Thursday, November 05, 2009

Same-sex marriage. Again.

Earlier this year, the legislature of the state of Maine passed a law extending the term "marriage," with all of the associated government policies, to homosexual couples. This was signed by the Governor, but did not yet go in to effect. A petition was signed by enough citizens to put a referendum on the ballot. Tuesday, the citizens of Maine voted, by a margin of ~53-47, to repeal that law.

Wednesday morning, there were several comments from facebook friends saying, in effect, "shame on you citizens of Maine!" And lot's of agreeing comments, and lamentations about "fear and prejudice," but not a single dissent, as near as I could tell. So, though I've written about this topic before, and my position has not changed, it seems that it's time to address it again.

Issue 1 - Marriage

Marriage is a societal institution. It has developed over thousands of years of human civilization, in virtually all societies, with some differences, but some fundamental similarities. It is an institution which has been bequeathed to us by those who came before, and as such, is carries within it much human wisdom which we should be hesitant to dispense with blithely.

It is my belief, based on my observation of the world, based on my reading of history, that marriage, while it has looked different in different times and places, and certainly has had political implications at times, has evolved and developed to serve three essential functions:
  1. It domesticates men1.

  2. It provides material support for women.

  3. It provides for the creation of a stable environment for raising the next generation.

Issue 2 - Men and Women

Obviously, there are assumptions behind my belief in those functions.
  • Individuals are all different. That said, men and women, as groups, are inherently different. They communicate differently, they think differently, they approach problems differently, men are physically bigger and stronger, women are more nurturing. Etc., etc., etc. Certainly not all men are bigger than all women. Certainly, there are exceptions to all of these categories. As groups, however, these are facts.

  • Men are, as a group, more aggressive. They are more likely to move on from place to place, less willing to commit to a mate, less interested in caring for young2.

  • Women are, as a group, more nurturing. Women are, as a group, more likely to need physical protection. Women, particularly those carrying young, and caring for young, are more likely to need provision.

  • Children do best when raised by mother and father3.

Obviously, some of that is less relevant than it once was. It's a huge leap, however, to get from that to "it just doesn't matter anymore." I'm unwilling to make that leap.

Issue 3 - Government

Marriage is recognized by government and acknowledged by government but is not created by government. Marriage, as a fundamental building block of society, predates the government of the state of Maine, or the United States of America by millennia. Those governments have policies that support marriage, not because it decided to favor some citizens over others4, but because they recognized that a society built on functional families is more likely to be functional society than one which isn't. Many of us are tired and frustrated by the "it's for the children" style of nanny-state government, but the fact is that marriage laws are "for the children." A society that wants to thrive or grow or even just continue existing has to constantly replace its older population with children. If those children aren't nurtured, raised properly, educated, etc., they end up in prisons or on welfare or leading insurrections or finding other ways to waste society's resources.

Anything, therefore, which weakens the institution of marriage and the family, leads to the destruction of society. If we look around at our inner cities, where government policies have discouraged marriage and 3/4 of the youth are born out-of-wedlock to single mothers, we can see the whirlwind that we reap when we sow this particular wind.

Does the government expansion of the term "marriage" to cover same-sex relationships lead to the same effects elsewhere in society? I will tell you frankly, I don't know. It seems to me to risk a further erosion of the institution, which poses a risk to society with no obvious concomitant benefit.

Issue 4 - The "Debate"

There may be a compelling argument that there are societal benefits which accrue from this proposed change. I have yet to see it made by anyone, anywhere. What I have seen, repeatedly, are the terms "fairness," "equality," "prejudice," "fear" and "bias." I see people argue that those who are opposed to what is a fairly radical change to a fundamental societal institution want "to exclude those who aren't like themselves." That they can't "overcome their fear and prejudice." That they want "to deny the rights that they enjoy from their fellow citizens."

That's unfair. There may be some people who are prejudiced, some who are put off by what Glenn Reynolds calls "the 'ick' factor," but I don't seen any reason to think that that describes a significant portion of the opposition, never mind a majority. I believe that most of the "yes on 1" voters in Maine, like the prop. 8 voters in California, like the majority of voters who have objected everywhere that it's been put on the ballot, are hesitant to change a fundamental societal building block without any argument whatsoever as to why it might be a good idea.

Issue 5 - The "Pro" Argument

I haven't heard one.

I have heard a lot of people talking about "fairness and equality." That's not an argument, it's a campaign slogan. It's an emotional appeal, and it's an emotional appeal to a position which is based on unsupported assumptions. Assumptions with which I, and many others, do not agree. In order for that appeal to work, the following must be true:
  1. Men and women are fundamentally the same. Therefore, male-male, female-female and male-female relationships are all fundamentally similar, and should be treated identically under the law.

  2. Marriage laws exist for the government to convey benefits to one's sexual partners.

I reject both of those assumptions.

I've already spoken about my belief that men and women are different. (Neither is better, neither is worse - they're just different. Equal but complementary.) Therefore, relationships between men are different than relationships between women and both are different than relationships between men and women. Ignoring all of the various little differences, the big and fundamental difference is that a relationship between a man and a woman carries with it the potential for propagation of the species5.

Which is one of the key reasons marriage exists in the first place.

Issue 6 - The "How's it going to hurt Your marriage" question

"What are you afraid of? Is allowing gay citizens to share in the benefits of wedded bliss going to hurt your marriage?" Obviously not. Changing the law won't affect me in the least. It may not affect my children. At some point, it's going to affect someone. If those of us who are trying to prevent their fellow citizens from achieving equality trying to support the traditional marriage and family model are right, this would be yet another action that would lessen the importance of, and thus weaken, that model.

The French economist Fredric Bastiat introduced the world to the broken-window fallacy in an essay titled "That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen." It's easy to see the obvious and immediate effects of a change to the marriage laws. It's much harder to see the long-term effects. The Law of Unintended Consequences is inexorable in its operation, and none of us can see far enough to know what all of the effects will be. Certainly the well-meaning liberals of the 60s who passed Lyndon Johnson's Great Society had no intention of creating a large and growing permanent underclass in the inner cities, or destroying the black family. Yet that's what those policies did. I look at the proposals to change the marriage laws, and while I understand the emotional impact of the "fairness and equality" slogan, I don't see the benefit that accrues to our society and to our civilization from those changes. And I can envision negatives down the road, as this change requires changes to adoption laws, and increases the number of fatherless children being raised in this society.

And that's a bad thing. I expect to be long gone by the time the full costs are evident, but that doesn't mean that those costs aren't coming.

Wrap up

As I said, there may in fact be compelling societal benefits that accrue from a change in the societal definition and concept of "marriage." It seems to me, however, that the onus would be on those that want to make the change to share with the rest of us what those benefits might be. And certainly, when we reach Huxley's Brave New World, where everyone is barren and children are grown in test-tubes and raised in nurseries, I'll withdraw any and all opposition, as marriage will no longer be relevant.

Until that time, however, I believe that there are good and rational and logical reasons to oppose it. I'm glad that the people of Maine made the decision that they did. And absent some compelling reason for changing my mind, I expect to continue holding that opinion.

1 - The last time I said this, someone left a comment about how it was doing a disservice to men. Show me an article somewhere about groups of girls rampaging in the streets in a major city like Chicago or Paris, show me a female analogue to Lord of the Flies, and I'll re-think it. But I'm not going to hold my breath. And I'm not planning on re-thinking it any time soon.

2 - Anyone want to speculate on whether there are more men that father children and then move on, not staying and supporting them, or women who have children and leave them with the fathers, moving on, not staying and supporting them? It's a pretty silly question, isn't it? We all want to believe that we're better than our ancestors, but the evidence strongly suggests that the veneer of civilization is thin...

3 - Don't bother telling me that there are exceptions. Of course there are. There are children growing up with mothers and fathers that are bad people, bad parents, and abusing the children. And there are children growing up with loving homosexual couples. I've seen that, I know it, I don't need anyone to make that comment. The issue here is the proper role for government, and I believe that role is supporting the traditional marriage institution and family unit.

4 - While I'm sure that some people hate this argument, and believe it to be sophistry, I think it's always worth noting that there actually aren't any barriers to homosexuals marrying, and many have done so. They are, like all citizens, limited to marrying persons a) of age, b) who are not close blood relatives, c) are not already married and d) who are of the opposite gender. Obviously, restriction "d" affects more people than the first two, though it's debatable as to how many restriction "c" affects. So the "fairness and equality" appeal falls a little flat here - they are already equal in the eyes of the law. What they want is identical treatment for those practicing a similar but fundamentally different behavior.

5 - Obviously, some heterosexual relationships aren't going to result in children. And some homosexual couples (primarily female) are going to be raising children. I don't think that changes anything. Government's awful at dealing with exceptional cases. (Which is a big argument for the smallest practical government. Which we're nowhere near at the moment.) The idea is to set the laws to support society in an appropriate way, and let individuals operate within the rules as best they see fit.

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