Justin Katz of Anchor Rising is a very interesting person to argue with. Heâ€™s eloquent and clearly passionate in his support of the issues that are important to him, and his sensitivity and decorum are to be lauded. Even though I disagree with him on every point of substance weâ€™ve raised, I salute and respect his commitment to having these difficult and important conversations.
Plus, the dude used the word â€œespecialâ€ non-ironically. Got to give it up.
The core of Justinâ€™s argument against legalizing same-sex marriage has to do with procreation. He asserts the primacy of procreation in marriage over and over in his posts and comments. In our most recent exchange in the comments section, I think I got as close as Iâ€™ve ever come to understanding what Justin means when he links marriage to procreation. Marriage, he says, â€œis primarily intended to encourage that expectation that procreation happens within its boundaries. Men and women should marry because what men and women do can create children, and children, as often as possible, ought to be raised in the stable marital homes of their biological parents.â€
Letâ€™s investigate further the expectation that procreation should happen with the boundaries of marriage. Where does this expectation come from? If it comes from a religious conviction that a marriage is the only legitimate context for having a child, then I have to grant Justin his right to that belief, and still ask for a secular explanation.
I assume that he has one. He might point out that studies have shown that outcomes are better for children that are raised by their married biological parents. This research is extremely interesting, but misleading. This paper from the Center for Law and Social Policy is very instructive:
This research has been cited as justification for recent public policy initiatives to promote and strengthen marriages. However, findings from the research are often oversimplified, leading to exaggeration by proponents of marriage initiatives and to skepticism from critics. While the increased risks faced by children raised without both parents are certainly reason for concern, the majority of children in single-parent families grow up without serious problems. In addition, there continues to be debate about how much of the disadvantages to children are attributable to poverty versus family structure, as well as about whether it is marriage itself that makes a difference or the type of people who get married.
In other words, correlation does not imply causation. Further investigation suggests that many of the negative outcomes (in terms of behavioral problems, education achievement, etc) are also correlated with low family income and social status, which is not surprising. (Here is another report that indicates that the outcomes associated with single-parenthood may well vary by race.)
Itâ€™s intuitive that a child living with both of his or her parents would benefit from that situation, but does it matter if the two parents are married or simply cohabitating? My intuition is that it shouldnâ€™t matter, and the admittedly thin data seems to bear this out.
Research suggests the importance of distinguishing between cohabiting families with two biological parents and those with a biological parent and another partner. Some evidence indicates that school achievement and behavioral problems are similar among children living with both biological parentsâ€”regardless of marital statusâ€”and that children in both formal and informal step-families also fare similarly in these areas.
All this to say that Iâ€™m unconvinced that the state has a specific interest in encouraging that marriage be the appropriate context for having and raising children, and that I am convinced that the state has an interest in providing support and assistance for families with children.
But letâ€™s set this aside. Even stipulating that, as a society, we have an interest in promoting procreation within marriage, Iâ€™m struggling to understand why allowing same-sex marriage undermines this interest. No rational heterosexual couple would be discouraged from marriage just because homosexual couples can do it too.
A same-sex couple that wants to have children canâ€™t (barring biological innovation) have a biological child together, so thereâ€™s no mechanism for them to create the â€œidealâ€ family unit â€” children living with their married biological parents. Same-sex couples that want children will find ways to have them whether they can marry or not; if marriages promote stable family structures, wouldnâ€™t we (if the welfare of children was our primary concern) want to encourage same-sex couples to marry, not prevent it?
By Justinâ€™s logic, allowing same-sex couples to marry undermines the link between marriage and procreation, and this link must be protected. I counter that allowing same-sex couples to marry would have the opposite effect: it would expand the incentive to have children within marriage to all couples that want children, not just straight couples.
In fact, and Iâ€™ve said this before, thereâ€™s no argument from procreation against same-sex marriage that isnâ€™t, at its core, an argument against homosexuality itself. If the problem with a same-sex couple is that they canâ€™t procreate, this problem exists whether they marry or not. A prohibition on same-sex marriage wonâ€™t drive gay people into heterosexual relationships, and allowing same-sex marriage wonâ€™t drive straight people into homosexual relationships. Some married couples will have kids, some wonâ€™t. Some unmarried people will have kids, others wonâ€™t. Iâ€™m simply unable to draw a connection between same-sex marriage and the behavior of straight people.
Hereâ€™s Justin: â€œWe can balance the principle of procreative marriage with minimizing government involvement in our lives simply by saying that marriage is an opposite-sex relationship. To include homosexuals in the definition would undermine that tacit understanding.â€ I admit it: I donâ€™t get it. How does expanding the definition of marriage constitute more government involvement in the lives of, for instance, married people? And how does saying that marriage is an opposite-sex relationship minimize government involvement? Iâ€™m stumped here.
But all of this social policy argumentation is just a pantomime, isnâ€™t it? I know that no matter how sharp and scintillating my arguments, no matter how precise and persuasive my data, the chances that I will convince Justin (or someone like him) to embrace same-sex marriage are slim. The chances that he will convince me are just as slim. Why? Because at the core, our positions arenâ€™t based on dispassionate analysis of the implications of either policy; theyâ€™re based on deeper, more emotional convictions. For Justin, I imagine, his position stems from his religious beliefs. For me, Iâ€™m persuaded by my innate sense of morality and fair play, and by my love for my family. So is this a hopeless conversation?
Far from it, I hope. I donâ€™t want to try to convince Justin that same-sex marriage is the best thing since they started making Peeps for holidays other than Easter. I just want to convince him that heâ€™s entitled to his personal convictions on the subject, but that heâ€™s not entitled to enshrine them in law. Justin, and others, have said that marriage is â€œfundamentally procreative,â€ but I donâ€™t know how to understand that statement, in light of Justinâ€™s own arguments, unless we are to interpret â€œfundamentallyâ€ as meaning something like â€œusuallyâ€ or â€œtraditionally.â€ Thatâ€™s a perfectly reasonable opinion, but itâ€™s not a convincing argument.
Finally, I have to acknowledge preemptively that, yes: proponents of same-sex marriage are indeed trying to change the definition of marriage. This is explicitly, unashamedly, my goal. I think that such a change would be a change for the better. The civil rights history of country involves this kind of definitional change. In this century alone weâ€™ve changed the definition of â€œvoterâ€ from â€œwhite manâ€ to â€œmanâ€ to â€œadult.â€ This was a change that was not accomplished without difficulty and resistance, but it was a change that resulted in a more just society.
Marriage has changed in meaning, too. Marriage started out as a transaction between two men, involving the transfer of property (a woman) from one to the other. In modern times, marriage became a legal instrument between a man and a woman to unite their assets and liabilities. Itâ€™s time for marriage to take the next step: the benefits of civil marriage must be opened to any pair of eligible adults.
This is a cause that Iâ€™m passionate about. Itâ€™s one that I believe in strongly as a matter of conviction. The injustice of our current system of legal marriage is more than just an abstract wrong to me and my family and friends: itâ€™s real, itâ€™s unfair, and it has to end. That said, Iâ€™m ultimately optimistic that Iâ€™m on the right side of history here. Demographics are moving us inexorably towards a society that favors equal rights for homosexuals, and Iâ€™m completely confident that in a generation or two weâ€™ll look back on this period with the same distaste and confusion with which we look back on Jim Crow. In the meantime, itâ€™s up to us to fight the fight now.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.