Thursday, October 20, 2005

Maggie Gallagher on the "natural life-cycle of marriage"

Maggie Gallagher has been writing at the Volokh Conspiracy in opposition to same-sex marriage. Her arguments are full of unsubstantiated statements and logical holes (earlier today she stated in passing, as if it were common knowledge, that the Roman Empire fell because of "sexual disorganization"), but this one in particular is especially bizarre:
[Trying to rebut the argument that] well, we have some nonprocreating couples in the mix. Why would adding SS couples change anything? Two points: SS couples are being added to the mix precisely in order to assure that society views them as “no different” than other couples. This intrinsically means (if the effort is successful) downgrading if not eliminating the social significance of generativity (procreation and family structure). The second truth is that both older couples and childless couples are part of the natural life-cycle of marriage. Their presence in the mix doesn’t signal anything in particular at all.
Right. Because childless couples who are biologically incapable of having children magically develop fertility through the "natural life-cycle of marriage". And, of course, postmenopausal women can only get married if they previously had children earlier in the "natural life-cycle of marriage."

21 Comments:

Blogger driftwood said...

What about her line “SS couples are being added to the mix precisely in order to assure that society views them as “no different” than other couples.”?

I do know some gays who promote marriage as a political tactic, and a few others who oppose the idea (or at least used to). But most who actually want to get married think they should be able to because—they just want to be married. Like anybody else, they see it as something important to their relationship. What kind of idea of marriage would you have to have in order to be able to make the above claim? Or more likely, what kind of idea of gay people’s attachments?

10/20/2005 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

Ahh.

It makes more sense if you flip it around. She is revealing her own motivation:

The only hope in keeping society from seeing gays as "no different" is to maintain discrimination. Then you can run the circular argument that the discrimination is ok because they are different but they are only different in being descriminated against.

10/20/2005 11:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Any discussion of this topic should start with the question: Why do we have marriage? Is is simply a celebration of togetherness? If so, why should it be enshrined in law? Just think of the many unofficial holidays that we nonetheless celebrate: Halloween, St. Valentine's, etc. Are those celebrations less valid because the State doesn't get involved?

As a society, we give official sanction to marriage for the same reason that we subsidize education and other family services, like childcare. These are investments in the future. This larger societal interest disappears to the extent that we extend "marriage" (with all of its sociological and fiscal benefits) to couples who are deliberately childless.

Again, I have no problem with gays loving each other and celebrating their togetherness. But no societal interest is served by enshrining such relationships in law. Even the "civil union" option strikes me as unnecessary. If two childless people split up, no third party is hurt in the process. The situation becomes problematic only when children come into the picture.

10/21/2005 02:36:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

The only hope in keeping society from seeing gays as "no different" is to maintain discrimination. Then you can run the circular argument that the discrimination is ok because they are different but they are only different in being descriminated against.

Yep, exactly!

Peter:

This larger societal interest disappears to the extent that we extend "marriage" (with all of its sociological and fiscal benefits) to couples who are deliberately childless.

But lots of straight married couples are deliberately childless. Some are biologically infertile, but some just don't want kids. We've already extended "marriage" to these childless couples. What are you going to do, require couples to sign a pledge that they'll try their darnedest to have 2.1 children? All this talk about the "natural life-cycle" of marriage is ridiculous - obviously many married couples that have kids at one point earlier in the marriage did not have kids (and, tautologically, did not have kids previously in the relationship), but it is not likewise true that couples who currently do not want kids will, through the "natural life-cycle of marriage," inevitably decide that they want kids.

But no societal interest is served by enshrining such relationships in law. Even the "civil union" option strikes me as unnecessary.

No? It's not in society's interest to promote monogamy among gay men? (and thus, dare I say it, reduce STD transmission?) Or to increase the stability of gay families with children (adopted or biological)? Or to provide gay teenagers with a role model that they can grow up to have kids and a white-picket-fence life if that's what they want? Or to remove one more piece of the fence that has ghettoized gay people for centuries?

And hospital visitation rights. What are you going to tell to a guy who can't visit his partner of 20 years in the hospital after a car crash because he's not "immediate family?" That his right to visit his partner "doesn't serve societal interest?"

If two childless people split up, no third party is hurt in the process.

So are you saying that divorce proceedings should only be available to straight couples with kids? Childless couples should have to sort it out themselves?

10/21/2005 08:43:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

(Andrew) What are you going to do, require couples to sign a pledge that they'll try their darnedest to have 2.1 children?


Except for the last proviso, that is exactly what the wedding ceremony was once all about. It was not a $15,000 potlatch that would supposedly be the high point of your life. It was a commitment by two people to stick together for the thirty-odd years it takes to raise a family. Even today, refusal to have children or concealment of sterility at the time of marriage are grounds for annulment in the Catholic church and in other faith traditions.

Would I be so HEARTLESS as to take us back to such unenlightened times? Yup. No one is forced to get married and unmarried folk can lead interesting and fulfilling lives. It strikes me as silly to argue that we should water down the meaning of marriage so that no one feels left out.

(Andrew) It's not in society's interest to promote monogamy among gay men?(and thus, dare I say it, reduce STD transmission?)

Oh please. None of the gays I know want to tie the knot. They think the whole thing is a silly media stunt. The few gays who wish to get married are already living in committed monogamous relationships. Gay marriage would reduce STD transmission only if you used it as an excuse to restrict non-marital sex.

(Andrew) What are you going to tell to a guy who can't visit his partner of 20 years in the hospital after a car crash because he's not "immediate family

I've never had trouble visiting friends or acquaintances in hospital. Nor have any hospital staff ever asked me for justification. Is this some kind of American practice? Have hospital staff ever barred you from visiting someone who wished to see you? If you want to tug at my heartstrings, you should convince me that this is a real problem.

10/23/2005 02:55:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Would I be so HEARTLESS as to take us back to such unenlightened times? Yup.

Glad to see at least one gay marriage opponent is forthright about what his view entails. Of course, you're wrong, but I can't accuse you of inconsistency on this point at least. I assume that you also support repealing no-fault divorce, laws allowing women to own their own property, and so on...

refusal to have children or concealment of sterility at the time of marriage are grounds for annulment in the Catholic church and in other faith traditions.

Still, I'm not sure what the relevance of this statement is. The state regulates civil marriage, not the Catholic or any other church. The Catholic church also bans divorce, but that seems to have no effect on the civil law. It's one thing to say that the state should conform to Catholic (or other religious) doctrine (which is consistent, though I would vehemently disagree with it, and it's unconstitutional anyway), but quite another to say that we should follow Catholic teaching on gay marriage but not divorce.

The few gays who wish to get married are already living in committed monogamous relationships.

You misunderstand my point. All gay people alive today grew up in a society where gay marriage was illegal, in most cases almost unthinkable, and where gay people were marginalized, alienated, and oppressed. The older they are, the more oppressed they were in their formative years. The gay sexual revolution was, in part, the result of this marginalization.

When the next gay generation comes of age in a society where an institution - not just state-sanctioned, but society-sanctioned in all the small ways like your mother nagging about when you're going to settle down with a nice man - encourages commitment and monogamy, it seems pretty clear that you will see a "normalization" of gay culture(s). Of course you'll still have plenty of gay people who want nothing to do with marriage or even monogamy, but it seems implausible to suppose that there will be no movement toward monogamy.

If you want to tug at my heartstrings, you should convince me that this is a real problem.

The problem is that same-sex couples do not necessarily have the legal right to visit their partners. It's at the discretion of the nurses or family of the patient - and suppose the patient's parents are vicious homophobes who never approved of their child's same-sex relationship? They might lash out at their child's partner who "corrupted" their child, deny the partner the right to visit the hospital, make important medical decisions, and so on. Or hospital staff may do the same, whether through homophobia or incompetence.

If it's heartrending stories you want, try this one on for size. "We're married" is a lot easier to understand and incontrovertible compared to "I'm his partner, and I have durable power of attorney." As the press release says, "When the government won’t let you marry, not even protecting yourself through legal documents will guarantee that the person closest to you will be allowed to be by your side during times of crisis."

10/23/2005 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Abiola said...

Hasn't anyone told Maggie Gallagher that the argument from nature is a fallacy? Besides, if we were to go by the "natural" order of things, surely polygamy - attested in the vast majority of societies - would be even more deserving of her endorsement than the one-man, one-woman family? But who am I kidding? Expecting consistency from people who are clearly rationalizing gut prejudices is a waste of time.

10/23/2005 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

Expecting consistency might be a waste of time, but I think it is worth exposing their real motives as simple bigotry that has no rational support.

Since we are not going to strip marriage down to some "just-give-us-the-kids-Ma'am" deal, then we should not pretend that the current system is anything other than discrimination based on religious bigotry.

10/24/2005 03:14:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Oh, and by the way - that story I linked to, about the man who wasn't allowed to visit his partner who was literally on his deathbed in the hospital - he lost the lawsuit.

10/25/2005 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous peter said...

(Andrew) Of course you'll still have plenty of gay people who want nothing to do with marriage or even monogamy, but it seems implausible to suppose that there will be no movement toward monogamy.


I live in Quebec, which has been a gay-friendly society for almost thirty years. The next prime minister of Quebec will almost certainly be an openly gay man (André Boisclair). Both gay marriage and civil unions are available.

Among lesbians, there is a trend toward stable long-term relationships and family formation. Among gays, there is no such trend. Part of the problem is biological: men can't have babies all by themselves. But the main reason is simply lack of interest. The gay subculture does not value children.

Sure, you can say this is all part of a rebellion against homophobic mainstream culture. It's just a phase. They'll grow out of it once gay-friendliness is firmly entrenched in our social ethos.

But why, then, are lesbians "growing out" of this anti-child hang-up? Do you think mainstream society is more lesbian-friendly than gay-friendly?

10/27/2005 01:25:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Yes, gay marriage is available now, but where was it when all those gay men were growing up 10, 20, 30 years ago? That's my point - when you grow up assuming that you'll never get married, it's only natural that you don't really consider it very strongly even if it does become available.

Anyway, for sure lesbians tend to be more committed to long-term relationships and want to get married more than gay men, but this just reflects differences between men and women (be careful about saying "the gay subculture" doesn't value children as if there were one single monolithic gay subculture) - women, at least in Western societies, value commitment and settling down while men value sexual adventures and so on.

In any case, this discussion is all a lot of anecdotal evidence and speculation. Of course, I will admit that I don't know for sure that gay marriage will encourage gay male monogamy, but I think that's very plausible. (It seems to me that you've staked out the less plausible position - that there will be no movement toward monogamy as a result of the "mainstreaming" of gay lives.) Meanwhile, you've only cited your circle of friends - do you have any survey data on how many gay men want to get married (key being teens and twenty-somethings)? (Not that it even matters for this debate - a civil right is a civil right, no matter how many will avail themselves of it - what's important is that you have the right to choose to marry.)

10/27/2005 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

By the way, I don't mean to pry (you need not answer this), but do you describe Quebec as gay-friendly from personal experience of growing up gay in Quebec? Certainly straight people can blithely assume that they and the broader culture are gay-friendly even while their gay friends are withering away in the closet with loneliness and longing. Kind of like how white people in America sometimes claim that racism is dead.

10/27/2005 08:38:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

No, I'm not gay. So where do I get my information? From gays, especially those who have lived part of their lives outside Quebec. And they all say that Quebec is much more gay-friendly than other provinces or the U.S.

This assessment is backed by public opinion surveys, which show a much higher public acceptance of homosexuality in Quebec than elsewhere. There's also the legislative record: discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was outlawed in 1978 -- long before any other jurisdiction that I know of.

And yet ... and yet, there has been no trend toward gay relationships that last longer or involve more parenting. In fact, the trend is in the opposite direction. The latest surveys show an increase in partner turnover among young gay adults.

(Andrew: "This just reflects differences between men and women")
I think you've hit the nail on the head. Gay relationships --- by their very nature --- are predisposed to less parental investment and a higher rate of partner turnover. Parental investment is less hardwired in men than in women and, inevitably, gay couples will have shorter-term, more child-free relationships than lesbian or hetero couples.

In this respect, I don't think that "a gay is a woman in a man's body". It's more correct to say that gays are just like straight men, but only more so. Certain behaviors that characterize men more than women are taken to their logical extreme in gay relationships, i.e., the ambivalence toward parenting, the restless search for new conquests. These tendencies seem to be reined in by a stable procreative relationship with a woman, whereas in a gay relationship they manifest themselves with no restraint.

10/29/2005 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

"The latest surveys show an increase in partner turnover among young gay adults."

Is this increase to a greater or lesser extent than increase in partner turnover among young straight adults? (Some links would be nice. I googled the Canadian opinion polls, here's one.)

"in a gay relationship they manifest themselves with no restraint."

Perhaps you'd like to rephrase this gross overgeneralization as "overall, these tendencies manifest themselves to a greater extent in gay male relationships than in straight relationships because the restraint of a female partner is absent, though other restraints remain"?

10/31/2005 12:22:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

What other restraints? Fear of losing custody of one's children? Fear of eternal damnation? Fear of what one's peers might think?

Most of these constraints simply don't operate in the gay subculture. Even among heteros, they are all in decline.

"Is this increase to a greater or lesser extent than increase in partner turnover among young straight adults?"

Partner turnover has been increasing among both gays and heteros -- which is why I have so much trouble believing your prediction that gay marriage will lead to most gays living in lifelong monogamous sexual unions. Lifelong monogamy isn't something that will happen naturally when folks are no longer victims of prejudice, economic privation, bad schools, etc. etc. It is a social construct and, as such, it will disappear as marriage increasingly becomes nothing more than a "celebration of togetherness."

11/04/2005 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

"What other restraints?"

Well, gosh, what about, say, love? I don't cheat on my partner - you're saying the only possible reason for that is that I fear going to hell? not that it would be wrong, that it would break his heart, that I actually don't want anyone else?

And oftentimes the only reason gay couples don't fear losing custody is that they don't have legal custody of their children - because the state doesn't recognize that they are married. Strengthen their legal bonds to their children, and you'll soon seen custody battles in divorcing gay couples (we've already seen this - a lesbian couple in Vermont split up, one moved to Virginia - the two state courts are now fighting over who gets the baby, who both have a biological tie to).

And once again, please stop talking about "the" gay subculture (singular) - the days of a single gay subculture are long gone. As gay life becomes more mainstream, it also becomes more diverse - this trend is already evident and will become even stronger over time.

Twenty-something couples living in West Hollywood might not fear peer opprobrium over a breakup (but then, they'd be unlikely to marry in the first place), but a middle-aged couple who've been together 20 years living in a suburb whose marriage has been a part of both their families' lives for that time, whose marriage has been taken for granted by their entire social group - you're telling me they're not going to worry about disappointing their friends and family if they divorce?

"Partner turnover has been increasing among both gays and heteros "

In that case, your rebuttal to my claim that increasing "normalization" of gay life will produce more gay monogamy rests not on anything strange about gay people themselves (i.e., it's not that gay men are just intrinsically promiscuous and no amount of normalization will do anything to change that), but rather that the norm that gay people are moving toward (i.e. straight behavior) is shifting to greater partner turnover in any case.

"your prediction that gay marriage will lead to most gays living in lifelong monogamous sexual unions."

Hey now, I never said "most" - I said there would be a movement toward monogamy - I didn't say how large the effect would be.

11/04/2005 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

By the way, I'm still waiting for some statistics about partner turnover. In fact, even if I'm completely wrong and the mainstreaming of gay life has no effect on gay male monogamy, I would still have expected to see a drastic decrease in gay male promiscuity since the 1970s, if for no other reason than the AIDS epidemic.

11/04/2005 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

Lifelong sexual monogamy is a social construct. We are not programmed to stay faithful to one partner for life, or even for the 20-30 years it takes to raise a family. This being said, there are innate predispositions for exclusive pair bonding and these predispositions vary in their stability over time between men and women, between individuals, and between human populations (but let's not get into that debate).

These innate predispositions have been shored up by cultural, social, and ideological restraints to produce longer-lasting and more stable relationships. Such restraints have enabled many societies, including our own, to flourish and survive in the struggle for existence. Now they're being dismantled and we're told that "love" is sufficient restraint to keep two people together for some 30-odd years. Yeah, sure.

Your arguments reflect a lot of well-intentioned liberal thinking about the nature of human sexuality. Life-long monogamy is seen as being the natural state of things and people who deviate from this natural state do so because of prejudice, discrimination, lack of good housing, bad schools, etc. etc. Thus, the prevalence of short-term, multi-partner relationships among gays is supposedly due to the marginal and illegitimate status accorded to the expression of their sexuality. If anti-gay discrimination ceases, and if gays are allowed to marry, most of them will settle down into lifelong, exclusive, monogamous marriages. Just like ma and pa.

It's not happening. And it's not going to happen ... unless you impose the same arsenal of restraints that were used to create lifelong heterosexual marriage. And even then, the results will be disappointing because long-term pair-bonding is less hardwired in men than in women.

Sure, if you throw in enough restraints, you could batter gay sexuality into something resembling a 1950s sitcom. But why do it? For what reason? Why make a lot of people feel miserable because you think that long-term exclusive pair-bonding is inherently good -- even when there is no intention of procreation. Why?

"By the way, I'm still waiting for some statistics about partner turnover."
Do a Google search for "AIDS fatigue".

11/05/2005 06:13:00 PM  
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