Monday, June 27, 2011

Gay Marriage and Sexual Exclusivity

David Frum gets all wishy washy, "I was wrong about same-sex marriage." (Via Memeorandum.) Frum indicates that he'd long opposed gay marriage, and he'd engaged Andrew Sullivan on the topic in online debates. But he's had a change of heart. Here's the gist of Frum's argument:
... I find myself strangely untroubled by New York state's vote to authorize same-sex marriage -- a vote that probably signals that most of "blue" states will follow within the next 10 years.

I don't think I'm alone in my reaction either. Most conservatives have reacted with calm -- if not outright approval -- to New York's dramatic decision.


The short answer is that the case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality. The case has not passed its test.

Since 1997, same-sex marriage has evolved from talk to fact.

If people like me had been right, we should have seen the American family become radically more unstable over the subsequent decade and a half.

Instead -- while American family stability has continued to deteriorate -- it has deteriorated much more slowly than it did in the 1970s and 1980s before same-sex marriage was ever seriously thought of.
It keeps going like that, on the not-so-bad decline of the traditional family structure in America. But it's a lousy argument. I wrote on families the other day. In California just 23.4 percent of households include a traditional married family with children. The causes are complex, but making same-sex marriage easier will cause those numbers to further erode.

I don't think David Frum has a clue. More likely, he's just consolidating his shift away from the conservative right-wing. And this seems like a losing proposition, since it's not like there aren't enough incisive and influential commentators on the left, which is where Frum's headed. He's basically doing a Charles Johnson, except that he was a major pundit and conservative insider rather than a husky pony-tailed psychotic narcissist.

Anway, since Frum's using data from the mid-2000s, let's flash back to an article from 2004, by David Tubbs and Robert P. George "Redefining Marriage Away":
Conservative advocates of same-sex marriage insist that their goal is not a radical alteration of the institution itself. They favor the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships as marriages in order to secure "equal rights," they say. Their goal in redefining marriage is not to weaken or abolish it but to expand access to it, while leaving its core features intact. Far from harming marriage, they contend, the move to same-sex marriage would strengthen the institution.

Though this argument has a certain superficial appeal, it is profoundly mistaken. The issue is not one of equality or the right to participate in a valuable social institution. What divides defenders of traditional marriage from those who would redefine it is a disagreement about the nature of the institution itself. Redefining marriage will, of course, fundamentally change the posture of law and public policy toward the meaning and significance of human sexuality, procreation, and the bond between the sexes. Even more important, there are powerful reasons to fear that the proposed redefinition of marriage will destabilize and undermine this already battered institution.

To understand the destabilizing effects, consider this scenario. A young man and woman are engaged to be married. A month before the wedding, the man approaches his fiancée to ask whether she will consider an "open marriage," in which they will free each other from the duty to be sexually faithful.

Even today, the man's proposal is shocking, and his bride-to-be will almost surely be horrified by it. Nearly everyone would say that what the man has proposed is something other than a true marriage, since the norm of sexual exclusivity within marriage is essential to the institution. That is why the overwhelming majority of couples entering marriage do not even discuss whether they will follow the norm; they simply accept it.

Do most American husbands and wives honor the principle of sexual exclusivity in practice? The best evidence says yes. In their rigorous and acclaimed 1994 study on American sexual behavior, University of Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann and his associates found that 65 to 85 percent of American men and more than 80 percent of American women (in every age group) had no sex partners other than their spouses while married. These figures are remarkable, especially if we recall the many ways in which popular culture has mocked or trivialized human sexuality and the demands of marriage in recent decades.

But do most same-sex couples accept the norm of sexual exclusivity? In a 1999 survey of such couples in Massachusetts, sociologist Gretchen Stiers found that only 10 percent of the men and 32 percent of the women thought that a "committed" intimate relationship entailed sexual exclusivity. An essay called "Queer Liberalism?" in the June 2000 American Political Science Review reviewed six books that discussed same-sex marriage. None of the six authors affirmed sexual exclusivity as a precondition of same-sex marriage, and most rejected the idea that sexual fidelity should be expected of "married" homosexual partners. For more than a decade, a wide array of authors who favor redefining marriage to include same-sex partners have advanced similar views. In a 1996 essay in the Michigan Law Review, University of Michigan law professor David Chambers even suggested that marriage should be redefined to include sexual unions of three or more people--so-called polyamorous relationships.
Sorry, David Frum. That's decidedly NOT keeping families stable. What an idiot.

Anyway, I cited news reports earlier that the battle for gay marriage has a long way to go nationwide, and I'll be writing more on this, since New York has energized the Democratic Party's rim-station base.

Meanwhile, Robert George had a major research paper out last year, which updates some of the arguments above, "What is Marriage?"


Bruce Hall said...

A note I sent to my sister-in-law who is an ethics professor and practicing Catholic:

[here is an] Interesting argument:

"For if the state in fact has the competence, or authority, to declare that Adam and Steve, or Eve and Evelyn, are married, and has the related authority to compel others to recognize such marriages as the equivalent of what we have known as marriage for millennia, then why stop at marriage between two men or two women? Why not polyamory or polygamy? Why can’t any combination of men and women sharing financial resources and body parts declare itself a marriage, and then demand from the state a redress of its grievances and legal recognition of it as a family?"

Actually, why stop there? It would seem that marriage has been redefined by the state as "non-promiscuous cohabitation" so it could include a 70-year old man and an 11-year old girl or a 35-year old man and four 10-year old boys... as long as the relationship is deemed "permanent" [lasting longer than 3 months].

When one steps back from the issue and asks, "what is the purpose of marriage?", it might seem obvious that it serves two primary functions: continuation of the species within a socially recognized framework and preserving social order within a community for the purpose of stability and the welfare of children. Still, it can be argued that marriage fails 50% of the time with regard to these. Does that failure constitute the failure of the principle or the failure of the individuals? Perhaps it is a reflection of the failure of the general social order. One might argue then that the misogynistic Arabic cultures where women are often forced into marriage and must endure a lifetime within such bonding [unless the man decides that divorce is preferable] is a reflection of a superior social order.

The reality, it seems, is that the concept of marriage has been usurped by the state from the religious aspect of society to the extent that the same word now evokes far different understandings. From the state's viewpoint, marriage is simply another legal contract for determining rights, privileges, and allocation of property at dissolution. The biological aspect is irrelevant. The traditional social aspect is irrelevant. The only things that are relevant are the tax code and health care benefits.

AmPowerBlog said...

The biological aspect is key, Bruce. I blogged this topic for almost a year, just about every day, after Prop. 8 passed in California. I've been back and forth over the arguments. In Europe, courts are dealing with multiple wives, three-way marriages, etc., but to even raise those questions here generates outlandish cries of "bigotry" from the progressive rim-station radicals.