Saturday, August 09, 2003
THE NEED FOR BENEFITS: Maggie responds
Dale, Jonathan and Paul all made interesting points, which I will respond to but probably not until later tonight or tomorrow, because hey the kids want breakfast and I have a funeral to attend. (Actually a Hindu puja for my nephews' grandfather).
But I do want to say Dale that while sex partners may be hard to determine, registered relationships are hard data. The main point I was making is that the demand for practical benefits seems to be small and a personal desire for marital or quasi-marital registered relationships seems to be a distinct minority position among gays and lesbians.
Further evidence comes from Hawaii. In the first years after Hawaii created reciprocal beneficiaries (giving partners access to health insurance and workman's comp) only a few hundred people signed up. Data here.
Are a significant number of Americans being deprived of needed benefits because of our marriage laws? Will civil unions distribute needed health care benefits, etc., widely in the gay community? I think the answer is no and no. Are we agreed? In which case we can move on to the question of creating new norms and social support for love in the gay community, which I agree Jonathan I only partially and incompletely have addressed. I told you these were two different questions that require two different conversations, didn't I?
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE: Paul Nathanson
Paul is a researcher at McGill University and the co-author of an interesting book Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture (get it here.):
As for the question of today, I can't really make a powerful argument.
Though gay myself, I'm really, deeply ambivalent about civil unions for gay people. I approve, on the one hand, because I believe that all citizens should have access to basic financial or legal benefits. Everyone has access to medicare in Canada, for instance. If access to that in the United States depends on marriage, then the argument against gay marriage is much weaker there. On the other hand, I believe that marriage should be a privileged relationship; those who take the responsibility for children (which is the first premise of and ultimate rationale for marriage) should be rewarded for doing so. And not only in financial terms. They really should have higher status than other people. Not because they're straight, but because they're parents and thus contribute something essential to the entire community.
I see no reason for the state to become involved with those who have no intention of producing and rearing children, and these would include both gay and straight couples. Nor, for that matter, do I see any reason for the state to encourage single parenthood. What about the children of adults in those categories? That's a serious problem, and I don't have the solution. But encouraging irresponsible adults to produce more of them would certainly not be an acceptable one.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE: Jonathan Rauch
Maggie, I read your posts in reply to my and Dale's and Andrew's inquiries with interest. Forgive me if I say that I don't think that, intellectually and morally speaking, you've quite touched bottom yet.
To the question, "If not marriage, would you do something else to encourage the formation of stable gay relationships?". . .it seems to me your answer is, basically, no. I think we both agree that marriage cannot be disaggregated into its 1001 legally conferred benefits. It's the package that counts: the clear social signal that two people are entering into an important relationship, one that contrasts in fundamental ways with singleness and that brings with it a whole suite of responsibilities and benefits. Just saying "Gays could get this benefit through an attorney" or "Gays don't seem to be using that benefit" is tantamount to saying, "Public policy should recognize gay individuals but not gay relationships. Thus policy should be indifferent to whether the relationships exist at all."
OK. But you, as a conservative, know that social policy makes a difference. If you're unwilling to grant any privileged status to same-sex relationships as opposed to same-sex singleness, then you're likely to get fewer relationships and more instability and promiscuity and so on. Then, I think, for conservatives to blame homosexuals for not sustaining relationships as successfully as heterosexuals takes some real cheek!
That's the intellectual point. As for the moral one, here's how I'd state it:
1) Marriage and (just as important) the aspiration to marry are fundamental to the pursuit of happiness--so fundamental that no heterosexual would imagine living without them.
2) Shutting out a whole class of people from a fundamental part of the pursuit of happiness is, morally speaking, a severe imposition.
3) If a large group of people are to be severely imposed upon for some larger social good, society owes it to them--a moral debt, not political--to make up as much of the deficit as possible. Just shrugging and saying "Tough, it's your problem" is not adequate. Not morally adequate.
I recognize that your answer is that homosexuals aren't being "deprived" of marriage, because, by definition, a same-sex couple can't be married. As Dale says, that argument assumes its conclusion, but even granting it, the point remains: If we can't be married, we certainly can be given "civil unions."
This isn't primarily about health benefits as such, though those matter. The social recognition and, yes, approval of a relationship changes that relationship. It supports it and helps it to last. It helps us commit to another even when commitment isn't fun, and it thus helps us find and be our nobler selves. If you waved a wand tomorrow and turned all married couples into shacked-up individuals in the eyes of public policy, imagine the personal instability and social havoc. Why should it be any different for homosexuals? Why should our lives and happiness count for less?
Conservatives do themselves no favor by ducking this question. They're now losing the public, which increasingly does, morally speaking, "get it."
THE MYTH OF GAY PROMISCUITY: Dale (cont.):
Maggie, you're exactly right about the nub of our disagreement: If gay marriage is allowed, I expect the positive effect on gays generally and gay couples specifically will be significant, and that the negative effect on marriage generally and married couples specifically will be small to nonexistent. You think the positive effect on gays generally and gay couples specifically will be small, while the negative effect on marriage generally and married couples specifically will be significant. It could turn out that we're both half right: the positive effect on gays and negative effect on marriage will be small or zero. If that's the case, I would still argue, why not gay marriage so that at least a few gay couples can benefit from it?
I think the studies you cite actually support my view slightly more than yours:
(1) Take your first point, that legal recognition will not reduce promiscuity (a potential reduction in promiscuity is only one of many possible benefits of gay marriage, by the way). The Dutch study you cite says that men in "homosexual relationships" have an average of 8 partners a year outside that relationship. This study has been endlessly cited by religious conservative groups as proof that gays are irredeemable It proves nothing of the kind.
Note first and most importantly that the study is not limited to gay male couples who are married (something that's only existed in the Netherlands since 2001), but includes all gay male couples, so it tell us nothing about the effect of marriage. Note second that an average, not a median, is used. Averages allow a few hyper-promiscuous people to skew the results, where a median comes closer to measuring what most couples are actually doing. Note third that lesbian couples are not included. I would predict lesbian couples will be less promiscuous than straight couples (given women's greater demand for monogamy) and will be more likely to marry than gay male couples (given the experience of Vermont civil unions), so they will more than compensate for the expected higher promiscuity of gay male couples.
(2) Now your second point, that few gays will benefit from marriage because few will marry. The Dutch experience, showing that 1 in 7 same-sex couples have married or registered as partners, proves little or nothing. First, we don't know what the comparable Dutch figures are for opposite-sex couples so we have no comparison. Unmarried cohabitation, straight and gay, seems to be a Dutch phenomenon more than an American one. Second, we have only two years of experience, so it may take some time for the opportunity to sink in culturally among gay couples. None of these Dutch gay couples grew up with the expectation that they could marry, as the next generation will. But perhaps more striking, Maggie, is this: The number of gay families in the Netherlands has increased 25% since the country made registered partnerships available. A sign that a culture of settling down and coupling is taking hold?
As for Vermont I am actually heartened that it appears 25% of gays in a "partnered households" may have entered civil unions. What is the comparable figure for opposite-sex households in Vermont?
On the benefits, it does not surprise me that so few employees at GM have registered for same-sex benefits. First, gays are probably no more than 3% of the population, so the numbers will be low at the outset. Second, the auto industry in general is more culturally conservative than other professions, so fewer gays would be expected to take such jobs to begin with, and the few who were there would stay in the closet about it. Third, we have no way of knowing what percentage of partnered gays at GM have applied for the benefits.
But all this emphasis on the tiny numbers of gay couples involved, even if accurate, cuts both ways. Perhaps few gays would benefit (I don't concede that). But just how is it that such a tiny number of people are going to bring down the institution of marriage and cause us to "lose our civilization"? Maggie, you yourself point out that women in marriage demand monogamy. Fair point. Will they stop doing so because gays are allowed to marry?
Friday, August 08, 2003
THE MYTH OF GAY PROMISCUITY: Maggie responds
Thanks Dale for pointing to some additional research I certainly was not aware of. This is not my specialty. I will look into it. I do not want to make this a main point because I think it is liable to misinterpretation, and nothing I think about unisex marriage hangs or falls on this particular argument.
But the Dutch study was published in one of the premier scientific journals for AIDS researchers and it was not conducted by junk scientists or homophobes but by serious people who need to track partner contacts if they are going to prevent AIDS transmission.
And it is not only mainstream journalists who buy into the myth. Take this for example, from gay sex columnist Dan Savage in his book Skipping towards Gomorrah (page 77):
"Now I'm not going to waste anyone's time arguing that most or even many gay male couples are monogamous. The notion that gay couples are likelier to come to an understanding about extramarital outlets is not a right-wing plot or an anti-gay stereotype. It's a fact."
No doubt Dan's social networks are somewhat different than yours, Dale, so perhaps he exaggerates. But this seems to me to be one of those fundamental male/female sexual differences. Yes there is a continum, among straight guys and no doubt gay men too. But male sexuality is more prone to promiscuity than women, so it makes sense that if you withdraw women from the sexual equation the continuum shifts.
THE MYTH OF GAY PROMISCUITY: Dale Carpenter
It is notoriously difficult to conduct reliable surveys on levels of promiscuity. There are huge problems of self-selection, self-identification, and self-revelation. There is also the question whether to use averages, which allow a few outliers to skew the numbers, or medians. So no numbers are very reliable.
A very keen observer and blogger, law professor Eugene Volokh, has taken a look at the surveys and studies and concluded that the differences between gays and straights in numbers of sexual partners is not very large. And it should be noted that these small differences in levels of promiscuity have occurred under a culture and legal system that gives scant incentive for gays to settle down into couples.
Based on Volokh's review, here is what he concluded in his blog entry for Thursday, May 22:
Now it does appear that a significant minority of American gay males do have lots of sexual partners. Moreover, the median American gay male does have somewhat more sexual partners than the median American straight male (likely 10-20 lifetime partners for gays as opposed to 5-10 for straights; my earlier post giving medians of 40 and 16 respectively, was mistaken, because it inadvertently reported averages rather than median).
But the claim that the median American gay male (not just a minority of gays) is hyper-promiscuous (not just a bit more promiscuous than heterosexuals) appears to be false -- and politically quite important. Claims that "Male homosexuals have . . ." or "Most male homosexuals have . . ." or "The median male homosexual has . . ." are much more politically effective at justifying different treatment for homosexuals than claims that "Some male homosexuals . . . ." Many voters are open to the idea of treating a whole group based on what most of its members do; fewer are open to treating the group based on what a minority of the group does. Also, statements about mild differences in median sexual partners aren't terribly striking, but claims that, say, the median gay man has over 250 sexual partners in a lifetime makes gays seem in a way freakish and deviant, and makes it much harder for people to see gay sexual relationships as emotionally comparable to straight sexual relationships. (I'm making a descriptive claim here about how people are likely to react to promiscuity, not a claim about how people should react to it.)
There are two reasons why I think the median gay male hyper-promiscuity claim is mythical.
1. The best data that I've seen -- data drawn from random samples of the population, the most reliable (albeit not perfectly reliable) polling mechanism -- shows that gay males do not have vastly more sexual partners than straight males. The study I reported on when I first blogged about this reported that gay and bisexual males (defined as having had at least one same-sex relationship in the last 5 years) have an average (not a median) of 26.6+/-11.5 lifetime sexual partners compared to an average of 16.9+/-3 for straights.
Likewise, the GSS dataset that I blogged about below yields similar estimates on the averages, but reports that the median for gay and bisexual men is about 10, compared to a median for straight men of about 6.
2. All the data I've seen supporting the hyper-promiscuous median gay male claim has been junk science. It often refers to real studies -- but to studies of groups that we have no reason to think are representative of the median gay male. The Masters, Johnson & Kolodny college textbook relies on a study that (1) was limited to the San Francisco Bay area, and (2) involved a self-selected sample, not a randomly chosen sample; Schmidt's Straight & Narrow, a book that criticizes homosexuality from a Christian perspective likewise heavily relies on this study, as well as on another survey (Jay & Young) of self-selected respondents. (Schmidt also cites other articles, which I'm getting the library to pull -- if I find that some of the data there is of higher quality, I'll certainly report it.)
actually think this would make an interesting story for mainstream journalists to cover (if they haven't already). I suspect that many thoughtful, generally knowledgeable people believe the myth; I know that I had, based on some stuff that I recall vaguely hearing from the mainstream media in the 1980s. The myth has been spread both by people that oppose homosexuality, and by people who seem to have no such agenda (see Masters, Johnson & Kolodny). As I argue above, the myth is, I think, politically quite salient. But it does appear to be a myth.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE: THE MINI-ANSWERS
Okay, here is Dale's list. Let me run through it briefly:
(1) second-parent adoptions, so that same-sex partners could jointly adopted a child, instead of just one of them having the legal rights of a parent?Answer: Too complicated to assess in one breath. I really object to the idea of adult-centered adoption, i.e. talking or thinking about adoption laws as a means to help adults form alternative families that they want. In adoption the state actually strips a child of access to his or her natural parents. The state in that circumstance, had darn well better be focussing exclusively on getting that individual child into the best possible situation, which I think we agreed was a mother and a father who are married. If we had strong marriage preferences in adoption laws, then I think it is possible that second-parent adoptions might be in children's best interests. But I am not sure. Why don't we wait and do research on how children do in states with second-parent adoptions compared to other states? If you end up encouraging drawn-out custody battles you might actually find children were worse off, though adults felt better.
(2) health benefits granted by the state to the same-sex partners of state employees? I think I answered this one. One-one hundredth of one percent of GM employees extend health benefits to a same-sex partner. Maybe it is not worth fighting about, one way or another. But neither is it an urgent crisis that this is denied. (Hint: why can you extend your health insurance to your spouse but not your sister? Because this particular scheme was designed to allow husbands to protect women from the high costs of childbearing. Take children out of the equation, and most adults work and maintain their own health insurance benefits).
(3) the right to visit a same-sex partner if he or she is sick or dying in the hospital? I think this is very important and the stories I hear are shocking and distressing. One solution: why not pack some oomph into the medical power of attorney, by allowing the holder to sue on behalf of the deceased if his or her instructions are ignored?
(4) inheritance rights if a same-sex partner dies without a will? Sorry, if you die without a will you gotta presume you either did not care, or wanted your nieces and nephews to get it.
(5) the transfer of an estate untaxed to a same-sex partner upon death? Well if the Republican have their way, the death tax will only apply to millionaires anyway, so how many peole will really be affected?
(6) the right to take time off from work to care for a sick or dying partner under the Family Medical Leave Act? (you may have doubts about this Act as a whole, as I do, but as long as it exists...) This I am sympathetic too but would have to figure out how.
(7) the right to have a same-sex partner immigrate to the U.S.? Nope this is a spousal right.
(8) the right to refuse to testify against a same-sex partner in court? Nope ditto. I doubt very much this one is keeping gays and lesbians (or straight people) up nights.
DALE CARPENTER COLUMN:
Excerpts from one of many thought-provoking pieces by Dale, who is a professor of law at University of Minnesota, and whose columns are at independent gay forum, here.
FOR ANYONE who thinks gays should stand irredeemably apart from society--either because we ought to be outcasts or because we ought to be revolutionaries--the past decade must have been a frustrating one. The political causes that most defined our movement in the 1990s sought to weave gays into the larger fabric of American life. We fought to be Boy Scouts, to join the military, to worship God and preach His word, to raise children, and yes, even to marry each other. We wanted to be a part of these traditional institutions, not apart from them. We wanted a place at the table.
No author better crystallized this deep and widespread yearning than Bruce Bawer in his 1993 work, A Place at the Table, the decade's most important book on the gay movement. Containing few wholly original arguments, it nevertheless articulated better than any book before or since gays' rightful place in our culture. Although reasoned and mostly restrained in its rhetoric, the book drew a torrent of criticism that never seemed to rebut its underlying message. And although Bawer advocated no single political agenda, he fueled a self-conscious movement of gay moderates and conservatives that is still redirecting gay politics.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE: Maggie (cont.):
What is the evidence on the demand for marital or quasi-marital benefits among the gay community? Well, first of all take a look at the Netherlands, which has had quasi-marital benefits for unisex couples since 1997 and full marriage rights since 2001.
Neither of these institutions appears to have much effect on the taste for sexual variety among gay men. A new study in the scientific journal AIDS found the average gay man in a long-term relationship had 8 outside partners in a year. (For a newspaper account, go here.) As I mentioned below this is I think not because gay men are peculiarly promiscuous, but because this what happens to male sexuality when the need to please and be good for women is removed. I think it is very revealing of some of the difficulties that gay men face in trying to mimic an institution that developed to regulate male-female sexuality. Why is it, for example, that the concept of open marriage (which was vigorously promoted in the 70s you may recall) fell flat among heterosexuals, but seems to be the most common arrangement in lasting domestic partnershps between men? In addition to female preference for monogamy there is another powerful factor: male sexual jealousy.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard or read some variant to this tale: a bored and/or unfaithful husband decides the solution is an open marriage. He talks his wife into sleeping with some guy. She resists at first, but eventually she tries it. And all hell breaks loose. Because men just cannot tolerate the idea of another man sleeping with their wife, even if he is the one who thought the idea up. It is beyond or below reason. To me the most interesting thing about the data on open relationships between gay men, is the window it reveals on how fundamentally different the basis of these two different kinds of relationships (male-male versus male-female) is. People, men and women, straight and gay, can all be jealous. But this violent and instinctive male sexual jealousy just does not seem to be aroused in the same degree in sexual friendships between two men.
Meanwhile how many gays and lesbians live in registered marital or quasi-marital partnerships in the Netherlands? Answer: Just one out of seven. See the data, here. (In the Netherlands, more gay men than women marry or register their partnerships, btw.)
What about in this country? I tried to get a rough estimate of what proportion of gays and lesbians in general, and in same-sex partner households want quasi-marital benefits by looking at statistics from Vermont. This is only a rough estimate, because the Census Bureau stats on the number of unmarried same-sex partners are from 2000 and the civil union stats are from July of 2000 to December of 2001.
But it should be a window at any rate. In the first year and half in Vermont there were exactly 478 in-state residents who entered civil unions, while in 2000 there were 1,933 same-sex partner households. So just under 25 percent of gays and lesbians who were in a partnered household were interested in marriage benefits. There were 7,390 gay and lesbian households in Vermont in 2000. So about 6 percent of all gay and lesbian households sought quasi-marital benefits. What proportion of all households were these? There are 240,000 households in Vermont, so a total of two-tenths of one percent of the Vermont population benefited from civil union legislation.
What about medical benefits? This is for many people one of the most compelling issues. In 2001 , I asked the top ten companies listed in HRC website as offering same-sex partners health insurance benefits and asked: what proportion of your employees take advantage of this benefit? All but one refused to release this data. But General Motors treated it as a perfectly normal question and told me: Out of 1.3 million employees exactly 166 extended health insurance benefits to a same-sex partner. One-one hundredth of one percent. If people need health care, let’s get them health care. But neither marriage or civil unions are likely to be an effective tool for extending important health protections to gays and lesbians.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE: Maggie v. Dale
I see the deep difference between you and me Dale is that you think gay marriage (or marriage equivalents) would have little effect on marriage and a large effect on gays and lesbians, while I think the marriage effects would be large (for unisex marriage certainly, and I am uncertain of the long-term effect of going down the path of creating quasi-marital institutions) while the benefits to gay and lesbians individuals would be minimal.
I am not averse to helping people find concrete solutions to actual problems. I really do not believe that attaching benefits to couple relationships is likely to distribute these solutions very widely in the gay community. A young man called up while Andrew and I were debating on the Diane Rehm show this week. He said something like (I am quoting from memory): "I am a gay man. Gay marriage is the darling of the gay intelligentsia, it has nothing to do with giving me things I want or need."
Just one man's voice, of course. But the spokespeople for gays and lesbians on this issue are not elected after all, or at least not by gay people. How widely shared is this belief that marriage and quasi-marital benefits are what gays and lesbians really need right now? I wish HRC would bother to spend the money to do a nationally representative poll gays and lesbians to find out.
But from what I can figure out from other evidence, the demand for either marriage, or marriage benefits, as a personal matter, is really not widespread in the gay community. Which means attaching benefits to civil unions is not going to be a good way of distributing them widely where they are needed (as when a gay man's partner is denied entrance to an ICU, or when a doctor ignores a gay man's right to designate his best buddy as his medical decisionmaker in favor of blood kin.)
What is this evidence? This is a long post and I am afraid my computer will freeze and I will lose it. Be back in a second with the evidence that marital benefits are not going to help that many gays and lesbians.
GOOD POLLING: Karlyn Bowman
For an expert roundup of recent trends in this poll from AEI's Karlyn Bowman go here.
THE NEW CIVIL RIGHTS BATTLE? African-Americans and this debate
I was thinking we have a lot of diversity on this blogzine. Democrats and Republicans, gay, straight and bisexual (on both sides of the issue, incidentally), men and women, etc. But damn if we are not all white folk aren't we?
Today's New York Times reports that since 2000, the proportion of African-Americans who identify as democrats dropped more ten percentage points, from 74 percent to 63 percent (go here), according to a recent survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a "research group devoted to African-American issues."
Any relationships with the gay marriage issue? No clue from this tidbit, but just as GOP struggles with appearing moderate to affluent soccer moms, it appears the Dems have a big problem with their base either on this or other issues or both.
THE NEW CIVIL RIGHTS BATTLE? From Tom Sylvester
Maggie wonders about how black Americans feel about the endless analogies between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the gay rights movement of today. I've never seen a survey with that exact question, but my sense is that most blacks don't like it. According to a recent poll, 64 percent of blacks oppose same-sex marriage. And as a fascinating New York Times Magazine story shows, even many black men who have sex with other men don't consider themselves to be "gay." Opposition to the social acceptance of homosexuality remains strong in African-American culture. I think that opposition is exacerbated by the shortage of marriageable black men.
THAT NEW JERSEY POLL:
While we are on the subject, that Zogby poll last week showing a majority of New Jerseyans support gay marriage is looking odd. If you check the underlying data, which Zogby does release to media, although not on their website, Hispanics were actually more likely than whites to support gay marriage, although national polls, such as the one at the NYT "Hispanics Back Bush and Big Government too" show Hispanics nationally are generally less receptive to gay and lesbians issues than whites. And Muslims were more pro-gay marriage than Jews: almost 74 percent favored gay marriage.
One possible difference: The Zogby poll is of "likely voters" as Zogby defines that, not all adults.
In my humble opinion the bottom line: A big chunk of public opinion is fluid, shifting, uncertain and the course of the future on this issue has yet to be determined.
HRC REFUSES TO RELEASE POLL DATA
I asked HRC, as a media person, to release the raw data on the poll linked below showing the majority of Americans support marriage rights for gays and lesbians. This was the response I got:
Sorry Maggie, but we are unable to fulfil your request for the raw data. You can find information on our website in the marriage equality center at www.hrc.org/marriage Best, Michael.
Of course, they own the data, they can do what they like. But take advocacy polling on both sides with a big grain of salt.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE: Dale Carpenter
Maggie, I agree and I think Jon agrees that a "strong marriage culture" is a good thing for all of us, married or not. But whether the opposite-sex aspect of marriage is one of its "core assumptions" -- in the sense that it is an indispensable characteristic of marriage -- is the very question we are debating. I argue that the opposite-sex requirement is not an indispensable characteristic of marriage because the purposes the male-female union is said to serve -- procreating and raising children -- have never themselves been requisites of marriage. Besides that, gay couples right now are procreating and raising children, and doing a good job of it as far as we can tell, so they meet these purposes of marriage. Same-sex marriage is fast on its way to becoming a "cross-cultural" part of marriage too, though still a distinctly minority view.
Denying gay couples marriage hurts gay people in numerous very tangible ways, including by leaving their families exposed to multiple legal problems that would be at least eased by marriage. I am surprised you wrote the line, "And why should they [gays] have to be in a couple to get these problems solved?" I had thought that any conservative would prefer that gays be in stable, committed couples than that they be single, isolated and promiscuous.
I mean, Maggie, given that gays exist and are not going to be eliminated by any means acceptable to the American people, what is to be done about them? One approach is to bring gays into the mainstream of American life by including them in our most civilizing and normalizing institutions, including marriage. A second approach is to exclude them, marginalize, stigmatize, and ostracize them, pushing them toward more radical subversions of traditional values. I suppose a third approach is a sort of neglect, neither ostracize nor accept. But this third approach leaves all the problems of what to do about real, existing gay families that aren't going away and that are raising many real children.
This, I suppose is my meta-question: if not marriage, what is the conservative alternative to the full incorporation of gay people and gay families in American life? Is it converting gays to heterosexuality? Come on. Is it encouraging gays to form what will mostly be sexless and loveless marriages to opposite sex partners? Not gonna happen and a recipe for disaster if it did. Or is it giving these gay families at least some of the legal protections of marriage?
I offered my 8-question list seriously, not to get you to say finally and irrevocably what you would support short of marriage. (We can all change our minds.) But to get you to start thinking seriously about what the alternatives are for millions of gay Americans in loving relationships, raising children, and wanting to be a part of the country, not apart from the country.
So let's have your meta-answer and your 8 mini-answers, shall we?
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE: Maggie v. Tom
Woke up in the middle of the night pondering Tom's question, or rather my reaction to it. Since I am about to answer Jon and Dale's two questions, this may seem moot. But I just do not acknowledge Tom that you are right. If the assumption is that, in proposing to retain the core, common, cross-cultural understanding of marriage, I am excluding a class of people to whom I therefore I am morally obliged give something else, I really do not think it is true. Neither as a matter of compromise nor of justice.
Rather, as I see it, there is one class of (not people) but type of relationship called marriage which we single out for special consideration because it carries a special and irreplaceable burden: we need to get not all but enough men and women into this kind of union for our civilization to continue. The alternative to marriage in my view is freedom and privacy and civil rights, and civility.
Gays and lesbians are working things out in the legislative process, with a quite-remarkable degree of success. The theory that whenever you confront people who disagree with you (which you Tom are calling anti-homosexuality) the thing to do is smash through them because you have elite opinion on your side is not very democratic or tolerant. Oh sure, let's do the hard work of convincing our fellow citizens, until we find it is not working as fast as we like: then we will just use power. No doubt all strong moral partisans would prefer to get the courts to do the job, faster and with a more satisfying moral putdown of the people who disagree with them.
Gays and lesbian people are deeply empowered in a number of ways that say, poor fatherless children, are not. I don't know what Martin Luther King, Jr. would think, and I wonder how African-Americans feel now about the insistence that affirmation of gay sexual and intimate relationships is the defining civil rights battle of our time.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE: Tom Sylvester:
COMPROMISE, OR JUSTICE? Maggie, I think Jon, Dale, and Andrew do deserve an answer to their question, "If not marriage for gays, then what?" Committed same-sex couples do face significant hurdles in our legal system that privileges marriage. Giving something to same-sex couples isn't about "political horsetrading," it's about fairness. Or "moral compulsion," as you put it. I'm sure gay rights advocates would prefer expanding civil rights via the legislative process, but given widespread anti-gay bigotry, that's unlikely to happen. Many people who oppose gay marriage oppose anything that is seen as helping gays and lesbians.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
THOSE ANGLICANS AGAIN
From the popular blog Lileks (James) The Bleat, here.
Perhaps I the only one who winced at this: “God has once again brought an Easter out of Good Friday.' said Rev. Gene Robinson after his election as the first openly gay bishop. Good heavens, man, why don’t you just do the full James Cameron: hop up on the cross and shout I’m King of the Jews!
This story has irritated me from the start, and it has nothing to do with Rev. Robinson’s sexual orientation. The guy left his wife and kids to go do the hokey-pokey with someone else: that’s what it’s all about, at least for me. Marriages founder for a variety of reasons, and ofttimes they’re valid reasons, sad and inescapable. But “I want to have sex with other people” is not a valid reason for depriving two little girls of a daddy who lives with them, gets up at night when they're sick, kisses them in the morning when they wake. There's a word for people who leave their children because they don't want to have sex with Mommy anymore: selfish. I'm not a praying man, but I cannot possibly imagine asking God if that would be okay. Send them another Dad, okay? Until you do I'll keep my cellphone on 24/7, I promise.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE? Maggie (cont.):
So anyway, as I see it, there are three distinct meta-questions embedded in this urgent call for Maggie's 8-point plan. Dale, Jonathan, correct me of course if this is wrong.
1. Jonathan's question: Everyone, including gay people, need social supports for monogamy and serious relationships. If you exclude marriage, Maggie, what is your suggestion for an alternative set of legal supports to encourage permanent bonds among gay lovers and partners?
2. Dale's question: Marriage is a civil contract that carries a set of legal benefits. It is wrong and discriminatory to deny these benefits to gay people. If, as you say, redefining marriage as unisex has too many negative consequences, how will you provide legal equity to gays and lesbians in obtaining key benefits distributed by government, which is funded by all of us, including hardworking gay and lesbian taxpayers?
3. Andrew's meta-question: Is Maggie a good person or a bad person? Only a bad person would be unconcerned about the urgent plight of gay and lesbian people which is the great civil rights struggle of our time. How can you, Maggie, demonstrate this moral concern to me, Andrew?
Let me answer Andrew's question, since he isn't here, and get some feedback from Dale and Jonathan about whether I have characterized their concerns correctly and which of the first two questions we want to tackle first.
The answer, Andrew, is that I do not know how I can do that. To me the changes towards gays and lesbians are not the great civil rights struggle of our time but a mixed bag. Some of it seems good and just, some of it seems very wrong. I distrust the reigning theory of sexual orientation, which was a word and a category invented by 19th century Freudians seeking to replace ideas of sin or immorality with mental illness (the great failed project of the last century of psychology). This stigmatized identity was in the last thirty years reclaimed and celebrated by its inhabitants, quite a feat, but the core framing of homosexuals as a kind of "third sex" as the Victorians called it, was left intact, and indeed is driving the current debate and your argument in deep ways.
Moreover, the idea that traditional Christian sexual ethics represents the moral equivalent of racism is just wrong.
It is sort of hard for me to take this question seriously because while I am of course aware of all my various sins and shortcomings rather intensely, it is hard for me to see how the fate of our most basic social institution should hinge upon them.
This subject (Maggie's virtue) comes up surprisingly often as I go around making the marriage argument, children need mothers and fathers. People stand up and say things like "I am a single mom, and I am a good person! How can you say that children need fathers. You are judgemental! You meanie!"(Okay the last is often just implied. Often but not always).
There is no moral ticket that needs to be paid as the price of admission to the marriage debate. A reader of MarriageDebate.com wrote in to say she thought refusing to redefine marriage for gays and lesbians was selfish. I told her what I think: That at a time when roughly 25 million kids go to sleep in fatherless homes, it is morally short-sighted to be messing with this institution's core role in connecting mothers, fathers and their children in order to meet adult desires for anything.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE? Maggie replies
My first response to this joint question from Andrew, Dale and Jonathan is a certain bemusement: Is the gay and lesbian community really waiting Maggie's Eight Point Plan to bring sexual monogamy outside of marriage to the gay community? Really, I had no idea.
Let me first answer the question briefly, then tell you why I resist making this the question, then outline what I think the three meta-questions Andrew, Dale and Jon are asking for they are really quite different and lead the conversation in different directions.
No I do not support civil unions. Many people I think will end up supporting civil unions but opposing gay marriage as Margaret Summerville does in the post below, but that is not my position. More on that later. Yes, I do think there are ways that legal changes could help gay and lesbian people with concrete, practical difficulties that could garner broad general support across ideological lines. More on this later.
What I really hate about this question is that implies that the marriage issue is a gay-straight divide and that either as an act of moral compulsion or as a matter of political horsetrading, if straight people "get" marriage, then gays and lesbians must "get" something else. I am in this debate for only one reason: to win the marriage argument. I do so rather unashamedly because I really believe this is in the interest of every single person in the United States who cares about the future of our country and our common culture (including culture of tolerance for diversity): gay or straight, black or white, married or single, parent or childless: We all benefit from stronger marriage culture, regardless of how we personally choose to live. Therefore what I really want to do is to convince you Dale, Jon and even yes, you Andrew, that you should be against unisex marriage for exactly the same reasons I am. Because you realize that messing with the core assumptions of this critical and besieged institution at a time when 30 million kids sleep in fatherless homes is just plain wrong.
I am reluctant to get distracted into questions of political compromise, because the most important thing to me is winning on what I call the marriage idea. If we win the marriage debate, how gays and lesbians then work out whatever adjustments they need to solve practical problems is something I am pretty convinced can be left to the democratic process with the people who are most interested and involved working out their agreements and disagreements with their fellow citizens. I am not omniscient, I don't know everything. The question then becomes what are the critical, core problems gay and lesbians people face causing unjust suffering? And why should they have to be in a couple relationship in order to get these problems solved? I don't have an 8 point plan on this, just some ideas.
This is too long a post already. Let me do the three meta-questions of Andrew, Dale and Jon (sounds like a folk group doesn't it?) in a separate post.
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE? Eve Tushnet
Eve is a columnist at National Catholic Register and the author of a really interesting blog from which this excerpt, on the clash of male and female sexuality outside of marriage culture, is taken. Eve moonlights as a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center, and she is describing the lives of her young female clients:
Sometimes they use hormonal birth control; sometimes they use nothing but one another. The woman considers the man marriageable; I generally don't find out what the man thinks, not from his own mouth anyway. Often they've discussed marriage but are waiting until they're "ready," by which they mean, financially stable (good luck), done with their educations, already pillars of the community. Marriage is the last item on life's to-do list.
Then the woman misses a period. Suddenly a whole host of issues are in play. Often both partners were avoiding marriage for many, many more reasons than "I can't afford a carriage." Suddenly she has to deal with the fact that her body, against her will, may have created a permanent bond with a man she wasn't willing to make a permanent promise to--or who wasn't willing to make a permanent promise to her.
Suddenly she has to deal with the fact that, as an amazing bit of dialogue from "Vanilla Sky" (of all places) quoted by the RLP points out, "Don't you know that when you sleep with someone your body makes a promise, whether you do or not?"
ALTERNATIVES TO MARRIAGE? Dale Carpenter:
You've got a good question about children and marriage for Andrew, Maggie. He can and should answer it. Jon and I have attempted to do so on this blog already.
Meanwhile, Andrew has some questions for you and other gay-marriage opponents on his website today. Let me be specific. If you don't support full-fledged marriage for gay couples, what would you support? "Civil unions" with all the privileges and benefits of marriage but not the name? "Domestic partnerships" with some of the privileges and benefits of marriage, but not all of them?
As to some specific benefits, would you support:
(1) second-parent adoptions, so that same-sex partners could jointly adopted a child, instead of just one of them having the legal rights of a parent?
(2) health benefits granted by the state to the same-sex partners of state employees?
(3) the right to visit a same-sex partner if he or she is sick or dying in the hospital?
(4) inheritance rights if a same-sex partner dies without a will?
(5) the transfer of an estate untaxed to a same-sex partner upon death?
(6) the right to take time off from work to care for a sick or dying partner under the Family Medical Leave Act? (you may have doubts about this Act as a whole, as I do, but as long as it exists...)
(7) the right to have a same-sex partner immigrate to the U.S.?
(8) the right to refuse to testify against a same-sex partner in court?
In other words, Maggie, is there anything you would do as a matter of public policy to encourage gay people to settle down into stable, committed, caring relationships?
THE ANGLICAN DEBATE: Rev. Kendall Harmon
Katherine Kersten passes along this link to a speech by Rev. Kendall Harmon objecting to same-sex marriage and to sex outside of marriage. He is now at the Anglican convention. At MarriageDebate.com we are debating, I think, primarily civil marriage, although who knows? No aspect of subject is barred. But the Episcopalians are making headlines so I thought this report from the floor on Christian theology of sex and marriage might be of interest.
Excerpts from Rev. Harmon:
Primarily this is a controversy about the Bible. During their once a decade meeting in 1998 at Lambeth, the vast majority of Anglican bishops worldwide rejected "homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture." At issue are not just a few individual passages, as is often alleged, but the broad structure of the biblical narrative which flows from the primordial couple in the Garden of Eden through the Song of Solomon to the celebration of an undefiled marriage bed in the New Testament. The Bible's positive teaching on marriage is that it is intended by God to be a "one flesh" union which embraces the complementarity of the two sexes.
Based on this positive teaching, the Scriptures are also very clear that homosexual behavior is a violation of God's purpose for sex. As Robert Gagnon explains: "Same-sex intercourse" represents "a structurally incongruous attempt at merging sexually with a sexual same, with someone who" is "not a gender complement, and therefore not a person that could bring completion in the sphere of sexual relations to the sexual self. " This is the teaching of the Old and New Testaments: there is no tension, no qualification, no development, and no equivocation. Even Walter Wink of Auburn Theological Seminary, who favors altering the church's teaching in the area of sexual morality, admits this: "Efforts to twist the text to mean what it clearly does not say are deplorable. Simply put, the Bible is negative toward same-sex behavior, and there is no getting around it."
Not only the Bible is at stake, but the church's whole theology of marriage. Traditionally, marriage was understood to have four purposes, communion (joy shared is doubled, sorrow is halved), union (the two shall become one flesh), procreation (be fruitful and multiply), and prevention (marriage was actually understood to prevent sin-when was the last sermon you heard on THAT one?). A same sex union cannot be unitive, because physically the bodies do not fit together in their design, and it is unable to be procreative.
So whatever else is being called for by Resolution C-005, it is not marriage. You see this in the rhetoric of the resolution itself. It is only clear what these couplings are not-marriage-but what they are is never carefully defined.
THE LAST WORD: Maggie Gallagher
I'd like to leave as the last word (which might not have been noticed in all these fascinating posts) this striking thought by Dan Cere:
Charles Taylor warns that a fundamental malaise of modern culture is the erosion of meaning from vital social institutions. Marriage is being emptied of meaning. It is becoming a toy--a plaything for subjective wants and preferences. This collapse of social meaning is far more deadly to marriage than any polygamous alternative.
MARRIAGE WITHOUT WOMEN: Maggie responds
Briefly, Jonathan, because this is too big a topic to handle just before we are going to switch topics (so you and Dale can beat me over the head about civil unions, etc.): I think you have it pretty much backwards. The reason marriage as a legal institution has benefits is primarily because it helps support a natural social institution: the bonds that are created by the desire and the need to be good for the opposite sex, the frequently denied but big brute fact that sexual unions between men and women continue to produce children unexpectedly and irregularly.
The law does not impose a pattern by strong norms of social engineering; it protects and reinforces the boundaries of a naturally recurring social institution, with social norms that arise out of the need to reconcile the differing sexuality of men and women and the personal and social consequences of thereof.
MARRIAGE WITHOUT WOMEN: Jonathan Rauch
I certainly agree that women play an important role in civilizing men. But it's important to remember--as too many people forget--that marriage itself brings a great deal to the table. That's why married couples last so much longer than cohabiting ones (women are present in both kinds of arrangement, of course), and it's why marriage seems to bring more benefits in terms of health, happiness, stability, and so on--even, as I understand the data, after adjusting for confounding variables.
What is it that marriage brings? In two words: social expectations. Society knows what to expect of married couples, and married couples know what society expects of them. Marriage isn't a certificate or a package of benefits or a legal contract between two people. It's a contract between a couple and their community. The partners form a family, with all the obligations that family entails, and in return the community recognizes and honors the marriage. Love is a beginning but not an end. Community takes over where love leaves off.
THE FUTURE OF GAY MARRIAGE: Maggie Gallagher
From my syndicated column, here:
Human beings are free to adopt self-destructive ideas, but we are not free to make them work. Many good things, from a culture of civility to minority rights to greater respect for the unique contributions of women, may be rescued from the self-destructive impulses of--what shall we call this beast, postmodern secularism? Meanwhile every tribe or group that adopts its sex code, from Europe to mainline Protestanism, is dwindling
The future belongs to those people and culture that deeply commit to ideas grounded in human nature: Men and women are not interchangeable units, sex has a meaning beyond immediate pleasure, society needs babies, children need mothers and fathers, marriage is a word for the way we join men and women to make the future happen.
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
THE LOVE DEBATE: Maggie v. Jonathan
Ah, camping in Canada were you Jonathan? Lurking in the woods for days to avoid my fearsome intellectual daggers, no doubt! (Sorry, I am sleep-deprived and getting giddy).
Where to begin. First of all Jonathan, I went out of my way to say these questions were not mass weapons of Socratic destruction ("Only a fool could disagree Maggie, I see that now!"). I do not think they lead directly to conclusions about gay marriage, but they are a way of at least beginning to explore exactly how and when it is cruel to tell people they cannot love as they like, or at least marry where they love.
And to point out once again the things men and women have to do to sustain a culture of marriage are (subjectively) quite hard. I do not think the soulmate principle is going to hold families together, or persuade men and women to put their children's well-being over their own subjective feelings of happiness, intimacy, all that "spousal comfort," of which you speak, and for which men and women trade in their spouses all the time.
All this of course is not to deny that marriage aims at love, any more than the fact that parenting can be hard means parents do not love their children. But it seems to me marriage actually does very often require the kind of cruelty of which you speak: the cruelty to say that (close the kiddy-poohs' ears, please) love very often must not be allowed to conquer marriage, if children are to be raised by their own mothers and fathers.
On your question about promiscuity and marriage, I do not think actually that gay men are a special class of promiscuous people. I think this is what tends to happen to male sexuality when you withdraw from men the need to appeal to women--also the desire to be good to and for a woman. In an international study of 16,000 people gay men and straight men differed hardly at all in their taste for sexual variety: "Asked how many partners they desired over the next month, men on average said 1.87, while women said 0.78. . .More than a quarter of heterosexual men wanted more than one partner in the next month, as did 29.1 percent of gay men and 30.1 percent of bisexual men, the study said. Just 4.4 percent of heterosexual women, 5.5 percent of lesbians and 15.6 percent of bisexual women sought morethan one partner."
Expecting an institution which developed over thousands of years to manage the sexual relations of men and women to simply transfer in a unisex way strikes me as unrealistic. I do not think there is much evidence that making a set of legal benefits available is going to affect the sexual culture of men untethered from female sexuality very much. Or, as Mona Charen once famously quipped, "It is not marriage that civilizes men, Andrew, it's women."
LOVE, MARRIAGE AND PROMISCUITY: Jonathan Rauch
I owe Maggie answers to three (deep) questions. This is belated since I was
"A man has been married for ten years with two kids. His marriage is not a horror story, but for years it has felt pretty empty, unsatisfying. He does not feel close to his wife. He hardly gets any sex (once a month). Then he falls in love with a co-worker. He has never felt so alive. He as found his soulmate. Let us presume that he is probably right. His marriage is going to be a humdrum affair and this new woman is more suited to him. Should he divorce? Is it cruel to deny him a chance for love?"
My general answer is: Divorce should be legal (though not as easy as it is in some states today) but socially discouraged, especially when children are involved, but even when they're not.
My first answer to this particular man is: "You made a commitment, you should keep it. That's not cruel, though it may in some respects be tragic. But it's noble, too." My second answer is: "Having said the above, it depends. There are always exceptions."
"You are a 25 year old woman who finds herself pregnant. Abortion is not an option. You boyfriend is the father. Sure you are very fond of him, he is a nice, decent guy, would probably make a great dad, but you never in a million years imagined marrying a guy like him. You are just not in love. Is having a baby a good reason for getting married? Why or why not?"
Having a baby can be a very good reason for getting married, and the decline of the shotgun marriage has been very costly for society.
But note: Why did these two make a baby? Could it have been that they felt some physical attraction for one another? Could it be, in fact, that they couldn't keep their hands off each other? There's no analogy to homosexuals here.
"Jonathan, if as you argue it is bad for marriage as a social institution to require a highly visible minority to live life outside of marriage, how could it not be destructive to norms of fidelity to watch a highly visible minority live married life openly outside the idea of sexual exclusivity?"
First, I don't think most gay people will live openly outside the norm of sexual exclusivity. If they cheat or fool around, they'll keep it out of sight, like everyone else. Remember, these will be people who held public weddings and probably invited their parents. Remember also, even if I'm wrong about the men, lesbians will often be model marital citizens. But if I had to choose (and, NB, I don't think I do), I'd say that the norm of marriage is more important than the norm of fidelity in marriage. That's what society believes, too, because we encourage sexually promiscuous heterosexual men to marry today. They may not be perfectly faithful, but at least they'll probably be more settled down.
Question back to Maggie: For purposes of this discussion, let's suppose it were true (allowing, for this thought experiment, a somewhat invidious stereotype) that many inner-city youths are promiscuous, not very serious or knowledgeable about marriage, and quite likely to cheat on their spouses/partners. Should they be barred from marriage?
PRO-GAY AND ANTI-GAY MARRIAGE
Excerpts' from Margaret Somerville's essay in BetterHumans.com (link is in the post below):
Universal features of marriage
Research by scholars Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson from McGill University's Faculty of Religious Studies has shown that, over millennia across all world cultures and religions, marriage exhibits not only variable features, but also universal or nearly universal ones.
Those universal features include the norm that marriage is always between a man and a woman and sets up ideals for procreation. Marriage is the cultural complement to the biological reality of procreation. In other words, marriage has always been associated with the inherently procreative relationship between a man and a woman, and institutionalizes, symbolizes and, in doing so, supports such relationships. And it is to do with children and the genetic links, in both directions, between parents and children -- marriage allows children to identify their biological parents and vice versa.
Hughes accuses me of "scold[ing] that gays often discuss whether monogamy will be an expected part of their relationship." But, in discussing whether same-sex marriage would necessarily change the symbolism that opposite-sex marriage creates and carries for society, what I actually wrote was the following:
Sexual monogamy is a given in the Western institution of marriage, although not always honoured in practice by individuals. In contrast, it is often stated that one of the first decisions to be negotiated between same-sex partners is whether the relationship will or will not be sexually monogamous. For gay partners, faithfulness can be a commitment to a life-long relationship in which the fidelity is to the relationship, not to a monogamous sexual partnership. Marriage between one man and one woman symbolizes sexual monogamy. The same is not necessarily true of same-sex marriage.
There is a major difference between saying that "having both a father and a mother is what Nature intended" -- which Hughes wrongly asserts that I said (it fits nicely into his line of argument, so why worry about accuracy!) -- and saying, as I have, that children -- whether their later sexual orientation proves to be heterosexual or homosexual -- need a parent of each sex, preferably their own biological parents. Male and female parenting is different and complementary and children need both.
Hughes refers to creating a family through adoption, donated sperm and ova, and "studies" that show that these children are "just as loved as 'natural' children."
Finally, important as love is, it is not the only important element in a child's life. To intentionally disconnect children from their biological parents, or access to the knowledge of who those parents were -- and therefore who the children are -- is a very serious action that requires strong justification, especially when facilitated by society. So what basic presumptions should govern in such conditions of uncertainty? And when there is conflict between what adults want and what children need, who should be given priority?
Hughes adopts an intensely adult-centred model of marriage -- indeed one that goes far beyond that advocated by the vast majority of people in favour of same-sex marriage. In his view, marriage contracts should include any number of people who want to participate. That statement made me wonder whether Hughes might be, for same-sex marriage
I believe we must adopt a primarily child-centred model of marriage and that requires that we retain its current definition. I agree with Hughes that "the real task is to build a society that maximizes the full potential of the personalities of its citizens." Those citizens include children and with respect to marriage their needs must take priority over adults' preferences.
That being said, we must also respond to the valid claims of same-sex couples for recognition and protection of their relationships. That requires legal recognition of civil unions or partnerships that provide benefits and protections to the people who enter into them.
PRO-GAY AND ANTI-GAY MARRIAGE
From Dan Cere:
One of Canada's leading ethicists – Margaret Somerville -- has come under significant public denunciation for her stance on the marriage debate. The reaction to Somerville is curious. The substantive arguments that Somerville brings to the defense of marriage (opposite sex) are rarely addressed. The critiques are typically mean-spirited and personal: she's a social conservative – she's a closet homophobe – she’s still burdened with crusty old religious beliefs. All of these stereotypes seriously misrepresent her contribution. Somerville recently addressed some of these standard ad hominem arguments, here.
POLL: 63 percent support legal rights for gay couples
Jonathan Rauch sends the HRC poll link, here.
GIVE ME POLYGAMY RATHER THAN THE DEATH OF MARRIAGE
From Dan Cere:
Part of the difficulty with the current debate over polygamy is that it treats this ancient marital institution (i.e. polygamy or, to be more accurate, polygny – one man and many wives) as a greater threat to marriage than the proposed reduction of marriage to a bleak domestic regime (i.e. marriage as a union of two persons and nothing more). This argument needs some serious qualifications.
Polgamy (or polygny) preserves many of the complex and crucial credentials of marriage cultures. First, Polygamy preserves the bridging of the sex divide. Second, it preserves the procreative nature of the bond. Third, it preserves the birth right of children to identify and to be connected to their biological parents. This is particularly true of the near universal form of polygamy (polgyny)--not the rare and nearly non-existant form of polygamy (polyandry). Finally, classical polygamy affirms the essentially dyadic nature of the marital bond. Polygamy literally means many marriages. It is a series of distinct dyadic marriages that are contracted separately and co-exist simultaneously (as opposed to the serial polygamy of divorce culture).
Polygamous cultures may offend our monogamous sentiments nevertheless they are fairly robust marriage cultures. No anthropologist worth his or her salt would dare excommunicate polygamy from the conjugal family.
However, the proposal to reduce marriage to mere union of two persons bleaches out these rich layers of meaning that even polygamous cultures manage to sustain. Charles Taylor warns that a fundamental malaise of modern culture is the erosion of meaning from vital social institutions. Marriage is being emptied of meaning. It is becoming a toy--a plaything for subjective wants and preferences. This collapse of social meaning is far more deadly to marriage than any polygamous alternative.
MAGGIE'S STUPID DIGRESSION
Oh, Jonathan I knew that would be a lightening rod. I also know that it is not remotely persuasive to anyone and that a more disciplined debater would just avoid the whole subject entirely, then and now. But it does happen to be true. I am not saying that gays should marry (which I think would be rather presumptious and more than I know), I am only observing that not only can they, but sometimes they do marry women even after coming out and without deceiving anyone. And that often these marriages appear to be successful for years. Of course often they are not, but half of all marriage do not "work out" these days. (Where is the Census Bureau when you really need them?)
I first ran across this fact (that gay men sometimes do choose to marry women) in reading the memoir First Comes Love, about a woman who marries and has two kids with a gay man with AIDS, he eventually wanders off, she comes back to him to help him die. Later I ran across a book Husbands Out of the Closet which asserts (I have not looked at the underlying literature) that up to half of all gay men will marry a woman at some point. Most of the wives thought their gay men made fine husbands btw and did not want the marriages to break up; in many cases both husband and wife reported enjoyable sex lives for many years until the husbands began to seek sexual fulfilment outside the marriage; What to make of stuff like this? I dunno. Some facts just do not fit in the boxes we make to contain reality. Next I ran across a gay Catholic man who is married with 9 kids. Hey, who knew? Then there is the recent "scandal" about film director Stephen "The Hours" Daldry, who after a very out life for many years, recently decided to marry and have a baby. Excerpts below from the March 18, 2003 Advocate, full story here.
An A-list theater director in the 1990s--his An Inspector Calls won him a Tony in 1994--Daldry did an interview in Out with his then partner, set designer Ian MacNeil. The two later split up, and Daldry married performance artist Lucy Sexton. . . .When asked about his own sexuality, Daldry seems happy to clear the air--perhaps because, now that he's married, mainstream journalists assume he has disavowed his gay past. "What's so funny is when people say, 'Oh, does that mean you’re not gay anymore?' " he says. "And you go, 'Oh, give me a break. What do you mean?' We wanted to have kids! We thought we'd get married and have kids. We're allowed to do anything. I refuse to be boxed in to the idea that, Oh, no, I can't have kids 'cause I'm gay. I can have kids if I'm gay. And I can also get married and have a fantastic life.
"Yes," he continues, speaking firmly. "To all questions [having to do] with my marriage, the answer to everything is yes. Do I have sex with my wife? Yes. Is it a real marriage? Yes. Am I gay? Yes."
No doubt these are minority preferences. But I am enough of a female chauvinist to find this credible: I think it is easier to sustain a home, family, and initmate life when at least one of you is a woman. Plus having a baby strikes me as a very powerful reason to marry, and most men I think would want their children to have a mother.
But I am not claiming this is an answer to your question Jonathan which is not about legal discrimination or equal protection analysis (the context in which this came up) but about how the state can promote the good life.
End of stupid digression, more on the main line of discussion, including your other question, to come.
JONATHAN V. MAGGIE
Maggie's suggestion that gays (men, in this case) can always "Pick a girl, love her, make a family" is more revealing than she seems to know. Set aside that you seem to suggest that we fool heterosexuals into marrying us (!). To me, this all-too-casual remark underscores the single greatest shortcoming of your side of the debate, namely the failure to take seriously, as a moral matter, the burden that denial of marriage imposes on gay people. Too often, that entire side of the equation is just brushed aside by gay-marriage opponents. They say: "No marriage, no nothing else, tough for the gays."
I have often said, and firmly believe, that the denial of marriage is a scalding deprivation--one that most heterosexuals would never tolerate for themselves and could not even imagine living under. Like Dale, I would like to know what Maggie and others would do, short of legal marriage, to help
gay people enjoy something like the spousal comforts that heterosexuals take for granted.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
YOUR TURN: READERS' ROUNDUP
First of all, thank you very much for setting up this blog. The debate over same-sex marriage is vitally important, and it is crucial for all sides to be able to listen to other views.
In any equal protection argument one of the first questions to ask is how is on what basis is a person being treated differently. So if Jon is not allowed to marry Bob, but can marry Jane then Jon is being denied because he is male. If Don (already married to Sue) is not allowed to marry Betty, but Bill (a single man) is allowed to marry Betty, then Don is being denied because of his marital status. So the first major difference in the equal protection argument for same-sex marriage and polygamy is the basis for classification (gender vs. marital status). Often, legally, one needs a stronger reason to classify based on gender than to classify based on marital status. One can certainly be consistent while coming to the conclusion that gender is not sufficiently important to marriage, but monogamy is sufficiently important. If one believes that one of the main reasons for state recognition of marriage is to establish a system of mutual trust, obligation, duty, responsibility, sacrifice, etc., then one could conclude that a person is less likely to feel such an obligation or even be capable of such a duty to more than one person.
The truth of the matter is that if I marry my partner, the heterosexual couple next door is completely unaffected. A legally married man and woman are totally untouched by the existence of gay marriage. It is important to remember that interracial marriage was once illegal, as was marriage between negro slaves. I am sure many of the same arguments were used to try to prevent the legalization of these unions.
If you believe that marriage is about monogamy and raising children, then by all means, be monogamous and have children. But when you claim that YOUR marriage is somehow threatened by MY freedom to choose something different, and thus you have a right to curtail my freedom, then we have a problem. You seem to be very threatened by the idea of people having freedom to choose something other than what you want; you rationalize this need to control other people by saying it's "for the children".
If proponents of gay marriage were going about it in a truly democratic, legislative fashion then the slippery slope argument would have less, um, traction. But gay marriage proponents are using two methods--public castigation of their opponents (see Andrew Sullivan's diatribes against evangelical Christians due to their opposition to gay marriage), and the courts. That is what creates the slippery slope--it will be very difficult to maintain any ban on polygamy/polyamory if a pro-gay ruling based on equal protection survives the ensuing court challenges.
Monday, August 04, 2003
BRAVE NEW FAMILIES
As I pointed out earlier, marriage per se, will not resolve the tangled web of legal uncertainty in deciding which of people involved in creating or loving a child in alternative families has parental status. For a look at how the law is developing in Scotland. go here. Anyone else wonder how gay men who father a baby like being described as sperm donors? Just because the mom(s) do not want a father around? Excerpt:
A LESBIAN couple have made legal history by winning the same parental rights over each other's children as a heterosexual married couple. The decision gives them greater rights in law than unmarried fathers.
One of the women has a four-year-old son from a previous marriage, and the second woman, a 30-year-old teacher, has an eight-month-old baby fathered by an anonymous sperm donor.
In the first ruling of its kind in Scotland, Sheriff Noel McPartlin agreed last week to give both women rights over both children. The older boy now has three legally recognised parents.
A different view was taken in a court case in Glasgow last month when a sheriff ruled that two lesbian women did not constitute a proper family unit and granted parental rights to the sperm donor who helped them have a child.
IS POLYGAMY NEXT? A Report from the Soviets, ca 1916
A wierdly contemporary account of a 1916 Communist marriage debate in the Soviet Union, where they seem to embrace a set of legal proposals remarkably similar to the American Law Institute's latest. (No I am not making this up). Excerpts below, full essay here.
Last October a bill eliminating distinctions between registered and unregistered marriages and giving the unmarried consort the status and property rights of the legal wife was introduced in the Tzik, or Central Executive Committee.
When the Bolsheviki came into power in 1917 they regarded the family, like every other 'bourgeois' institution, with fierce hatred, and set out with a will to destroy it. So one of the first decrees of the Soviet Government abolished the term 'illegitimate children.' This was done simply by equalizing the legal status of all children, whether born in wedlock or out of it, and now the Soviet Government boasts that Russia is the only country where there are no illegitimate children. The father of a child is forced to contribute to its support, usually paying the mother a third of his salary in the event of a separation, provided she has no other means of livelihood.
At the same time a law was passed which made divorce a matter of a few minutes, to be obtained at the request of either partner in a marriage. Chaos was the result.
Both in the villages and in the cities the problem of the unmarried mother has become very acute and provides a severe and annoying test of Communist theories. In the early stages of the Revolution the Communists held the theory that children should be reared and cared for by the State. But it soon became evident that the State, especially in war-torn and impoverished Russia, was financially quite incapable of assuming such a heavy burden of responsibility.
The bill was introduced by the Commissar for Justice, Mr. Kursky, a large man with tremendous blonde moustaches. He pointed out that whereas, according to the old law, the wife had no rights in the case of an unregistered marriage, the proposed law would give her the rights of a legal wife in holding property and in other matters. Another new point was that wife and husband would have an equal right to claim support from the other, if unemployed or incapacitated for work. The woman would have the right to demand support for her child even if she lived with several men during the period of conception; but, in contrast to previous practice, she or the court would choose one man who would be held responsible for the support. Commissar Kursky seemed especially proud of this point because it differed so much from the 'burgeois customs' of Europe and America. In those countries, he said, the husband can bring a friend who declares that he also lived with the woman, and the latter is then left defenseless.
The question which chiefly occupied the attention of the debaters was whether giving the unregistered wife all legal rights would prevent men from making many rash and temporary connections, or whether it would simply lead to polygamy and polyandry.
The opposition to the proposed law seemed to centre around four points: (1) that it would abolish marriage; (2) that it would destroy the family; (3) that it would legalize polygamy and polyandry; (4) that it would ruin the peasants.
Krilenko, the Soviet public prosecutor, who had a very large share in the framing of the bill and is one of its most passionate advocates, argued that there is neither necessity, importance, nor even utility in the registration of a marriage. 'Why should the State know who marries whom?' he exclaimed. 'Of course, if living together and not registration is taken as the test of a married state, polygamy and polyandry may exist; but the State can't put up any barriers against this. Free love is the ultimate aim of a socialist State; in that State marriage will be free from any kind of obligation, including economic, and will turn into an absolutely free union of two beings. Meanwhile, though our aim is the free union, we must recognize that marriage involves certain economic responsibilities, and that's why the law takes upon itself the defense of the weaker partner, from the economic standpoint.'
Madama Kollontai, Russia's foremost feminist leader and first woman ambassador (to Norway), offered an interesting contribution to this discussion. She opposed the bill because she did not think women could collect alimony, especially if their husbands had two families. She was against registration and altogether in favor of free love. As a solution for the vexing problem of children she suggested a scheme of 'marriage insurance,' to be financed by an annual levy of one dollar on every adult citizen of the Soviet Union. This would provide a fund of about sixty million dollars a year, enough to provide for all the babies who might be born as a result of free-love unions.
IS POLYGAMY NEXT? Maggie comments
Well, I still don't know how Jonathan Rauch would answer the two questions I put to him below (Is it cruel to deny love to a husband in a humdrum marriage who falls in love with someone else? Is a baby a good reason to marry a decent boyfriend you would not otherwise want to marry?); But I do think we have E.J.'s answer:
"marriage is not a lifetime labor contract, as it was for our ancestors, but a pledge of shared love—whose presence creates and whose absence unmakes a marriage."
It sounds like a high ideal. But in practice it means subordinating the interests of one's own babies to romantic love. And it is not an ethic by which a marriage culture can be sustained.
IS POLYGAMY NEXT? From E.J. Graff:
E.J. is the author of What is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (Beacon Press, 1999). This is from her June piece in the Boston Globe, "Here Come the Brides,"
For all the apocalyptic rhetoric employed against same-sex unions, lesbian and gay couples fit easily into the contemporary Western philosophy of marriage that has evolved over the past 150 years.
In 1965, contraception became legal nationwide, after 75 years of ferocious opposition by forces ranging from the Catholic church (which called it "the crime against nature") to Theodore Roosevelt (who declared it the equivalent of polygamy). No more mandatory offspring: today, Americans have come to see the purpose of sex as intimacy, not just making babies. After even nastier battles (which nearly split all the mainline Protestant denominations, much as same-sex marriage is today) over laws governing divorce and remarriage, most of us now believe that marriage is not a lifetime labor contract, as it was for our ancestors, but a pledge of shared love—whose presence creates and whose absence unmakes a marriage. Finally, our laws now consider men and women to be formally equal in marriage: no longer do our laws require him to support her financially, or her to obey him and put her body at his disposal. If gender discrimination has no place within marriage, why should it exist at marriage's entryway?
But at the moment, the opinion that counts is the SJC's. And the court clearly has its concerns. During oral argument, perhaps the most pointed question faced by the plaintiff's lawyers was this: If we knock down the sex requirement for marriage, why wouldn't the next logical step be legalizing polygamy?
Mary Bonauto offered an answer that hadn't been stated quite so clearly before. Gender-neutrality, she said, is precisely the direction in which Massachusetts (and Western) marriage law has been moving for the past 150 years. She's right: In ''traditional'' marriage law, according to the famous pronouncement of the English jurist Sir William Blackstone, ''husband and wife are one person, and the husband is that person.'' Today's Bay State marriage law is fully gender-neutral-except for the rule limiting marriage licenses to different-sex couples. While there are now many statutory and case law precedents for eliminating the role of gender, there are no such precedents for changing the number of spouses in a marriage.
When full marriage rights for same-sex couples arrive here in the United States, it will be just another incremental step in the ongoing transformation of marriage into an egalitarian institution based on love. Or to put it another way, same-sex couples are following, not leading, changes in our marriage law.