November 19, 2003

Thinking About Marriage

I was going to let this essay 'cook' a bit more before I took it out of draft and published it but since Glenn Reynolds can't see why gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, I'll let fly early. In short, gay marriage doesn't deliver the social benefit that heterosexual marriage (both fertile and infertile) does, creates complexity and confusion about an important part of keeping society stable, and opens the door to further marital erosion that would really mess things up.

Why should government promote marriage? Honoring marriage is a cost on society so what is the logical reason to support it? In the bowels of Flitters (my contributions are at /m2240, /m2246, /m2248, /m2251, /m2255, /m2267, /m2274, /m2278, /m2284, /m2287, /m2308, /m2312) the discussion covered the problem in great depth. With the gay marriage situation in Massachussetts being what it is, it's worth examining again at some length in essay format.

The first principle is that public support of societal arrangements is inherently coercive and any establishment or extension of such arrangements has the burden of proof to justify why we all should submit to that coercion. For society, to any degree, to support such an arrangement it has to provide some public benefit or be so utterly uncontroversial (such as national secretary week) as to be held universally unobjectionable and unobjected to.

Marriage is not, nor has it ever been, without cost or universally unobjectionable (there have always been curmudgeons not too friendly to the institution). So what does marriage bring to the table societally that has enshrined its status all over the world for millenia?

Marriage has been associated with several good effects regarding societal stability. The first one is that it promotes societal stability. For societies that don't have it well regulated, large pools of unmarried, single men are significantly destabilizing. This is relevant for today both in polygamous societies and in societies such as the PRC (under its one child policy) and India for which sex selection abortions are common and skewed heavily toward killing females.

Polygamy, in short, is to be avoided as is public policy that creates a significant sex imbalance over the space of decades. Horny frustrated men tend to get aggressive and a significant portion will turn that aggression on society. The threat of polygamy is embedded in the gay marriage debate. Lesbians have demonstrated a statistically significant desire to have children and tripartite custody agreements being leveraged into polygamous marriage of all types is an obvious 'next step' in the marriage revisionist agenda.

Societies, to avoid collapse, have to create a next generation. You can't really talk about marriage without getting into the subject of procreation. Unfortunately, a lot of landmines have been buried on this subject by all sides. Motherhood and marriage are improperly intertwined by some traditionalists and improperly separated by the gay marriage revisionists.

The improper intertwining is that motherhood, as a separate category from marriage also deserves some support so it doesn't really fly as secular social policy to create a false unity of procreation and marriage. As various countries have proven, you can have a separation of procreation and marriage. Single motherhood is still motherhood and should be honored for the health risk and sacrifice that these people undertake.

As those same countries have simultaneously proven, the marriage revisionists are wrong to create too much of a separation, declaring marriage unimportant to child rearing because children raised without mother and father have statistically significant higher rates of a whole host of societal pathologies from poverty to crime. Divorcing procreation from marriage also takes out a logical argument against legalizing polygamy beyond tripartite marriages.

It's more justified to say that in the broad averages that social policy must deal in, children are raised, socialized, and civilized best when they have a mother and a father to observe and imitate on a daily basis. This has broader implications besides homosexual marriage (like in divorce law reform) but that's for another time and another essay. In the case of broken homes, having other, functional marriages around provide a reasonable partial substitute but you need as many of those as possible. They are an imperfect solution at best because they aren't around all the time and some of the most critical behavior that needs to be transmitted usually occurs behind closed doors.

Childless married couples, besides providing additional models for proper behavior, are also available to take care of orphans or children that are victims of truly abusive parents or parents who are incapable of supporting their offspring. This is also a legitimate societal role and one seen in juvenile courts all across the world in adoption proceedings and cases where children are placed with relatives instead of being put in the more impersonal state run system.

But beyond the civilizing effects of parenting there is the mundane issue of material support for children (when juvenile courts decide custody, acting in the best interests of the child is a mix of physical support and behavioral/teaching support). Children, by definition, are incapable of supporting themselves and exercising proper judgment over their affairs. So who is most likely to be interested in acting as guardian over them until they become capable of doing so? Self-interest is a powerful motivator so parents are assumed the best guardians. Genetic propagation is generally hard wired so maximizing child welfare is a sefish thing to do. The biologically different optimal points of male and female child welfare strategies is, again, another essay. Suffice it to say that conventional marriage is very female friendly.

So we so far have a three dimensional socially useful behavior matrix of promoting children to create a next generation and providing material support and psychological models for behavior. A traditional marriage structure scores high on all three axes. Where does homosexual marriage come out? Not so good, if you're in favor of it.

Gay marriage doesn't provide much educational value for male/female interactions of children either for their own children (tripartite lesbian parenting) or for adopted children. It certainly isn't going to provide enough children to head off societal collapse from a lack of offspring. It could provide material support for adopted children but that really isn't a problem that needs solving. Most societies that have a gay marriage debate also have waiting lists of adoptive parents. Unless there were evidence that gay couples would be willing, in significant numbers, to adopt interracially this is just a nonissue.

The confusion of additional marriage models for structuring a family is a significant cost that would be distributed throughout society and the benefits that traditional marriage provides just don't exist in a gay marriage framework. Throw in the risk (in common law societies where judicial precedent is so important) of legitimating polygamy and you've got a sure net societal loss.

Where's the case for spending a single penny on changing social policy for a net decrease in societal utility? There simply isn't one. No matter how many sob stories homosexuals spin out about their feeling excluded, that isn't grounds for public policy spending. If it were, a vast array of public expenditures would have to be undertaken, none of which would be justified.

Posted by TMLutas at November 19, 2003 03:18 PM