Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Happens If Gays Marry?

Rod Dreher has interviewed Maggie Ghallager, who wants everyone to know that there are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad social consequences to legalizing same-sex marriage.

Curiously, despite the open-mic, open-ended nature of the interview, Ghallager either cannot or will not list these consequences, or not in a convincing or coherent fashion. Ghallager:

What does losing marriage mean? First the rejection of the idea that children need a mom and dad as a cultural norm--or probably even as a respectable opinion.
It's difficult to disentangle the point of confusion here -- does Ghallager think gays-as-spouses and gays-as-parents are the same proposition? Does she make the same equation for heterosexuals, and if so, does it lead her to oppose stripping marital rights from infertile straight people? Does it lead her to oppose permitting adoptions by unmarried straight people? Births by unnatural straight people? Removal of parental rights for people whose wife/husband has died or left?

No. Ghallager does not explain why this is so. For her, gay people are self-evidently second-rate. For her, gay people are icky, foul people whose rights are highly alienable, subject to majoritarian whimsy.

Shifting the emphasis to her hand-wringing about "cultural norms," does Ghallager not recognize the significant mutual autonomy between norms and laws? She should, if only for the readily-available instance sitting in her very lap, namely: an established norm in the USA is that self-labeled social conservatives write opinion columns in which they prate, moan, and whine about social changes they do not like. This happens without the direct assistance of any law. Indeed, it is pointedly the case that there are no laws prohibiting the writings of social liberals or others expressing contrary opinions. Even without a legal assist, then, Maggie Ghallager and her ilk demonstrably manage to perpetuate the norm of right-wing, knuckle-dragging, hell-in-a-handbasket, public caterwauling.

Again, she leaves unexplained why the cultural norm she is currently claiming to defend -- marriage as one man and one woman, hand-in-hand forever as witnessed by god almighty and undersigned by the county clerk -- is especially vulnerable without a legal boost in the form of denying the same rights to man-man or woman-woman pairings.

Soon enough she gets around to an almost, but not quite, concrete claim about the fate of societies that legalize marriage equality:
I'm not worried about the progressive myth that 200 years from now gay marriage will be the new world norm. I'm somewhat more worried about the kind of cultures around the world that might survive. It's not clear to me they'll have the virtues of American civilization for gay people or anyone else. [emphasis mine]
Isn't it quaint how Ghallager manages to present her anti-gay prejudice in a phony wrapper of pro-gay protectiveness? That aside, by definition, these hypothetical societies of the future will not include, among their "virtues for gay people," the legal barriers to their marrying people with whom they share felt romantic attachments. Should these societies come to exist -- and I hope they continue emerging -- I hope they develop norms that favor marriage equality to coincide with their laws, but if they do not, we can be sure of future Maggie Ghallagers reminding us, however vaguely and insubstantially, of how terrible it will all surely be if the norms and the laws don't match up.

More on the specific topic of right-wing predictions about gay marriage can be found at Rust Belt Philosophy; more on the more general topic of majoritarianism can be found at Butterflies and Wheels.


larryniven said...

Was that an anti-Muslim crack there at the end? About the kinds of societies that'll survive? I mean, if so, probably it would've been okay to just say that: Islamic theocracies are pretty rightful targets for our censure, there's no real need to be sly about it.

But in any case, it seems a little backwards, doesn't it? "Anti-gay cultures will thrive unless we ourselves become anti-gay"? Are we supposed to be beating them to the punch, or...?

Dale said...

LN, I gather that is her claim, or maybe, sure -- that if we permit gays to marry, all child-bearing will stop soon after, and the still-fecund Moorish hordes will sweep across the newly-depopulated North American continent. Or some shit like that.

I find this claim too laughable. I'll say only that efforts of the Chinese to limit human reproduction -- with fines and I don't even want to think about what else -- have failed. They've bent the population growth curve there a bit, but, um, China is not running out of people or even second children.

The failure of such direct efforts by a totalitarian government says something, I think, about the indirect way that Maggie G. pretends to fear so much -- leaving it legal, even tax-favored, socially favored in a thousand ways, but ... allowing the gays to marry.

Rene Monroe said...

As a gay man I find this issue particularly interesting. First and foremost we have the issue regarding rights. There is not a single circumstance where I have ever agreed with conservatives with regards to their opinions on same sex marriage.

However, I as a gay man do not believe in same sex marriage for one simple reason. I strongly believe in the separation of church and state.

Therefore, my solution to this whole paradox is to simply abolish marriage altogether and replace it with civil unions. In other words, let marriage stay within the churches where it belongs. The government can then recognize the co-habitation and union of individuals and their spouses through civil unions which would provide all the legal rights without applying that religious term to it.

This would protect the unfounded conservative views that marriage is holy and all that crap while providing equal rights to straight and gay people.

The only difference in this versus previous ideas with civil unions is that civil unions would replace what marriage is currently, while marriage would regress back to its roots and remain locked within the church having no recognition of the federal government. However, I feel that it will never happen since it is a little to liberal...even for liberals.

Dale said...

Rene, thanks for the comment. As it turns out, I agree with that completely and have so blogged repeatedly, notably here (Feb '08) and here (Feb '09). I've touched on it in other posts as well.

The only caveat I consider worth noting is that current law -- federal and state, statutory and judicial precedent -- throws the M-word around rather frequently, so care would need to be taken to ensure that a gigantic search-and-replace function got properly applied such that all the goods currently allocated to "marriage" would flow to the religiously-denuded and more constitutional "civil union." I would not want to see people who now enjoy the legal goodies of marriage per se to be grandfathered special rights, privileges, immunities denied to the civilly-unionized of the future.

But yes: "marriage" should be given back to private parties and their favorite gods, in exactly the same way that private, religious rites of birth are and should remain distinct from public, secular certifications of birth.

When I say I'm for gay marriage, it is shorthand for complete equality in the rights currently reserved for the m-word.

If my only two choices were (a) the status quo or (b) allowing "marriage" per se to include gay people, I'd go for (b). But I'm with you --- there is a third option, and it is better.