December 29, 2003

The Emerging Mainstream

Young people may be more conservative than their elders in some ways, but not in every way.

A new poll has found that 79 percent of all Americans believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

In the 18-29 year age range, 91 percent said that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Those aged 30-49, 50-64, and 65 and over were 81, 74, and 68 percent respectively.

Full equality for gay citizens is going to happen.

The anti-gay position is simply disintegrating. Those who don't like it best get used to it. Because when my generation runs the country, equality won't be left-wing, it will be mainstream. (Via Kevin Drum.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 12:02 AM
Comments

I see equality extended to polygamists on the horizon. Also, incest among consenting adults also gets a bad rap. There is no intellectually honest or objective reason to disallow them now.

Posted by: David at December 29, 2003 12:51 AM

David,

It doesn't matter whether or not there are intellectually honest reasons to oppose incest. The fact is that the vast majority of the population find it abhorrent. And that includes myself.

I'm sure that many years ago a person could have argued that incest and bestiality would follow inter-racial marriage. The same (il)logic is used by conservatives today.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 01:02 AM

Enh. They're right. We'll deal with it as it comes.

Posted by: Kimmitt at December 29, 2003 01:56 AM

David,

Actually, there is still a compelling and scientifically based reason to disallow incest: the greatly increased probability of reinforcing bad recessive genes leading to defective babies. That is the practical reason for the taboo in the first place. Now, when we've fully processed the human genome information, it may lead to a redefinition of "unacceptable degrees of consanguinity" based on gene charts. See Robert Heinlein, "Time Enough For Love", for a discussion on how that might work.

Posted by: SDN at December 29, 2003 05:32 AM

I'm sure that many years ago a person could have argued that incest and bestiality would follow inter-racial marriage. The same (il)logic is used by conservatives today.

I don't recall ever hearing "bestiality" as an issue regarding the dangers of interracial marriage. Nice strawman.

Also, your analogy between race and homosexuality is false. One involves behaviour, and therefore a choice, and the other does not. Polygamy and incest are far more appropriate analogies to homosexuality than race. And the legal and (il)logical justifications for one are equally appropriate for the other.

But like Kimmitt says, We'll deal with it as it comes, and I'm sure we'll apply some intellectually dishonest and "bigoted" excuse to deny the polygamists their marriages, and the brother/sister , father/daughter couples their satisfaction. That is, of course, until we've evolved beyond our narrow prejudices and oppressive social constraints.

Posted by: David at December 29, 2003 07:24 AM

David, homosexuality has nothing to do with behavior. Someone may choose to be celibate, but if they may still have a homosexual orientation. A better analogy then race would be religion.

Posted by: Mike Silverman at December 29, 2003 07:35 AM

Mike, all that is at issue here is the behaviour. Not the thoughts, desires, etc. etc. A good example of this are laws against bestiality. They only apply to a persons behaviour, not their desires to diddle sheep and dogs, etc. So too does the current issue of homosexuality deal with the behaviour only. Nobody is interested in anybody's thought life.

Posted by: David at December 29, 2003 07:45 AM

David,

Give me a break. I have gay male friends and not one of them has any interest in women. You think they should be condemned to celibacy on your behalf?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 08:50 AM

The conservative American Family Association is running an online poll about gay marriage. They say they will submit the results to Congress.

The pro-gay marriage vote is winning. More than 300,000 votes in favor.

David, if they ran a poll about incest it would lose 99 percent to 1 at best. That's why you don't have to worry about it.

Homosexuality was more taboo in the past, but incest was less taboo. That's another reason you don't have to worry about that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 08:59 AM

I have gay male friends and not one of them has any interest in women. You think they should be condemned to celibacy on your behalf?

Michael,

I don't hear anybody saying gays should be "celibate", do you? The issue isn't "celibacy", is it? No, it's not. It's legal status.

"Celibacy", yet another strawman offered up by you. Yet you have the nerve to assume the "logical" high ground.

Posted by: David at December 29, 2003 09:10 AM

David, if they ran a poll about incest it would lose 99 percent to 1 at best. That's why you don't have to worry about it.

Michael, I'm happy to hear that. But these issues aren't decided by polls, or even in legislatures anymore. They're decided in the courts. And unfortunately, the recent precedent they set will come back to haunt us. Maybe not tommorow, or the day after, but someday. And intellectually dishonest arguments and "bigotry" against these "alternative lifestyles" will stall the change for a time, but not forever.

We've entered into the age of relativism, and this issue is merely a symptom of it, not the cause. So don't get me wrong, a conservative victory on this issue won't solve a thing.

And that means that what we today consider abhorrent--polygamy, incest, etc.-- will be just another alternative lifestyle tommorow. There is no objective basis by which to oppose it. It's only a matter of time.

Posted by: David at December 29, 2003 09:25 AM

polygamy, incest, etc.-- will be just another alternative lifestyle tommorow. There is no objective basis by which to oppose it.

I think there are facts about human nature which give reason to oppose polygamy and incest. But there don't seem to be any facts which give reason to oppose gay marriage. I don't see any slippery slope.

Posted by: Jim at December 29, 2003 09:50 AM

I think there are facts about human nature which give reason to oppose polygamy and incest.

I'd be interested in knowing what those 'facts' are.

Posted by: David at December 29, 2003 10:05 AM

But these issues aren't decided by polls, or even in legislatures anymore. They're decided in the courts.

That could change in an instant of we would simply legalize gay marriage in the legistlature and thus neutralize the slippery slope concerns. If conservatives are worried about what will happen if the courts beat them to it, they have only themselves to blame.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 10:08 AM

That could change in an instant of we would simply legalize gay marriage in the legistlature and thus neutralize the slippery slope concerns.

Legislators, unlike judges, are accountable to their constituents. And those constituents, despite your unscientific poll, are opposed to gay marriage. That's why the activists had to take it to the courts.

I'm not really sure what you mean by the courts "beating them to it". But I do know conservatives are not in a race to the bottom with the courts.

Posted by: David at December 29, 2003 10:19 AM

The facts facts against incest are obvious biological and psychobiological ones. The facts counting against polygamy are facts about the limits of human devotion, natural jealousy, reproductive investment, likelihood of neglect of spouse and child, etc., all likely unavoidable due to our biology.

There is no objective basis by which to oppose it.

If so, why do you oppose it? Do you think there is no objective basis to oppose gay marriage? If so, why do you oppose gay marriage?

Posted by: Jim at December 29, 2003 10:24 AM

The facts facts against incest are obvious biological and psychobiological ones.

Do you think facts cannot be offered up against homosexuality and gay marriage too? Please. Yet, that won't stop the courts now will it?

More important than facts are feelings, agendas, worldviews, and the courts rule based on this. They have always done it, and always will. That's why something that was deemed constitutional yesterday can be ruled as UNconstitutional today. The courts legislate for the times. The Constitution is a "living, breathing document" remember?

Do you think there is no objective basis to oppose gay marriage?

I meant that given the Massachussets court's reasoning on gay marriage, and the Texas court's reasoning on sodomy, there is no objective basis to prohibit polygamy or incest using that reasoning.

Posted by: David at December 29, 2003 10:37 AM

That's why the activists had to take it to the courts.

Well, the courts do serve as a bulwark, protecting minority rights against the tyrrany of the majority; whether or not you agree that a given minority has certain rights, the courts are where they're going to pursue them if they see them as violated.

Pre-Stonewall, any poll taken would have been 99 to 1 against gay marriage, and that was less than forty years ago. I doubt that incest will be made legal at any point in our lifetimes, but it would not surprise me if forms of polygamy (such as the "line marriages" invented by Heinlein for "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress) would start to receive legal protections at some point.

I don't really care that much. As long as the kids have a reasonably stable household that sees to their physical and psychological needs -- and property rights are vaguely intelligently managed -- I'm disinclined to tell anyone who they should or should not sleep or live with.

Posted by: Kimmitt at December 29, 2003 10:37 AM

Biological arguments won't support a prohibition against incest - carriers of all sorts of genetic diseases knowingly have children who may be drastically affected and we don't prohibit that. And polygamy has been a human practice for thousands of years - who's to say it's unhealthy?

I think recent court decisions have made it clear that personal relationships are a private (as opposed to a generalized moral) matter - finding a behavior 'abhorrent' ain't gonna cut it. I 've always supported equal rights for gay people, but, in doing so, I accept that we are well onto that slippery slope, the one that tolerates incest, polygamy, and even practices more universally despised.

Posted by: Ellie at December 29, 2003 10:39 AM

Biological arguments won't support a prohibition against incest - carriers of all sorts of genetic diseases knowingly have children who may be drastically affected and we don't prohibit that. And polygamy has been a human practice for thousands of years - who's to say it's unhealthy?

On the first point, I bite the bullet; if we can efficiently institute a genetic test and deny the marriage license to any couple who will likely have a child that will suffer miserably from birth defects, then we should do so. On the second point, spousal and child neglect have also been practiced for thousands of years, but they are wrong.

Fight the slope, Ellie. Interracial marriage hasn't brought us man-dog weddings.

(Hi, Ellie. I miss arguing with you!)

Posted by: Jim at December 29, 2003 10:51 AM

David: I'm not really sure what you mean by the courts "beating them to it".

If the legislature legalizes gay marriage, the issue will not go to the courts. If the right insists on remaining reactionary about this, their worst nightmare (the courts) will deal with the issue instead.

There is a price to pay for being reactionary. One is that reactionaries have no say in the way events unfold in the end.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 11:36 AM

If (when) we legalize homosexual marriages, marrying your pet dog will follow within a decade or two at the most. Not to mention incest, pologamy, etc.

There will simply be no legal argument against it.

It is disingenious to compare breaking the inter-racial barrier to breaking the same-sex barrier. There are few, if any, fundamental differences between a black and a white. The differences between a man and a woman (no matter the color combination) are immense.

It is also disingenious to say that public opinion will be able to arrest this slippery slope. The growth in power of the federal judiciary as a law-making institution is growing dramatically and is almost unchecked by any other branch of government or national institution.

Gays deserve a resolution of this matter, which gives them the legal rights of marriage (such as civil unions), while stopping short of being marriage.

Posted by: Matt Ward at December 29, 2003 12:47 PM

Matt, how do you tell whether the difference between gay marriage and straight marriage would be "immense" or "fundamental" (to use your terms) in any relevant way?

The difference between black and white is "immense" when it comes to sickle cell anemia. Gays can't have kids; but neither can many straight couples.

The differences between man-dog/polygamy and previous marriage, on the other hand, are obviously immense in relevant ways.

Posted by: Jim at December 29, 2003 01:31 PM

Even if a man gets the right to marry his dog (which I very seriously doubt will ever happen), no one will show up to the wedding.

Just because one taboo is broken doesn't mean every taboo will therefore be broken. Life just doesn't work that way.

And like I said before about polygamy and incest, these taboos are now stronger than they once were, while the taboo against homosexuality has eroded. Any attempt to tie tolerance for incest with tolerance for homosexuality just isn't going to fly.

Liberalism does not mean "anything goes," and it never has.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 01:54 PM

Jim,

I forgot to mention incestous, gay marriages - no genetic problems there.
-------------
"..if we can efficiently institute a genetic test and deny the marriage license to any couple who will likely have a child that will suffer miserably from birth defects, then we should do so. "

Are you suggesting state regulation of reproduction? Talk about a slippery slope!

Forget the man-dog marriages though; dogs are (at least for the time being) incapable of providing informed consent. OTOH, in some states, under-age girls apparently are.

I don't really object to gay marriages, incestous relationships, or polygamy, as long as I don't have to subsidize it! I'm realistic though about our courts: expect cases soon on behalf of polygamous relationships. Can you imagine the child custody battles?

(Hope you're liking your new job, Jim)

Posted by: Ellie at December 29, 2003 02:52 PM

All I can respond with is this: Since the dawn of time, marriage has been defined as a union between a man and a woman, ostensibly for procreative purposes.

As you noted, Jim, there are logical problems with that as a defense of banning same-sex marriages. But this definition has served as a bulwark for preserving marriage as an institution that has stabilized society through thousands of years of human evolution.

Michael, you seem to think that public opinion is a strong enough force to hold back same-sex marriage rights from progressing to man-animal marriage rights. I hope you're right. But in 20 or 30 years, will this be up to the people or to a few unaccountable judges?

I've never tied tolerance for homosexuality to tolerance for incest. It's obvious that tolerance for gays has been growing over the past few decades while tolerance for incest has not. What I've said is that if you knock the leg out from under marriage that says it's a man-woman institution, you can't predict how that will transform the institution.

I don't believe most liberals believe "anything goes," but I know that most conservatives realize that you tamper with age-old institutions like marriage very carefully.

Posted by: Matt Ward at December 29, 2003 03:00 PM

you tamper with age-old institutions like marriage very carefully.

I can respect that. The thing is, from my perspective, letting gays marry each other is hardly even tweaking the institution at all. A gay marriage would not be different from my marriage in any way that matters to me. Marriage is about love and commitment, not sex, and certainly not a specific kind of sex act. My wife and I are not going to have children, so the procreation angle is moot to me.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 03:24 PM

Since the dawn of time, marriage has been defined as a union between a man and a woman, ostensibly for procreative purposes.

This really isn't correct -- polygamy is quite widespread, and polyandry, while uncommon, is known. In addition, what you're arguing here is that childless marriages should also be outlawed -- that a couple should show an intent to conceive (or at least adopt) before being allowed to marry.

But in 20 or 30 years, will this be up to the people or to a few unaccountable judges?

I guess. Brown v. the Board of Education was decided by "a few unaccountable judges." What you're more or less arguing here is that should be no legal elite which has the authority to interpret the law in a fashion different from persons who are unfamiliar with its nuances.

Posted by: Kimmitt at December 29, 2003 06:50 PM

Marriage exists for the benefit of the children. Ideally, a child needs both a father and a mother. As a recent father, this has become very clear, as my wife and I provide for different needs from my daughter (all probably rooted in biology). And it is thus in the best interest of any society to uphold marriage as a service to children, as most social problems can be traced back to upbringing. Gay marriages further cheapen the concept of marriage and make it about the couple (not the children). If you listen to the arguments in favor of gay marriage, they are all rooted in selfishness – I want this benefit, I want that convenience, etc. Nothing prevents gays from maintaining a committed relationship, they simply want the few goodies that the state couples to marriage. But marriage is not about them. It’s about the children.

The most common argument against this is the “no child argument.” But these are typically the exceptions in marriage. What is best for society doesn’t revolve around the exceptions; it revolves around the generalization. Look, individual gay marriages are not going to cause any problem. Just as an individual who decides to dump a bag of trash out in a National Park really doesn’t cause a terrible societal problem. Or an individual who urinates on the sidewalk doesn’t bring about the end of society. But if we decided to make it legal to urinate in public or toss out trash wherever we wanted, society would eventually suffer. I’d say the same thing holds with gay marriages, where over time the whole concept of marriage would further decline, as it becomes about the partners and not the children.

Of course, the whole concept of marriage is already on the ropes. In the 60s and 70s, those on the cutting edge gave us no fault divorces. Now we have scores of feral children. Today, the cutting edge cause is gay marriage. What will be the cutting edge cause in 2020? Polygamy? What argument allows gay marriage, yet prevents polygamy?

Posted by: Scott at December 29, 2003 09:38 PM

What argument allows gay marriage, yet prevents polygamy?

One per customer.

No one is denied marriage if they can only be married to one person. But gay people are denied marriage today. The two situations are not comparable.

You are saying that if A is allowed, then B through Z will also be allowed. This is the slippery slope argument, and the thing about the slippery slope is that it is a textbook logical fallacy.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2003 11:26 PM

The argument that prevents the slope is a list of facts about the unlikelihood of polygamy to yeild good lives and the lack facts showing the same thing about gay marriage.

Matt's last post is words wisdom any conservative would agree with. But they are the same words of wisdom spoken during the time when we were deciding the ethics of mixed-race marriage. Conservatives need to be on the lookout for cases that are valid exceptions to the "don't change anything" disposition. Rummage through your mind for exceptions (women's suffrage, etc.)

Being pro-gay marriage is conservative in the sense that it is pro-marriage. And I can't see, nor have any of the anti-gay marriage articles I've read shown, how gay marriage would have one iota of effect on the institution of straight marriage. To say I'm rabidly paranoid about the possibility of neglecting children (Scott's argument) is no exaggeration; but I see no such effect in the offing with gay marriage.

Posted by: Jim at December 30, 2003 06:04 AM

But they are the same words of wisdom spoken during the time when we were deciding the ethics of mixed-race marriage.

When mixed marriages where an issue, they warned of the slippery slope to gay marriages. Now it's come to pass. And now the slippery slope to marrying your dog will also come to pass.

Posted by: David at December 30, 2003 10:34 AM

David: When mixed marriages where an issue, they warned of the slippery slope to gay marriages. Now it's come to pass. And now the slippery slope to marrying your dog will also come to pass.

Using that logic, David, you ought to oppose inter-racial marriage too.

After my parents got divorced my father (who is white) married a Latina woman whose parents are from Mexico. And one of my best friends, who is gay, is getting "married" next year. "Married" gets quote marks because the ceremony won't be recognized by the state.

No one will be able to say anything to convince me that the above marriages are bogus or should not be allowed. And I would permanently damage my relationships with people I care about if I trash-talked their marriages and blamed them for enabling bestiality.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 30, 2003 10:51 AM

I still think Scott's right; I just don't particularly care.

Posted by: Kimmitt at December 30, 2003 01:57 PM

Citing “one per customer” is simply citing a social convention (subject to change). Gay people are not denied marriage. If gay people marry, no one is going to put them in jail. The issue is whether the state is supposed to recognize such marriages so that their marriages can tap into the small benefits and conveniences the state grants to marriage.

Polygamists are denied marriage and can be put in jail because of their polygamy. If one man and three women decide to enter into a marriage agreement, would Michael and Jim put them in jail? Jim claims there is a list of facts that indicate polygamy is unlikely to lead to a good life. Of course, who gets to decide if their life is good? Jim? Or the man and women who choose to have a polygamous relationship? And what are these facts? I don’t know what they would be, but if they exist, might they be due to the fact that polygamy is forced underground as a function of being unacceptable by the mainstream? And what of single-mother families? There are plenty of facts that indicate a single-parent household leads to a far worse life (for both parent and child) than a two-parent family? Is Jim also willing to make single-parent households illegal? At least those three women would have a father figure in the household, suggesting a polygamous relationship is better than a single-parent situation.

Michael notes that my argument is a slippery slope argument and is thus a logical fallacy. That would be relevant if I was attempting to create a logical proof. All I need to do is point to social evolution and note that the slippery slope argument, relating to marriage and societal decline, has a good track record.

Yes, gay marriage would have a huge, although subtle, effect on the institution of straight marriage by cementing the dangerous notion that marriage is all about the two people getting married. Remember, the issue is not about people getting married. It’s about having the state officially recognize the marriage. But why does the state even care about people’s private relationships in the first place? Because it has a vested interest in maintaining stable heterosexual relationships. Why? Because those relationships typically produce children, and the state has an interest because of the raising of those children (and how they will effect society). Of course, the state has neglected this responsibility ever since it has made it extremely easy for parents to divorce for any selfish reason. We are now paying the price in terms of all kinds of social problems. Nevertheless, as we see, there is a very strong argument for having the state recognize heterosexual marriages. There is no strong argument for having the state recognize gay marriages (the arguments for gay marriage are rooted in myopic selfishness (“gimme the benefits”)).

Posted by: Scott at December 30, 2003 02:02 PM

Scott,

What do you think of my marriage? My wife and I are not going to have children. Does this matter to you? The state doesn't care one way or the other.

I didn't get married for the "benefits," such as they are (including a higher tax bracket, ugh) from the state. But I would be annoyed, to say the least, if the state refused to recognize my marriage because we are not going to have children.

If my childless marriage counts, why shouldn't the "marriage" of my gay friend Keith count? He has an adopted daughter, after all.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 30, 2003 02:12 PM

Interesting.

Michael seems to be saying no matter the logic against gay marriage, he can't afford to accept that legalizing gay marriage might be disasterous for the institution itself. That would hurt too many feelings. Case closed.

Kimmitt seems to be admitting that he despises the institution of marriage, and sees legalizing gay marriage as a great way to weaken it.

Posted by: Matt Ward at December 30, 2003 02:23 PM

I think, Michael, that what you have are two deviations from marriage defined as strictly a state-recognized contract between a man and a woman for the purposes of producing children.

1. Marriage between a man and a woman that can't or doesn't intend to produce children.

2. Marriage between a man and man (or woman and woman) that can't produce children.

The State has determined that Situation #1 can be safely folded into the dominant definition without rendering that definition as a joke.

Situation #2 is much much more of a jump than Situation #1 and thus more of a threat to retaining marriage as a unique institution.

It's a hard issue. Gays are hard-wired the way they are, and probably most of them would be better parents than those hetereosexuals who change marriages like they change their socks.

Maybe, you're right, Jim, that admitting gays would strengthen marriage. I hope so. Sounds like it's gonna happen.

But I can't get out of my head the image of a solid dam being demolished and then well-intentioned people scurrying down the river to hurriedly build a new dam further down that will restrain the resulting flood.

Posted by: Matt Ward at December 30, 2003 02:38 PM

Scott, the business about jailing polygamists and single-mom families is a red herring, since we're talking about state recognition, not state toleration, of certain relationships. (But now that you mention it, sperm banks should be illegal, as it is an abomination to force a child to be someone whose dad jacked off and then split. So, I bite the bullet on that side issue.)

Scott: Gimme the benefits.: I may be misinformed, but is there really a net gain upon marriage? Of course, you cash in on your spouse's health plan, but don't taxes go up when you marry? Any info on that?

Polygamy: Above I listed reasons why polygamy is bad. I'd be happy to go to the mat on that point, but this is not the place. Who decides? The gummint, just as they decide that everyone ought to get an education, and what everyone ought to learn. There are certain important facts about good lives that the state ought to accentuate. Can they screw up and decide to give a big tax break for bestiality? Can they screw up and give us a crappy education? Yes. Hopefully, they won't. God help us.

Which brings us to the nub of the matter: the point of government sanction of marriage. The reply to Scott's argument that the point is our children is this: It's a powerful argument, but this is one of those cases in life where things get messy. It is too messy, cold-hearted and niggardly for the government to look into the lives of married couples who have been childless and revoke there marriages; it runs against the value placed on human solidarity demonstrated by committed, childless couples. By extension, it is now becoming more and more cold-hearted and niggardly to deny state recognition to gay couples. The case for gay marriage rests on the case for childless marriage.

Matt, as soon as I see good evidence that gay marriage would harm straight marriage or children, I'll concede the whole case to you. If it might harm families, then gays can go get bent. But I don't see it.

Posted by: Jim at December 30, 2003 02:42 PM

Matt's second post: scurrying down river: Yes, it's risky. I guess it really is a judgment call. I'm not nearly as sanguine as I probably sound.

Posted by: Jim at December 30, 2003 02:48 PM

Michael,

You can’t be so myopic on this issue, as we’re talking about a radical break from centuries of tested tradition. And once we’ve made the break, it would be almost impossible to go back (consider how we can no longer return to more rigorous requirements for divorce, despite the damage it’s excesses have done to our society). We’re not talking about any individual situation. Like I said, as an individual, I could dump all kinds of trash into the nice areas that you photograph so well. And it is highly unlikely that you would ever notice it. The issue with my pollution is not what I as an individual do. It’s what it would mean if all individuals were allowed to trash the environment. The state has to be concerned about the bigger picture over time, as we are shaping the world for our children and grandchildren. (BTW, I’m not making an analogy between gay marriage and trash – just highlighting the error in myopia).

On the one hand, we don’t want the state micro-managing marriages and granting benefits only when the marriage produces children. This opens another slippery slope. But facts are facts – most men and women will marry and most marriages produce children. And the state has an interest in this dynamic and in keeping those marriages intact. It is for this reason the state tries to keep the man and woman together. So a very reasonable balance is struck – the state recognizes marriages between a man and a woman, since such unions are most likely to produce children.

I’m sorry, but this break from such a tried-and-true tradition, that is reflected in the majority of the world’s cultures, is so radical that the proponents of gay marriage are the ones with the burden to shoulder. They need a strong and powerful case, that goes beyond emotionalism and selfishness, to argue why we should break with such a tradition.

Posted by: Scott at December 30, 2003 03:42 PM

I'm one of those leery of changing thousands of years of human experience so quickly. And an article I found on the web from an anthropologist also worried me, but I haven't had a chance to double check his claims. Sample quote from it:

Does the behavior of a small tribe in New Guinea have any bearing on the debates in contemporary America about "respect" for homosexual lifestyles? Perhaps not. After all, requiring homosexual behavior is far from merely permitting it. But the Etoro and similar societies do illustrate something about the logic of homosexual male relations in human societies. When such relations are subject to cultural elaboration they almost always fit into a pattern of initiation into secrets, male exclusivity, and a low status for women.

/cut a bit /

Many of its proponents say gay marriage is just the extension of a civil right to an unfairly excluded minority, and that liberal-minded argument sounds convincing to large numbers of Americans. I, however, am skeptical. The anthropological record, as I read it, shows that if a society treats male homosexual behavior as a fully legitimate option, it will end up not with a more expansively defined system of marriage, but with a dual-track system in which "marriage" is reduced to a bare transactional relationship, while male homosexuality will flourish according to its own dynamic.
As a social scientist, I am perfectly prepared to admit that American society can normalize male homosexuality and that "gay marriage" moves us in that direction. Other societies have run this experiment, and, in a fashion, it "works." If America normalizes male homosexuality through gay marriage, our culture is not suddenly going to become exactly like the Etoro, or the Big Nambas of the northern New Hebrides, or other such tribes. Rather, we will follow out the biological and cultural logic of homosexuality in our own fashion. The general results, however, are predictable on the basis of the ethnography: heterosexual marriage will be weakened; the birth rate will decline; the status of women as mothers will further erode; and young boys will be a much greater target of erotic attention by older males.
To say these things, I understand, is to excite vigorous disagreement from those who advocate gay marriage as just a step in the proper expansion of civil rights. The link between homosexual desire and erotic interest in children is especially contentious. Gay activists and their supporters frequently point out that most child molestation is perpetrated by heterosexual males. And they emphasize that homosexuality has no necessary link to pedophilia: a great many gay men are primarily interested in other adult gay men. but we are also left with the stubborn empirical fact that societies that have indeed institutionalized something akin to "gay marriage" have done so in the form of older men taking adolescent boys as their partners. To imagine that we could have gay marriage in the United States without also giving strong encouragement to this form of eroticism is, in light of the ethnographic evidence, wishful thinking.

The author of the article is Peter Wood, and this was The American Conservative. A source I don't normally look at and by its name one with a conservative bias. I don't remember how I came across it in the first place. But it worries me, and I kept it in the hopes of sometime being able to cross check some of the claims in it. Any evidence out there to disprove what he has to say?

Posted by: Elaine at December 30, 2003 03:48 PM

Scott: But facts are facts – most men and women will marry and most marriages produce children.

That will be true whether gays get married or not.

There will not be fewer marriages that produce children because gays can get married. Nor am I (or anyone else) one iota more likely to get a divorce if gays get married.

Look. Gay people are going to get "married" regardless. What we're really arguing about here is whether or not the state bureaucracy will recognize it.

And hey. My gay friend Keith is in an unrecognized gay marriage, and he has an adopted daughter. Do you think our society has a vested interest in keeping that family unit together? Or does it not matter because the daughter is adopted, not biological, and has two "dads"?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 30, 2003 04:13 PM

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Kimmitt seems to be admitting that he despises the institution of marriage, and sees legalizing gay marriage as a great way to weaken it.

Where did you get this information from? I have no belief that allowing different types of marriage will "weaken" the institution. I expect it to continue to adapt and provide the kinds of support for adult growth and child rearing that it always has. I'm just not particularly interested in having the state tell people who they're allowed to sleep or live with. The state should handle property rights and try to keep divorces reasonably amicable.

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I've never understood why homophobes think kids will suddenly turn gay because homosexuality is no longer taboo.

There is nothing in this world that could make me turn gay. I liked girls when I was four years old. I skipped the whole "girl germs" phase and definitely didn't need to be told I was supposed to like them.

Kimmitt seems to be admitting that he despises the institution of marriage, and sees legalizing gay marriage as a great way to weaken it.

Here is Kimmitt's bio, from his Web site.

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Yes, what we are arguing is whether or not the state bureaucracy will recognize it. Back to the facts - most men and women will marry and most marriages produce children. That’s why the state bureaucracy recognizes it. Gay marriage is not about producing children. There will be exceptions, but that’s anecdotal myopia. The state thus has no reason to recognize gay marriage. What’s worse, by recognizing gay marriage, the state opens Pandora’s Box for all sorts of other types of relationships (such as polygamy). Thus, the state also has reason not to recognize gay marriage.

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