In her essay “Can Marriage Be Saved?,” Boston College Scholar in Residence Laura L. Garcia suggests we may be looking at marriage from the wrong perspective:
I conclude that given the values dominating our culture today, the ideal marriage might be that between two homosexuals. There is no possibility that children will enter the picture unexpectedly to create burdens on the couple’s time or money or freedom. Partners are free to leave whenever the relationship no longer suits them, with no repercussions on children and little financial impact. There are likely to be few financial difficulties, in fact, since both partners are likely to be working and in general handle their accounts separately. Sexual desires are gratified without risk of pregnancy. If children are seen as a desirable addition, perhaps they can be adopted or artificially produced—poster babies for Planned Parenthood’s slogan ‘Every child a wanted child.’
Perhaps only someone like her who views marriage as a sacred union created by God between one man and one woman can see the essential issues. Well before homosexual marriage became a public policy issue, heterosexual America had already redefined marriage. In the modern dispensation, the purpose of marriage was not lifetime mutual support whose love’s goal, if not necessarily actual fruit, was biological children; it instead had morphed into an alliance of two individuals maximizing their own interests in any way that suited them, dissoluble anytime either party desired. Transitioning from men and women to same-sex partners was a small step once marriage was so redefined.
The facts are hardly in contention. As far as the prospects for traditional marriage go, Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently outlined them in The Atlantic:
It is too late. Attitudes to sex, feminist advances, and labor market economics have dealt fatal blows to the traditional model of marriage. Sex before marriage is the new norm. The average American woman now has a decade of sexual activity before her first marriage at the age of 27. The availability of contraception, abortion, and divorce has permanently altered the relationship between sex and marriage. As Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage, A History and The Way We Never Were, puts it, “marriage no longer organizes the transition into regular sexual activity in the way it used to.” Feminism, especially in the form of expanded opportunities for women’s education and work, has made the solo-breadwinning male effectively redundant. Women now make up more than half the workforce. A woman is the main breadwinner in 40% of families. For every three men graduating from college, there are four women. Turning back this half century of feminist advance is impossible (leaving aside the fact that is deeply undesirable). There is class gap here, however. Obsolete attitudes towards gender roles are taking longest to evolve among those with the least education.
His solution is to promote parenting as the rationale for marriage, plus stay-at-home dads for the lower classes since most of these breadwinners are women anyway. But why should liberated moderns accept either sacrifice? As the great economic historian Joseph Schumpeter predicted almost a century ago, once
men and women learn the utilitarian lesson and refuse to take for granted the traditional arrangements that their social environment makes for them … and … as soon as they introduce into their private life a sort of inarticulate system of cost accounting – they cannot fail to become aware of the heavy personal sacrifices that family ties and especially parenthood entail under modern conditions and of the fact that…children cease to be economic assets.
No one can complain that moderns have been slow to learn the lesson, with childbearing collapsing in Europe except among mostly Muslim immigrants, and barely holding on at replacement levels for European- and African-Americans; it’s even abating among Hispanic-Americans.
If and when gay marriage comes to pass, its advocates will have a much harder time convincing their fellow homosexuals to exercise their ‘right’ than they did in persuading the rest of the country to grant it. That’s because they have never explained—and never could explain—why it would make sense for gays to entangle themselves in a regulatory web and risk getting into legal disputes over divorce, alimony, and the division of property. Marriage evolved because of the existence of children: without them, the institution loses its biological, economic, and historical basis, its very reason for being.
Yes, the problem is children. Once they enter the equation, libertarians beware, so does the state. Yet, as a great deal of research suggests, and is implicitly conceded even by the critic Reeves, there are definite advantages to having one man and one woman raise children. Does that mean the government should outlaw gay marriage? That would mean the state has the power to determine what marriage is—and can change it. Social conservatives should be as wary as libertarians or gays of handing over such decisions to bureaucrats, whether wearing robes nor not.
There is nothing about marriage in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court insists on becoming the supreme canon tribunal to define marriage. So far, “marriage equality” is restricted to receiving national government welfare benefits, but district court decisions have even overruled state constitutions that limit marriage to one man and one woman. It is already the case that after thousands of years, there is no longer a word for a marriage of one man and one woman. Of course welfare benefits are not in the Constitution either, only concern for the general welfare, the opposite of micro-managed benefits for every possible interest. If equal benefits are the issue, all government welfare should go to individuals only, including children.
Unless one is willing to turn every important societal decision over to a rotating five-person Court majority, the only answer would seem to be to turn marriage back over to the churches, whose authority over it was only negated at the time of the French Revolution. Or at least to send the issue back to the states where the Constitution placed it, and welfare too for that matter. States, communities, churches, special covenants, and the rest are the only way to keep the Supreme Court from becoming the de facto established national church of the U.S.
For the reasons Raimondo specifies, it is doubtful that marriage will be popular among homosexuals, especially among men. Why take on the legal and financial burdens of marriage and divorce? Many often ask what difference gay marriage could make for traditional marriage, especially if few gays take advantage of the opportunity. General moral acceptance of gay lifestyles as marital political rights, however, inevitably means traditionalists, especially those bound by religious objections, will be branded as bigots. Voicing such objections can be punished as hate speech or punished by college authorities as prejudice. Refusal to participate in gay weddings and events has already been treated as discrimination punishable by law for photographers, caterers, and bakers. Libertarians who support gay marriage but not applying anti-discrimination laws ignore the reality of public policy today.
Can such moral views have practical effects? The Pew Research Center recently found that 88 percent of Americans believe that married people having an outside affair is morally wrong. In a Daily Beast article, Jay Michaelson estimates that three-fourths of gay relationships are not monogamous, and supports the idea that this reality will ultimately transform straight marriage into acceptance of multiple partner relationships. Almost unanimous support from mainstream media and cultural elites recently changed public opinion on gay marriage overnight. Does it matter whether married people cheat on spouses? After 10 more years of elite cultural support for gay marriage, what would a new Pew poll on adultery show?
Michaelson is correct that gay marriage does not only involve the couple affected, but has wide social implications. Indeed, if one considers adultery and serial monogamy to be non-monogamous, straight marriage is already on the edge. It is difficult to imagine what could change present dynamics. Returning to the idea that marriage is a sacred pledge between one man and one woman before one’s Creator is out of the question, right?
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reconciling Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the Office of Personnel Management during his first term.