[Maggie Gallagher (guest-blogging), October 19, 2005 at 5:15pm] Trackbacks
The Marriage Debates: What's the Harm?

So what worries me about SSM?

The big picture: we are in the middle of a huge and only partly acknowledged crisis around marriage and family. Every single society that that we think of as, in other ways, the very best for human flourishing (stable, democratic, market economies with respect for political and creative freedom) is experiencing grave dysfunctions and disruption in the family--and precisely around this whole business of generativity.

That, is the family crisis we face is not a crisis of intimacy, or sexual satisfaction, or emotionally satisfying relations, which our family system. taken altogether, may be better at than any in human history (I'm not sure how one would measure): it is about whether under modern conditions in modern societies, the man and woman who make the baby are going to stick around, love each other, and the baby too.

The conditions that create the creative class, and the conditions that create people, may be diverging.

This crisis is playing out in somewhat different ways in different regions (Italy has extremely low birth rates and much family cohesion, while Sweden has moderately low fertility and high rates of illegitimacy, for example. U.S. has relatively high birth rates, but extremely high rates of solo mothering and divorce).

But in every case technologically innovative, wealthy, western, democratic, market societies are no longer routinely doing what the family did really quite well for most of human history: reliably producing the next generation and reliably connecting most of those children to their father.

Conservatives like to blame welfare alone, or the Sixties and bad moral values. I think this seriously misunderestimates the nature and depth of our marriage and family crisis, which is institutional and structural in nature.

For most of human history children were assets. We depended on family members to produce most of the goods we consumed, and to provide most social insurance: someone to nurse us when we are sick, feed us when we cannot work, shelter and care for us in old age. Under these condition the necessity of procreation and family loyalty were obvious, urgent personal moral and social imperatives. People are always better at duties when it is apparent that you do well, by doing good.

Nowadays, government and the market have taken over large parts of these social functions. The main reason for this is: government and the market do them much, much better. (If you doubt this, imagine have to perform your current job functions while depending only on close kin for colleagues, bosses and employees.). The genius of the market is the way that it allows biological strangers to combine their productive energies.

We can quibble about specific government programs, but basically welfare, unemployment insurance and social security, Medicare and Medicaid aren't going away in a democracy because people like them. People prefer to depend on either the government, or a pension fund, to becoming dependents on their children in old age. (BTW, I'm cribbing this from a forthcoming essay of mine directed primarily at my fellow Catholics in Ave Maria Law J. called "If Marriage is Natural, Why is Defending it So Hard?").

So why don't we just let marriage go, stop worrying about what people do or don't do in the bedroom? Because there is this one critical, literally irreplaceable social function that marriage does, and only marriage does: making babies and connecting fathers to the babies they make.

Now in the middle of this broad, deep crisis, which I truly think does threaten American civilization in the medium term, if its not confronted, what's the one legal change powerful social, legal and cognitive elites support?

Why, making marriage a union of any two persons, clearly unrelated to procreation and paternity!

If SSM was really about the benefits, then I think in a democratic society, we could easily handle this and all go home. But the truth is that SSM advocates seek in the end the status of marriage (that is its social meanings), not primarily its "legal benefits".

Gay marriage advocates want to use the law enforce a new social narrative about gay people, whose main thread is: there is no difference between gay relationships and other people's, and anyone who says otherwise is a bigot.

The principal desire, then, is a deeply-felt and passionately moral one: To use the power of law to establish the principle of social equality for their sexually intimate relationships.

This is why the Goodridge majority, for example, knocked down the idea of creating civil unions so vigorously, telling the legislature very clearly:

"The dissimilitude between the terms "civil marriage" and "civil union" is not innocuous: it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual couples to second-class status. The denomination of this difference by the separate opinion of Justice Sosman as merely a "squabble over the name to be used" so clearly misses the point that further discussion appears to be useless. . .the bill would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits. It would deny to same-sex "spouses" on a status that is specially recognized in society and has significant social and other advantages."

In other words, it's not the benefits, stupid.

Advocates of gay marriage want to use law to create a new sanctification about gay relations. Unfortunately, in the process, the court must simultaneously change the social understanding of marriage.

That is not an unfortunate side effect, it is the logic of gay marriage, because paying attention to generativity or family structure means same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples really are different in some way that makes a difference in law and society.

(I hope I need not say that special respect for generativity does not require stigmatizing the non-generative. There are many sources for social respect. Nobody does all of them.)

This is a long post, and I have to break now to get my boy at school. But at last I'm launched on the thing so many of you have been asking for: How do I think SSM will hurt marriage. Next post later tonight.