Patrick Appel continues our discussion. Excerpt:
I do believe that same-sex marriage is a right, but rights are not absolute. Both straight and gay couples should have the right to marriage. Opponents of marriage equality claim that same-sex marriage will destroy straight marriages, which, if true, would deprive straights of their marriage rights. Since there are many more straight marriages than gay marriages, it would make sense protect the marriage rights of straight couples in this case. But, because there is no evidence that marriage equality actually harms straight marriage, there is no reason to deny the basic rights of same-sex couples.
Wait, what? I don’t know any same-sex marriage opponent who believes that the existence of SSM is going to cause hetero marriages to dissolve like sand castles struck by the incoming tide. I don’t believe for a second that that’s the case. The argument is rather that SSM institutionalizes a radical redefinition of marriage, such that marriage itself becomes a much weaker institution, with very serious social consequences for everyone. This is not something that is going to happen overnight, or within 10 years. By the time the conclusive data come in, there will be no going back, just as there is no going back on liberalized divorce laws, even though there’s ample evidence that the divorce culture has been bad for society.
Anyway, I do wonder what kind of harm to straight marriage would have to be demonstrated to justify denying a right to marry to same-sex couples in the eyes of those who now support it. Call me skeptical, but I don’t believe that once you’ve committed to the idea that it’s a right, that anything is going to dissuade you. And we all know that if, 40 years from now, the institution of marriage is in even worse shape than it is today, nobody who supports SSM today will claim then that society made a wrong turn at legalizing gay marriage, and nobody at all will suggest taking away a right that same-sex couples have exercised for a generation.
Patrick points out Benjamin Dueholm’s commentary on this exchange. It’s worth reading. I want to quote this bit:
And as we have by now all experienced, the framing of the question goes a long way to deciding what the evidence is. “Does same-sex marriage produce statistically significant negative outcomes in children?” is a question for which you can devise an evidentiary test (not that I necessarily recommend it, because all kinds of marriages will fall under legal scrutiny if that’s how we’re deciding who can and can’t have their relationship acknowledged by the state). “Is marriage inherently an opposite-sex institution oriented toward the creation of new life?” is not really liable to a data-driven answer. For that matter, neither is the question “Is same-sex marriage a fundamental right?” These latter two questions can be answered logically, but not empirically.
Now contrary to Dreher, I think minds can change on these sorts of questions. And “evidence” can certainly come into play in terms of complicating the neat distinctions we get from whatever metaphysics we happen to be toting around with us. But we owe it to ourselves to understand that the evidence-based argument and the fundamental-right argument for same-sex marriage are, if not in fact contradictory, at least entirely unrelated. The whole point of a right, for good or for ill, is that it isn’t granted or withheld based on good or bad consequences.
A clarification: I do believe people change their minds on this question. The polls bear this out, and testimonies of individuals who have changed their minds bear this out. I think minds change mostly because those who change their minds aren’t as committed to their first principles as they thought they were, or held their beliefs because they either hadn’t thought them through, or based them on a thin prejudice, e.g., that gays are icky people — nonsense that can easily be dispelled from personal experience. In short, I think the main reason most Americans who have changed their minds on same-sex marriage have done so is because they have come to realize that given what they believe marriage is, there’s no reason to deny it to same-sex couples. In other words, SSM advocates have not so much made them change their minds as they have pressed them to make the logical connection between SSM and what they already believe to be true. This is why the SSM battle was lost in the Sixties and the Seventies, though nobody could see it then.
By the way, the SSM marriage proponent Jonathan Rauch gave a speech two years ago in which he tried to make sense from a “Red America” point of view of opposing SSM. Worth a look.