Thoughts on Gay Marriage

I briefly skimmed the Ladyblog’s debate over gay marriage, and I wasn’t impressed with the “con” side of the argument. Here’s Mollie Hemingway:

What happened with the California Supreme Court ruling this year was a redefinition of marriage as an institution. Government, it is worth remembering, didn’t create marriage. Marriage is a universal public institution that has been defined for thousands of years as a sexual union between a husband and wife. It’s based around the ideas that babies are created via intercourse, that procreation is necessary for the survival of society and that babies need fathers as well as mothers.

Marriage — for whatever reason or variety of reasons — has been the means throughout the world for insuring that fathers stick around to raise their children and support mothers while they are growing their babies — both in utero and through childhood.

Variations from this ideal of marriage with children happen but they are just that — variations. Previous revisions to the institution of marriage have led to drastic increases in the rate of divorce, illegitimacy, and cohabitation. Legal definitions, it seems, matter.

Marriage’s institutional history is a bit more fluid than conservatives make it out to be, but I understand her central objection. Traditionally, marriage has been a social mechanism for encouraging procreation, good child-rearing, and familial stability. However – and this is an insight that originates with Rod Dreher, an opponent of same-sex marriage – the meaning of the institution has changed dramatically in recent decades. Romance, likability, and personal affinity are replacing (or have already replaced) child-care, continuity, and procreation as the biggest reasons people get married. If personal affection is now the institution’s central rationale, there’s no reason not to extend marriage benefits to committed gay couples.

As a matter of democratic legitimacy, I think it’s a bad idea for the courts to create marriage rights for gay couples out of thin air. I also think that the gay rights movement is better off working through ballot initiatives and the legislature rather than the courts (if you’re interested in the legal theory behind this approach, check out “The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change?”). But these are pragmatic suggestions for a movement whose time has come. The massive pro-gay rights backlash brewing in California is a sign of the times. When gay marriage finally becomes a “fact on the ground,” it will be as a result of an organic cultural shift within American society. If you think this change is a bad thing, you’ll need to do a lot more than campaign against extending marital benefits to gay couples. Banning romance novels and re-popularizing arranged marriages are probably good places to start . . .

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1 Comment

Filed under Conservatism, Culture

One response to “Thoughts on Gay Marriage

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