October 20, 2008

The Non-Case for Same-Sex Marriage as a Republican Issue

Justin Katz

So Damien Baldino, blogger at RIRepublican.com and candidate for the Rhode Island House, supports same-sex marriage. I sympathize. I do. In fact, when I began considering the issue back in the spring/summer of 2001, I held the libertarian view, as a government matter, but I rapidly discerned the weakness of the pro side for SSM, and I'm increasingly appreciating how fundamental marriage is for many of the very principles that Baldino emphasizes. Consider:

First, Republicans tend to support small government. To me, that means having a government that focuses on the "basics", preserves individual liberty, and stays out of the private lives of its citizens. Among the most private of these decisions is who one should marry.

On the first point, I recommend that people begin to keep an eye on seemingly unrelated stories, such as the one I noted yesterday, describing hardship and difficulties, with the implication that the government ought to step in and help. Marital dysfunction is often at the center of them, even if the subjects and reporters gloss over it.

Fortifying familial ties, as in nuclear households, is what allows us to preserve freedom in the law and minimize the size of government. Making the necessary edits to the image of marriage in order to include same-sex relationships changes the meaning a very important way. Yes, there ought to be rights and allowances for adults who commit to supporting each other, but I can't for the life of me see why they ought to be limited to people of the same sex who have sex, nor for the life of me why they have to be held up as equivalent to the basic melding of the sexes across generations. If you want the government to focus on "basics," in other words, we need social institutions that secure everything else.

As for the second point, characterizing marriage as a hugely private matter flatly ignores the significance and purpose of the category. It is a public institution; it is a public declaration of intent and a public recognition of responsibility for each other and for the children that married couples typically produce. Indeed, the public approval that marriage allocates is precisely the reason that gay rights advocates have switched from dismissing marriage to coveting it over the past fifteen years.

The need to protect the marriage culture similarly negates Baldino's subsequent paragraph:

Republicans tend to emphasize family values. In my view, supporting family values should involve encouraging marriage. Many couples have children from previous relationships, and may be living together. They are couples in every sense of the word, yet they lack legal protections afforded to heterosexual couples. If these couples are living as families, they should be treated as any other family, with all the legal protections that entails.

This view evades the fact that mothers and fathers are uniquely valuable to children. Same-sex pairings are not "couples" in the sense that they can provide children with both. For the purposes of forming a family, however, they are "couples" in the sense that any pair could be, whether sexually involved or not, whether related in some other way or not. It doesn't take sexual intimacy for people to remain mutually supportive "for years," to purchase property together, or to work together to raise families. Baldino's right that the government shouldn't tell citizens in any such arrangements "who they can marry," but it has to admit that the limitless variety of human relationships cannot all be defined under the umbrella of marriage.

Throw in the damage being done in the judicial and procedural implementation of SSM and the likelihood that an SSM victory will lead to legal presumptions against the practice of many mainstream religions, and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify either acquiescence or the redefinition of conservatism to support this most radical of causes.

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Justin, I completely agree with our need to examine marital and familial situations. I also agree with the need for strong families to maintain a strong society.

With that said, families can come in many different forms. I was raised by my mother and grandparents. It wasn't a traditional nuclear family, but I received all the care and guidance you would expect in the most ideal nuclear family.

As for my candidacy, I am not currently a candidate for the Rhode Island House, but I intend to run in 2010. As you may know, the State Supreme Court refused to hear my case.

Posted by: Damien Baldino at October 20, 2008 7:25 PM

You're correct: families can come in different forms. I explicitly mentioned that. The questions are:

1. Why we can't uphold an ideal (mother, father, children) even as we respect other forms.
2. Why, as a matter of law, sexual same-sex couplings ought to be treated as more significant than any other arrangement in which adults take care of each other.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 20, 2008 7:38 PM

If one is secure in his or her Christian heterosexual marriage, one should not feel threatened by gay marriage.
Baldino, like an increasing number of young conservatives, realizes the fight against gay marriage is a waste of time better spent pursuing other ways of bettering society for all of us.
Too bad Palin, based on her remarks today, obviously feels threatened...threatened enough to dispute McCain's position.

Posted by: rhody at October 20, 2008 10:05 PM

Utter nonsense, Rhody. It is because I (for example) am secure in my Christian heterosexual marriage that I'm comfortable standing up for marriage as it crystallized in our society. As a general proposition, it has seemed to me that support for SSM is higher among divorced heterosexuals.

I've yet to come across a supporter of traditional marriage who "feels threatened by gay marriage." Rather, they feel that future generations — especially the less privileged among them — are the ones who are threatened.

That's as the question relates to marriage. As it relates to the free expression and practice of religion, well, the evidence is already coming into view that there is indeed reason for concern.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 20, 2008 10:14 PM

Rhetorical twostep. I don't believe it threatens my kid's future marriage, either.
And it doesn't threaten my belief on God, either (yes, many of us who support same-sex marriage DO believe in God).

Posted by: rhody at October 20, 2008 10:55 PM

Believe what you will. By changing the core meaning of the institution, the innovation will undermine its significance and social utility. Perhaps you've passed on enough of your marital heritage that it won't affect your "kid." (Roll the dice on your "kid's" spouse.) Your grandkids? Well, certainly dilution will be greater at that time.

And your strawman: Nobody's saying that individuals will cease to believe in God. What will happen is that those who believe in a particular moral code (including a traditional view of marriage) will be edged away from the ability to put their faith into practice in their lives, thanks to various government licenses and tax exemptions. Just ask those who did the Lord's work assisting with adoption in coordination with the Catholic Church in Massachusetts.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 20, 2008 11:03 PM

"Separate but Equal"

Posted by: Greg at October 21, 2008 6:24 AM

Apples and oranges.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2008 7:07 AM


How come nobody seems to treat the position civil-unions-yes, marriage-no as a problem when it comes from a Democratic candidate (Joe Biden said "absolutely not" to gay marriage in the Vice-Presidential debate), yet it becomes evidence of some disqualifyingly flawed view of the world when it comes from a Republican?

(And Obama and Biden agree on this issue, so the answer has to go deeper than "because no one seriously believes that Joe Biden understands what he's saying from one sentence to the next".)

Posted by: Andrew at October 21, 2008 8:13 AM


I think John "Straight Talk" McCain has proven that politicians will say anything to get elected. I don't take anything said on the campaign trail seriously.

Biden is a fossil just like McCain. He knows his views are the old guard. Gay Rights are coming and legal discrimination is coming to an end.

Posted by: Greg at October 21, 2008 8:44 AM

Justin, it may be agreeable that restricting marriage to the traditional variety has some societal or "collective" worth, but isn't fundamental conservatism about individual rights and responsibilities?

Rhody's right (there I said it!), as a conservatibe-leaning 30-something, gay marriage isn't even on my radar...

Just my .02

Posted by: JP at October 21, 2008 11:15 AM

Or dig the good-cop, bad-cop game McCain and Palin are playing. While Palin declares jihad on gay marriage to rouse the rabble, McCain takes the "moderate" position that it should be left up to the states.
BTW, McCain's state was the first to reject such an amendment at the polls (and nobody's ever called Arizona a hotbed of liberalism). Two years later, they try again.

Posted by: rhody at October 21, 2008 11:16 AM


Modern conservatism is about conserving the practices and principles that allow us maximal freedom, which entails spreading out responsibilities across the social strata (e.g., government, religion, business, family and so on). So tell me, which of the following will appear on your radar screen?

1. When the government must take more responsibility for various tasks because it has pushed religious groups away from them (as with adoption in Massachusetts)?
2. When the pathway to the institution of laws tha supporters of same-sex marriage are blazing bring ever more presumptuous and oppressive laws through the judiciary?
3. When the social problems generated by the collapse of a functional marriage culture bring even more irresistible pressure on the government to act as a surrogate parent (at our collective expense)?

Marriage between men and women has existed in every human society, as a relationship uniquely distinct and valuable in itself, and in our most successful of societies, it is intricately interwoven with law and culture. There's nothing conservative about radically altering such a precedent on the grounds of minority emotion and the wrongly targeted desire to be on the right side of a civil rights dispute.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2008 12:53 PM

Damned minorities. Always wanting to sit at the front of the bus, drink from our water fountains and have the same right to marry as us 'regular' folk. Buncha savages.

Posted by: Greg at October 21, 2008 1:23 PM

"Modern conservatism is about conserving the practices and principles that allow us maximal freedom"

Respectfully, before I try to address your question, I need you to define "us"

Posted by: JP at October 21, 2008 1:48 PM


Us. Humanity. What an offensive question!

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2008 5:04 PM

Us. Humanity. But not the queers. They're allowed less than maximal freedoms.

Posted by: Greg at October 21, 2008 5:38 PM

No, homosexuals are able to marry, but for obvious reasons, they choose relationships that are not marriage. They do not have the freedom to redefine a central cultural institution to suit their preferences by force of the law(and then leverage the new definition to infringe upon the freedoms of others).

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2008 6:06 PM

Did you just state that if gays want to marry, they should just decide to settle down in a nice heterosexual marriage?

Why don't they just go south of the Manson-Nixon line and get some Baptist minister to 'cure' them?

I have, officially, lost every last modicum of respect for you.

Posted by: Greg at October 21, 2008 6:32 PM

Given the way in which you "discuss" things, I can't say I'm too concerned about the loss of your respect.

What I stated is that there's a relationship called "marriage" that is uniquely (across societies and history) between men and women. There are reasons for that understanding, and reasons to perpetuate it.

Understandably, homosexuals do not wish to enter into such relationships. That's fine. There's no requirement to marry.

Indeed, homosexuals can solemnize their relationships, calling them whatever they like — nobody should attempt to police their vocabulary. But in seeking public recognition of their relationships, the state (which has no right to be in the love business) should consider what those relationships entail and what the benefits all around are to recognition and benefits. There is a strong argument for supporting committed mutual care, although I don't see why the sexual behavior of the pair ought to be presumed.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2008 6:44 PM

(Useless insult deleted.)

Posted by: Greg at October 21, 2008 6:47 PM

Justin, your brand of conservatism is really utilitarian-conservatism: the greatest good for the greatest number of conservatives, screw personal liberty.

No thanks.

Posted by: JP at October 21, 2008 8:20 PM


I just contradicted that in a response to your question. If you're going to call me a liar, at least make an argument of it.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2008 9:03 PM

"Modern conservatism is about conserving the practices and principles that allow (humanity) maximal freedom"

The basis of your argument is that gay people should be denied "maximal freedom" because of the societal value of maintaining the definition of traditional marriage.

Personally, I'm not comfortable with the government deciding what individual liberties should be denied in the name of "the public good", as it's the same philosphy that was used to create the Patriot Act, the Community Reinvestment Act, and the DC gun ban, amongst other things.


Posted by: JP at October 22, 2008 9:32 AM

But what you're advocating is a right for homosexuals to change the definition of marriage to something that it has never been in such a way as to deprive other citizens the right to determine the definitions and processes of their own government. There are no civil rights violations where two circumstances are distinct, which is the case with sexual relationships between a man and a woman and sexual relationships between two people of the same sex.

Beyond that, you haven't addressed my examples of other liberties that will evaporate should all marriage laws be forced to adjust to a new definition.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 22, 2008 10:26 AM

Same-sex marriage isn't the end of the world, cultural Taliban be damned.
If same-sex marriage is that great an evil, you can always go to Iran, where its leader makes sure it doesn't exist.

Posted by: rhody at October 22, 2008 11:52 AM
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