Thursday, October 16, 2003

Gay Marriage

David Frum writes in OpinionJournal today about why gay marriage is "bad."

He notes important truths and then misses the point entirely.

For example:
As always seems to be the way, we've come to understand the importance of marriage at exactly the moment that the institution is approaching the verge of collapse. A generation of social scientists has documented the benefits to children of growing up in a father-mother household; yet today, an American child has less than a one-in-two chance of reaching the age of 18 in the same home as both of his or her parents. That fact should concern us all.

Yep, that's right, it should concern us all. And then he goes on:
And any changes in family policy ought to be directed at one supreme goal: improving children's odds of growing up in a stable home.

That presumes that marriage's only benefit is "to the kids." It ignores the fact that there are plenty of married couples who are childless, either by choice or biology. My grandmother got remarried last year -- is her marriage somehow not something to be championed? (Actually, her marriage is not supported by the government; her social security benefits were reduced because of the marriage.)

Marriage is a valuable civil social institution because it champions that highest "conservative" value: Responsibility. A married couple stands before an official and declares that henceforth, they take responsibility for each other; they are one unit. Part of that, certainly, is directed toward childraising and creating a stable environment for kids. But not all of it.

OK, let's go on:
Allowing same-sex marriage would reduce those odds. That's not an assertion; it's an empirical observation. In the past decade, same-sex marriage or something like it has entered the law of eight countries: Denmark, France, Hungary, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and, most recently, Canada. Each has its own distinctive approach to the matter. But in all of them, the push for same-sex marriage has had the same result. Rather than get into a fight with religious organizations for whom the term "marriage" refers to one of their own sacraments, governments try to mollify everybody by creating a new legal category very similar to marriage, but not exactly the same. France, for example, has enacted into law something called a Pacte Civile de Solidarité, a registered partnership that grants any two people who live together a bevy of rights while holding each responsible for the other's rights and obligations.

Compared to marriage, a civil pact is harder to get into (some of its benefits do not arrive until a couple has been together for two or even three years) and much easier to get out of. That is very appealing to couples nervous of marriage--and these days, who isn't nervous? It's been estimated that some 40% of the couples entering "civil pacts" are heterosexual.
Something similar is going on in Canada, only there the categories are even blurrier. A couple that simply lives together for two years automatically and without any formal act acquires many of the rights of a formally married couple. The exit from a relationship is just as blurry as the entry: In one famous case, a Canadian court ordered a man who had divorced his wife before he became wealthy to pay her an increased settlement based on the income he had begun to earn after the marriage ended.

Now think about what this means. Marriage used to have a bright clear line: you were married or you were not. It was a serious commitment--and most people understood that if they weren't ready for this commitment, they ought to postpone having children until they were.

Well I agree with him on one point. "Civil pacts" or "marriages lite" are probably worse than the current system. And marriages lite with respect to straight couples are a disaster.

There has to be a bright line test, which he notes. But then he goes on simply to assert that it will not happen, and therefore, it is a bad idea. That's not an argument against gay marriage, it's an argument against the in-between fuzzy civil union stuff. After all, I think it's really unlikely that we're gonna enact a flat tax any time soon -- doesn't make the flat tax a bad idea.

Let me hasten to point out that I'm only discussing the civil concept of marriage -- not the religious. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox and Conservative branches of Judaism do not (and should not) recognize gay marriage, any more than they should be required to solemnize an intermarriage.


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