April 04, 2005

On Marriage and Social Tinkering

Megan McArdle makes a case for being thoughtful when we consider changes in our laws that could create social upheaval. Her essay is nominally about how we should approach the question of gay marriage, but it is also a sound defense of conservatism in general.

The piece is written by a libertarian, for libertarians. It warns us to walk soft, intellectually and legislatively.

McArdle (aka Jane Galt) actually appears quite sympathetic to the cause of gay marriage, but she points out that any construct we don't like should be looked at in the light of "why is this here in the first place?" In the case of gay marriage, we have to be able to answer the issue of why marriage has been so relentlessly het over the milennia—before we begin our tinkering. (And, no: "because society has always comprised homophobic bigots!" is not the place to start.)

My impression is that marriage started as a way to get property from one generation to the next in an orderly fashion, using children as the vehicle. It's become a lot of other things over the past few hundred years (including the idea beginning in the 1920s that people should be friends with those whom they married—that was new and different). But it's primarily concerned itself with property and with children.

Now that there's no consistent relationship between marriage and having kids—the two seem independent of each other, to tell you the truth—I'm not so sure it isn't time to look into this.

But get some states to do it first. Have them iron out all the complex legal issues it entails (e.g., custody battles and the like) before the whole country plunges into this.

Let's do it right. And let's remember that we need to find out what that is first.


Via Insty.

Posted by Attila at April 4, 2005 01:30 AM
Comments

This is a remarkably thoughtful discussion of an issue that is too often seen in black and white terms. Thanks.

Posted by: gail at April 4, 2005 05:47 AM


My impression is that marriage started as a way to get property from one generation to the next in an orderly fashion, using children as the vehicle. It's become a lot of other things over the past few hundred years

That statement pretty much encapsulates the point. Marriage is an evolving institution; my impression is also that it started out as a way to enforce a patrilineal inheritance of property, with the (at the time) "welcome" side effect of subjugating women to male dominance. Through time, the idea evolved that maybe there were other reasons why people might want to make a lifelong commitment to one another.

As it stands today, marriage is (or should be) a lifelong commitment of trust, mutual respect and love between two people. I do not see the love of two people - any two people - as a threat to the sanctity of my marriage or to the institution in general. The things that I do see as a threat to the sanctity of the institution of marriage are primarily polygamy, infidelity and "quicky divorces" - yet most of the people who rail against gay marriage carefully decline to mention those things. Divorce rates are higher in "red" states than "blue" states. I'm not going to take lessons in what constitutes the sacred institution of marriage from Newt Gingrich any more than I'm going to take it from Bill Clinton. Jesus had some usefull stuff to say about who gets to cast the first stone.

In any instance, morality aside, it's a matter for each state to consider individually, and within their own constitutional bounds. My personal view is that government shouldn't get to have any say whatsoever in which one other person a person marries, but that's just me - the beauty of the Federal system is that we can both have our way, and so it should stay. Convince enough of your fellow citizens and passs a law. :p

Posted by: Simon Dodd at April 4, 2005 06:56 AM


I've never been one of those people with a brain so big that I couldn't hold my head up straight but there are a few details to work out before I can be a big supporter of gay marriage. My trepidation is colored by my career in law enforcement.
There are entirely too many questions that we aren't even allowed to ask, much less discuss for fear of the schreeches of "bigot!".
Few police departments keep statistics on domestic violence in gay and lesbian households. Instead of being classed as domestic violence such incidents are simply lumped in with the other catagories of assault. Yet my experience leads me to believe that there is a MUCH higher rate of domestic violence in G&L households and the level of injury seems higher. I'd love to see an unbiased study but any academic would be burned at the PC stake for even suggesting it.
How would gay marriage effect the already-overburdened agencies dealling with domestic violence?
Much is made of the statistic that half of hetrosexual marriages end in divorce. This is misleading. The vast majority of *first* marriages last. The statistics are skewed by repeat divorces. How many people on their fifth marriage does it take to skew the numbers? Show business alone accounts for at least a couple of percentage points.
Again I have no statistics but I've seen with my own eyes the transient nature of many G&L relationships. A cautionary note...I'm fully aware that nobody calls me to homes where nothing is going on. A couple of people sitting quietly on the couch holding hands while watching TV, no matter the orientation or gender mix doesn't need a guy with a badge and a stick. Still, no one is allowed to ask. I'm curious about the effect of G&L marriage on our already overburdened divorce courts.
Another thing that bothers me is that periodically we'd get complaints about too much gay sex going on in the public parks and we'd have to go and make a bunch of arrests. Sometimes I wouldn't have enough warning to call in sick and let the rookies handle it. Condom use was the exception, not the norm. Some, not all or even most, of the men I arrested were in 'committed' relationships.
What will be the effect of gay marriage on private health insurance? Again, we aren't allowed to ask.
As an aside, proving again that women are smarter than men, I don't know anyone who has ever arrested two women for making public whoopee.
Again, I make no claim that my experience represents gays and lesbians in general. I can say that my experience is fairly representative of what other LEOs have seen.
The questions that should be asked are not being asked. The sector of our society charged with getting the answers we need, academia are not only not providing the answers but are not allowing the questions.

Posted by: Peter at April 4, 2005 10:06 AM


My suspicion is that all the gay people who are going to live together already are, and letting them have a civil union or marital status will not change that. I therefore believe—but cannot prove—that legitimizing these relationships will have zero or negligible effects on law enforcement.

I've also been told that studies suggest the vast majority of gay couples who will desire this are woman-woman. Again, I suspect if anything there will be less sex in public parks (because men who get married will do so as part of an effort to clean their lives up), or zero change.

Health insurance: everyone who wants to has already put his/her domestic partner on his/her health insurance. I suspect that there will be a small change in the number of insured there.

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 4, 2005 11:06 AM


What a crock - eliminate tax-free benefits and the demand for homosexual marriages will evaporate. Gay "marriage" is just a way to stick your insurance company with the cost of keeping your asshole buddy alive.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis at April 4, 2005 01:48 PM


I'm having a real problem with the word "asshole," here. Perhaps you meant it literally, like "butt buddy," which is a less-than-charming term for a guy boyfriend. I suppose that would be marginally better.

I'd love to see you retract that word.

As to the substance of your comment, I'm not sure why it's any different for my friend B. to get insurance through his longtime partner's insurance company vs. my getting insurance through my husband's employment when he was a on-staff at a studio. How am I more deserving than my friend? I don't get that.

I also think it's a little insulting to suggest that an entire class of people wouldn't be intrinsically interested in making public commitments to their life partners. Society is certainly better off when they do, irrespective of what we call that, legally.

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 4, 2005 02:19 PM


Attilla Girl here is the reason for my trepidation.
As things stand a fight breaks out in a same sex household it's a case of simple assault, a low grade, low priority misdemeanor. My Department allows a lot of leeway in those. I can often solve the problem without an arrest simply by having one of the parties spend the night at a friend's or a motel.
If the situation is so volatile that a breakup is indicated I could often arrange that without involving anyone but a friend or relative.
Add gay and lesbian marriage to the mix and this simple case becomes (cue ominous music) Domestic Violence. At least one arrest is mandatory. Reports to social service agencies are mandated.
Instead of being able to sit two usually intelligent people down and explain why a clean breakup is better than the felony charges they'd face if I had to keep breaking up escalating fights it's now a matter for the courts.
Sorry, my friend. It's not a question of whether or not gay marriage will effect these agencies, it's how much.
Now, that employer provided health insurance. The assumption is, however outdated, that one party in the marriage, usually the woman, will accept responsibilities that will significantly affect the earning power, specifically pregnancy and child rearing.
Gay men and women don't have to face the loss in earning power.
We can dance around it all year, the bottom line is that marriage evolved as a mechanism to protect mothers and children.
That some marriages are childless by chance or choice doesn't change that.
Companies in areas that require insurance coverage of any and all kinds of 'significant others' are already doing one of two things, dropping the coverage entirely or moving.
Can't say it won't happen when it already is.

Posted by: Peter at April 4, 2005 11:52 PM


Gay men and women who adopt children do have to solve the same problem hets do: why minds the kids? Who keeps house?

Are these companies moving overseas, or elsewhere in the States? And what kind of recruiting are they able to do when they cannot offer benefits so sig others?

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 5, 2005 02:22 AM


Peter,
Reading the first four paras of yur post, I'm at a loss to understand how that's an argument against gay marriage rather than an argument why marriage in general makes law enforcement more difficult?

You write:
As things stand a fight breaks out in a same sex household it's a case of simple assault, a low grade, low priority misdemeanor. I can often solve the problem without an arrest simply by having one of the parties spend the night at a friend's or a motel.

So that's how you'd handle an unmarried gay couple - how do you handle an unmarried straight couple?


Add gay and lesbian marriage to the mix and this simple case becomes Domestic Violence. At least one arrest is mandatory. Reports to social service agencies are mandated.

So when a couple is not married, it's less of a big deal, procedurally speaking, than if they're married. How is it more of a big deal, procedurally, if that couple is gay or straight? It seems to me that the difference you're talking about, procedurally, is dependent on whether a couple is married, not whether they're straight. Which, as I read it, is a way of saying marital disputes are a pain in law enforcements' ass. Be that as it may, what difference does the orientation of the couple make?

Could you clarify this matter?

Posted by: Simon Dodd at April 5, 2005 02:32 PM


I believe Peter has been implying that he and his fellow officers detect a slightly higher incidence of domestic battery among gay couples than among straight couples.

If this were the case, I could see a couple of possible causes--such as the possibility that it's less acceptable among gays to admit to a pattern of abuse, and that it's therefore harder to break that cycle. Or the relative paucity of shelters that help lesbians and gay men pick up the pieces when leaving an abusive partner.

If Peter is implying that he feels abuse is higher among gays, I'm hoping he's controlling for the area he patrols: that is, if your beat is West Hollywood, you are certainly going to see more battery among gay couples than straight ones, but it's a "sampling error."


When my husband was an MP, he noticed that even on military bases in the 1970s there was an awful lot of abuse that went counter to gender norms: a lot of women hit their husbands, and few people want to talk about it.

I'd love to see more shelters for men of both stripes.

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 5, 2005 09:03 PM


I found the below floating around...It seemed pertinent.


10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong

1. Homosexuality is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

4. Heterosexual marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if homosexual marriage were
allowed; the sanctity of Brittany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

6. Heterosexual marriages are valid because they produce children. Homosexual couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.

9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Posted by: Simon Dodd at April 6, 2005 03:01 PM


Pretty good, except for #6, which ironically states things that are actually true: for every infant there are hundreds of couples waiting to adopt. This country does need more children—obviously. Otherwise we wouldn't be adopting from overseas in the numbers that we are.

That business about infants languishing in "orphanages" is lefty imagery at odds with reality.

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 6, 2005 03:12 PM




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