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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Economist Debates - Single-sex marriage

The moderator's closing remarks:

Roger McShane -

As we come to the conclusion of this debate, I'm afraid we have found little common ground. Even the motion itself continues to come under fire. For example, commenter Andrew W. Norfolk proposes that we instead focus on whether committed homosexual couples should receive the same legal and financial benefits from the state as heterosexual pairings. Indeed, that might elucidate the motivations behind each side in this debate, but what is the upshot of such equality? If it does not result in gay marriage, then it means doing away with state-sanctioned marriage or giving gay couples a separate but equal designation. Could Evan Wolfson and Maggie Gallagher support either of those options? Or would the debate simply continue on different terms?
Regardless, the debate over gay marriage moves on and I am pleased to report that we finally have some evidence with which to assess the competing claims. Our guest commenter, M.V. Lee Badgett, has provided her own data-based analysis showing that heterosexual marriage, divorce and non-marital birth rates have stuck to prior trends in societies where gay marriage has been made legal. She also says marriage has been good for same-sex couples. That gives a boost to the argument of Mr Wolfson, who himself quotes the American Academy of Pediatrics to support his claim that children who grow up with gay parents turn out just fine. Ms Gallagher, on the other hand, provides no support for her assertions that children need different-sex parents, or that gay marriage negatively affects society. She claims that proponents of gay marriage are ignoring social-science evidence, but this debate suggests the reverse is true.
How important is this? Commenter TheIgtheist, who supports the motion, rightly warns of the danger of giving research studies too much weight. "[G]enuine societal improvement comes from accepting shared human values as an a priori fact, and...sociological studies as they are commonly used in these issues easily pervert the discussion away from this," he says. Indeed, well-supported utilitarian arguments could be made to change (or maintain) society in ways that most of us would find loathsome. Such arguments must be balanced with concerns over civil rights and shared values.
Speaking of which, Ms Gallagher says, "To me, and to millions of other good people, a 'husband' means a man who has taken sexual responsibility for a woman and any children they make together with their bodies." To me, that sounds cold and odd, but, alas, I am not married—perhaps I am too romantic! So I would like to ask our espoused commenters if this is what a husband means to them. Moreover, do you believe your marriage is grounded in procreative sexual acts, as Ms Gallagher argues, as opposed to mutual love and caretaking, which she describes as a "competing conception"? To believe the former seems to exclude more than homosexual couples from the institution of marriage. Sterile couples, senior citizens and those who simply do not want children will have also contributed to the fragmentation of sex, reproduction and marriage, which is Ms Gallagher's main concern. These types of couplings far outnumber potential gay unions. Should they also be targeted?
Unfortunately, that question will remain unanswered, as the final statements are in and the debate is wrapping up. Over two-thirds of you continue to support the motion that gay marriage should be legal. For those of you who have not yet had your say, speak now or forever hold your peace.
Evan Wolfson

The proposer's closing remark:

Evan Wolfson  -
Maggie Gallagher's latest non-sequiturs illustrate yet again that there is no good reason for the government's exclusion of gay couples from marriage. Denying marriage to committed couples does nothing to address any of the things she ostensibly worries about: divorce, men and women's "freighted" relationships, "unintended" children, etc. If Ms Gallagher's concern is that the children of different-sex couples be raised in wedlock, why then does the NOM not advocate abolishing divorce or compelling different-sex couples that conceive "unintentionally" to marry? Wouldn't that make more sense than withholding the critical safety net and meaning marriage brings from same-sex couples, thereby punishing them and the children they are raising? Why is the entire programme of the so-called National Organisation for Marriage—the flood of money its funnels into attack laws and constitutional amendments—obsessively about barring gay people from marrying, rather than anything that would actually help anyone's life, including real children who have the parents they have?
Different-sex couples do not cease having sex, having babies, or getting married just because the same-sex couple next door got a marriage licence at City Hall. Ending the exclusion of gay people from marriage does not take anything away from, or hurt, anyone. What does hurt people is selectively withholding the freedom to marry. An official commission in New Jersey found that in emergency rooms, in financial aid offices and in companies across the state, same-sex couples and their families are still being denied the rights and protections they were promised when the civil union act was passed in 2007. The commission reported: "The difference in terminology, between 'marriage' and 'civil union,' stigmatizes gays and lesbians and their families because they are singled out as different." Everyone knows what marriage means; it is a statement so important that most people wear its symbol on their hand. Civil union does not even have a verb. Government should not be in the discrimination business or putting obstacles in the path of people seeking to care for their loved ones, especially in tough economic times.
In her strained efforts to concoct complications about the simple step of removing the government's denial of marriage licences, Ms Gallagher reminds me of Ronald Reagan's definition of an economist: someone "who sees something work in practice and wonders if it will work in theory". Gay and lesbian couples can now marry in 12 countries on four continents and the sky has not fallen in any of them, nor have they used up the marriage licences.
Every leading professional child-welfare organisation—for instance the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry—has found that gay and lesbian couples are fit and loving parents and are doing well, as are their children, and thus have called for an end to marriage discrimination. Like literally every reputable professional authority, these experts have affirmed that ultimately what matters in the lives of children is the presence of loving and supportive parents. As the paediatricians put it, "A growing body of scientific literature reveals that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents will develop emotionally, cognitively, socially, and sexually as well as children whose parents are heterosexual. Parents' sexual orientation is much less important than having loving and nurturing parents." The anti-gay side, including Ms Gallagher's NOM, has had repeated opportunities to bring countervailing evidence into court; as Judge Walker noted, they had nothing to back up the unsubstantiated rhetoric Ms Gallagher repeats yet again here where she is not under oath.
Americans from Laura Bush to Barack Obama are on a journey, evolving as they think through the actual impact of marriage discrimination and the lack of evidence for any good reason to continue exclusion. They are hearing from family, friends and neighbours about the real harm inflicted by exclusion from marriage, and are talking with gay people and among themselves about why marriage matters for us all. They are coming to realise that denial of marriage deprives same-sex couples and their families of literally thousands of legal and economic responsibilities and protections, as well as the personal significance and meaning that the freedom to marry holds. They are seeing with their own eyes that they lose nothing when the couple down the block is strengthened and more families are respected. Americans believe in the Golden Rule of treating others as you would want to be treated, and the American constitution embraces the same idea: equal justice under the law. There is enough marriage to share, and it is time to end the exclusion of gay couples from marriage and turn our attention to working together on the real challenges confronting our country and all of us.
Maggie Gallagher
The opposition's closing remark:

Maggie Gallagher  -
I enter this last round with Evan Wolfson with a heavy heart. It is sad to me that I have not succeeded in getting him to engage with the world as so many other decent, loving, law-abiding people see it. I do not mean agree with me; I mean have enough sympathy to acknowledge that our view exists, rather than pretending that "there are no possible arguments" against defining same-sex unions as marriages.
For Mr Wolfson, opposition to gay marriage is rooted only in ignorance, unreason, hatred and bigotry. There is no reason at all that marriage is and has always been a union of male and female throughout most of human history, except a desire to make the lives of gay people difficult. The only substantive response to the concerns I have raised about how gay marriage changes marriage is his claim that permitting gay couples to marry no more changes marriage than permitting women to vote changes the meaning of "vote".
For those of you reading this I would ask of you only one thing: whether you support gay marriage or not, can you at least acknowledge what you are asking of those of us who disagree, who believe our historic marriage tradition is good? To me, and to millions of other good people, a "husband" means a man who has taken sexual responsibility for a woman and any children they make together with their bodies. Whatever Mr Wolfson means by "husband" it is clearly something different. When the law adopts his view of "marriage" and "husband" something will be changed for millions of people. I think he and other gay-marriage advocates have a responsibility, to truth and decency, to acknowledge that change, and to argue for it as better than the understanding of marriage we have now, rather than to pretend the change is not real.
For Mr Wolfson to argue his view of marriage is superior to mine is one thing; to argue that the alternative view of marriage that I and others hold does not exist is sad—and irresponsible. It is sad to me because I believe the most urgent need now is to generate respect for the views with which we disagree—to acknowledge that each of us is fighting for something we think is good. Instead, Mr Wolfson launches an attack on me and the NOM that I have no interest in pursuing. The NOM is not the issue; marriage is the issue. Even if everything he says about me were true (which it is not), that would not change the core question, which is not "What do you think about Maggie?" but "What should marriage mean in our society?".
For me, this debate did not begin in 2003. For me, this journey began with the sexual revolution launched when I—and Mr Wolfson—were young Yale students. At a conference at St Johns University in Queens, I listened while one gay marriage supporter spoke about rejecting "heterosexual privilege". This is what I said, when it was my turn to speak:
"Yes, in one sense to be able to make new life as a result of acts of sexual love is an incredible privilege. On the other hand, I had a flashback to my senior year at Yale. I was pregnant by my boyfriend, in his room preparing to fly back to my family home to have his child. And the last thing he said to me was, 'I'll be back in 30 minutes.' He wasn't, and I flew home alone."
For me, the idea that sex between men and women makes babies, and that this truth freights sexual relationships between men and women, and grounds our marriage tradition, is not theoretical or philosophical. It is a truth hard won against ideology by practical experience. It is the great truth we elites repress, deny and refuse to acknowledge—primarily so that we can continue to engage in sexual relationships as if this truth did not exist.
I do not blame gay people for this. I do believe the larger society must—even as we acknowledge our gay fellow citizens, who have their own needs—respect the need for a unique social institution to address what is genuinely unique about opposite-sex relationships. Pretending that gay and straight are just the same will not make it so.
Gay marriage will make it virtually impossible to renew marriage's central public role, which is not to celebrate private romantic love—hardly any business of government—but to protect children by increasing the likelihood that they will be born to and raised by their own mother and father. Gay marriage makes it impossible to articulate this as a goal of marriage, much less to realise it in real children's lives.


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