree with SSM if it meant giving up No-Fault divorce.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 14, 2004 11:54 PM

Well, Marty, your compliments about my writing are hardly deserved if people don't know what I'm saying. I've rewritten a little to clarify, but I'm not sure how much it'll help. (Where did I lose you?)

The basic point that I meant to convey with this post is that arguments such as Noah's sidestep the realities of the culture war. He says that we sould do X to deal with the judicial activism aspect and then do Y to deal with the corrosion of marriage. That's all very well in the abstract, but it doesn't take into account those whom the battles must be fought against, and it doesn't correctly assess the fundamental differences that lead to such irreconciliable worldviews.

Therefore, compartmentalizing the struggle and moving forward with strategies X and Y will probably result in losses on both fronts.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 15, 2004 6:47 AM

I understand a lot better now, having explored the larger thread, and reading the Morse article that started it all.

Forgive me for being somewhat confused on your point, Justin, and for saying so out loud. I get your clarification, but to put things in stark black and white focus:

but it doesn't take into account those whom the battles must be fought against

Who exactly are you talking about here?

Sorry, i guess i'm just dense. It's been a long week of trying to nail down a new job. I'm sure you can relate ;)

Posted by: Marty at October 15, 2004 10:37 AM

First, what the %$#@^& does he think abstinence education is about? Or pledges of virginity until marriage? I suspect he would say that they are politically motivated reactions to planned parenthood's teaching of all sex is good sex, so long as it's (more or less) safe sex.

There is no doubt that some of the opponents of SSM do indeed come down hard on heterosexual abuses of marriage. But the difference is that they aren't proposing a constitutional amendment (state or federal) mandating abstinence education or virginity before marriage or even till death do us part.

I like the disease analogy. If marriage in this country is truly diseased, SSM is the symptom but rapid marriages and rapid divorces are the root cause. The issue as I see it is that given the state of marriage in this country today, same-sex marriage makes sense, which is why the push for a constitutional amendment looks foolish and discriminatory.

But until the country "redefines" marriage back to the pre-no-fault divorce days, the "symptom" of gay marriage is just going to keep popping back up. As a gay man, I would happily support a ban on gay marriage if the country repeal no-fault divorce. But until the country, as whole, stands up and shows me that its committed to actually fixing marriage, banning gay marriage is simply an act of discrimination. Because it means that we don't want to actually want to fix marriage; we just don't want the queers to do it. And in a world where rapid marrages and rapid divorces are accepted and *not* condemned by the majority population, same-sex marriage makes perfect sense.

Posted by: Michael at October 15, 2004 11:47 AM

Michael,
It was people of your political persuasion that leveraged no-fault divorce in the first place, so of course you would think SSM makes perfect sense. Quit saying you would be happy to support a ban on gay marriage when you don't really mean it. If you really meant it, you would be fighting for banning no-fault divorce. Instead you seem to be just as happy as a clam in mud that no-fault divorce is rampant because you simultaneously say "if" marriage is diseased immediately followed by pinning the state of marriage today on no-fault divorce. You can't hold both positions at the same time. You either believe that marriage is in sad shape or you don't. If there is still some doubt in your mind quit making definitive claims of fault. And one last thing, SSM is not a symptom of the state of marriage today, it is the symptom of people with self serving motives.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 15, 2004 12:49 PM

I appreciate your comments Michael. And smmt is correct, it was radical feminism that brought is no-fault divorce, and it is radical feminism that brought about the fight for "gay civil rights". Considering that radical feminism has always had a stated goal of destroying the nuclear family, we would be wise to listen to those who fear SSM will do just that.

But more to the point of your own comment, I recently stated that SSM will not cause the death of marriage as an institution, it merely notarizes the death certificate. You, Noah, and Justin all see that if marriage were not already in serious trouble, gay marriage would not be on the table. But before we can reverse the damage, we first have to STOP the bleeding! FMA is not a discriminatory action against gays -- it is a chance to say "WAIT! The patient is not yet dead! DON'T stick another hole into him!"

Some of us are hoping to turn the tide against divorce, but if we allow SSM to happen, it will be much harder. If you truly believe it when you say "As a gay man, I would happily support a ban on gay marriage if the country repeal no-fault divorce", then you have to understand what i mean. We have to stop the boat, before we can turn it around.

Posted by: Marty at October 15, 2004 1:08 PM

You can't hold both positions at the same time. You either believe that marriage is in sad shape or you don't.

Actually I believe that I can. I personally do not think that marriage is in that sad a shape. And I probably would be fighting against a ban on no-fault divorce. However, I do still believe in a democratic republic and if the view of the majority of people is that marriage is an institution that has no place for gays I sure as hell want the majority of people to put their money where their mouth is. If you don't want marriage to include same-sex partners then you better change marriage to be something that doesn't make sense to include it.

And one last thing, SSM is not a symptom of the state of marriage today, it is the symptom of people with self serving motives.

Unfortunately this is where the debate will generally breakdown. I do not consider my motives for wanting to marry the person that I love, adopt a child who would otherwise be downtrodden and raise a family in anyway more self-serving than anyone else who has these aspirations. Unless you think that homosexuality is a sin and that children should never be raised in that environment, in which case you'd be in disagreement with most psychologists. But then you'd probably point to one or two flawed studies which contradict a majority of the studies on gay-parenting.

And Marty said:
FMA is not a discriminatory action against gays -- it is a chance to say "WAIT! The patient is not yet dead! DON'T stick another hole into him!"

Not exactly. To continue the patient analogy, marriage is the patient and the country is the doctor. If the doctor unwilling to treat the patient and actually attempt to fix what's wrong with him it doesn't matter how many more holes you're going to poke into him (but this is not to say that I actually think SSM is bad for marriage at all, in fact I think it's good), he's still going to die. So without a committed doctor, what's the point?

Well, I'll tell you what the point is: gay marriage is like using maggots to treat gangrene. It looks disgusting. You'd never think it would work. You think it's just adding insult to injury. But at the end of the day, the maggots only eat the dead tissue and allow the living flesh to survive.

Posted by: Michael at October 15, 2004 1:59 PM

Michael,

"If marriage in this country is truly diseased, SSM is the symptom but rapid marriages and rapid divorces are the root cause."

I'm not sure what you mean by 'rapid' marriages, but too-easy divorce is also a symptom of the problem, not a cause. The cause is the change in people's attitudes towards marriage. Justin has commented before that it is sometimes difficult for defenders of traditional marriage to talk about marriage, because it contains so many different cultural, legal, social, and biological aspects to it that it can be hard to know where to start or what to focus on. The changes in attitude are varied, as are the solutions, but the main idea that has been weakened is that of the nuclear family: a man and a woman raising their biological children, with the goal of producing productive and healthy citizens. There is a very significant difference between saying that we should help alternative families (e.g. single-parent ones) to do the best they can, and saying that there is no difference between an alternative family structure and the nuclear one. SSM is one more step in this progression, though a significant one, since it states that biology is unconnected to marriage or families.

I know I can't convince you in this space, and perhaps not ever, that your vision of SSM and adoption of children as being no better or worse than the traditional view of marriage and family is wrong. All I can say is that the views that lead to thinking SSM is no different from OSM are intimately connected to the views that got us to the current situation.

Posted by: Mike S. at October 15, 2004 3:05 PM

Marty,

No need to apologize whatsoever. Around 9:00 p.m. last night, I could no longer deny that I'd run myself into the ground, and I had to collapse. I wrote this post a bit earlier, but it doesn't surprise me that it wasn't entirely clear. Even now, I feel as if the point is too broad for me to stretch my ability sufficiently to fit it in the space of a blog entry. Even now, I feel like I've probably taken a number of shortcuts that obscure my meaning.

Regarding "those whom the battles must be fought against," I meant the people pushing for SSM as well as for a more domineering judiciary. Noah writes as if we can just pass laws according to conservative consensus. It doesn't work that way.

----------

Michael,

We've got a fundamental difference of opinion, here. For instance, I don't agree that current laws and practices — separated from the vagaries of culture — mean that same-sex marriage just "makes sense."

You inherently excise such arguments, but it would be entirely legitimate (for example) for somebody to argue that marriage is a mechanism for encouraging a biological parent to stick with his/her children and the other adult who helped to produce them, as well as to encourage those couples prone to producing children (i.e., heterosexual ones) to arrange their lives in such a way as to optimally incorporate any children whom they might beget. One could then argue that the demand that marriages stay together "for the children" helps nobody and therefore oughtn't be codified in the law. I would disagree with such an argument, but it would still be consistent for people who believe it to say that the basic biological character of marriage should not to be scrapped as far as the law is concerned.

No-fault divorce does imply that the government accepts adults' whims as trumping to children's needs. However, same-sex marriage would imply that the government does not accept that the presence of both biological parents is a substantial enough child-need to exclude couples that, by their very nature, cannot produce children. (Before you raise sterile and elderly couples, please do a search on this Web site for those terms.)

You like the patient analogy... well fine, let's just make sure that it fits that which we're analogizing. The cause of the illness is that the patient is a lazy glutton with an ever-decreasing ability to restrain himself against his urges. No-fault divorce says to the patient that he can blow off his doctor-recommended personal trainer and dietician. Same-sex marriage decides that, since the guy sits around anyway, he might as well go out and get a recliner with a fridge built into it.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 15, 2004 4:20 PM

The phrase "argument from despair” fits these kinds of discussions wonderfully. Does anyone happen to know if that phrase is a recent invention for the SSM debate, or if it has roots elsewhere?

An alternate phrasing of this thinking is the quote attributed to Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.” The general logic is that we shouldn’t take some small positive step today because we probably can’t achieve some larger goal tomorrow. Actually, calling this ‘logic’ is an insult to logic; it’s really just an emotional attack. If you think about it in the emotionless abstract, it’s completely ridiculous. Imagine the scene in an emergency room:
Doctor: “I’m sorry, sir, there’s nothing we can do for you.”
Patient: “But there’s blood spurting from my leg! Can’t you apply some pressure to it or something!”
Doctor: “Sure we could. But that would just treat the symptom.”
Patient: “That’s what I want! I want you to treat the symptom. Otherwise I’ll bleed to death.”
Doctor: “We all die sooner or later, sir. There isn’t really anything we can do about it. Why should I patch up your leg when you’ll just die eventually anyway? Wouldn’t that make me a hypocrite, saving lives on the short term when I can’t really do anything about death on the long term? No, you’re going to die some day, and now is just as good as later.”

The argument from despair is like a Rubik’s Cube for intellectuals: It’s small, fascinating, and ultimately completely meaningless. Intellectuals like to image that they can understand everything logically. But morality fundamentally defies logic. You cannot prove from logic alone that the doctor should save your life, or that marriage ought to be strengthened, or that children ought to grow up with their biological mothers and fathers. All those ideas—any moral idea—requires a non-intellectual premise, an unproveable moral base that all parties to the conversation must simply accept as a matter of faith or custom.

Intellectuals resist this fact, and are easily led into trying to prove their moral intuitions with logic alone. They can spend hours or years tying themselves up in mental knots, struggling to prove the unproveable. Perhaps it’s good mental exercise, but in the political arena the practical point is that these puzzles allow the unscrupulous to confuse and delay honest intellectuals when their skills are needed.

Once we recognize the trap, it’s easy to avoid. We simply must accept the limits of reason. We must accept that some of our key beliefs are not founded in logic or observation, that moral reasoning can only rest on a foundation of faith.

Should we struggle to live today, even though we will eventually die? Yes, we should. If you don’t already believe that, I can’t convince you of it.

Should we fight to prevent further damage to marriage, even though we may never be able to restore it to its former strength? Yes, we should. We should do what good we can today. Perhaps the whole project is doomed, and the nation will sink into further disregard for its children and its own future. Or perhaps tomorrow holds new hope that we can’t yet imagine. Neither possibility is particularly relevant to our task at hand today.

The argument from despair tempts us with pride and sloth: “Don’t bother with small good deeds that may ultimately mean nothing. You are too important for that. You should only work on big good deeds that are certain to lead to ultimate success and triumph. Keep waiting and maybe some day you will find one of those big, important, certain-to-succeed opportunities to do good. But for today, do nothing and let evil take its course.”

We can’t fix no-fault divorce right now. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle on safe abortion, contraception, or various other technologies that complicate our moral thinking about reproduction. The Left didn’t create those, and the Right never could have stopped them completely.

Our task is to build a new sexual morality. It won’t be like the old one. The ground has shifted; the basic biological assumptions about sex and reproduction have changed, and they’re certain to change again soon. No one has ever faced this particular task before. It’s daunting.

But our challenges today aren’t any worse than what every society at every time has faced. Our ancestors grappled with wars, plagues, famines, and natural disasters. We grapple with rapidly changing technology that forces us to constantly re-evaluate and redefine our shared morality.

We can handle these challenges, just as our ancestors handled theirs. All it takes is a shared goal to perpetuate our society, and a shared determination to work toward that goal one day at a time, eyes on the ground, doing what good we can today and refusing to wallow in despair because the task is so large.

So don’t waste time or mental energy on the argument from despair. You can’t reason your way out of it. Just reject it, help others to reject it, and let’s get on with the real work at hand.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at October 15, 2004 5:00 PM

We've got a fundamental difference of opinion, here. For instance, I don't agree that current laws and practices — separated from the vagaries of culture — mean that same-sex marriage just "makes sense."

You can disagree, but I don't see how. If you argue marriage from the terms of laws and practices, not all of the so-called marriage benefits are there solely for fostering children. Which is why we let people get married regardless of their intent or ability to have children, why inheritence passes to your spouse by default, not your children. And since adoption and (especially) in vitro fertilization are allowed under the law, the ability to biologically produce children is not inherent in the intent of the marriage.

But proponents who demand that marriage remain traditional are not arguing necessarily from a legal standpoint; they are arguing from a cultural standpoint. And right now, culturally fewer and fewer people view marriage as an institution for procreation. To me allowing two people who cannot produce children into marriage, in our culture today, does not imply that the presence of both biological parents is unnecessary. I followed your argument up until that point, when I feel as though you're taking a wild leap in logic. But it is irrelevent. By allowing single unwed mothers to artificially inseminate, the government has already said that. Period. And since the government has already said that women who would otherwise not be able to produce children can produce children, in the absence of a father, banning same-sex marriage is, and will always remain, discriminatory.

Posted by: Michael at October 15, 2004 5:06 PM

Apologies for not being clear with this:

I don't agree that current laws and practices — separated from the vagaries of culture — mean that same-sex marriage just "makes sense."

What I meant by excluding "the vagaries of culture" was excluding the bigger picture issues — the progress of liberalization, if you will. You can take all of the policies as discrete components of marriage law and suggest that any particular one isn't "about children," but that wouldn't adequately describe the institutional idea of "marriage." The point that I was trying to make in response to you, specifically, is that you go too far in seeing the laws and practices as mandating same-sex marriage. In short, I was refusing to cede the ground that the laws, as they are, leave no room to argue that marriage can exclude homosexuals without being discriminatory.

As I tried to go on to illustrate, one could believe that the opposite-sex nature of marriage is important to maintain while still supporting no-fault divorce. I'd argue against the thinking, but not on the basis of inconsistency.

This point of yours does not prove what you seem to think it does:

Which is why we let people get married regardless of their intent or ability to have children, why inheritence passes to your spouse by default, not your children.

Opposite-sex couples are prone to having children whether they intend to do so or not. Moreover, most won't know that they can't until they're already trying. Managing opposite-sex couples based on intent or ability would act as disincentives to even trying getting married. Since the institution is most necessary for those who won't behave appropriately without social prodding, this isn't a small point.

As for inheritance, that it passes to a spouse, rather than the children, by default strikes me as evidence of the presumption that the spouse is a co-parent of the children, biologically and in the household. The less this is the case, the more inclined I'd be to argue that the children, not the spouse, ought to be the default heirs.

Whatever the case, the burden for your position isn't that a particular policy isn't entirely procreation-focused, but that it is incompatible with a procreation focus. For the record, I wouldn't be averse to expanding certain rights outside of marriage. But the fact that I think gay partners and/or registered caretakers of some sort ought to be able to visit loved ones in the hospital does not mean that you could trace those expanded policies back to marriage to argue a changed institutional character.

As for adoption and IVF, at best, you've proven that freedom and/or necessity create instances in which "marriage is not inherent in the intent of children," not the opposite, as you stated it.

And right now, culturally fewer and fewer people view marriage as an institution for procreation.

I'm not arguing otherwise. What I and others have been trying to point out — not only to SSM advocates, but to ambivalent folks, as well — is that the innovation would cement a wrong-headed approach to marriage into the law. It would, in effect, be the policy that I'm telling you does not currently exist — the one that "proves" that marriage is not about procreation.

To me allowing two people who cannot produce children into marriage, in our culture today, does not imply that the presence of both biological parents is unnecessary.

One reason you mightn't have followed my argument after I made this point is that I didn't make this point. Here's what I wrote; understanding the difference might be key toward constructive dialogue:

However, same-sex marriage would imply that the government does not accept that the presence of both biological parents is a substantial enough child-need to exclude couples that, by their very nature, cannot produce children.
Posted by: Justin Katz at October 15, 2004 5:57 PM

Michael: "gay marriage is like using maggots to treat gangrene. It looks disgusting. You'd never think it would work. You think it's just adding insult to injury. But at the end of the day, the maggots only eat the dead tissue and allow the living flesh to survive."

That's a vivid simile, to be sure. But I don't follow the logic. Are you saying that SSM will save marriage from its otherwise-fatal ailment? If so, how will that work? And what ailment, exactly, do you see marriage as currently having?

Posted by: Ben Bateman at October 15, 2004 6:32 PM

To me allowing two people who cannot produce children into marriage, in our culture today, does not imply that the presence of both biological parents is unnecessary...However, same-sex marriage would imply that the government does not accept that the presence of both biological parents is a substantial enough child-need to exclude couples that, by their very nature, cannot produce children.

NOW we're getting somewhere. I have concluded that the reality of this situation is far more insidious, and spells disaster for freedom and families.

... with same-sex parenting, there can be only one biological parent, and one legal-only parent, forcing custody cases to see the parents as equals (you've seen recent examples of this, I know). BUT -- and this is key -- the biological parent also has the same legal kinship as does the non-bio parent-- so to treat them equally REQUIRES that we discard any preference for biological kinship altogether, and ONLY consider the legal!

Biological kinship is something that is created by God (or whatever name you want to use) and can only be destroyed by God, while legal kinship is only a creation of man, and can always be destroyed by mere men.

SSM will set a dangerous precedent that weakens all familys, in the eyes of the law.

See my comments at MarriageDebate.com for the rest.

Posted by: Marty at October 16, 2004 9:42 AM

However, same-sex marriage would imply that the government does not accept that the presence of both biological parents is a substantial enough child-need to exclude couples that, by their very nature, cannot produce children.

And I am saying that the government has already accepted that the presence of both biological parents is a not a substantial enough child-need to attempt to codify and regulate. They have allowed single women to adopt and artifically inseminate. The government had its chance to legally weigh in on the importance of two biological parents and it chose to say that they don't matter. I can see your cultural point (but respectfully disagree) but I believe that the policy of marriage being separated from procreation has legally already happened.

As it stands under the law today, child-rearing can happen outside of marriage. And not only accidentally. We permit people to seek artificial means of having children outside of marriage. So in effect we've said that child-rearing patently does not need the institution of marriage. And since many marriages are perfectly fine without child-rearing, than excluding gay couples from marriage because marriage has a substantial procreation element effectively does nothing other than prohibit gays from an institution that they would otherwise benefit from, and that society would benefit from by having them join.

It is important for you to know that I'm not dismissing the procreative element of marriage; in fact I think it is the driving reason why people get married. I also think that it is important to understand what kind of gay people are getting married. These aren't radical leftist activists, who in fact generally don't want gay marriage because they are hell-bent on distroying what they view as a patriarchial institution. The people who want to get married want to do so because they value the institution exactly they way that you value the institution. I could adopt a child with or without marriage. I could commit myself to my partner and carry powers of attorney and scultpure all of my inheritence with or without marriage. The point is, I want marriage because I think it's good for society.

And if the culture of marriage the way you like it is eroding, it's going to happen with or without gays.

Posted by: Michael at October 18, 2004 10:45 AM
And I am saying that the government has already accepted that the presence of both biological parents is a not a substantial enough child-need to attempt to codify and regulate. They have allowed single women to adopt and artifically inseminate.

You're not comparing like degrees of codification/regulation. What the government has said, in the scenario that you describe, is that the freedoms of a parent to conceive, in one way or another, are sacrosanct against government restriction. Single women introduce other considerations in this respect, but the relevant point is that, while they can have children, they cannot be married. You've actually come up with a pretty clear example... but one that would be better applied to the gay-adoption debate.

The point is that marriage counts as a method of regulation — not directly, not strictly, but in a way, generally, that I believe better serves its ends. But if marriage is made a unisex institution, then there will be no differentiation. Indeed, one fear is that those single mothers will look to the benefits that would then be available to homosexuals and declare that they, also, are parents and should receive the benefits of marriage.

The people who want to get married want to do so because they value the institution exactly they way that you value the institution.

I believe that you are sincere in saying this. Moreover, I believe that many SSM advocates would be sincere if they said it. But the fact remains that the methodology of the movement, if you will, doesn't indicate a value for the institution. It may indicate a value for what the institution would mean for them, but that's a very different motivation.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 18, 2004 4:38 PM

Michael,

"These aren't radical leftist activists, who in fact generally don't want gay marriage because they are hell-bent on distroying what they view as a patriarchial institution. The people who want to get married want to do so because they value the institution exactly they way that you value the institution."

To echo Justin's last point - there are, in fact, radical activists pushing for SSM, precisely because they see it as a route towards destroying marriage. Both you and they want the same thing - legal recognition of same-sex marriages - but with completely opposite goals. You and they cannot both be right about the effects of SSM. If we were to construct a hypothetical scenario where I was a neutral observer, and the two of you were debating, how would you convince me that they are wrong and you are right? The margin of error must be very small, because the consequences if they are right would be extremely harmful to all of society, whereas the benefits you tout will necessarily be limited to a relatively small number of people.

Posted by: Mike S. at October 18, 2004 5:36 PM

I've noticed a consistent blind-spot on the part of centrist SSM advocates to the radical leftists that are championing their cause. Some SSM advocates have gone as far as to claim that the radical elements aren't very active more, or that the radical elements are not very influential, or that the radical elements are not really advocating SSM.

The problem with your wanting marriage because you think it is good for society Michael is that you and others have yet to prove that SSM is good for society. Whenever those of us who want to maintain the traditional definition of marriage take that stance, your arguments hardly suffice as proof that SSM is good for society when considered along side the radical left's ulterior motives. Again I say, if you really want what is good for society, start advocating a repeal of no-fault marriage instead of SSM.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 18, 2004 7:02 PM

Ooopps, that last sentence should read "no-fault divorce" instead of "no-fault marriage".

Posted by: smmtheory at October 18, 2004 7:03 PM