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December 8, 2004

The A Point

I've phrased this in countless ways, but I don't know that I've managed to put the notion as succinctly as Maggie Gallagher has:

The solution to the problem, in our culture, is to prefer that most men and women get married, because once they are in this kind of sexual union, you no longer have to worry about the fact that sex makes babies. It may or it may not, but it is no longer a social concern.
Posted by Justin Katz at December 8, 2004 12:07 AM
Marriage & Family
Comments

Good one. Point being that children of stable two-parent homes rarely burden society -- they become part of the solution whose tax dollars fund the "recovery" of children whose parents are part of the problem.

(I should add, there but for the grace of God go I)

Posted by: Marty at December 8, 2004 7:07 PM

Justin, this is entirely true. Many SSM advocates do not deny this fact. But it still doesn't address how having SSM would negate this fact. An analogy: Welbutrin is an anti-depressant and therefore it is generally prescribed for people who have depression. It also works as an appetite suppressor and to reduce nicotine cravings, so it is also sometimes prescribed to help people quit smoking or to lose small amounts of weight. So, the majority of people on Welbutrin are combatting depression. Does that mean that we shouldn't allow it to be prescribed for people who aren't clinically depressed but want to quit smoking? Or what about the handful of people who use it to ease stomach problems, another effect that it has; only a handful of people are on Welbutrin for stomach issues. Just because it's not being used for anti-depression purposes sometimes doesn't mean that it stops being extremely effective, and medically necessary, for that purpose.

Posted by: Michael at December 9, 2004 1:25 PM

Michael,
I don't believe anybody is contending that SSM would negate this fact. Instead, SSM would exacerbate the situation by increasing the social concern of more children without a full childhood with both parents. To use your Wellbutrin analogy, it would be like reducing the number of people needing a prescription for treatment of depression by preventing people from becoming smokers.

Posted by: smmtheory at December 9, 2004 7:41 PM

Interesting stuff, that Wellbutrin:

Bupropion is used to relieve symptoms of depression such as feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt,..., and thoughts of death or suicide

While you are taking bupropion you may need to be monitored for worsening symptoms of depression and/ or suicidal thoughts

Sounds like a double-edged sword to me... or maybe russian roulette:

The exact way that bupropion works is unknown.

http://wellbutrin.drugs.com/

Posted by: Marty at December 9, 2004 10:51 PM

I don't believe anybody is contending that SSM would negate this fact. Instead, SSM would exacerbate the situation by increasing the social concern of more children without a full childhood with both parents.

Exacerbate how? Are you suggesting that if the country allows SSM that heterosexuals are going to have more children out of wedlock? This seems to be the general sentiment but I see neither evidence nor logic to this position. Gays are having children anyway. The parents of these children are getting very little (if any) support from the government.

To use your Wellbutrin analogy, it would be like reducing the number of people needing a prescription for treatment of depression by preventing people from becoming smokers.

I disagree. It's acknowledging that there are other important (albeit arguably secondary, if you're really entrenched in the procreation camp) social functions that marriage serves; uniting families, providing emotional stability and security, helping channel sex drives responsibly. To not allow SSM for any reason other than religious is to deny that these other functions exist or are beneficial to society. If allowing SSM does not negate the importance of marriage to procreation, as you assert, and without SSM the same number of children aren't living with their birth parents, then how can you say that SSM exacerbates this situation?

Because MA has SSM now, many companies are removing their benefits and recognition of domestic partners, policy that was hurting marriage because heterosexual cohabitors, who would previously have needed to marry to get them could hop on the bandwagon. Now only married people get them. That seems pretty good for marriage, doesn't it?

Posted by: Michael at December 10, 2004 11:17 AM
Because MA has SSM now, many companies are removing their benefits and recognition of domestic partners, policy that was hurting marriage because heterosexual cohabitors, who would previously have needed to marry to get them could hop on the bandwagon.

Do you have any evidence for this claim? At least for one company it doesn't apply:

The Goodridge decision changed everything for same-sex couples, she said, and because Baystate doesn't offer domestic-partner benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples, it created an unfair situation for them.

At any rate, the policies were clearly understood by all to be directed toward homosexuals. And interestingly, some of your fellow SSM advocates believe that "it certainly doesn't help the institution of marriage to force people to marry in order to get health insurance."

Regarding your Welbutrin analogy, I think it spectacularly inapplicable. There's a significant difference between using a chemical to treat a variety of physical ailments and using a cultural institution to address social issues.

Perhaps it would work a bit better if we posited that Welbutrin were essentially a psychological placebo, bostered by a cultural emphasis on its powers to treat depression. In such a case, the more other illnesses the drug was said to cure, the more suspicion would arise among the depressed — particularly if some among the depressed continued to crave cigarettes and/or some among the smokers continued to be depressed.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 10, 2004 12:05 PM

Do you have any evidence for this claim?

Well, yes and no. It appears as though the only companies planning on dropping DP benefits only give them to same-sex partners. There are other companies who are retaining their DP benefits because they give them to opposite-sex couples as well. But it still means that these companies are sending a message that only married partners get benefits.

At any rate, the policies were clearly understood by all to be directed toward homosexuals. And interestingly, some of your fellow SSM advocates believe that "it certainly doesn't help the institution of marriage to force people to marry in order to get health insurance."

Yes, but not all SSM proponents are created equal. But heterosexuals have to do it. I think it's wrong, but it happens. And there is absoultely no way to stop it, short of not giving health insurance to relatives.

Regarding your Welbutrin analogy, I think it spectacularly inapplicable. There's a significant difference between using a chemical to treat a variety of physical ailments and using a cultural institution to address social issues.

Why is that people always take analogies as literally as they possibly can? The relevant fact was that the drug (institution of marriage) has a main purpose and ancillary purposes. Some people take the drug (get married) for those ancillary purposes and its good for them and in no way weakens the main purpose of the drug (marriage) which is curing depression (procreating).

And if you have to turn welbutrin into something its not to make your point, you're only weakening your own thoughts on marriage. If Welbutrin (marriage) is merely a psychological placebo and it really doesn't do what we think it does, then why try to protect it? But if Welbutrin (marriage) actually works, then its main purpose cannot be weakened or negated by its secondary ones.

So what is it, Justin? Does marriage work? Or are you just trying to protect the illusion that it does?

Posted by: Michael at December 10, 2004 1:22 PM

Sorry, Michael, I thought it was implicit in my reworking of the Welbutrin analogue that the psychological placebo did, in fact, decrease depression among the depressed. I take this placebo effect to be analogous to cultural policies meant to affect social behavior. They work because we believe they work. Marriage "works" because we invest it with certain meaning and certain significance. Hence:

In such a case, the more other illnesses the drug was said to cure, the more suspicion would arise among the depressed — particularly if some among the depressed continued to crave cigarettes and/or some among the smokers continued to be depressed.

Marriage isn't effective because of chemical reactions. Therefore, it is not amenable to the same degree of compartmentalization (i.e., for this purpose for you, and for that purpose for me).

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 10, 2004 1:36 PM

Ok, I see you're point. But I still think it weakens your argument for marriage. If works only because we believe it to work, then why should we even have it? If we could be convinced that something else (civil unions for all, or no marriage, or polygamy) could work to ensure all the positive social effects that marriage gives us, then what is so special about marriage? If it's just a psychological placebo, then what's the point?

And I think you can compartmentalize marriage without diminishing its power. Marriage is beneficial both to individuals and society. Society gets something out of marriage the same way that society gets something out of having anti-depressants available. But the individual who's in the marriage (or taking the drug) gets something out of it too. And everyone gets something different. And yet, everyone gets the same thing because they become part of a powerful, enduring institution. And I believe it endures not because people think it does, but because it actually does. It joins families. It makes people happier and healthier, physically and emotionally. And gays deserve to be able to join this extraordinarily important institution.

Posted by: Michael at December 10, 2004 4:10 PM
If it's just a psychological placebo, then what's the point? ... I believe it endures not because people think it does, but because it actually does. It joins families. It makes people happier and healthier, physically and emotionally.

I'll answer the question, although you mightn't like my answer. First though, I'd like for you to tell me how exactly you think marriage accomplishes all those wonderful things. What's the mechanism? From whence the power?

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 10, 2004 4:23 PM

Michael said:
"Are you suggesting that if the country allows SSM that heterosexuals are going to have more children out of wedlock? This seems to be the general sentiment but I see neither evidence nor logic to this position. Gays are having children anyway. The parents of these children are getting very little (if any) support from the government."

The government can't very well afford to give them the support it gives to opposite sex married couples. There is more profit for the government to encourage the ideal situation for raising children because it provides more return on investment. If the government started supporting childbearing/raising for all situations (whether the potential for childbearing exists or not) then it would provide less incentive for people to actually get married. Couples (and eventually individuals) would receive support to have children whether or not they got married in that case. Despite what you say, marriage is not about joining families for the government. The government could care less whether or not marriage makes people happier. I doubt seriously the government believes that marriage makes people healthier. The primary benefit the government derives from marriage is increased tax revenue from higher head count.

Let's put it this way. If the government gave everybody an incentive for having children, it would be fiscally the equivalent of not giving anybody an incentive for having children. If it came down to that, then just about the only people entering into marriage would be those doing so for religious reasons.

I don't think you want me to get started on your talking point about channeling sex drives responsibly. You would more than probably not like my view on this.

Your talking point of "If allowing SSM does not negate the importance of marriage to procreation, as you assert, and without SSM the same number of children aren't living with their birth parents, then how can you say that SSM exacerbates this situation?" is based on the wrong assumption. I assert instead that promoting SSM does negate the importance of marriage to procreation and vice versa. You might not see the logic in that, but you would have trouble providing evidence that more same sex married couples are receiving insurance benefits than co-habitating couples were receiving insurance benefits. If insurance companies switched benefits from co-habitating couples to same sex marriage couples, it was guaranteed a financial boon for them. So you tell me, how many more children now have insurance than once did because the insurance companies switched who they would cover. I fear that quite a few children now have less coverage.

Posted by: smmtheory at December 11, 2004 11:06 PM

I'll answer the question, although you mightn't like my answer. First though, I'd like for you to tell me how exactly you think marriage accomplishes all those wonderful things. What's the mechanism? From whence the power?

If you answer has to do with channeling Maggie Gallaghar and making babies, then no I'm not going to like it. Because that wasn't my point.

I also don't know if you're baiting me. Marriage's power, in my eyes, comes from the fact that family unit is the best way for people to sustain themselves through mutual support mechanisms. It is the perfect mix of the public-ness and private-ness of your life. It works because as an institution, with all its trappings, traditions, expectations, burdens, and blessings, it is the perfect amalgam benefits to the individual as well as society. To bring back a pharmaceutical analogy, it works because all its elements operate synergistically to create the quintissential living arrangement.

A placebo, on the otherhand, doesn't work because it's elements operate in tight sychronicity, but because somewhere, somehow, you are convinced it is the best solution. If society could be collectively convinced that something else works just as well, like civil unions, or co-habitation, or communes or whatever, then marriage can be easily replaced with no deliterious side-effects to society. I highly doubt that you disagree with me on this.

Posted by: Michael at December 13, 2004 3:19 PM

Michael,

I think one of our difficulties, here, is that the chemical analogue set the context. The "trappings, traditions, expectations, burdens, and blessings" of marriage make it work, but the bulk of those are ultimately psychological. We know what they mean, what they are meant to achieve, and what our responsibilities are meant to be. The problem is that same-sex marriage is radical, not traditional.

It discards tradition in order to come into being. It distorts the trappings by its very nature. (Consider how the image of lesbians in tuxedoes — or, less commonly presented, men in wedding dresses — came across to straights.) This is particularly important if you're going to tout the need for "tight synchronicity." Essentially, you're picking and choosing which components of the "perfect amalgam" you'd like to keep, and I'm suggesting that marriage doesn't function in that manner.

The placebo after all (if I may attempt to wring some additional meaning out of the problematic aspect of this thread) requires plausibility rooted in a broad range of expectations. For medical tests, the placebo is made to match the experimental drug as closely as possible, including packaging and color. It would be one thing to give our hypothetical depressed patients a pill that will "cure" them; it would be quite another simply to tell them to blink three times per day.

Consequently, your appeals to the various whatevers of which society could be "collectively convinced" to yield the same effects as marriage aren't practicable, even if they might function theoretically. For one thing, none of them have the history of the institution of marriage. I'd also suggest that part of what makes marriage function is the expectation (still extremely pervasive in our society) that it does represent the basis for a family, uniting mother and father as husband and wife. This taps into the general understanding that men and women are complementary.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 13, 2004 5:32 PM

I'd also suggest that part of what makes marriage function is the expectation (still extremely pervasive in our society) that it does represent the basis for a family, uniting mother and father as husband and wife. This taps into the general understanding that men and women are complementary.

I don't disagree with you, here. And this is what is extraordinarily frustrating for conservative supporters of SSM; I believe that the institution of marriage is rooted in a Platonic ideal form. I am also aware that that ideal form does not exist anywhere in reality. We do not attempt to make every single marriage conform to that ideal. It's interesting that you took my term "trappings" and gave a woman in a tuxedo as an example. It's so trivial and irrelevant. I was specifically speaking of a public wedding with attendants. I've been to dozens of weddings. Not one has been the same except every one has been the same. Families, who didn't know each other before, met and celebrated the love and commitment of their son or daughter to another person. I've been to a straight wedding where the groom had a female "best man" who had a husband, but wore a tuxedo.

Men and women are complementary; that is a generalized fact. But there are exceptions. For example, in my life I am not complementary to women except insomuch that my penis probably fits nicely into most vaginas. However, I have found someone who complements me quite nicely in every aspect except that one.

Look, if the bulk of the benefits, etc. are psychological, I ask you: why do they work, psychologically and why wouldn't gays benefit from them?

Posted by: Michael at December 13, 2004 5:51 PM
It's interesting that you took my term "trappings" and gave a woman in a tuxedo as an example. It's so trivial and irrelevant.

It's curious that, having declared this aspect trivial, you then go on to describe an instance in which a friend's "best (wo)man" bent her gender to fit the "trapping." I'd suggest that it's not as trivial as you insist. It's part of the tradition, the cultural mythos, the mystique of marriage. Think how instantly you know the subject when you see figurines on a wedding cake. Even if you took them off the cake, you'd get the message. Put two tuxedoed men together, and the image to come more rapidly to our cultural mind is of the groom's party.

Now, I'm not saying that there's no room for variation. I'm also not saying that heterosexuals haven't allowed the institution to begin corroding. The point is that same-sex marriage relies and expands upon the dilution of marriage's cultural heritage.

The problem that you have is that the strength of the cultural message is in the "generalized facts" on which it rests. We can't make marriage's definition loose enough to accommodate individuals whose "specific facts" are fundamentally different. Note your change of emphasis, at the end of your latest comment. We've been discussing what makes marriage work, and how we can preserve the institution. In the short term, changes may indeed benefit those who are meant to benefit by them, but that's not the whole — or even the most important — consideration.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 13, 2004 6:06 PM

Mike said:
"If society could be collectively convinced that something else works just as well, like civil unions, or co-habitation, or communes or whatever, then marriage can be easily replaced with no deliterious side-effects to society. I highly doubt that you disagree with me on this.

But I do disagree with you. The killer of that bit of logic is that the wrong "then" is attached. If society could be collectively convinced that something else works just as well as marriage, then it would already have been convinced.

The other misconception you have is that the institution of marriage is rooted in a Platonic ideal form. Philosophically speaking, the Platonic ideal form is incompatible with lineal legacy tracking. When generation after generation of our ancestors preserved as carefully as possible their ancestral lineage, it wasn't about who had feelings for whom, it was about who parented whom. That certainly didn't change when Plato arrived on the scene. the modern day equivalent is tied up in medical history. That's an underlying reason for so many adopted children searching for biological parents. It's darn near instinctual.

Posted by: smmtheory at December 13, 2004 11:24 PM

The other misconception you have is that the institution of marriage is rooted in a Platonic ideal form.

I'm sorry, that wasn't what I meant. I meant that Justin (and many other SSM opponents) seem to be arguing from a position that holds the institution up to, or equates it with, a Platonic ideal form, which obviously doesn't exist. I didn't mean that marriage was actually Platonic.

And Justin said:
We've been discussing what makes marriage work, and how we can preserve the institution. In the short term, changes may indeed benefit those who are meant to benefit by them, but that's not the whole — or even the most important — consideration.

I think we're pretty much going to have to agree to disagree. I don't however, think that my change in emphasis was actually a change in emphasis. I want to preserve marriage for two reasons: it benefits society and it benefits those who enter into it. I don't believe that they are mutually exclusive or that one is more important than the other. Otherwise we'd bring back dowries, because it's arguably better for the institution if women can't get out of it and are yolked to their husbands; it would remain inherently essential for women to get married and ensure the longevity of the institution. But that neither benefits women or society. So I see wanting gay marriage as good for the institution and good for gay people.

But to turn this back to my original comment, I do not believe, and have not been convinced by you to believe, that allowing gays into marriage a) weakens the institution or b) negates the fact tha marriage has a primary (but not exclusive) function of providing stability for children.

Posted by: Michael at December 14, 2004 12:00 PM

Actually, you are right Michael. Allowing gay practitioners to also get married doesn't weaken the institution of marriage per se. By the same token, it doesn't strengthen it either. The institution of marriage as created by God cannot be weakened or strengthened by any action of humankind. What Same Sex Marriage does weaken is that tenuous connection of the institution to the society by misplacing the primary function from providing stability for children (future society) to that of providing stability for adults. You tell me, who needs the stability and protection more, children or adults?

Posted by: smmtheory at December 14, 2004 11:21 PM