December 1, 2010

The Concern About Marriage's Future

Justin Katz

A comment that Mangeek left to a recent post on marriage and polygamy merits thought and response:

I'm having a really hard time seeing what's so bad about polygamy that it needs to be prohibited. I'm guessing that even if gay marriage and polygamy were allowed, the vast majority of people will still choose the 'standard configuration' we're all familiar with.

I'd rephrase his guess: The majority of people may continue to incline toward opposite-sex pairs, at least while the cultural echo of traditional marriage continues, but that doesn't mean that they'll continue to enter into them — particularly not with the sense of longevity and obligation that has been the key to the institution's success in Western society.

Same-sex marriage puts the final, irrevocable tear in the notion that the biological ability of men and women to create children through their intimacy is the single most relevant factor in marriage. Parents who pair up for life resolve questions of responsibility. They firmly set their children within lines of lineage tying them to the families and societies into which they're born. They affirm that they are joined in the children that they have jointly made and instill a sort of existential security on which healthy worldviews and habits can be built.

If that one basic requirement is removed, marriage is ultimately about the choices and well-being of adults. Don't get me wrong: the recent plausibility of same-sex marriage is a result of the institution's deterioration, not the cause of it. We've been treating marriage as a personal lifestyle choice for decades with the common practice of the serial polygamy of divorce and remarriage. Once same-sex marriage is written into the law and thereby enforced in the culture, it isn't even arguable that the traditional view of marriage applies except as an individual option among many.

I've argued many times that the whole point of responsible adults' investing in the institution of marriage is to create a culture of marriage that draws less responsible adults toward it, thus being an active force in society, rather than a mere marker of legal responsibilities and benefits. If marriage is, by contrast, about the mutual care and support of adults, then it is a real question whether a particular woman (to pick one gender) is better off slogging through life with a peer husband or signing on as wife number 2 or 22 of a billionaire.

We're still wrapped up in the romantic sense of marriage, so from our current place in history it seems universal and unchangeable that people will marry for love, rather than security, but it that won't last. Indeed, creating that sense was part of what made traditional marriage a powerful force for directing our culture. Without it, not only would children not be as thoroughly intertwined with diverse and dispersed cultures (as opposed to local tribes and insular nations), but the society would drift toward hierarchies defined not merely by money and political power, but by family structure.

This is the point at which I'd bring up Russ's comment, immediately following Mangeek's:

Ummm, cause and effect requires that something actually has been tried (exactly what the professor above said). As Drucker put it...

"There is no 'scientific' way to set objectives... There are rightly value judgements ... one reason for this is that the decisions stand under incurable uncertainty. They are concerned with the future. And we have no 'facts' concerning the future."

Russ is responding to my suggestion that radicals/progressives have taken, as their method of operation, grand experiments with human society, basing rapid changes on the limited ability of people to foresee consequences. He doesn't really object so much as restate his willingness to ignore the objection.

Lost in the spat, though, is the fact that tradition and cultural competition is human society's way of experimenting over time and recording the results. Looking back at history, it appears to me, at least, that society's that fostered a strong tradition of opposite-sex, two-person marriage became more democratic, more free, and more prosperous. That's not a record with which we should experiment except by the long slow process of cultural adjustment, not by the fiat of politically captured legislatures, and certainly not by the declarations of unelected judges.

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I do get a kick out of your determination to argue this, but lets face it, the debate is almost over. Gay marriage is coming to RI. I love football, so let me put it in those terms. It is fourth down. You are on your own 5 yard line, no time outs, and down by a 8, and your quarter back has a sprained throwing arm. Two minutes left in the game. You are going to need a few Hail Marys to get it in the end zone.

As for nationwide, you can see with all the stuff coming out with DADT that judges are not needed when 70% of the forces don't agree with it.

"grand experiments with human society" will turn out fine, like women's and civil rights, also considered experiments. When your children are your age not giving homos equal rights will be just as laughable as not giving blacks and women equal rights today.

Be not afraid. These people are your neighbors, friends, and family.

Posted by: Swazool at December 1, 2010 10:36 AM

The opponents of gay marriage, at this point, are like Al Pacino standing behind the white mountain on his desk in "Scarface," firing away both barrels, thinking they can stop progress with help from "my little friend."
Face it, they don't care who gets hurt anymore. To them, antibullying campaigns deprive them of a tool they need to keep society in line.
The sad part is, this is all unnecessary.The economy and violence are the problems in our society, not SSM.

Posted by: bella at December 1, 2010 11:13 AM

So let me get this straight, you don't think that states should have the right to say challenge the Constitutionality of the healthcare reform bill in the courts because that would be changing law based on the "declarations of unelected judges"?

Or does that just apply when they disagree with you? Just checking.

Posted by: Russ at December 1, 2010 11:25 AM

Tea Partiers, no comment?

"In the arguments in favor of a declaration of rights, one which has great weight with me [is] the legal check which it puts into the hands of the judiciary." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789.

Posted by: Russ at December 1, 2010 11:29 AM


No problem with unelected judges here. Them's the rules as writ. Elected judges are no panacea, either. Direct recall, well, that would be an interesting experiment but hard to justify in a representative republic.

The problem with OCare is that it is a unique misapplication of that old slut the Commerce Clause. It's one thing to regulate interstate commerce as it occurs; it's quite another to mandate that individuals participate in commerce. Unique as in nobody has had the chutzpah to try it before.

Posted by: chuckR at December 1, 2010 11:59 AM

One of the problems with polygamy and polyandry is that men and women are born in roughly even numbers (IIRC its 105:100 boy/girl at birth and evens out somewhat in the first few years).
The only areas where polyandry might be justified is South and East Asia where female abortion and infanticide has left far, far more men now of marrigable age that women. No area I know of where polygamy makes any societal sense.

Posted by: chuckR at December 1, 2010 12:06 PM

Q: What's the best punishment for having multiple wives?

A: Having multiple wives.


Posted by: Patrick at December 1, 2010 12:18 PM

The reasons for supporting gay marriage from a societal standpoint are very similar to the reasons for supporting traditional marriage

Increased societal stability

The arguments put forth by Justin
are all long discredited, easily destroyed Right-Wing talking points

Bottom line is there are no rational arguments against gay marriage and there are plenty of good ones for it.

Posted by: Sammy at December 1, 2010 5:32 PM

Thanks for posting, Justin. I'm very busy at work and haven't been able to get post today.

First: "One of the problems with polygamy and polyandry is that men and women are born in roughly even numbers" -ChuckR

Well, just as with Gay Marriage, I expect that only a tiny fraction of the population will engage in polygamous marriage. Nobody I know is interested in having more than one wife, except for maybe one or two who are in 'open marriages' anyway.

Same for gay marriage... There's only a small portion of society that are gay, and only a subset will choose to get married.

I think that the benefits that marriage confer (fiscal stability, committed love, death benefits, higher-achieving children) greatly outweigh whatever 'costs' you lay down.

Also, I think 'modernizing' the societal construct of marriage to be more inclusive might actually boost the number of people doing it. I certainly don't like the idea of throwing a $20,000 party for a purpose that some of my guests are unrightfully excluded from. It seems rude.

Regulating marriage in order to promote certain 'approved' lifestyles at the expense of others that are being successfully carried-out seems like exactly the kind of 'government control' that the Right bashes Progressives for.

Posted by: mangeek at December 1, 2010 5:51 PM

Also, I'm going to re-work something Justin said, see if it makes sense:

"Same-sex marriage puts an end to the silly notion that the biological ability of men and women to create children through sex is the single most relevant factor in marriage. Gay parents who pair up for life resolve questions of responsibility. They set their adopted children within families who want them instead of the broken, dysfunctional, or neglectful ones to which they were born. They affirm that they are joined in the children that they have jointly raised and instill a sort of existential security on which healthy worldviews and habits can be built."

I know quite a few gay couples. Only a small subset are interested in marriage for themselves, and only a subset of them are interested in raising children of their own. Some of that might be a factor of age, since not many of my heterosexual friends seem particularly interested in marriage or kids before they get into their thirties. All in all, I don't think getting more willing-and-able child-raising units will have much of an effect either way.

Posted by: mangeek at December 1, 2010 6:46 PM

The USA is the greatest "Social Experiment... Ever"

Justin, you are beating a dead horse..time to move on, Gay marriage will be, the law of the land..and children in the future will search the Internet and wonder, who this crazy conservative "Justin Katz" was, and
why did sane people listen to his foolishness ???

Folks on the Right call Gay Marriage, and, ending...Don't ask Don't Tell a social experiment

as they called
ending slavery, a social experiment
opposed by conservatives in both parties

Women's right to vote
opposed by conservatives in both parties

integration of our armed forces
opposed by conservatives in both parties

integration of colleges
opposed by conservatives in both parties

Voting Rights for Blacks
opposed by conservatives in both parties

Posted by: Sammy at December 1, 2010 10:40 PM

I'm just sick of the lies told by the little Leftists on this board. I'm happy to debate with honest adults, but this barrage of false statements stifles discussion. I do wish Justin would set some ground rules here.

Posted by: BobN at December 2, 2010 9:25 AM

Oh, brother. So, Bob, you'd prefer a cheering section to a debate? The whole "lies" thing is getting a little tired.

Posted by: Russ at December 3, 2010 10:31 AM

Oh, and well said, chuckR. I think many progressives would agree that the Commerce Clause has been so far extended to allow federal control of nearly everything. Notably conservatives frequent ignore the issue when convenient, for instance in calling for cross state competition in health insurance.

Posted by: Russ at December 3, 2010 10:35 AM
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