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January 31, 2005

The Impossibility of Discrete Policies

On my list of intended posts is a response to some comment-section speculation about why folks would spend so much time opposing same-sex marriage — or any other aspect of the "gay rights" movement, for that matter. The insinuation is that the interest is peculiar unless there's some hidden motivation of the sort in which Freudians specialize.

One consequence of that sort of thinking relates to the defense of the mainstream media and academics as "objective": those taking liberal views, since they're obviously correct, can assess things objectively, while those taking opposing views must have dark ulterior motives. The analysis of experts, scholars, and writers who disagree with the Objective Assessment must be tainted. Similarly, those who support same-sex marriage can do so through plain logic, but those who oppose have twisted hearts distorting their thoughts.

Personally, that sort of linkage is what has pulled me ever more deeply into the same-sex marriage debate. It draws on the essences of so many aspects of humanity and human society.

As I suggested, I'm still giving thought to the difference of essences when it comes to motivation to argue against gay causes. For the moment, however, I just wanted to marvel at the impossibility of handling the same-sex marriage debate apart from broader arguments about the functioning (and proper functions) of our society.

In a post on Anchor Rising, I posited that human nature creates a marketplace that incorporates every aspect of society, from economics to familial culture to religion. Liberal welfare policies ignore this marketplace and the interaction of culture and economics, leading to quick-fix solutions (taking money to give money) that exacerbate the problem they seek to resolve.

It's a quick fix to raise the income bar to public assistance for childcare (for example) in order to help two-income families and divorcées. Unfortunately, it also raises the income level at which families have financial incentive for both spouses to work. The market dynamics of workforce size then push salaries toward half the natural level of household incomes, increasing the necessity of two-income families. The daily life created under these circumstances strains relationships and serves to undermine the unity of the family, increasing divorces.

Now apply this environment to the same-sex marriage debate. One of the "conservative" arguments for same-sex marriage is that there will no longer be any need for "marriage-lite" designations that are intended for homosexuals but that wind up being available to heterosexuals. Change the definition of marriage such that homosexuals can marry, and heterosexuals will lose the option of alternative designations with less cultural weight.

The gamble is that the same sort of cultural barrier that keeps opposite-sex acquaintances from getting married will keep same-sex friends from getting married. If possible, I think that would entail an undesirable cultural suspicion of close friendships that mirror marriage in some respects (e.g., cohabitation) — just look at the new eye that modern society brings to the historical practice of sharing a bed. Given the vastness of heterosexuals' majority, however, I don't think preservation of marriage via full sexualization of same-sex relationships likely, and it is made even less so by the solidifying economic norm of the two-income family.

Consequently, the availability of same-sex marriage will be exploited by same-sex acquaintances. Two men or women who've had their expectations of marriage shattered already will be particularly prone to redefine the institution to fit their own purposes. That leaves only those other relationships that would continue to be barred from marriage (say, for example, single-parent plus adult child households), and they have all the claims of mutual care and support that homosexuals do, thus deserving the quick fix of marriage rights.

Posted by Justin Katz at January 31, 2005 4:11 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism
Comments

I'm uncomfortable with this line of argument because as I see it, all you're really saying is that more people will abuse the system so we shouldn't let gays marry. You also seem to be equating the desire of gays to marry with the desire for mutuable care benefits and 'quick fixes.'

To be honest, the benefits would be very nice. I recently decided to move in with my partner but because we weren't married or were intent on marrying, we couldn't combine our incomes for the rent applications. Heterosexuals with a wedding date could. My intent to file for domestic partnership (New York's answer to gay marriage) didn't count and the catch-22 was that I couldn't file for domestic partnership until I was living with someone and we couldn't afford to rent a place unless we could combine our incomes, which we couldn't do until we had been living together.

But really the push for SSM is to be culturally recognized as having legitimate relationships. Your assumption is that society will view SSM not as raising the stature of homosexual relationships but by lowering the stature of marriage. And I think you're basing this solely on the fact that *you* will never accept that a homosexual relationship could ever be elevated to a heterosexual one. And while that might be true in an ideal sense, it's also implicitly saying that a thirty year, mutual loving relationship between two men has less value than Elizabeth Taylor's fifth marriage.

Also, your argument that gay marriage will make two close heterosexual friends who share an apartment the butt of queer jokes is just rude and extremely weak. I really don't know where this is coming from or why it's even relevent.

Finally, there is an easy place to look for the answer to your question. Scandanavia. Anti-SSM people like to pull out gay marriage and Scandanavia all the time. So, are heterosexual Scandanavians entering into SSM for marriage benefits?

Posted by: Michael at February 2, 2005 12:19 PM
your argument that gay marriage will make two close heterosexual friends who share an apartment the butt of queer jokes is just rude and extremely weak. I really don't know where this is coming from or why it's even relevent.

Your feelings about an argument's rudeness is a far too common attempt to restrict analysis to accord with an ever-changing radical etiquette. It's particularly tiresome when the spin that you put on my point ("butt of queer jokes") jumbles up presumptions and conclusions.

You explicitly state that you're after cultural recognition, but you rule out of bounds speculation about how the culture will keep important distinctions. The point is not that straight roommates will be ridiculed. Rather, it's that the main way (the only way, really) society protects marriage from massive fraud in an era of no-fault divorce is by making all opposite-sex relationships suspect — not in a bad way, just suspect. Same-sex friendships aren't romantically suspect (although perhaps somewhat, given social changes), so they will either be immune to cultural barriers against marriages of contractual convenience, or they will increasingly come under suspicion. You want gay relationships to be handled just like straight ones, but they can't — even beyond the reality that men and women aren't interchangeable.

As for Scandinavia, the comparison is complicated by the welfare state socialism. Marriage is dying in part because there's no real incentive to marry. If romantically involved men and women who have children see little reason to go through the process, then our hypothetical roommates have absolutely none.

Which, I guess, brings us back to my point about discrete (as opposed to discreet) policies.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 2, 2005 1:36 PM

Your feelings about an argument's rudeness is a far too common attempt to restrict analysis to accord with an ever-changing radical etiquette. It's particularly tiresome when the spin that you put on my point ("butt of queer jokes") jumbles up presumptions and conclusions.

Well what did you mean then? I consider it rude to argue against what many feel is a right being denied them with some vague hypothetical future speculation about how society might come to view another hypothetical living arrangement, and that one reason we should consider not having SSM marriage is because it might be exploited. That's stupid. I'm sorry, it just is. You can't keep black people out of a store because they are statistically more likely to rob you; it might be true, and it might not be prejudice-based racism, but it's still rude to suggest it.

Secondly, you are cheapening gay relationships by assuming and presuming that straights will easily be able to defraud the system and that straight roommates will be "suspect". This indicates to me that you have an unusual interpretation of why close opposite sex couples have suspect relationships. It's because they have the potential to be married. Two straight male roommates do not have the potential to be married because of the nature of their sexuality. And close male friendships are already suspect if both men appear to be married and not dating other women. I don't see where SSM would exacerbate that.

That aside, every gay man has at least one really close female friend and no one suspects anything illicit of them; they can live together, share beds when they travel, etc, and nobody blinks. Why? Because they aren't sexually/romantically compatible. I also really don't think that marriages of convenience are a big problem. I don't know the last time you tried to get divorced but as far as I'm aware it's not a walk in the park, even with no-fault divorce firmly in place. The potential dangers of a quick-fix SSM between two roommates would in most cases outweigh the benefits, especially if both people were considering actual marriages at some point. Plus, I believe it is illegal to have a fraudelent marriage for financial purposes, so if your boss found out that you weren't actually gay, it might cause some legal problems.

I just think this whole roommate-marrying stuff is a red herring and not at all related to actual reality.

I am happy that you pointed out the complicated nature of Scandanavia; the welfare state has more to do with the decline in marriage rates than SSM, as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: Michael at February 2, 2005 6:01 PM

I have to admit, Michael, that this debate is beginning to make me dizzy.

You can't keep black people out of a store because they are statistically more likely to rob you; it might be true, and it might not be prejudice-based racism, but it's still rude to suggest it.

But I don't consider marriage to be an inalienable right. I think its a privilege that society grants to a particular form of relationship. More specifically, I don't buy the civil rights argument for same-sex marriage. And if you're going to raise rudeness and stupidity, I'll reply that I think it selfish and reckless of supporters of SSM to take the position that it really doesn't matter what effects it has on the institution of marriage because the "civil rights" assertion trumps all.

Secondly, you are cheapening gay relationships by assuming and presuming that straights will easily be able to defraud the system and that straight roommates will be "suspect". [emphasis added]

I said or.

This indicates to me that you have an unusual interpretation of why close opposite sex couples have suspect relationships. It's because they have the potential to be married.

You've simply restated my interpretation. I'll write it again. With the innovation of same-sex marriage, same-sex roommates will have the "potential to be married." Since — contrary to your suggestion that the government and employers will have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy for spouses who aren't sexually attracted to each other — the law does not require proof of sexual intimacy, either marriages of convenience will be increasingly plausible, or the culture will have to treat same-sex relationships the same way it treats opposite-sex relationships across the board. (And in the case of opposite-sex roommates, it treats them as suspect whether they're dating others or not, and usually whether they proclaim themselves to be gay or not.)

And close male friendships are already suspect if both men appear to be married and not dating other women. I don't see where SSM would exacerbate that.

It wouldn't, which is why I predict fraud, in which both men are married and do date women.

I don't know the last time you tried to get divorced but as far as I'm aware it's not a walk in the park, even with no-fault divorce firmly in place.

Don't forget to factor out the personal acrimony that comes with divorce. Roommates will have strong prenups and no romantic feelings mixed in with the legal separation.

Plus, I believe it is illegal to have a fraudelent marriage for financial purposes, so if your boss found out that you weren't actually gay, it might cause some legal problems.

I know I already alluded to the above, but I just have to take a moment to juxtapose it with the following from Andrew Sullivan:

How could the government tell who's celibate and who's not, or who's gay and who's straight, or who's doing unmentionable things in their own bedrooms? Is a gay couple supposed to put on some act like they're bachelor buddies in some 1950s movie and the minute they're "presumed" gay, all their rights disappear? Or are we going to have federal videocams in the bedroom?

As I've pointed out (here and here, if anybody's side is going to introduce the metaphorical "videocam," it's the SSM side.

I'll close by wondering whether we oughtn't use another term than "fraud." How could such marriages possibly be seen as fraud, much less proven as such, in a world of prenups, no-fault divorce, and no adultery laws?

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 2, 2005 6:33 PM

Michael said:
"That aside, every gay man has at least one really close female friend and no one suspects anything illicit of them; they can live together, share beds when they travel, etc, and nobody blinks. Why? Because they aren't sexually/romantically compatible. I also really don't think that marriages of convenience are a big problem."

I don't know about anybody else, but this collection of rhetoric introduces paradoxes that are mind boggling considering the stance taken by proponents of SSM. I think Marty might want to interject a suggestion about why every 'gay' male has at least one really close female friend, so let me do it for him - this would be your subconscious hunger for a heterogamous life giving relationship. As far as I know, I'm not the only person that believes the way male and female reproductive organs fit together is equivalent to sexual compatibility. I believe that quite a few marriages survive many, many years without being the couple being romantically compatible. The really ironic thing about the last sentence is that you apply it to every other situation excluding SSM by emphatically stating that 'gays' cannot marry a person of the opposite sex (which would be a marriage of convenience) because it wouldn't be a unitive relationship. Oh, and you've also alluded to the fact that McGreevey's marriage of convenience was somehow bad.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 2, 2005 9:57 PM

This discussion of buddy unions illustrates what I've meant when I've said that SSM would be a replacement of marriage, rather than a mere redefinition or tinkering.

The idealized template for SSM is a radical departure from the social institution that society, through self-government, has elevated. If enacted, SSM would empty marriage of its utility for policymaking, for instance. The substitution would be a shell that can be made to mean everything, and thus nothing.

Posted by: Chairm at February 2, 2005 11:37 PM

And I should add that the replacement of marriage with the template of SSM (an uproven template at that) would deny marriage to all of society.

The onus is not on those who'd conserve and then strengthen marriage, but on those who would swap this bedrock social institution for an unproven template that in practice appears only on the fringes of the gay subculture and shows no sign of becoming widely accepted and supported.

Posted by: Chairm at February 2, 2005 11:45 PM

Boy, this has been a very good day, when both Justin and Smmtheory have tried to put words in my mouth ;)

Rather than validating either of them, i'll spin off on a tangent and ask something different.

When i look at a gay male couple, there is almost always a discernably masculine "top" and clearly feminine "bottom". And when you see a pair of lesbians, isn't it almost always true that one is butch, while the other is demure?

Now am i the only one who see's the potential for a very successful double-date here? One in which nature takes it's course?

Granted, each person will have to give up or work through their phobia of relating intimately with the opposite sex, but still... the potential for partnership is all there, the only real difference is in the toolkit... which they keep telling us makes no difference at all...

Posted by: Marty at February 2, 2005 11:56 PM

Marty,
I know it was presumptuous of me, but as they say... when in blogs do as the bloggers would.

Okay, so that was bad. A real stinker.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 3, 2005 12:12 AM