Articles on Gay Marriage

1. "Where Things Stand with Homosexual “Marriage”,

5. "The Other Marriage War" E. J. Graff
6. "Marriage: One Man, One Woman," Robert H Knight Peter Sprigg
7. "Deathblow to Marriage: Gay marriage has real implications," Stanley Kurtz
8. "Did gay marriage destroy heterosexual marriage in Scandinavia?" M.V. Lee Badgett
9. "A conservative case for gay marriage," Andrew Sullivan
10. "Gay marriage 'rights'" Thomas Sowell

11."The Weekly Standard's Absurd Case Against Gay Marriage," Rob Anderson
12. "Pandora and Polygamy," Charles Krauthammer
13 "One Man, Many Wives, Big Problems," Jonathan Rauch
14. "Joining the Debate but Missing the Point," Nathaniel Frank

1. Keith Burgess-Jackson (AnalPhilosopher Blog), Associate Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and Humanities, The University of Texas at Arlington.
Where Things Stand with Homosexual “Marriage”

Five days ago, 11 states rewrote their constitutions to ensure that legal marriage remains a heterosexual institution. See here. Even Oregon, which has a reputation as a progressive (some would say “loony”) state, decided against allowing homosexuals to “marry.” The vote percentage in Oregon was 57-43. Other states voted against it by margins of 7-1, 3-1, and 2-1. This was a glorious victory for conservatives and a humiliating defeat for liberals.

Where do things stand? What Tuesday’s results show is that Americans are overwhelmingly against changing the traditional understanding of marriage. Some disappointed pundits have said that this reflects bigotry. No. It reflects intelligence. The other day, Pat Caddell said that homosexual “marriage” isn’t a conservative/liberal issue. It’s an intelligence/stupidity issue. I agree. I have said in this blog many times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks. I do the same for dog “voting.” If we took our dogs to the polls and got them to push levers with their paws, they would not be voting. They would be going through the motions of voting. It would be a charade. Voting is not made for dogs. They lack the capacity to participate in the institution. The same is true of homosexuals and marriage.

Liberals, being liberals, will not give up. They know that if they are to prevail on this issue, they will have to go over the heads of voters. They will have to win in the courts. I understand that lawsuits are already being filed in federal court to challenge the state constitutional amendments. Eventually, perhaps sooner than we think, the issue will reach the United States Supreme Court. If the Court rules that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the Equal Protection Clause, it will set in motion a train of events that will culminate in a constitutional amendment, for that will be the only way to rectify the Court’s error.

What Tuesday’s results show is that an amendment will pass. Congress will ratify it, for anyone who votes against it will have a hard time being reelected, even in a state such as Oregon. And once the amendment goes to the states, there will be a mad rush to ratify it. It will take only days. There is no question in my mind that a Court ruling that forces homosexual “marriage” on the people of this country, independently of (or against) their wishes, will be met with an amendment. How the amendment is worded remains to be seen. It should simply say that marriage, for all legal purposes, is a relation between a man and a woman. In effect, the amendment will make the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution inapplicable to homosexual “marriage.” It will say that the Court misapplied the clause.

If I were in favor of homosexual “marriage,” I would work within the democratic system to get people of particular states to vote for it. I would stay out of the courts, for that will create a backlash. I have no idea what the people of Massachusetts would do if presented with the option of redefining “marriage.” I believe a referendum on that issue is coming up in the next year or so. If the people of Massachusetts, by majority vote, want to open up the institution of marriage so that people of the same sex can participate in it, fine. They will be embracing an absurdity, in my view. But I will have no legal or moral objection to it. What I, qua federalist, oppose is people being forced to accept it.

2. Richard Chappell (Philosophy Et Cetera Blog) Philosophy Graduate Student, University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Gay Marriage Analogies

Keith Burgess-Jackson of AnalPhilosopher explains why he is opposed to gay marriage:

“I have said in this blog many times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks. I do the same for dog “voting.” If we took our dogs to the polls and got them to push levers with their paws, they would not be voting. They would be going through the motions of voting. It would be a charade. Voting is not made for dogs. They lack the capacity to participate in the institution. The same is true of homosexuals and marriage.”

This is the closest I've ever seen him get to providing an actual argument to supplement his anti-gay marriage rhetoric. It's a pity he doesn't provide a bit more detail, since as it stands it really isn't much of an argument. We have a bald assertion that homosexuals "lack the capacity to participate in" marriage, but no reasons are provided to back up this claim. All we have is the analogy. So let's examine that.

Chris at Mixing Memory has written a good post about this analogy already, noting that it has a quite powerful rhetorical effect despite being entirely groundless: Gay people can marry. However, they can't marry members of the same sex. Dogs, on the other hand, can't vote for humans but not dogs. Furthermore, the difference in sexual orientation is hardly analogous to the difference in species. They are entirely different types of relations.

I'd like to add a few other crucial differences. The most obvious reason why dogs "lack the capacity" to vote is because they don't have the cognitive capabilities to even understand the concept. But of course gay people understanding what marriage is just as well as anybody else. A second reason might be that voting is a political institution and dogs don't engage in politics. To apply the analogy, I suppose we would say that marriage is a civil/social institution concerned with family relationships. Yet gay people do engage in civil society, relationships, and (if the bigots let them) families. So it seems clear that this is a strikingly inept analogy. About the only thing I can see in common here is that neither dog 'voting' nor gay marriage are currently permitted. I see no reason at all to think that these two prohibitions are equally justified.

But not all analogies are this bad. I'm sure we could do better than KBJ does in this case. Think about it. We have a traditionally persecuted minority group demanding to receive the same civil rights accorded to everyone else in the society. Frightened reactionaries proclaim such a break from tradition would spell doom for society. Ring any bells?

So how about this then: Gay "marriage" is like women "voting" (or, say, black people "not being slaves"). No doubt if KBJ had been around a century ago he would have argued that "Voting is not made for women. They lack the capacity to participate in the institution." Voting is defined as being between a male citizen and his polity. For females to 'vote' would be a contradiction in terms - "incoherent".

This analogy is far more useful, since the various relations within the two domains actually match up (always a good start). It has the added bonus of emphasising (in case it wasn't already obvious) just why KBJ's reaction here is unreasonable: Just because an institution has traditionally barred the participation of some group, it does not follow that it ought to do so. Perhaps the old 'definition' is unjust, and in need of revision.

KBJ's various comments about gay marriage are more fitting to a rhetorician than a philosopher. Unless he's willing to supplement his misleading rhetoric with something more closely approximating a coherent argument, perhaps it would be fitting for the rest of us to instead refer to his site as Anal-"Philosopher".

Update: To discuss the arguments against gay marriage, see my subsequent post.
Elsewhere, Ophelia Benson highlights how downright nasty KBJ's analogy is. Chris at Crooked Timber offers a (tongue-in-cheek) mention of recent research into animal voting behaviour. Upword has more on the analogy, and KBJ reacts badly.

3. Where they come from is irrelevant. Consider the question: Where Do Adulterers Come From?"
(The Corner Blog, National Review)

By nature, I am an adulterer. Simply put, one woman is not enough and serial monogamy is no solution. My guess is that most men are in the same boat. History supports my hypothesis. Througout history, most cultures have supported polygamy (one man, many women). An incredible number of people continue to support polygamy, including the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.

However, I have been married for twenty years and have successfully overcome the temptation of adultery. And the temptation has been very real, including outright invitations from very attractive people. So what?

I give myself credit for withstanding the temptation. Yes, I give myself credit for overcoming my natural impulses. Am I wrong? Am I actually a psychological monster who takes great pleasure in torturing myself? I do not believe so. In fact, I believe that my adjustment to a monogamous society has been less difficult than my adjustment to the everyday society of work with all of its Puritannical poses.

So, the question "Where Do Homosexuals Come From?" is irrelevant to the question "Should I behave in accordance with my homosexual impulses?" Where they come from is irrelevant. Consider the question: Where Do Adulterers Come From?"

By nature, I am an adulterer. Simply put, one woman is not enough and serial monogamy is no solution. My guess is that most men are in the same boat. History supports my hypothesis. Througout history, most cultures have supported polygamy (one man, many women). An incredible number of people continue to support polygamy, including the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.

However, I have been married for twenty years and have successfully overcome the temptation of adultery. And the temptation has been very real, including outright invitations from very attractive people. So what?

I give myself credit for withstanding the temptation. Yes, I give myself credit for overcoming my natural impulses. Am I wrong? Am I actually a psychological monster who takes great pleasure in torturing myself? I do not believe so. In fact, I believe that my adjustment to a monogamous society has been less difficult than my adjustment to the everyday society of work with all of its Puritannical poses.

So, the question "Where Do Homosexuals Come From?" is irrelevant to the question "Should I behave in accordance with my homosexual impulses?"


4. Ten reasons why gay marriage should be illegal (anonymous)

01) Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

02) Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

03) Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

04) Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

05) Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

06) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

07) Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

08) Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.

09) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

10) Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

5. E. J. Graff, "The Other Marriage War,"
The American Prospect
vol. 13 no. 7, April 8, 2002.

magine waking up one morning to the news that because of a recent court decision, you may no longer be your child's legal parent. Forget all those times you've read Goodnight Moon, those long nights you spent in a steam-filled bathroom trying to keep your sick child breathing. In the eyes of the law, you may suddenly be just a kind stranger. No emergency room, insurance plan, schoolteacher, tax man, or judge will count you as essential to your child.

Sound like one of Kafka's nightmares? It's what happened to thousands of California parents last October, when a San Diego court struck down the procedure by which, for 15 years, lesbian co-mothers -- parents who helped to imagine, create, feed, clothe, and raise a child, but who didn't give birth -- had legally adopted their children. Many California lawyers' phones rang nonstop until the decision was erased from the books while it went up on appeal.

Welcome to the world of lesbian and gay parents, where you can be a parent one day and not the next; in one state but not another; when you're straight but not when you're gay. At any moment, your heterosexual ex might find a judge willing to yank the kids after you come out. Or you might hear your parental fitness debated by strangers -- on radio, on TV, and in newspapers -- using language that makes your children wake up at night from dreams that the government has taken you away.

Yes, the climate for lesbian and gay parents has improved dramatically in the past 20 years. There can't be an American left who hasn't heard about Heather and her two mommies. And though the children's book by that name kicked off an antigay uproar in the early 1990s, by the end of the decade the mainstream media were covering Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher's two babies without a blink (except, perhaps, at the unfortunate David Crosby connection). The lesbian baby boom began in Boston and San Francisco in the mid-1980s. In both cities, after mainstream doctors refused to offer donor insemination (DI) services to unmarried women, lesbians started their own sperm banks and DI clinics. Since then, two-mom families have popped up everywhere from Maine to Utah, from Alaska to Florida. In smaller numbers, gay dads have followed, taking in foster children, hiring surrogates, or adopting (as individuals, if necessary) whenever they could find birth moms, local authorities, or judges who'd help. And that's only the latest incarnation of gay and lesbian parenting. Lesbians and gay men have long become parents the conventional way: through heterosexual marriage.

But law is lagging badly behind this social transformation. Although many Prospect readers may know two-mom or two-dad families, they probably do not know about the daily legal insecurity, the extra level of anxiety and effort, and the occasional shocking injustices those families face. Society is still profoundly ambivalent about lesbians and gay men -- and about the unfamiliar, sometimes queasy-making idea of queers raising kids. As a result, unpredictable legal decisions about lesbian and gay parents too often leave their children in limbo.

The Kids Are All Right
Is there any reason to worry about how these kids are raised? No. More than 20 studies have been done on about 300 children of lesbians and gay men. Some compare children of divorced lesbian moms or gay dads with children of divorced heterosexual moms or dads; others compare two-mom families with mom-and-pop families that used the same DI clinic. The results are quite clear: Children of lesbian or gay parents turn out just fine on every conceivable measure of emotional and social development: attachment, self-esteem, moral judgment, behavior, intelligence, likability, popularity, gender identity, family warmth, and all sorts of obscure psychological concepts. Whatever the scale, children with lesbian or gay parents and children with heterosexual parents turn out equally well -- and grow up to be heterosexual in the same overwhelming proportions.

Not surprisingly, antigay pundits challenge this conclusion. Brigham Young University law professor Lynn Wardle and his followers argue that the population samples in these studies have been exceedingly small, haven't been "randomly" chosen, and don't accurately represent lesbian and gay parents as a whole. All these charges are accurate, as far as they go. But the conclusion drawn by Wardle and company -- that the results are therefore meaningless -- is not. Here's the problem: No one can ever get a "random" sample of lesbians or gay men, much less of lesbian or gay parents, so long as there's any stigma to being gay -- and any realistic fear that the children might be taken away. For the most part, researchers have had to make do with samples of lesbian or gay parents who will consent to being studied and match them with groups of heterosexual parents. Does that limitation invalidate these studies? Maybe it would if results varied dramatically, but because they are remarkably consistent, the vast majority of social scientists and physicians accept them. Social science deals with people, not elements on the periodic table. Like doctors, they must always make informed decisions based on the best and latest evidence.

That's why organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Counseling Association have released statements in support of lesbian and gay parents. This February, for instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a report that had been vetted by an unprecedented number of committees and had taken four years to wend its way toward the academy's full approval. Its conclusion: "No data have pointed to any risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with one or more gay parents." Nor, the AAP found, is parents' sexual orientation an important variable in how kids turn out.

So what is? If basics like food, shelter, clothing, and health care are covered, what matters to kids is the happiness and satisfaction of the parents. Are the parents happily mated and content with the way household responsibilities are shared? Or are they miserable and sniping at each other, whether together or separated? You can guess which type of household will produce happier and more confident kids. Harmony helps children; conflict and disruption hurt. Despite the yammering of the conservative marriage movement, how households are run matters more than who (read: which sex or sexual orientation) runs them.

There's another right-wing line of challenge to these studies: shouting about statistical blips. Occasionally, intriguing differences do show up between the children of lesbian moms and those of heterosexual moms. Here, conservatives want it both ways: They want to throw out the common findings because of methodological suspicions while making a big deal about onetime results. But in every case, these variations are differences, not deficits. For instance, in one study of kids with divorced moms, the lesbians' daughters were more comfortable than the heterosexual women's daughters in "rough-and-tumble" play, more likely to play with trucks and guns -- although the sons were no more likely to play with tea sets or Barbies. More controversially, a British study found that more of the divorced lesbians' children said that they had imagined or tried a same-sex romance; but as adults, they still called themselves straight or gay in the same proportions as the straight moms' kids. Is it good, bad, or neutral that lesbians might raise their children to feel free to try out all sides of themselves in gender and sexuality? Or are these results too small to be generalized? The answers depend on your political point of view. And in a pluralist society, that must be taken as an argument for freedom of choice in child-rearing.

Judge Not
So what do these children need from society? The same thing all children need: clear and enforceable ties to their parents. Child psychologist Anna Freud once wrote that children "can handle almost anything better than instability." Not coincidentally, trying to shore up a family's stability is the goal of much marriage-and-family law.

Except if your parents are gay. Think about that shocking red-and-blue presidential-election map we saw in November 2000. If a map were to be drawn of the legal situation for lesbian and gay parents, it would look kaleidoscopic by comparison, with the colors constantly shifting. The answers to some questions may be predictable by geography. On others, even in the supposedly liberal states, how well you're treated depends on your judge.

For instance, did you think that divorced lesbians or gay men, if reasonably stable, could count on seeing their kids? Think again. Says Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, "The good news is that more than half the states have good decisional case law that sexual orientation in and of itself is not a bar to custody." The bad news is that a lot of states don't. This February, Alabama's supreme court decided 9-0 that children are better off with a violent father than with a kind and reliable lesbian mom. As chief justice, Roy Moore (the judge who posted the Decalogue in his courtroom) wrote the opinion that overruled a lower court that had sent the kids to their mom. Here's an excerpt from his opinion:

The common law designates homosexuality as an inherent evil, and if a person openly engages in such a practice, that fact alone would render him or her an unfit parent. Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God.

Even when a state's antisodomy laws are not so explicitly invoked, judicial recoil can be obvious. A judge in Mississippi decided that a 19-year-old who left her violent husband and came out as a lesbian can see her infant only once a week, between 8:00 A.M. and 9:00 A.M. on Sundays at the local McDonald's, supervised by the ex.

Things are even iffier for two-mom families than for divorced parents who come out. Most judges just don't know what to do with these families. Adoption laws, written by state legislatures in the late nineteenth century, cover two situations: a couple adopting an orphan or a remarried parent who wants legally to link the child to the stepparent. A mother can add a father; a father can add a mother. But can a mother add another mother? Most judges say no, with attitudes ranging from uncertainty to outright antagonism; one Illinois judge, Susan McDunn, went so far as to appoint the Family Research Council as guardian ad litem for the children. Judges in up to half the states have allowed what's called "second-parent adoption," but in only seven states and the District of Columbia is this a statewide policy. Elsewhere, you're playing roulette: In Michigan, for instance, an Ann Arbor judge might grant one, while a Grand Rapids judge might say no. And advocates try not to appeal -- because of the risk that the appeals court might flatly rule out second-parent adoptions, as has happened in the Wisconsin supreme court and in five other states' appellate courts (with cases in California, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania now on appeal in their top courts).

No biggie, some people think: Just write a will and some health care proxies, appoint a guardian, and you're all set. It's not that simple. The biomom better be the breadwinner, because the co-mom won't be able to list the child on her taxes or health insurance; nor can she pass on her Social Security benefits or pension. If the biomom dies, the biological grandparents can challenge the co-mom's guardianship and legally kidnap the child. And if the moms break up, cross your fingers for that child.

Many -- one hopes most -- divorcing couples put aside their anger to do what's best for their children. Not everyone does. We all know how hideous people can be when fighting over custody: They play dirty, cheat, lie, even kidnap, always persuading themselves that they're doing it for the kids. When lesbian couples have such no-holds-barred breakups, a spiteful biomom can pull legal rank. If the facts won't let her eviscerate her ex's right to custody or visitation, she may insist that the co-mom was never a parent at all, but just a babysitter, a visitor, a pretender, a stalker. (Because gay men don't give birth, they more often start out on an equal legal footing and can't use this trick.) A biomom and her attorney may exploit a judge's discomfort with homosexuality or cite the state's Defense of Marriage Act to blowtorch any legal link between the co-mom and the child. And if the biomom wins, it leaves tortuous and cruel case law on the state's books that can hurt other lesbian and gay families for decades.

These cases can be heartbreaking. There's the video of the moms' wedding, there's the co-mom's last name as the child's middle name, there's the Olan Mills picture of the three together -- and there's the biomom in court saying, "Keep that dyke away from my child." How gratuitously nasty -- and legally dangerous -- can it be? After getting a legal second-parent adoption in Illinois, one couple moved to Florida to take care of the biomom's dying mother. There the pair broke up. Florida has the dubious distinction of hosting the nation's most draconian ban on adoptions by lesbians and gay men. And so in court, the biomom is now arguing that Florida should refuse to recognize her ex's "foreign" adoption of the child. If this biomom wins, every other two-mom or two-dad family will have to think thrice about visiting Key West or Disney World: What if a Florida emergency room or police station refused to recognize their adoption?

Similar cases are percolating in Nebraska and North Carolina. If these biomoms win, the map of the United States could become a checkerboard of states where two-mom and two-dad families don't dare travel. Can you imagine having your parenthood dissolve when you hit the interstate? You might never leave home again.

"This is a level of damage," says Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, "that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and Lou Sheldon and all their ilk can only dream of."

Coherent laws and public policies are desperately needed to help gay and lesbian parents order their families' lives. Fortunately, history's heading in the right direction. More and more state courts are coming up with guidelines that refuse to let a biomom shut out her ex, or a co-mom skip out on child support, if the pair together planned for and reared their child. The public and the media are sympathetic. Most policy makers are open to persuasion, understanding that even if they wouldn't want to be gay themselves, kids whose parents are gay deserve the most security possible.

Unfortunately, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender advocacy organizations can't change the legal landscape alone. Both in the courts and in public opinion, gay folks are too often cast as biased, the mirror image of the radical right. As a result, liberals and progressives -- especially heterosexuals -- can make an enormous difference in the lives of these families.

"Children who are born to or adopted by one member of a same-sex couple deserve the security of two legally recognized parents," reads the February report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Originally written to be an amicus brief for co-moms or co-dads trying to sway a judge into waving the parent-making wand, the AAP report did much more: It gave editorial writers and talk shows across the country an excuse to agree. And aside from The Washington Times and press-release attacks from the usual suspects, agree they did, in an astonishing array of news outlets ranging from local radio shows to USA Today to The Columbus Dispatch.

So what, besides social tolerance, should the forces of good be working for? Policies and laws that tie these kids firmly to their real, daily parents. These children need strong statutes that let co-moms and co-dads adopt -- preferably without the intrusive home study, the thousands of dollars in legal fees, and the reference letters from colleagues and friends that are now required. They need decisive guidelines saying that an adoption in one state is an adoption in every state. And they need marriage rights for their parents. Much of marriage law is designed to help spouses rear families, letting them make a single shelter from their combined incomes, assets, benefits, pensions, habits, strengths, weaknesses, and knowledge. Today, when a heterosexual married couple uses DI, the man is automatically the legal father (as long as he has consented in writing) without having to adopt; if any marriage (or even some lesser system of recognition, like civil unions or registered partnership) were possible, the same could and should be true for lesbians.

By taking up this banner, liberals and progressives can prove that they have a practical commitment to real families and real children. As an Ontario judge wrote in 1995: "When one reflects on the seemingly limitless parade of neglected, abandoned and abused children who appear before our courts in protection cases daily, all of whom have been in the care of heterosexual parents in a 'traditional' family structure, the suggestion that it might not ever be in the best interests of these children to be raised by loving, caring, and committed parents who might happen to be lesbian or gay, is nothing short of ludicrous."

6. Marriage: One Man, One Woman
Mr. Robert H Knight and Mr. Peter Sprigg
The Family Research Council, December 12 2003

Marriage is of such importance that it is uniquely protected in the law and culture. It predates the law and the Constitution, and is an anthropological and sociological reality, not primarily a legal one. No civilization can survive without it, and those societies that allowed it to become irrelevant have faded into history.

The Meaning of Marriage
Marriage is the union of the two sexes, not just the union of two people. It is the union of two families, and the foundation for establishing kinship patterns and family names, passing on property and providing the optimal environment for raising children.

The term "marriage" refers specifically to the joining of two people of the opposite sex. When that is lost, "marriage" becomes meaningless. You can no more leave an entire sex out of marriage and call it "marriage" than you can leave chocolate out of a "chocolate brownie" recipe. It becomes something else.

Giving non-marital relationships the same status as marriage does not expand the definition of marriage; it destroys it. For example, if you declare that, because it has similar properties, wine should be labeled identically to grape juice, you have destroyed the definitions of both "wine" and "grape juice." The consumer would not know what he is getting.

Marriage, the Natural Family, and the Best Interests of Children
Marriage is the union of the only type of couple capable of natural reproduction of the human race--a man and a woman. Children need both mothers and fathers, and marriage is society's way of obtaining them.

But even childless marriages are a social anchor for children, who observe adults as role models. Besides, childless couples can be "surprised" by an unexpected pregnancy, and they can adopt, giving a child a mother-and-father-based family. Single parents can eventually marry. And marriage is a stabilizing force for all. Even when a couple is past the age of reproduction, the marital commitment may keep an older man from fathering a child with a younger woman outside wedlock.

Children learn crucial things about family life by observing our crucial relationships up close: interactions between men and women; husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and parents to children of the same and opposite sexes.

Human experience and a vast body of social science research show that married men and women, and children who live with their married mother and father, are happier, healthier, and more prosperous than people in other types of households.

It is wrong to create fatherless or motherless families by design. The drive for homosexual "marriage" leads to destruction of the gold standard for custody and adoption. The question should be: "What is in the best interests of the child?" The answer is: "Place children, whenever possible, in a married, mom-and-dad household." As homosexual relationships gain status, marriage loses its place as the preferential adoption family option. This effort is being driven by the desires of adults, not the needs of children.

Society grants benefits to marriage because marriage has benefits for society. The benefits of marriage to adults and children flow not from government recognition alone, but from the inherent complementarity of the sexes and the power of lifelong commitment. The first of these values is rejected outright by same-sex couples, and the second is far less common among them.

Defining Marriage is not "Discrimination"
Marriage laws are not discriminatory. Marriage is open to all adults, subject to age and blood relation limitations. As with any acquired status, the applicant must meet minimal requirements, which in terms of marriage, means finding an opposite-sex spouse. Same-sex partners do not qualify. To put it another way, clerks will not issue dog licenses to cats, and it is not out of "bigotry" toward cats.

Comparing current laws limiting marriage to a man and a woman with the laws in some states that once limited inter-racial marriage is irrelevant and misleading. The very soul of marriage - the joining of the two sexes--was never at issue when the Supreme Court struck down laws against inter-racial marriage.

Requiring citizens to sanction or subsidize homosexual relationships violates the freedom of conscience of millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people who believe marriage is the union of the two sexes. Civil marriage is a public act. Homosexuals are free to have a "union" ceremony with each other privately, but they are not free to demand that such a relationship be solemnized and subsidized under the law.

Homosexual activists say they need legal status so they can visit their partners in hospitals, etc. But hospitals leave visitation up to the patient except in very rare instances. This "issue" is a smokescreen to cover the fact that, using legal instruments such as power of attorney, drafting a will, etc., homosexuals can share property, designate heirs, dictate hospital visitors and give authority for medical decisions. What they should not obtain is identical recognition and support for a relationship that is not equally essential to society's survival.

The Will of the People--or the Judges?
The American people do not "think marriages between homosexual men or homosexual women should be recognized as legal under the law." A Harris/CNN/Time poll asking that exact question in July 2003 found that 60% of Americans oppose "homosexual marriage," while only 33% support it. In June 2003, a Canadian court granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Ontario and the U. S. Supreme Court declared homosexual sodomy a constitutional right. Yet in the wake of this judicial activism, even support for counterfeit forms of marriage such as "civil unions" actually fell precipitously.

The Legal and Social Fallout
If same-sex relationships acquire marital-type status in the law, several things will occur:

"Marriage" for same-sex couples (or the counterfeit equivalent under pseudonyms such as "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships") is being promoted as an extension of tolerance, equality, and civil rights. But they are really wedges designed to overturn traditional sexual morality and to win official affirmation, celebration, subsidization and solemnization of behavior that is harmful to the people who engage in it and to society, and that is still viewed as morally wrong by a majority of the American public.

For the well-being of children and of society, we must not allow the creation of government-imposed counterfeit "marriage" by any name. Marriage is civilization's primary institution, and we tamper with it at our own peril.

-- Robert H. Knight is director of the Culture & Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America. Mr. Knight was a draftsman of the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.
-- Peter S. Sprigg is director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies at the Family Research Council. Some references in this paper were drawn from Mr. Sprigg's "Questions and Answers: What's Wrong With Letting Same-Sex Couples 'Marry?'" (Family Research Council InFocus Number 256, August 14, 2003).

Appendix: In Their Own Words

Homosexual activists have long understood the radical power of achieving official recognition for homosexual relationships as "marriage." Here is a sample:

"A middle ground might be to fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely, to demand the right to marry not as a way of adhering to society's moral codes but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution."

--Michelangelo Signorile, "Bridal Wave," OUT magazine, December/January 1994, p. 161.

"[E]nlarging the concept to embrace same-sex couples would necessarily transform it into something new....Extending the right to marry to gay people -- that is, abolishing the traditional gender requirements of marriage -- can be one of the means, perhaps the principal one, through which the institution divests itself of the sexist trappings of the past."

--Tom Stoddard, quoted in Roberta Achtenberg, et al, "Approaching 2000: Meeting the Challenges to San Francisco's Families," The Final Report of the Mayor's Task Force on Family Policy, City and County of San Francisco, June 13, 1990, p.1.

"It is also a chance to wholly transform the definition of family in American culture. It is the final tool with which to dismantle all sodomy statutes, get education about homosexuality and AIDS into public schools, and, in short, usher in a sea change in how society views and treats us."

-- Michelangelo Signorile, "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do," OUT magazine, May 1996, p. 30.

"Being queer is more than setting up house, sleeping with a person of the same gender, and seeking state approval for doing so. ... Being queer means pushing the parameters of sex, sexuality, and family, and in the process, transforming the very fabric of society. ... As a lesbian, I am fundamentally different from non-lesbian women. ...In arguing for the right to legal marriage, lesbians and gay men would be forced to claim that we are just like heterosexual couples, have the same goals and purposes, and vow to structure our lives similarly. ... We must keep our eyes on the goals of providing true alternatives to marriage and of radically reordering society's view of reality."

--Paula Ettelbrick, "Since When Is Marriage a Path to Liberation?", in William Rubenstein, ed., Lesbians, Gay Men and the Law (New York: The New Press, 1993), pp. 401-405.

And there's this from pro-homosexual and pro-pedophile author Judith Levine:

"Because American marriage is inextricable from Christianity, it admits participants as Noah let animals onto the ark. But it doesn't have to be that way. In 1972 the National Coalition of Gay Organizations demanded the 'repeal of all legislative provisions that restrict the sex or number of persons entering into a marriage unit; and the extension of legal benefits to all persons who cohabit regardless of sex or numbers.' Would polygamy invite abuse of child brides, as feminists in Muslim countries and prosecutors in Mormon Utah charge? No. Group marriage could comprise any combination of genders."

-- Judith Levine, "Stop the Wedding!: Why Gay Marriage Isn't Radical Enough," The Village Voice, July 23-29, 2003. Levine declines to mention that the 1972 Gay Rights Platform also called for abolishing age of consent laws. This is a curious omission since Levine herself has written in favor of lowering the age of consent to 12 for sex between children and adults in her book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex (p. 88).

7. Stanley Kurtz
Deathblow to Marriage: Gay marriage has real implications.
National Review, February 05, 2004
Stanley Kurtz is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a contributing editor at National Review Online.

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unambiguously mandated the granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The decision will take effect in about three and a half months. The time will come to debate the tactics of the gay-marriage battle. Right now is a moment for sober reflection on what is at stake.

At issue in the gay-marriage controversy is nothing less than the existence of marriage itself. This point is vehemently denied by the proponents of gay marriage, who speak endlessly of marriage's adaptability and "resilience." But if there is one thing I think I've established in my recent writing on Scandinavia, it is that marriage can die — and is in fact dying — somewhere in the world. In fact, marriage is dying in the very the same place that first recognized gay marriage.

In setting up the institution of marriage, society offers special support and encouragement to the men and women who together make children. Because marriage is deeply implicated in the interests of children, it is a matter of public concern. Children are helpless. They depend upon adults. Over and above their parents, children depend upon society to create institutions that keep them from chaos. Children cannot articulate their needs. Children cannot vote. Yet children are society. They are us, and they are our future. That is why society has the right to give special support and encouragement to an institution that is necessary to the well being of children — even if that means special benefits for some, and not for others. The dependence intrinsic to human childhood is why unadulterated libertarianism can never work.

The "discrimination" inherent in the legal institution of marriage is relatively minor. Single people are "discriminated against" by the benefits granted to married couples. Those who prefer to live with multiple lovers are also "discriminated against" by the institution of marriage. So, too, are same-sex couples "discriminated against" by marriage. Each of these groups is now demanding redress from this "discrimination." Such redress will spell the end of marriage.

The difficulties and challenges of gays are special precisely because they do not derive from the "discrimination" of marriage. The real source of the challenges of gay life is the problem of sexual difference. It is terribly difficult to grow up with a different sort of sexuality than most of the world around you. Marriage does not cause this problem, and it cannot solve it.

Yet, out of understandable compassion for the sorrows and difficulties of gays, many Americans want to offer marriage as a kind of consolation or remedy for the challenges inherent in the gay situation. The increased social tolerance for gays in America is largely a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. But using marriage to accomplish a purpose for which it was not intended — and which it cannot fulfill — will not fundamentally alter the situation of gays. It will, however, spell the end of marriage, and of the protection marriage offers to vulnerable children who cannot vote or articulate their interests. The number of children potentially endangered by the collapse of marriage is far larger than the number of gays or "polyamorists." The number of single people who will never marry is substantial and growing, yet society is right to "discriminate" against these single people in ways that are relatively modest — but which sustain an institution that protects children.

I believe I have established that marriage in Scandinavia is dying. No one has disputed this. Instead it is objected that gay marriage is not a cause of this demise, but only an effect. I would like someone to explain how gay marriage could be only an effect of the decline of marriage, without also being a reinforcing cause. How can a change that becomes imaginable only after marriage has been separated from parenthood fail to lock in and reinforce that very separation?

In Sweden, where marriage was already radically separated from parenthood, and largely equalized with cohabitation in legal-financial terms, gay marriage was more effect than cause. But in Norway, where the decline of marriage was only partial, gay marriage had a greater role as a facilitator of marital decline than it did in Sweden. In the United States, the effect of gay marriage would be massive.

As of now (and in substantial contrast to Scandinavia), the legal distinction between marriage and cohabitation in America is strong. Yet important proposals from the American Law Institute would put us on the Scandinavian path. In America, gay marriage would be the leading edge of the Scandinavian system — not the tail-end, as it was in Sweden. Gay marriage would accustom us to think about marriage in Scandinavian terms — to think of marriage as substantially unrelated to parenthood. And that would lead us to adopt legal reforms that already loom — reforms that would lock us in to the Scandinavian pattern of marital decline.

Everywhere, gay marriage is both an effect and a cause of marital decline. But in America, gay marriage would have even more causal impact than it did in Norway — and far more than in Sweden.
Having touched on the larger issues. Let me now take up my debate with Andrew Sullivan on the meaning of Scandinavian gay marriage. Because I see the Scandinavian example as the empirical key to the gay-marriage controversy, this issue has got to be hashed out.

Andrew Sullivan has responded to my " Slipping Toward Scandinavia." I'm struck by what Sullivan does not say. He does not meet my points about causal arguments. He continues to withhold comment on the failure of Scandinavian gays to embrace the "conservative case" for gay marriage. And Sullivan has no response to the three questions with which I ended my piece. Sullivan has no real answer to my point that he himself has used Scandinavian registered partnership and Vermont's civil unions to draw conclusions about gay marriage's effect on heterosexual marriage. (While we're at it, Sullivan has never offered anything close to a serious response to my earlier piece, "Beyond Gay Marriage.")

Instead of meeting my points in "Slipping Toward Scandinavia," Sullivan focuses on early reports that Scandinavian registered partnerships showed lower divorce rates than heterosexual marriages. Even if true, that would not meet my central point about the effect of gay marriage on heterosexual marriage. But it turns out that the divorce rate among same-sex registered partners in Sweden is substantially higher than the rate among heterosexuals. European demographers Gunnar Andersson and Turid Noack report that male same-sex partnerships in Sweden have a 50-percent higher divorce rate than heterosexual marriages. Perhaps surprisingly, female same-sex partnerships in Sweden have a 170-percent higher divorce risk than heterosexual marriages. What Andersson and Noack call this "super risk of divorce" holds true even when controlling for various demographic variables.

Nonetheless, this information on high divorce risk for same-sex couples may be less significant than the fact that we are dealing with a strikingly small population — too small to draw clear conclusions. In Norway, same-sex registered partnerships form only .68 percent as often as heterosexual marriages. In Sweden, registered partnerships form only .55 percent as often as heterosexual marriages (i.e. about one half of 1 percent as often). The symbolic effect of registered partnerships on the meaning of Scandinavian marriage has been great — stimulating major national debates that continue to drag on (over issues like gay adoption, and rainbow flags on churches). But the actual number of Scandinavian registered partners is exceedingly small — even taking into account that gays represent only a few percent of the population.

In addition to some preliminary indications that same-sex registered partnerships may not be as stable as heterosexual marriages, it's of interest that a much higher proportion of same-sex spouses tend to be over 40 years of age. In Sweden, for example, half of all male partnerships are entered into by at least one spouse over 40. In contrast, only 14 percent of opposite-sex marriages involved such senior spouses. This suggests that even when same-sex couples do marry, the effect on sexual behavior is minimal. That's because they wait until their later years to wed. True, some of this age discrepancy may be due to same-sex couples who might have married at younger ages "catching up" after legalization. Even so, the age discrepancy is striking, and may have more general significance.

In short, current data on same-sex registered partnerships in Scandinavia suggest that the effect of marriage on gay monogamy will be minimal. Exceedingly few couples marry. Those few who do marry are significantly older. And in Sweden at least, same-sex couples divorce at a significantly higher rate. But the biggest imponderable here is Sullivan's assumption that marriage does in fact indicate monogamous behavior — or even monogamy as an ideal — among same-sex couples. In my earlier piece, "Beyond Gay Marriage," I showed that this can by no means be assumed. So in Scandinavia, exceedingly few gays marry at all. And we don't even know if those very few who do marry practice or strive for monogamy.

In response to my pointing out that marriage has virtually disappeared in the most gay-marriage friendly districts of Norway, Sullivan offers a comparison between marriage and divorce rates in "pro-gay" Massachusetts and "anti-gay" Texas. It turns out that more people marry and fewer divorce in Massachusetts than in Texas. So, says Sullivan, by "Kurtz's Norwegian logic," we all ought to imitate socially liberal Massachusetts.

Actually, the Massachusetts/Texas contrast has a lot to do with differences in relative levels of education and wealth. Other factors play in as well, like relative stability of residence in Massachusetts, and relative residential transiency in Texas. But probably the most interesting and important factor at play in the Massachusetts/Texas contrast is the strong presence of Roman Catholics in Massachusetts. Catholics tend to divorce at significantly lower rates than other religious groups. The public in Massachusetts is split on gay marriage, and the large Catholic population generally opposes it. So Sullivan is actually holding up the marital behavior of Catholic opponents of gay marriage as a model.

In comparison to the polyglot populations of large American states, Norwegian counties like Nordland and Nord-Troendelag are socially homogeneous. The social liberalism of these Norwegian counties can be linked to their high out-of-wedlock birthrates far more reliably than low divorce rates can be linked to social liberalism in Massachusetts.

Finally, Sullivan claims that however desirable it may be to connect marriage and parenthood, the empirical reality of marriage in America is that most married couples have no children. This is a deeply misleading statistical trick. Sullivan tries to deflect criticism here by conceding that at least some cases of married couples without children at home may simply be older couples whose children are now in school. But Sullivan's statistics disguise just how profoundly marriage and child bearing are still are still connected in American culture.

Justin Katz nicely dissipates Sullivan's statistical fog. Katz shows that it is clearly the norm for married American women of child-bearing age to have children. Most people who get married are planning to have children. The fact that older couples have kids off in college does nothing to change that fact. The striking thing about Americans — and it's evident immediately on comparison with Scandinavia — is just how closely we continue to associate marriage with parenthood. Every time Andrew Sullivan makes his case that marriage and parenthood are not connected, he is harming marriage. I know this is far from Sullivan's intention (and I respect his intentions). But the harm to marriage is real nonetheless.

The debate will go on. I believe the coming weeks and months will show that we are just beginning to learn what is really at stake in the gay-marriage controversy. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has acted precipitously, and without due regard to the immensity and complexity of the institution they are tampering with. The mere fact that the real situation of marriage in Scandinavia — and Europe as a whole — is almost entirely unknown in the United States should be enough to give us pause. Unfortunately, we are now obliged to do battle against judges who haven't the foggiest notion of the real implications of their actions (much less respect for the democratic process).

Some say this battle is lost. I don't think it is. The coming year or two will tell the tale. There are surprises yet to come, and moments when those of us who see gay marriage as a mistake will have a chance to rally and turn the tide. The stakes are nothing less than the survival of marriage itself.

8. Prenuptial Jitters: Did gay marriage destroy heterosexual marriage in Scandinavia?
M.V. Lee Badgett, Slate Magazine,
May 20, 2004.
 M. V. Lee Badgett is an associate professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the research director of the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies.

This week, Massachusetts began handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Amid the cheers, there are the doomsayers who predict that same-sex weddings will mean the end of civilization as we know it. Conservative religious leader James Dobson warns that Massachusetts is issuing "death certificates for the institution of marriage." And conservative pundit Stanley Kurtz claims to have found the "proof" that the institution will see its demise: Gay marriage helped to kill heterosexual marriage in Scandinavia. Indeed, Kurtz has become a key figure in the marriage debate: He and his statistics have been taken up by conservatives to support their argument that gay unions threaten heterosexual marriage. He has shown up in Congressional hearings, lawsuit filings, newspapers, debates, and anti-gay marriage videos across the country.

But Kurtz's smoking gun is really just smoke and mirrors. Reports of the death of marriage in Scandinavia are greatly exaggerated; giving gay couples the right to wed did not lead to massive matrimonial flight by heterosexuals.

Currently there are nine European countries that give marital rights to gay couples. In Scandinavia, Denmark (1989), Norway (1993), Sweden (1994), and Iceland (1996) pioneered a separate-and-not-quite-equal status for same-sex couples called "registered partnership." (When they register, same-sex couples receive most of the financial and legal rights of marriage, other than the right to marry in a state church and the right to adopt children.) Since 2001, the Netherlands and Belgium have opened marriage to same-sex couples.

Despite what Kurtz might say, the apocalypse has not yet arrived. In fact, the numbers show that heterosexual marriage looks pretty healthy in Scandinavia, where same-sex couples have had rights the longest. In Denmark, for example, the marriage rate had been declining for a half-century but turned around in the early 1980s. After the 1989 passage of the registered-partner law, the marriage rate continued to climb; Danish heterosexual marriage rates are now the highest they've been since the early 1970's. And the most recent marriage rates in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland are all higher than the rates for the years before the partner laws were passed. Furthermore, in the 1990s, divorce rates in Scandinavia remained basically unchanged.

Of course, the good news about marriage rates is bad news for Kurtz's sky-is-falling argument. So, Kurtz instead focuses on the increasing tendency in Europe for couples to have children out of wedlock. Gay marriage, he argues, is a wedge that is prying marriage and parenthood apart.

The main evidence Kurtz points to is the increase in cohabitation rates among unmarried heterosexual couples and the increase in births to unmarried mothers. Roughly half of all children in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are now born to unmarried parents. In Denmark, the number of cohabiting couples with children rose by 25 percent in the 1990s. From these statistics Kurtz concludes that " … married parenthood has become a minority phenomenon," and—surprise—he blames gay marriage.

But Kurtz's interpretation of the statistics is incorrect. Parenthood within marriage is still the norm—most cohabitating couples marry after they start having children. In Sweden, for instance, 70 percent of cohabiters wed after their first child is born. Indeed, in Scandinavia the majority of families with children are headed by married parents. In Denmark and Norway, roughly four out of five couples with children were married in 2003. In the Netherlands, a bit south of Scandinavia, 90 percent of heterosexual couples with kids are married.

Kurtz is also mistaken in maintaining that gay unions are to blame for changes in heterosexual marriage patterns. In truth, the shift occurred in the opposite direction: Changes in heterosexual marriage made the recognition of gay couples more likely. In my own recent study conducted in the Netherlands, I found that the nine countries with partnership laws had higher rates of unmarried cohabitation than other European and North American countries before passage of the partner-registration laws. In other words, high cohabitation rates came first, gay partnership laws followed.

A subtler version of Kurtz's argument states that the advent of registered partnership caused an increase in cohabitation rates and children born outside of marriage (nonmarital births). If that were true, then we would expect to see two patterns: Cohabitation rates and the nonmarital birth rate would rise more quickly within a country after it passed partner registration laws; and the rise in the nonmarital birth rate would be greater in countries that had such laws than in countries that do not recognize same-sex partnerships.

Kurtz's argument fails both tests. From 1970 to 1980, the Danish nonmarital birth rate tripled, from 11 percent to 33 percent. Over the next 10 years, it rose again to 46 percent and then stopped rising in 1990s after the passage of the 1989 partnership law. Norway's big surge occurred in the 1980's, with an increase from 16 percent to 39 percent. In the decade after Norway recognized same-sex couples (in 1993), the nonmarital birth rate first rose slightly, then, after a couple of years, leveled off at 50 percent.

Cohabitation rates tell a similar story. In Denmark, from 1980 to 1989, the number of unmarried, cohabiting couples with children rose by 70 percent, but the same figure rose by only 28 percent from 1989 to 2000—the decade after Denmark introduced its partner-registration laws—and then stopped rising. From 2000 to 2004, the number has increased by a barely perceptible 0.3 percent. The fact that rates of cohabitation and nonmarital births either slowed down or completely stopped rising after the passage of partnership laws shows that the laws had no effect on heterosexual behavior.

Furthermore, the change in nonmarital births was exactly the same in countries with partnership laws as it was in countries without. The eight countries that recognized registered partners at some point in the decade from 1989 to 2000 saw an increase in the average nonmarital birth rate from 36 percent in 1991 to 44 percent in 2000, an eight percentage point increase. Among the EU countries that didn't recognize partners (plus Switzerland), the average rate of nonmarital births rose from 15 percent to 23 percent—also an eight-point increase.

No matter how you slice the demographic data, rates of nonmarital births and cohabitation do not increase as a result of the passage of laws that give same-sex partners the right to registered partnership. To put it simply: Giving gay couples rights does not inexplicably cause heterosexuals to flee marriage, as Kurtz would have us believe. Looking at the long-term statistical trends, it seems clear that the changes in heterosexuals' marriage and parenting decisions would have occurred anyway, even in the absence of gay marriage.

And all the conservative hand-wringing seems especially unnecessary when you consider the various incentives that encourage American heterosexual couples to marry. By marrying, U.S. couples obtain health-insurance coverage, pensions, and Social Security survivor benefits. Plus, in the United States we are required by law to be financially responsible for our spouses in bad times, since we don't have Scandinavian-style welfare programs to fall back on.

In addition, American society already wrestles with the social tensions that Kurtz claims have occurred as a result of gay marriage in Scandinavia: deepening divisions over gay issues in churches, the increasing acceptance of lesbian and gay relationships in the media, and the occasional radical voice arguing for the abolition of marriage. Yet heterosexual couples keep getting married—more than 2 million of them every year.

Concerns about the impact of gay marriage on heterosexual behavior are not unique to the United States, of course. European countries that recognize same-sex couples initially had their worriers, too. Over time, however, it became clear that civilization and family life would survive the recognition of gay couples' rights. Even the conservative governments that came into power have not tried to repeal rights for gay couples in France and the Netherlands.

Both demographic data and common sense show that the dire predictions of Dobson and Kurtz are just cultural prenuptial jitters. Now that gay and lesbian couples are marrying in Massachusetts, we'll have a home-grown social experiment that will undoubtedly compare to that of Europe: Letting gay couples say "I do" does not lead to heterosexuals saying "I don't."

9. Andrew Sullivan, The New Republic, August 13, 2001.
A conservative case for gay marriage.

In the decade or so in which same-sex marriage has been a matter of public debate, several arguments against it have been abandoned. Some opponents initially claimed marriage was about children and so gays couldn't marry. But courts made the obvious point that childless heterosexuals can marry and so the comparison was moot. Others said a change in the definition of marriage would inexorably lead to legal polygamy. But homosexuals weren't asking for the right to marry anyone. They were asking for the right to marry someone. Still others worried that if one state granted such a right, the entire country would have to accept same-sex marriage. But legal scholars pointed out that marriage has not historically been one of those legal judgments that the "full faith and credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution says must be recognized in every state if they are valid in one state. And if there were any doubt, the Defense of Marriage Act, designed expressly to prohibit such a scenario, was passed by a Republican Congress and President Clinton in 1996.

None of this stopped the Vermont Supreme Court, legislature, and governor from establishing "civil unions," the euphemism for gay marriage in the Ben & Jerry's state. It's been almost exactly a year since civil unions debuted, and social collapse doesn't seem imminent. Perhaps panicked by this nonevent, the social right last month launched a Federal Marriage Amendment, which would bar any state from enacting same-sex marriage, forbid any arrangement designed to give gays equal marriage benefits, and destroy any conceivable claim that conservatives truly believe in states' rights. Even some movement conservatives--most notably The Washington Times--demurred. The Wall Street Journal ran its only op-ed on the matter in opposition.

Perhaps concerned that their movement is sputtering, the opponents of same-sex marriage have turned to new arguments. Stanley Kurtz, the sharpest and fairest of these critics, summed up the case last week in National Review Online. For Kurtz and other cultural conservatives, the deepest issue is sex and sexual difference. "Marriage," Kurtz argues, "springs directly from the ethos of heterosexual sex. Once marriage loses its connection to the differences between men and women, it can only start to resemble a glorified and slightly less temporary version of hooking up."

Let's unpack this. Kurtz's premise is that men and women differ in their sexual-emotional makeup. Men want sex more than stability; women want stability more than sex. Heterosexual marriage is therefore some kind of truce in the sex wars. One side gives sex in return for stability; the other provides stability in return for sex. Both sides benefit, children most of all. Since marriage is defined as the way women tame men, once one gender is missing, this taming institution will cease to work. So, in Kurtz's words, a "world of same-sex marriages is a world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50 percent divorce rates."

But isn't this backward? Surely the world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50 percent divorce rates preceded gay marriage. It was heterosexuals in the 1970s who changed marriage into something more like a partnership between equals, with both partners often working and gender roles less rigid than in the past. All homosexuals are saying, three decades later, is that, under the current definition, there's no reason to exclude us. If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead. But until you do, the exclusion of gays is simply an anomaly--and a denial of basic civil equality.

The deeper worry is that gay men simply can't hack monogamy and that any weakening of fidelity in the Clinton-Condit era is too big a risk to take with a vital social institution. One big problem with this argument is that it completely ignores lesbians. So far in Vermont there have been almost twice as many lesbian civil unions as gay male ones--even though most surveys show that gay men outnumber lesbians about two to one. That means lesbians are up to four times more likely to get married than gay men--unsurprising if you buy Kurtz's understanding of male and female sexuality. So if you accept the premise that women are far more monogamous than men, and that therefore lesbian marriages are more likely to be monogamous than even heterosexual ones, the net result of lesbian marriage rights is clearly a gain in monogamy, not a loss. For social conservatives, what's not to like?

But the conservatives are wrong when it comes to gay men as well. Gay men--not because they're gay but because they are men in an all-male subculture--are almost certainly more sexually active with more partners than most straight men. (Straight men would be far more promiscuous, I think, if they could get away with it the way gay guys can.) Many gay men value this sexual freedom more than the stresses and strains of monogamous marriage (and I don't blame them). But this is not true of all gay men. Many actually yearn for social stability, for anchors for their relationships, for the family support and financial security that come with marriage. To deny this is surely to engage in the "soft bigotry of low expectations." They may be a minority at the moment. But with legal marriage, their numbers would surely grow. And they would function as emblems in gay culture of a sexual life linked to stability and love.

So what's the catch? I guess the catch would be if those gay male couples interpret marriage as something in which monogamy is optional. But given the enormous step in gay culture that marriage represents, and given that marriage is entirely voluntary, I see no reason why gay male marriages shouldn't be at least as monogamous as straight ones. Perhaps those of us in the marriage movement need to stress the link between gay marriage and monogamy more clearly. We need to show how renunciation of sexual freedom in an all-male world can be an even greater statement of commitment than among straights. I don't think this is as big a stretch as it sounds. In Denmark, where de facto gay marriage has existed for some time, the rate of marriage among gays is far lower than among straights, but, perhaps as a result, the gay divorce rate is just over one-fifth that of heterosexuals. And, during the first six years in which gay marriage was legal, scholar Darren Spedale has found, the rate of straight marriages rose 10 percent, and the rate of straight divorces decreased by 12 percent. In the only country where we have real data on the impact of gay marriage, the net result has clearly been a conservative one.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Within gay subculture, marriage would not be taken for granted. It's likely to attract older, more mainstream gay couples, its stabilizing ripples spreading through both the subculture and the wider society. Because such marriages would integrate a long-isolated group of people into the world of love and family, they would also help heal the psychic wounds that scar so many gay people and their families. Far from weakening heterosexual marriage, gay marriage would, I bet, help strengthen it, as the culture of marriage finally embraces all citizens. How sad that some conservatives still cannot see that. How encouraging that, in such a short time, so many others have begun to understand.

10. Thomas Sowell,, Dec 31, 2004. "Gay marriage 'rights'"
Thomas Sowell is a Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow.

In all the states where gay marriage was on the ballot this year, the voters voted against it -- as they should have. Of all the phony arguments for gay marriage, the phoniest is the argument that it is a matter of equal rights. Marriage is not a right extended to individuals by the government. It is a restriction on the rights they already have. People who are simply living together can make whatever arrangements they want, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. They can divide up their worldly belongings 50-50 or 90-10 or whatever other way they want. They can make their union temporary or permanent or subject to cancellation at any time.

Marriage is a restriction. If my wife buys an automobile with her own money, under California marriage laws I automatically own half of it, whether or not my name is on the title. Whether that law is good, bad, or indifferent, it is a limitation of our freedom to arrange such things as we ourselves might choose. This is just one of many decisions that marriage laws take out of our hands.

 Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the life of the law is not logic but experience. Marriage laws have evolved through centuries of experience with couples of opposite sexes -- and the children that result from such unions. Society asserts its stake in the decisions made by restricting the couples' options.

 Society has no such stake in the outcome of a union between two people of the same sex. Transferring all those laws to same-sex couples would make no more sense than transferring the rules of baseball to football.

 Why then do gay activists want their options restricted by marriage laws, when they can make their own contracts with their own provisions and hold whatever kinds of ceremony they want to celebrate it?

 The issue is not individual rights. What the activists are seeking is official social approval of their lifestyle. But this is the antithesis of equal rights.

 If you have a right to someone else's approval, then they do not have a right to their own opinions and values. You cannot say that what "consenting adults" do in private is nobody else's business and then turn around and say that others are bound to put their seal of approval on it.

 The rhetoric of "equal rights" has become the road to special privilege for all sorts of groups, so perhaps it was inevitable that gay activists would take that road as well. It has worked. They have already succeeded in getting far more government money for AIDS than for other diseases that kill far more people.

 The time is long overdue to stop word games about equal rights from leading to special privileges -- for anybody -- and gay marriage is as good an issue on which to do so as anything else.

 Incidentally, it is not even clear how many homosexuals actually want marriage, even though gay activists are pushing it.

 What the activists really want is the stamp of acceptance on homosexuality, as a means of spreading that lifestyle, which has become a death style in the era of AIDS.

 They have already succeeded to a remarkable degree in our public schools, where so-called "AIDS education" or other pious titles are put on programs that promote homosexuality. In some cases, gay activists actually come to the schools, not only to promote homosexuality as an idea but even to pass out the addresses of local gay hangouts to the kids.

 There is no limit to what people will do if you let them get away with it. That our schools, which are painfully failing to educate our children to the standards in other countries, have time for promoting homosexuality is truly staggering.

 Every special interest group has an incentive to take something away from society as a whole. Some will be content just to siphon off a share of the taxpayers' money for themselves. Others, however, want to dismantle a part of the structure of values that make a society viable.

 They may not want to bring down the whole structure, just get rid of the part that cramps their style. But when innumerable groups start dismantling pieces of the structure that they don't like, we can be headed for the kinds of social collapses seen both in history and in other parts of the world in our own times.

Rob Anderson, The New Republic, 12.23.05.

The latest Weekly Standard cover story, "HERE COME THE BRIDES: PLURAL MARRIAGE IS WAITING IN THE WINGS," proves something that its author, Stanley Kurtz, most certainly did not intend it to: The conservative case against gay marriage is growing weaker by the day. Opponents of same-sex marriage have traditionally relied on two strategies to drum up support for their cause: the "ick" factor and the slippery-slope argument. But now, even the staunchest of conservatives must admit that America is becoming more tolerant of homosexuality. National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru, for example, pointed out in 2003 that

public opinion has been moving with stunning rapidity. In the 1970s and '80s, the percentage of Americans who believed gay sex was "always wrong" barely budged. The National Opinion Research Center found that 73 percent held that belief in 1973, and 76 percent did in 1990. By 2000, that number had fallen by 16 points. It fell another 6 in the next two years.

Additionally, a 2004 Los Angeles Times poll showed that 65 percent of Americans say "they can accept gays and lesbians living together." And as tolerance for homosexuality has increased--or, in other words, as the "ick" factor has become less prominent--the prospects for same-sex marriage have brightened considerably. Among 18 to 29 year olds, 71 percent believe same-sex marriage is inevitable. After reading poll numbers like that one, conservatives have found themselves in a bit of a conundrum; and with the "ick" factor heading towards irrelevancy, the slippery-slope argument against gay marriage is all they have left.

Enter Stanley Kurtz and his near-obsession with what he calls "group marriages." For the second time in two years, Kurtz has argued in The Weekly Standard that the only thing stopping the legalization of marriage among more than two people is the right's crusade against marriage between two people of the same sex. Once America begins to tinker with the definition of the family, the logic goes, we won't be able to stop. If we allow two consenting adults to enter into a legally recognized union today, tomorrow we will have to afford the same rights to everyone and his sister, his dog, and his lawnmower. The strategy is obvious. While Americans increasingly accept the notion of same-sex unions, 92 percent disapprove of unions between more than two people. If the right can convince the public that an acceptance of same-sex marriage inherently means the acceptance of polygamy, the chance of same-sex marriage becoming legal will greatly diminish. The problem for the right, of course, is that slippery-slope arguments are among the weakest forms of logic. They rarely leave people convinced. And Kurtz's article is a perfect example of why.

The event that sparked Kurtz's article was the success of three Dutch citizens, two women and one man, in obtaining a "private cohabitation contract" this September. Victor and Bianca de Bruijin, a married couple, signed a private contract with Mirjam Geven in an attempt to legally add her to the De Bruijin family. Kurtz sees this as a watershed moment, and he is outraged by the American media's utter lack of interest:

In short, while the Dutch triple wedding set the conservative blogosphere ablaze with warnings, same-sex marriage advocates dismissed the story as a silly stunt with absolutely no implications for the gay marriage debate. And how did America's mainstream media adjudicate the radically different responses of same-sex marriage advocates and opponents to events in the Netherlands? By ignoring the entire affair.

There is a simple reason why same-sex marriage advocates have "dismissed the story as a silly stunt with no implications for the gay marriage debate": The story is a silly stunt with no implications for the gay marriage debate. According to Evan Wolfson, the executive director of Freedom to Marry, "the only legally relevant thing that happened was that three people, with the help of a notary, signed a private cohabitation contract--and did not enter into any kind of legal state-recognized union." Wolfson goes on to explain that "[s]uch personal agreements are not registered, and do not have legal implications for third parties. In both these respects, as well with regard to the state's imprimatur, a personal agreement or contract is different from both marriage and registered partnership." The De Bruijins didn't marry, and they didn't even enter into a civil union. They simply signed a contract and got it notarized. Hardly civilization-changing stuff.

As for the media's non-response, it is entirely possible that the press was too tied up with other events around the world to be concerned about a legally insignificant contract signed by three people in the Netherlands.

But there is also a much more important reason why the media did not respond, and it cuts right to the heart of Kurtz's argument. Kurtz sees hypocrisy in the disparate ways the media covered the Netherlands's first same-sex marriage and the country's first group marriage. In fact, the media made the right call. The first Dutch same-sex union carried a load of symbolism because there was an entire population of people waiting for the chance to enter into legally recognized same-sex partnerships. As soon as one union was successfully recognized, the floodgates opened. As of January 2005, of the over 50,000 gay and lesbian couples living together in the Netherlands, about 25 percent were registered as legally recognized couples.

Kurtz's argument is predicated on the fact that there is a similar group of people waiting in the wings to enter into polyamorous relationships. Yet for all his talk of a "bisexual/polyamory movement," Kurtz does not provide much convincing evidence that one actually exists. To prove that it does, he points to the De Bruijn trio, a group of Unitarian Universalists that promotes polygamy, two pro-bisexuality articles that have appeared in separate law reviews, an academic journal, and--this isn't a joke--an independent movie about a love triangle that's slated to play on the BRAVO channel this spring. There is no meaningful leadership, no agenda, no broad-based organizational structure, no PAC, no lobbyists, no fundraising. Where is the menace?

Furthermore, for all of his time spent researching sexual orientation, Kurtz has a rather archaic view of bisexuality: "[I]ncreasingly, bisexuality is emerging as a reason why legalized gay marriage is likely to result in legalized group marriage. If every sexual orientation has a right to construct its own form of marriage, then more changes are surely due. For what gay marriage is to homosexuality, group marriage is to bisexuality." Bisexuals are bisexuals, they are not polygamists. To my knowledge, there is no scientific study showing that people who happen to be sexually attracted to both sexes are more likely than heterosexuals to chafe under the restrictions of monogamy. That's one reason why Kurtz's analogy doesn't hold up. The other is that marriage between two people, regardless of their gender, is fundamentally different than a union among three or more. In 2004 Slate's Dahlia Lithwick noted that "one can plausibly argue that there is a rational basis for states to ban polygamous and polyamorous marriages in which there has been historical evidence of an imbalance of power, coercion (particularly of young girls), and an enormous financial burden placed on the state. None of these arguments can be made against gay marriage." Same-sex marriage and polyamory are completely different things that can be differentiated by law and by morality. It is quite possible that the same people who support same-sex marriage would oppose polyamourous unions. In fact, since 65 percent of Americans already have a positive view of homosexuals living together and 92 percent disapprove of unions involving more than two people, a large percentage of Americans have already made such a distinction. We can have same-sex marriage without polyamory--just ask the American public.

By giving weight to insignificant events, Kurtz has created a problem where no problem exists. And while he wants us to believe that forces are converging to completely undo the fabric of our society, he's proven something quite different: It's not the social fabric of America that's coming apart, but the right's crusade against same-sex marriage.

12. Pandora and Polygamy
Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, March 17, 2006; A19

And now, polygamy.

With the sweetly titled HBO series "Big Love," polygamy comes out of the closet. Under the headline "Polygamists, Unite!" Newsweek informs us of "polygamy activists emerging in the wake of the gay-marriage movement." Says one evangelical Christian big lover: "Polygamy rights is the next civil-rights battle."

Polygamy used to be stereotyped as the province of secretive Mormons, primitive Africans and profligate Arabs. With "Big Love" it moves to suburbia as a mere alternative lifestyle.

As Newsweek notes, these stirrings for the mainstreaming of polygamy (or, more accurately, polyamory) have their roots in the increasing legitimization of gay marriage. In an essay 10 years ago, I pointed out that it is utterly logical for polygamy rights to follow gay rights. After all, if traditional marriage is defined as the union of (1) two people of (2) opposite gender, and if, as advocates of gay marriage insist, the gender requirement is nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one's autonomous choices in love, then the first requirement -- the number restriction (two and only two) -- is a similarly arbitrary, discriminatory and indefensible denial of individual choice.

This line of argument makes gay activists furious. I can understand why they do not want to be in the same room as polygamists. But I'm not the one who put them there. Their argument does. Blogger and author Andrew Sullivan, who had the courage to advocate gay marriage at a time when it was considered pretty crazy, has called this the "polygamy diversion," arguing that homosexuality and polygamy are categorically different because polygamy is a mere "activity" while homosexuality is an intrinsic state that "occupies a deeper level of human consciousness."

But this distinction between higher and lower orders of love is precisely what gay rights activists so vigorously protest when the general culture "privileges" (as they say in the English departments) heterosexual unions over homosexual ones. Was "Jules et Jim" (and Jeanne Moreau), the classic Truffaut film involving two dear friends in love with the same woman, about an "activity" or about the most intrinsic of human emotions?

To simplify the logic, take out the complicating factor of gender mixing. Posit a union of, say, three gay women all deeply devoted to each other. On what grounds would gay activists dismiss their union as mere activity rather than authentic love and self-expression? On what grounds do they insist upon the traditional, arbitrary and exclusionary number of two?

What is historically odd is that as gay marriage is gaining acceptance, the resistance to polygamy is much more powerful. Yet until this generation, gay marriage had been sanctioned by no society that we know of, anywhere at any time in history. On the other hand, polygamy was sanctioned, indeed common, in large parts of the world through large swaths of history, most notably the biblical Middle East and through much of the Islamic world.

I'm not one of those who see gay marriage or polygamy as a threat to, or assault on, traditional marriage. The assault came from within. Marriage has needed no help in managing its own long, slow suicide, thank you. Astronomical rates of divorce and of single parenthood (the deliberate creation of fatherless families) existed before there was a single gay marriage or any talk of sanctioning polygamy. The minting of these new forms of marriage is a symptom of our culture's contemporary radical individualism -- as is the decline of traditional marriage -- and not its cause.

As for gay marriage, I've come to a studied ambivalence. I think it is a mistake for society to make this ultimate declaration of indifference between gay and straight life, if only for reasons of pedagogy. On the other hand, I have gay friends and feel the pain of their inability to have the same level of social approbation and confirmation of their relationship with a loved one that I'm not about to go to anyone's barricade to deny them that. It is critical, however, that any such fundamental change in the very definition of marriage be enacted democratically and not (as in the disastrous case of abortion) by judicial fiat.

Call me agnostic. But don't tell me that we can make one radical change in the one-man, one-woman rule and not be open to the claim of others that their reformation be given equal respect.

13. One Man, Many Wives, Big Problems
Jonathan Rauch, National Journal, Friday, March 31, 2006

"And now, polygamy," sighs Charles Krauthammer, in a recent Washington Post column.

It's true. As if they didn't already have enough on their minds, Americans are going to have to debate polygamy. And not a moment too soon.

For generations, taboo kept polygamy out of sight and out of mind in America. But the taboo is crumbling. An HBO television series called Big Love, which benignly portrays a one-husband, three-wife family in Utah, set off the latest round of polygamy talk. Even so, a federal lawsuit (now on appeal), the American Civil Liberties Union's stand for polygamy rights, and the rising voices of pro-polygamy groups such as (an evangelical Christian group) and Principle Voices (which Newsweek describes as "a Utah-based group run by wives from polygamous marriages") were already making the subject hard to duck.

So far, libertarians and lifestyle liberals approach polygamy as an individual-choice issue, while cultural conservatives use it as a bloody shirt to wave in the gay-marriage debate. The broad public opposes polygamy but is unsure why. What hardly anyone is doing is thinking about polygamy as social policy.

If the coming debate changes that, it will have done everyone a favor. For reasons that have everything to do with its own social dynamics and nothing to do with gay marriage, polygamy is a profoundly hazardous policy.

To understand why, begin with two crucial words. The first is "marriage." Group love (sometimes called polyamory) is already legal, and some people freely practice it. Polygamy asserts not a right to love several others but a right to marry them all. Because a marriage license is a state grant, polygamy is a matter of public policy, not just of personal preference.

The second crucial word is "polygyny." Unlike gay marriage, polygamy has been a common form of marriage since at least biblical times, and probably long before. In his 1994 book The Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, Robert Wright notes that a "huge majority" of the human societies for which anthropologists have data have been polygamous. Virtually all of those have been polygynous: that is, one husband, multiple wives. Polyandry (one wife, many husbands) is vanishingly rare. The real-world practice of polygamy seems to flow from men's desire to marry all the women they can have children with.

Moreover, in America today the main constituents for polygamous marriage are Mormons and, as Newsweek reports, "a growing number of evangelical Christian and Muslim polygamists." These religious groups practice polygyny, not polyandry. Thus, in light of current American politics as well as copious anthropological experience, any responsible planner must assume that if polygamy were legalized, polygynous marriages would outnumber polyandrous ones -- probably vastly.

Here is something else to consider: As far as I've been able to determine, no polygamous society has ever been a true liberal democracy, in anything like the modern sense. As societies move away from hierarchy and toward equal opportunity, they leave polygamy behind. They monogamize as they modernize. That may be a coincidence, but it seems more likely to be a logical outgrowth of the arithmetic of polygamy.

Other things being equal (and, to a good first approximation, they are), when one man marries two women, some other man marries no woman. When one man marries three women, two other men don't marry. When one man marries four women, three other men don't marry. Monogamy gives everyone a shot at marriage. Polygyny, by contrast, is a zero-sum game that skews the marriage market so that some men marry at the expense of others.

For the individuals affected, losing the opportunity to marry is a grave, even devastating, deprivation. (Just ask a gay American.) But the effects are still worse at the social level. Sexual imbalance in the marriage market has no good social consequences and many grim ones.

Two political scientists, Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer, ponder those consequences in their 2004 book Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population . Summarizing their findings in a Washington Post article, they write: "Scarcity of women leads to a situation in which men with advantages -- money, skills, education -- will marry, but men without such advantages -- poor, unskilled, illiterate -- will not. A permanent subclass of bare branches [unmarriageable men] from the lowest socioeconomic classes is created. In China and India, for example, by the year 2020 bare branches will make up 12 to 15 percent of the young adult male population."

The problem in China and India is sex-selective abortion (and sometimes infanticide), not polygamy; where the marriage market is concerned, however, the two are functional equivalents. In their book, Hudson and den Boer note that "bare branches are more likely than other males to turn to vice and violence." To get ahead, they "may turn to appropriation of resources, using force if necessary." Such men are ripe for recruitment by gangs, and in groups they "exhibit even more exaggerated risky and violent behavior." The result is "a significant increase in societal, and possibly intersocietal, violence."

Crime rates, according to the authors, tend to be higher in polygynous societies. Worse, "high-sex-ratio societies are governable only by authoritarian regimes capable of suppressing violence at home and exporting it abroad through colonization or war." In medieval Portugal, "the regime would send bare branches on foreign adventures of conquest and colonization." (An equivalent today may be jihad.) In 19th-century China, where as many as 25 percent of men were unable to marry, "these young men became natural recruits for bandit gangs and local militia," which nearly toppled the government. In what is now Taiwan, unattached males fomented regular revolts and became "entrepreneurs of violence."

Hudson and den Boer suggest that societies become inherently unstable when sex ratios reach something like 120 males to 100 females: in other words, when one-sixth of men are surplus goods on the marriage market. The United States as a whole would reach that ratio if, for example, 5 percent of men took two wives, 3 percent took three wives, and 2 percent took four wives -- numbers that are quite imaginable, if polygamy were legal for a while. In particular communities -- inner cities, for example -- polygamy could take a toll much more quickly.

Even a handful of "Solomons" (high-status men taking multiple wives) could create brigades of new recruits for street gangs and drug lords, the last thing those communities need.

Such problems are not merely theoretical. In northern Arizona, a polygamous Mormon sect has managed its surplus males by dumping them on the street -- literally. The sect, reports The Arizona Republic, "has orphaned more than 400 teenagers ... in order to leave young women for marriage to the older men." The paper goes on to say that the boys "are dropped off in neighboring towns, facing hunger, homelessness, and homesickness, and most cripplingly, a belief in a future of suffering and darkness."

True, in modern America some polygynous marriages would probably be offset by group marriages or chain marriages involving multiple husbands, but there is no way to know how large such an offset might be. And remember: Every unbalanced polygynous marriage, other things being equal, leaves some man bereft of the opportunity to marry, which is no small cost to that man.

The social dynamics of zero-sum marriage are ugly. In a polygamous world, boys could no longer grow up taking marriage for granted. Many would instead see marriage as a trophy in a sometimes brutal competition for wives. Losers would understandably burn with resentment, and most young men, even those who eventually won, would fear losing. Although much has been said about polygamy's inegalitarian implications for women who share a husband, the greater victims of inequality would be men who never become husbands.

By this point it should be obvious that polygamy is, structurally and socially, the opposite of same-sex marriage, not its equivalent. Same-sex marriage stabilizes individuals, couples, communities, and society by extending marriage to many who now lack it. Polygamy destabilizes individuals, couples, communities, and society by withdrawing marriage from many who now have it.

As the public focuses on a subject it has not confronted for generations, the hazards of polygamy are likely to sink in. In time, debating polygamy will remind us why our ancestors were right to abolish it. The question is whether the debate will reach its stride soon enough to prevent polygamy from winning a lazy acquiescence that it in no way deserves.

14. Joining the Debate but Missing the Point By NATHANIEL FRANK

New York Times, February 29, 2004 OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
By declaring his support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, President Bush has taken sides in an energetic national debate. Unfortunately, thus far the debate has often obscured more than it has illuminated.

Supporters and opponents of gay marriage are talking past each other. Social conservatives argue from the premise that marriage is important to society — the president called it "the most fundamental institution of civilization" — and must be protected. Letting gays wed will undermine marriage, they say, but they are seldom able to explain how.

Proponents of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, make a rights-based argument, insisting that gays deserve the freedom to marry — but they don't address the possible impact of gay marriage on society. As a result, they are open to the valid retort that if marriage is an individual right (instead of a social good), why not polygamous, incestuous or child marriages?

For a productive dialogue, we should be asking the question this way: is giving gays the right to marry good for society? And to answer that, we must ask what larger social purpose marriage serves.

The main reason marriage is considered good for society is that committed relationships help settle individuals into stable homes and families. Marriage does this by establishing collective rules of conduct that strengthen obligations to a spouse and often to children.

This is why the word itself is so important. The power of "marriage" lies in its symbolic authority to reinforce monogamy and stability when temptation calls. The hope is that, having taken vows before family and friends, people will think twice before breaking them. It is this shared meaning of marriage that is central to the success of so many individual unions.

Yet it is precisely this shared definition that causes many Americans to worry that legalizing gay marriages would undermine straight ones. By sharing the institution with couples whose union they don't trust or respect, they fear, the sanctity of their own bonds could be compromised.

The argument is not so much that individual straight couples are threatened by gay marriage, but that the collective rules that define marriage are being undermined. Instead of feeling part of a greater social project that demands respect, people will feel that breaking their vows offends only their spouse, not the whole community. Knowing that their friends and neighbors no longer hold marriage sacred can make it easier for people to wander.

Thus it is inadequate to argue that marriage is a basic civil right because it cannot be extended to all unions — to the brother who wants to marry his sister, to the man who wants two wives, to the 10-year-old who wants to marry her teacher. Marriage could indeed lose some of its current meaning and power if society legalized unions between relatives, groups or children.

What about gays? While marriage may not be a universal civil right, it is a social institution that gays deserve to join. The best argument for gay marriage is that it serves the same social function as all other marriages.

It is silly to argue that broadening the definition of marriage will have no impact on the institution; it will. But no generalization about the nature and durability of same-sex unions can justify banning them. After all, society does not deny marriage rights to divorced, infertile or impotent people — so long as they are straight. We offer that right because society generally tries to encourage as many people as possible to live stable and productive lives. Marriage — gay or straight — helps society achieve that goal.

After identifying the social function that marriage serves, it is easy to allay the fears of those worried about a slippery slope to an "anything goes" definition of marriage. Marriages between brother and sister? Incestuous marriages strike at the core of the bonds of trust and the functions of care that a family requires. Polygamy? One husband and numerous wives invites increased jealousy, deception and subjugation, and mocks the importance of "forsaking all others," essential components of the stabilizing function of marriage.

The traditionalists may well be right that a monogamous relationship between two unrelated, consenting adults makes a strong foundation for a stable family, and thus for a vigorous social order. They're just wrong that those two people have to be of different genders.

Nathaniel Frank teaches history at New School University.