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A Libertarian View of Gay Marriage

October 12, 2009

libertarian

A Libertarian View

If this were an essay on economics, it would be the best essay on economics I’ve read in a year or more.
If this were an essay on social structures, it would be the best essay on social structures I’ve read on a year or more.
If this were an essay on conservative versus reformer mindsets, it would be the best essay on *that* that I’ve read in a year or more.
In fact, it was all three of those things, and I’m frankly stunned at how excellently you’ve made so many points in such a short space.
Bravo.

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other

Unlike most libertarians, I don’t have an opinion on gay marriage, and I’m not going to have an opinion no matter how much you bait me. However, I had an interesting discussion last night with another libertarian about it, which devolved into an argument about a certain kind of liberal/libertarian argument about gay marriage that I find really unconvincing.

Social conservatives of a more moderate stripe are essentially saying that marriage is an ancient institution, which has been carefully selected for throughout human history. It is a bedrock of our society; if it is destroyed, we will all be much worse off. (See what happened to the inner cities between 1960 and 1990 if you do not believe this.) For some reason, marriage always and everywhere, in every culture we know about, is between a man and a woman; this seems to be an important feature of the institution. We should not go mucking around and changing this extremely important institution, because if we make a bad change, the institution will fall apart.

A very common response to this is essentially to mock this as ridiculous. “Why on earth would it make any difference to me whether gay people are getting married? Why would that change my behavior as a heterosexual”

To which social conservatives reply that institutions have a number of complex ways in which they fulfill their roles, and one of the very important ways in which the institution of marriage perpetuates itself is by creating a romantic vision of oneself in marriage that is intrinsically tied into expressing one’s masculinity or femininity in relation to a person of the opposite sex; stepping into an explicitly gendered role. This may not be true of every single marriage, and indeed undoubtedly it is untrue in some cases. But it is true of the culture-wide institution. By changing the explicitly gendered nature of marriage we might be accidentally cutting away something that turns out to be a crucial underpinning.

To which, again, the other side replies “That’s ridiculous! I would never change my willingness to get married based on whether or not gay people were getting married!”

Now, economists hear this sort of argument all the time. “That’s ridiculous! I would never start working fewer hours because my taxes went up!” This ignores the fact that you may not be the marginal case. The marginal case may be some consultant who just can’t justify sacrificing valuable leisure for a new project when he’s only making 60 cents on the dollar. The result will nonetheless be the same: less economic activity. Similarly, you–highly educated, firmly socialized, upper middle class you–may not be the marginal marriage candidate; it may be some high school dropout in Tuscaloosa. That doesn’t mean that the institution of marriage won’t be weakened in America just the same.

This should not be taken as an endorsement of the idea that gay marriage will weaken the current institution. I can tell a plausible story where it does; I can tell a plausible story where it doesn’t. I have no idea which one is true. That is why I have no opinion on gay marriage, and am not planning to develop one. Marriage is a big institution; too big for me to feel I have a successful handle on it.

However, I am bothered by this specific argument, which I have heard over and over from the people I know who favor gay marriage laws. I mean, literally over and over; when they get into arguments, they just repeat it, again and again. “I will get married even if marriage is expanded to include gay people; I cannot imagine anyone up and deciding not to get married because gay people are getting married; therefore, the whole idea is ridiculous and bigoted.”

They may well be right. Nonetheless, libertarians should know better. The limits of your imagination are not the limits of reality. Every government programme that libertarians have argued against has been defended at its inception with exactly this argument.

Let me take three major legal innovations, one of them general, two specific to marriage.

The first, the general one, is well known to most hard-core libertarians, but let me reprise it anyway. When the income tax was initially being debated, there was a suggestion to put in a mandatory cap; I believe the level was 10 percent.

Don’t be ridiculous, the Senator’s colleagues told him. Americans would never allow an income tax rate as high as ten percent. They would revolt! It is an outrage to even suggest it!

Many actually fought the cap on the grounds that it would encourage taxes to grow too high, towards the cap. The American people, they asserted, could be well counted on to keep income taxes in the range of a few percentage points.

Oops.

Now, I’m not a tax-crazy libertarian; I don’t expect you to be horrified that we have income taxes higher than ten percent, as I’m not. But the point is that the Senators were completely right–at that time. However, the existence of the income tax allowed for a slow creep that eroded the American resistance to income taxation. External changes–from the Great Depression, to the technical ability to manage withholding rather than lump payments, also facilitated the rise, but they could not have without a cultural sea change in feelings about taxation. That “ridiculous” cap would have done a much, much better job holding down tax rates than the culture these Senators erroneously relied upon. Changing the law can, and does, change the culture of the thing regulated.

Another example is welfare. To sketch a brief history of welfare, it emerged in the nineteenth century as “Widows and orphans pensions”, which were paid by the state to destitute families whose breadwinner had passed away. They were often not available to blacks; they were never available to unwed mothers. Though public services expanded in the first half of the twentieth century, that mentality was very much the same: public services were about supporting unfortunate families, not unwed mothers. Unwed mothers could not, in most cases, obtain welfare; they were not allowed in public housing (which was supposed to be–and was–a way station for young, struggling families on the way to home ownership, not a permanent abode); they were otherwise discriminated against by social services. The help you could expect from society was a home for wayward girls, in which you would give birth and then put the baby up for adoption.

The description of public housing in the fifties is shocking to anyone who’s spent any time in modern public housing. Big item on the agenda at the tenant’s meeting: housewives, don’t shake your dustcloths out of the windows–other wives don’t want your dirt in their apartment! Men, if you wear heavy work boots, please don’t walk on the lawns until you can change into lighter shoes, as it damages the grass! (Descriptions taken from the invaluable book, The Inheritance, about the transition of the white working class from Democrat to Republican.) Needless to say, if those same housing projects could today find a majority of tenants who reliably dusted, or worked, they would be thrilled.

Public housing was, in short, a place full of functioning families.

Now, in the late fifties, a debate began over whether to extend benefits to the unmarried. It was unfair to stigmatise unwed mothers. Why shouldn’t they be able to avail themselves of the benefits available to other citizens? The brutal societal prejudice against illegitimacy was old fashioned, bigoted, irrational.

But if you give unmarried mothers money, said the critics, you will get more unmarried mothers.

Ridiculous, said the proponents of the change. Being an unmarried mother is a brutal, thankless task. What kind of idiot would have a baby out of wedlock just because the state was willing to give her paltry welfare benefits?

People do all sorts of idiotic things, said the critics. If you pay for something, you usually get more of it.

C’mon said the activists. That’s just silly. I just can’t imagine anyone deciding to get pregnant out of wedlock simply because there are welfare benefits available.

Oooops.

Of course, change didn’t happen overnight. But the marginal cases did have children out of wedlock, which made it more acceptable for the next marginal case to do so. Meanwhile, women who wanted to get married essentially found themselves in competition for young men with women who were willing to have sex, and bear children, without forcing the men to take any responsibility. This is a pretty attractive proposition for most young men. So despite the fact that the sixties brought us the biggest advance in birth control ever, illegitimacy exploded. In the early 1960s, a black illegitimacy rate of roughly 25 percent caused Daniel Patrick Moynihan to write a tract warning of a crisis in “the negro family” (a tract for which he was eviscerated by many of those selfsame activists.)

By 1990, that rate was over 70 percent. This, despite the fact that the inner city, where the illegitimacy problem was biggest, only accounts for a fraction of the black population.

But in that inner city, marriage had been destroyed. It had literally ceased to exist in any meaningful way. Possibly one of the most moving moments in Jason de Parle’s absolutely wonderful book, American Dream, which follows three welfare mothers through welfare reform, is when he reveals that none of these three women, all in their late thirties, had ever been to a wedding.

Marriage matters. It is better for the kids; it is better for the adults raising those kids; and it is better for the childless people in the communities where those kids and adults live. Marriage reduces poverty, improves kids outcomes in all measurable ways, makes men live longer and both spouses happier. Marriage, it turns out, is an incredibly important institution. It also turns out to be a lot more fragile than we thought back then. It looked, to those extremely smart and well-meaning welfare reformers, practically unshakable; the idea that it could be undone by something as simple as enabling women to have children without husbands, seemed ludicrous. Its cultural underpinnings were far too firm. Why would a woman choose such a hard road? It seemed self-evident that the only unwed mothers claiming benefits would be the ones pushed there by terrible circumstance.

This argument is compelling and logical. I would never become an unwed welfare mother, even if benefits were a great deal higher than they are now. It seems crazy to even suggest that one would bear a child out of wedlock for $567 a month. Indeed, to this day, I find the reformist side much more persuasive than the conservative side, except for one thing, which is that the conservatives turned out to be right. In fact, they turned out to be even more right than they suspected; they were predicting upticks in illegitimacy that were much more modest than what actually occurred–they expected marriage rates to suffer, not collapse.

How did people go so badly wrong? Well, to start with, they fell into the basic fallacy that economists are so well acquainted with: they thought about themselves instead of the marginal case. For another, they completely failed to realize that each additional illegitimate birth would, in effect, slightly destigmatise the next one. They assigned men very little agency, failing to predict that women willing to forgo marriage would essentially become unwelcome competition for women who weren’t, and that as the numbers changed, that competition might push the marriage market towards unwelcome outcomes. They failed to foresee the confounding effect that the birth control pill would have on sexual mores.

But I think the core problems are two. The first is that they looked only at individuals, and took institutions as a given. That is, they looked at all the cultural pressure to marry, and assumed that that would be a countervailing force powerful enough to overcome the new financial incentives for out-of-wedlock births. They failed to see the institution as dynamic. It wasn’t a simple matter of two forces: cultural pressure to marry, financial freedom not to, arrayed against each other; those forces had a complex interplay, and when you changed one, you changed the other.

The second is that they didn’t assign any cultural reason for, or value to, the stigma on illegitimacy. They saw it as an outmoded vestige of a repressive Victorial values system, based on an unnatural fear of sexuality. But the stigma attached to unwed motherhood has quite logical, and important, foundations: having a child without a husband is bad for children, and bad for mothers, and thus bad for the rest of us. So our culture made it very costly for the mother to do. Lower the cost, and you raise the incidence. As an economist would say, incentives matter.

(Now, I am not arguing in favor of stigmatizing unwed mothers the way the Victorians did. I’m just pointing out that the stigma did not exist merely, as many mid-century reformers seem to have believed, because of some dark Freudian excesses on the part of our ancestors.)

But all the reformers saw was the terrible pain–and it was terrible–inflicted on unwed mothers. They saw the terrible unfairness–and it was terribly unfair–of punishing the mother, and not the father. They saw the inherent injustice–and need I add, it was indeed unjust–of treating American citizens differently because of their marital status.

But as G.K. Chesterton points out, people who don’t see the use of a social institution are the last people who should be allowed to reform it:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Now, of course, this can turn into a sort of precautionary principle that prevents reform from ever happening. That would be bad; all sorts of things need changing all the time, because society and our environment change. But as a matter of principle, it is probably a bad idea to let someone go mucking around with social arrangements, such as the way we treat unwed parenthood, if their idea about that institution is that “it just growed”. You don’t have to be a rock-ribbed conservative to recognize that there is something of an evolutionary process in society: institutional features are not necessarily the best possible arrangement, but they have been selected for a certain amount of fitness.

It might also be, of course, that the feature is what evolutionary biologists call a spandrel. It’s a term taken from architecture; spandrels are the pretty little spaces between vaulted arches. They are not designed for; they are a useless, but pretty, side effect of the physical properties of arches. In evolutionary biology, spandrel is some feature which is not selected for, but appears as a byproduct of other traits that are selected for. Belly buttons are a neat place to put piercings, but they’re not there because of that; they’re a byproduct of mammalian reproduction.

However, and architect will be happy to tell you that if you try to rip out the spandrel, you might easily bring down the building.

The third example I’ll give is of changes to the marriage laws, specifically the radical relaxation of divorce statutes during the twentieth century.

Divorce, in the nineteenth century, was unbelievably hard to get. It took years, was expensive, and required proving that your spouse had abandoned you for an extended period with no financial support; was (if male) not merely discreetly dallying but flagrantly carrying on; or was not just belting you one now and again when you got mouthy, but routinely pummeling you within an inch of your life. After you got divorced, you were a pariah in all but the largest cities. If you were a desperately wronged woman you might change your name, taking your maiden name as your first name and continuing to use your husband’s last name to indicate that you expected to continue living as if you were married (i.e. chastely) and expect to have some limited intercourse with your neighbors, though of course you would not be invited to events held in a church, or evening affairs. Financially secure women generally (I am not making this up) moved to Europe; Edith Wharton, who moved to Paris when she got divorced, wrote moving stories about the way divorced women were shunned at home. Men, meanwhile (who were usually the respondents) could expect to see more than half their assets and income settled on their spouse and children.

There were, critics observed, a number of unhappy marriages in which people stuck together. Young people, who shouldn’t have gotten married; older people, whose spouses were not physically abusive nor absent, nor flagrantly adulterous, but whose spouse was, for reasons of financial irresponsibility, mental viciousness, or some other major flaw, destroying their life. Why not make divorce easier to get? Rather than requiring people to show that there was an unforgivable, physically visible, cause that the marriage should be dissolved, why not let people who wanted to get divorced agree to do so?

Because if you make divorce easier, said the critics, you will get much more of it, and divorce is bad for society.

That’s ridiculous! said the reformers. (Can we sing it all together now?) People stay married because marriage is a bedrock institution of our society, not because of some law! The only people who get divorced will be people who have terrible problems! A few percentage points at most!

Oops. When the law changed, the institution changed. The marginal divorce made the next one easier. Again, the magnitude of the change swamped the dire predictions of the anti-reformist wing; no one could have imagined, in their wildest dreams, a day when half of all marriages ended in divorce.

There were actually two big changes; the first, when divorce laws were amended in most states to make it easier to get a divorce; and the second, when “no fault” divorce allowed one spouse to unilaterally end the marriage. The second change produced another huge surge in the divorce rate, and a nice decline in the incomes of divorced women; it seems advocates had failed to anticipate that removing the leverage of the financially weaker party to hold out for a good settlement would result in men keeping more of their earnings to themselves.

What’s more, easy divorce didn’t only change the divorce rate; it made drastic changes to the institution of marriage itself. David Brooks makes an argument I find convincing: that the proliferation of the kind of extravagant weddings that used to only be the province of high society (rented venue, extravagant flowers and food, hundreds of guests, a band with dancing, dresses that cost the same as a good used car) is because the event itself doesn’t mean nearly as much as it used to, so we have to turn it into a three-ring circus to feel like we’re really doing something.

A couple in 1940 (and even more so in 1910) could go to a minister’s parlor, or a justice of the peace, and in five minutes totally change their lives. Unless you are a member of certain highly religious subcultures, this is simply no longer true. That is, of course, partly because of the sexual revolution and the emancipation of women; but it is also because you aren’t really making a lifetime commitment; you’re making a lifetime commitment unless you find something better to do. There is no way, psychologically, to make the latter as big an event as the former, and when you lost that commitment, you lose, on the margin, some willingness to make the marriage work. Again, this doesn’t mean I think divorce law should be toughened up; only that changes in law that affect marriage affect the cultural institution, not just the legal practice.

Three laws. Three well-meaning reformers who were genuinely, sincerely incapable of imagining that their changes would wreak such institutional havoc. Three sets of utterly logical and convincing, and wrong arguments about how people would behave after a major change.

So what does this mean? That we shouldn’t enact gay marriage because of some sort of social Precautionary Principle

No. I have no such grand advice.

My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes. The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can’t imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining. If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that’s either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I’m a little leery of letting you muck around with it.

Is this post going to convince anyone? I doubt it; everyone but me seems to already know all the answers, so why listen to such a hedging, doubting bore? I myself am trying to draw a very fine line between being humble about making big changes to big social institutions, and telling people (which I am not trying to do) that they can’t make those changes because other people have been wrong in the past. In the end, our judgment is all we have; everyone will have to rely on their judgment of whether gay marriage is, on net, a good or a bad idea. All I’m asking for is for people to think more deeply than a quick consultation of their imaginations to make that decision. I realize that this probably falls on the side of supporting the anti-gay-marriage forces, and I’m sorry, but I can’t help that. This humility is what I want from liberals when approaching market changes; now I’m asking it from my side too, in approaching social ones. I think the approach is consistent, if not exactly popular.

A quick extra note on gay marriage

There are a lot of libertarians who dismiss arguments about gay marriage with the declaration that the state shouldn’t be in the business of sanctifying marriage anyway. I don’t find that a particularly satisfying argument. It’s quite possibly true that in some ideal libertarian state, the government would not be in the business of defining marriages, or would merely enforce whatever creative contracts people chose to draw up. That’s a lovely discussion for a libertarian forum. However, we are confronting a major legal change that is actually happening in the country we live in, where marriage is, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, an institution in which the government is intimately involved. While I’m happy to debate about whether or not the state should define the form of marriage in my libertarian utopia, I don’t think that this is necessarily a good guide to the kinds of laws I want to see enacted in America, which in so many, many ways does not look like my utopia.

For example, in my libertarian utopia, there would be no social security. People would save for their own retirements; social insurance would be for people who had something actually unpredictable and unexpected happen to them.If there is anything more predictable than aging, I don’t want to run into it.

Does that mean that I would advocate, say, getting rid of Social Security today? Shut down the administration, turn off the check-writing machines, and tell our senior citizens to get a goddamn job?

Don’t be ridiculous. People planned their lives around this government assurance; you can’t just rip it away and let millions of people starve. You can’t just import one aspect of my libertarian utopia–no social security–without the crucial things that underpin it, like a population that knows it’s expected to save for its own retirement. Similarly, you can’t just import one feature of anarcho-capitalist life–anyone can marry anyone they want–as if all the vast social changes that an anarcho-capitalist or minarchist system would represent, are already there.

Update: A number of libertarians are, as I predicted, making the “Why don’t we just privatize marriage?” argument. I don’t find that useful in the context of the debate about gay marriage in America, where marriage is simply not going to be privatized in any foreseeable near-term future.

Also, a lot of readers are saying that I’m wrong about marriage always being between a man and a woman, citing polygamy. I have been told this is a “basic factual error.”

No, it’s not. Polygamous societies do not (at least in any society I have ever heard about) have group marriages. Men with more than one wife have multiple marriages with multiple women, not a single marriage with several wives. In fact, they generally take pains to separate the women, preferably in different houses. Whether or not you allow men to contract for more than one marriage (and for all sorts of reasons, this seems to me to be a bad idea unless you’re in an era of permanent war), each marriage remains the union of a man and a woman.

Original article found here: http://www.janegalt.net/blog/archives/005244.html

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Troy Rockwood permalink
    October 12, 2009 10:13 pm

    This post really is amazing. I’ve read it a couple of times between the time Jane originally posted it and when I’ve shared it with others, it’s exactly to the point, thanks for the reminder.

  2. October 12, 2009 11:37 pm

    If you look at gay marriage as as choice we have because we have the right and ignore the fact that the Scriptures explicitly states not to desire another man if u r a man or woman likewwise, than you ignore the most important. It is called sin. Must be wrong if God has said so plainly in His Word for life. It is not the fact that we, gay or not, deserve happiness and benefits of marriage, it is indeed much deeper. I don’t pretend to know everything but I do know the God who wants the best for all peoples everywhere. He has rules for healthy, happy living and it specifically regards homosexuality as a sin.
    The fact of sin is all of ours and the effects as well. But, the bigger picture of those who LIVE in sin and not simply sin against God is much different.Those who LIVE in sin, and consider it their right will end up in a much darker, deeper suffocating life than now.
    Those who choose a gay life must reap the consequences and in a Christian society from day one, they will receive a negative, on purpose. Not to say that this negative is hateful or insensitive, just parallel with Scripture. A God who knows no evil can’t accept anything against Him. Love the sinner and hate the sin but consequences belong to each.

    • mlabot permalink*
      October 13, 2009 12:41 am

      Leslie,

      I’m not convinced that sexual orientation is always a conscious choice. Who we are attracted to is a complex thing. However, I do believe that homosexuality is not right. There’s a separation as you said, between the feeling and the action. Some make the mistake of surrendering to the feeling because they feel they “deserve happiness” just like everyone else, and then spend their lives chasing after that happiness in all the wrong places. People ask why God would create people with same sex attraction. Well, it’s an imperfect world with many challenges. You might just as well ask why a child was born without sight, or a man allowed to lose his legs in a car accident. Life is no easy pie. We all have challenges. It’s what we choose to do with those challenges that ultimately brings us happiness or sorrow. Living a good life is the only way to have peace.

  3. October 12, 2009 11:59 pm

    Great thoughtful essay. Thanks a million!

  4. Nate permalink
    October 13, 2009 2:04 am

    Very well thought out article. Thanks for your insight.

  5. A.L. permalink
    October 14, 2009 6:31 pm

    That’s funny, I know of a couple of single parents who are very eager to tie the knot with a same-sex partner.

    Thank goodness these women are gay. Think about how hard it is to meet an eligible bachelor as a 40-year-old woman with 2 children. Some men in the dating pool are dead, some men are dating younger women, some hate children, some are just happy to be bachelors. How wonderful for two women to come together in a loving relationship and create a double income, two parent household for some children.

    • mlabot permalink*
      October 14, 2009 6:40 pm

      A.L. I think you may have missed the point of the article. It’s not about making life better for the ones who have broken homes necessarily. It’s about the standard society is going to hold up. Is SSM equal on it’s merits? Or is it a misshapen bandaid? Or is it further decline?

      The point of the article is to say that not every good idea ends up being good in the end. What you propose sounds great doesn’t it? But what are the long term ramifications? Are we so arrogant as to think we can see all possibilities and outcomes from this decision?

      I agree with Jane. I don’t think we do, and I think we ought to be quite a bit more cautious in our eagerness to revamp society after some ideological mold.

  6. A.L. permalink
    October 14, 2009 7:06 pm

    mlabot,

    I’m sure you have no problem supporting the causes YOU think are good. Are you saying that you don’t support any causes at all? You never want anyone to do anything about anything at all, because of possible side effects? I imagine that this is not actually the case. I’m sure you do push for some causes that you think are good. The reason you are against gay marriage is because you are against gay marriage.

    Equating welfare to gay marriage makes no sense. Welfare represents the government stepping in and intervening in things. Many supporters of gay marriage are simply asking that the government step back and not meddle quite so much in people’s bedrooms and people’s relationships.

    • mlabot permalink*
      October 15, 2009 11:38 am

      While there is an argument for less government involvement in marriage, my personal feelings are that government does have vital roles to play because of society’s self interest in perpetuating stability and self preservation. One is to guarantee freedom, another is to protect the innocent. Marriage as defined does both of these, and that is why historically society (and government is an embodiment of society) has supported and encouraged marriage.

  7. sara walker permalink
    October 14, 2009 7:14 pm

    I found this a post amazingly close to how I feel. It is not just a wonderful commentary on the gay marraige issue, but speaks to all issues we are facing today. Our representatives are so cavalier about change and what it will eventually lead to. They think since they have “learning” they are wise. Unfortunately wise and learned are not the same thing. We should all take a little more time to look at all aspects of the issues and once we come to a compromise then take action. Look before you leap.

    • mlabot permalink*
      October 14, 2009 7:33 pm

      I agree Sara. We’re so careful with the environment and with animals….long term effects of humanity on the weather even are studied ad nauseum. Yet with our own children, our own people, we’re supposed to just charge blindly ahead? So many people tell me they “know” gay marriage is just fine, but there is no stable society out there who has had gay marriage as an integral part of their culture and lived to tell the tale.

      I have to laugh because I had a gay activist shout in my face the other day that I should just EVOLVE!!!!.

      Yet with all this evolving, what are we turning into? I don’t think we even know.

  8. Sam permalink
    October 14, 2009 8:51 pm

    Some farmers may go out of business if we end slavery. That would be bad for those farmers and for the local economy. Does that mean that we shouldn’t end slavery?

    Some people may become angry and refuse to get married if we allow interracial marriage. And what’s the big deal about interracial marriage anyway? It doesn’t even exist in a number of countries. Does this mean we should not allow interracial marriage in this country?

    Giving a group of people equal rights could always have negative unintended consequenses. I’m not exactly upset if someone decides to shoot themselves in the foot because some other guy got to marry someone of a different race or the same gender.

    • mlabot permalink*
      October 14, 2009 9:01 pm

      Sam, Your questions are good. Basically you’re saying that there are immediate negatives to some social change that are negated by the greater good, for instance as in slavery. No doubt that the financial hardship involved with liberating slaves kept the system in place much longer than it otherwise would have been. Does that make it any less right? No. You’re right there because ultimately freedom trumps dollars.

      Let’s move on to the analogy of same sex marriage. Is it a matter of fundamental freedom? I would argue it isn’t since regardless of orientation, all people can marry within the given rules. Ergo, all people have equal rights. Some people say that there is a new human right on the scene, that people should be able not just to marry but to marry whomever they choose. Now, while that sounds grand and great, as stated in the article, this change is a fundamental one. Not all consequences from that decision can be fully known or predicted. The fact that stable societies have existed for thousands of years, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, and no known stable society has ever successfully adopted this change I think speaks volumes that ought not be lightly discarded simply by whim.

  9. Caren permalink
    October 14, 2009 9:16 pm

    This article, though well written and well sourced, is entirely misguided. It is meant to highlight the social implications of some government programs due to the failure to realize the negatives effects they would have. What none of you are realizing is that it is incredibly one-sided to site examples that had a negative outcome to explain possible outcomes to legalizing gay marriage. Yes, everything mentioned in this article is factually accurate, however, it’s a very biased way of promoting an allegedly “unbiased” stance. Comparing the creation and subsequent negative effects of welfare is a very roundabout and off target way of proving that gay marriage will have long-lasting negative affects on society.

    I completely understand the necessity of looking at all sides objectively and breaking down the issue and it’s consequences. Demanding to know all possible outcomes before supporting an issue, however, is completely unrealistic. As mentioned in the article, no one could have ever expected or even dreamed that half of the negative effects of those social programs would have occured. Society changes so much every day, it’s hard to know how it will react in the future, whether it be negatively or POSITIVELY.

    Basing this argument on the handful of examples is really quite convenient for all of you who are anti-gay everything. The writer conveniently chose examples with negative outcomes, conveniently somehow related them to gay marriage, and conveniently touted it as a “no opinion” piece that ended up “supporting anti-gay marriage forces”. In the spirit of making comparisons, let’s compare to inter-racial marriage, which is more relevant. Society was vehemently against it. Everyone in this country was conditioned to view all people of color as second-class citizens and not worthy of the same rights. At the time, many people thought, “We cannot allow inter-racial marriage because I will refuse to marry! It ruins it for the rest of us! It will destroy the institution of marriage!” Does that mean we shouldn’t have allowed it?

    Yes, I’m sure some people refused to marry after inter-racial marriage was legalized. I’m sure many people will refuse to marry if gay marriage is legalized. That isn’t reason enough to keep it illegal. For every couple that refuses to marry, there will be a gay couple that will. Do you realize how many homosexuals there are out there? Out and closeted? Do you realize the industries that will be positively impacted by allowing gay marriage? Travel, real estate, event planning, etc. Whether you like it or not, the gay community is a huge contributor to the financial market and has a lot to offer.

    If you’re asking everyone to stop and think before moving ahead with social advancements, then you need to look at all sides, and not just the convenient ones. I think we have all been oppressed enough for many years for a variety of reasons. Just because we have ALL mucked up the institution of marriage throughout the years, doesn’t mean that gay couples should pay the price. No one will ever truly now know the long-lasting effects change will make. You never know, they might just be POSITIVE.

    • mlabot permalink*
      October 14, 2009 10:24 pm

      “What none of you are realizing is that it is incredibly one-sided to site examples that had a negative outcome to explain possible outcomes to legalizing gay marriage.”

      “No one will ever truly now know the long-lasting effects change will make. You never know, they might just be POSITIVE.”

      I think you have the crux of the argument right there Caren. We don’t know for sure what will happen, however, the track record isn’t that great for societal meddling, as the examples point out. The examples chosen are not simply the negative ones among an array of mixed results. They are the only examples out there of major progressive societal change in the last 30 years.

      I understand your well meaning desire to improve society through changing marriage. However, you cannot argue with certainty that the consequences will be as benign as has been claimed. Given the history, I would tend to doubt those claims.

  10. Julie Coyne permalink
    October 14, 2009 9:40 pm

    My son sent me this article, he said it was one of the best articles he has read in many months. The way you articulated this is beautiful and wise. Wisdom and beauty, words I rarely choose to use together with political/social commentary.
    I see a lot of opinions without facts, a lot of strengthening of what is believed using the facts that go along with it and ignoring the ones that don’t. It is against our pride and nature to question ourselves on things we think we already believe and supposedly know, or what our party stands for, and yet, here it is. You were eloqent and straight forward, even a simple gal like me can get it, and a highly educated well read young man was impressed with your clairity. Kudos, I will enjoy following you and your thought/fact process in the future.

    • mlabot permalink*
      October 15, 2009 3:14 am

      Julie, Thank you! I’m so glad you gained from it. I am not the original author however, Jane Galt is a pen name for someone who has remained anonymous and who unfortunately no longer writes. This article was written in 2005, since then it’s been reprinted several times. I reprinted it because of it’s relevance to the marriage fight currently going on in Maine. I agree with you 100%. This is one of the best articles I’ve read, ever, on this subject. It’s well worth the length.

  11. Julie Coyne permalink
    October 14, 2009 9:41 pm

    spelling / eloquent

  12. Roger permalink
    October 15, 2009 3:09 am

    Do you think that abortion should be made illegal by the government?

    Some argue that the government should step in and make abortion illegal, and they argue “But if I were pregnant, of course I wouldn’t let it negatively affect my life in any way. I would put the child up for adoption and go about my business, or I would be a warm and loving parent! And the world would be a much better place with all of these children!”

    Then… we have coat hanger abortions that result in women and girls dying. We have women and girls dying after taking special “abortion pills” sold to them on the black market. We have women being murdered by partners who don’t want to support a child. We have more children piling into the foster care system. We have more children abused and raped by parents who never wanted them. We have an increase in crime and murder rates as these unloved children reach adulthood. We have women and girls dropping out of school and remaining forever as welfare mothers.

    …..Oops. I guess we didn’t foresee these “unintended consequences” of government intervention.

    • mlabot permalink*
      October 15, 2009 10:50 am

      “…..Oops. I guess we didn’t foresee these “unintended consequences” of government intervention.”

      Roger. Actually, I think those “consequences” are all we have seen from the pro-abortion movement. Those are the obvious arguments for the pro-abortion position, however what this article is pointing out is that there are more factors at stake than you can likely forsee. The most obvious question is, were those children not aborted, who would they have grown up to be? What impact on the world would they have had? Another question might be, would those mothers who are now getting abortions, be more careful in their sexuality if abortion were not so readily available? What impact would that have on society?

      Historically mothers did not have access to abortion, they became pregnant and raised their children. The crux of your argument is that without abortion, all societal ills would be even worse, yet before abortion was around, that was not so. Society has not become better, cleaner, more moral because of abortion. Rather abortion seems to act as the enabler of all these behaviors by curbing natural consequence.

      Certainly death for death you could question which side of the issue likely saves more lives if saving lives is the aim of government intervention as you seem to intimate. However, considering the numbers of abortions going on, you would handidly lose. I would argue that saving lives is not the ultimate role of government, but providing freedom is and that Roe V. Wade fundamentally hampers freedom.

      The government has already intervened to say that abortion MUST be legal. That in and of itself is a stretch. Most scholars agree that Roe V. Wade was an example of legislating from the bench in a usurpation of state’s rights and legislative process.

  13. Caryn permalink
    October 17, 2009 3:52 pm

    There is a problem with being a dead fish in the river.When the waters become tainted with poisons you will be affected.If you are dead as you may point out” then it really doesn’t affect me” .Oh,but you are wrong.Your children or if you leave no children behind then it is someone elses children.Either way ,your lack of caring for what other people do in their own homes soon comes out of their homes because they won’t be happy with doing it only in their homes because in their eyes they are just like you and I, and will want the same rights as you and I so then they fight and claw their way to doing what they did in their private homes to doing it out in public.Then they want to share the bathrooms with you.Which is okay until these grown men want to share the public restrooms with your little girls because in their eyes they are just like you now because they got the “sex change”.All is not good just because you put your head in the sand.

  14. Caryn permalink
    October 17, 2009 3:55 pm

    It all comes to this.And one day we will all see.It isn’t how we see it.It’s how God our Creator sees it all.

  15. Rob permalink
    October 24, 2009 10:59 pm

    Good article – insightful. Marriage is a civil contract, thus governmental, for many it is also a religious contract. That is a governmental contract is why this is an issue. Gay marriage advocacy is asking the government to set gay-marriage equal to a non-gay marriage, or more than equal. More than equal as in asking government to make it illegal for anyone or organization to exclude someone on the basis of whether they are gay or not. For instance the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will not allow women to camp with young men (read teen-aged). That only makes sense. We see enough problems with teachers who become intimate with a young man or young woman, and society is outraged – and rightfully so. Why in the world would anyone want to increase this risk for a scout troop by introducing a male leader who has a same gender attraction? It makes no more sense than to have a woman leader. The BSA standard is not sexually biased, rather it is NOT about sex, and it intends to keep it that way by eliminating as far as possible those elements that could result in a sexual problem. (my thoughts – not vetted with the BSA)
    Back to gay marriage – what societal purpose does it serve? Marriage between a man and a woman still serves a societal purpose, even weakened as it is by the factors presented above. Gay marriage only serves to validate sex between to people of the same gender – not the loving relationship. (For two people of same or opposite gender can be co-dependent without sex, and are. I know of elderly women who are good friends and help each other, even own property together without any sexual relation.) Gay marriage is not marriage, it is a redefinition of marriage with no societal benefit. It is a bad idea.

  16. melissa permalink
    October 30, 2009 10:41 pm

    thanks, i really enjoyed reading this. many good points and you are correct, people need to seriously think before just jumping into a heated issue and quickly taking a side w/o having anything to back up what they are even siding with.

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