A friend of mine  posted up a link to "A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other"  and asked that it be read without knee-jerking. I respect his opinions on things, so I did. My reply got a little too large to merely be a "comment" so here it is.
The idea here is to set up marriage as a pilliar of society and then to claim that altering the institution will bring it tumbling down. It uses previous social reforms to build up a case. It also argues that one of the primary arguments for gay marriage is that it will not effect traditional marriage.
I am a proponent of gay marriage so my reply is obviously supporting one side, can't help it. I'm going to go after the logic of the argument rather than try to refuse the facts it uses with that logic. Since the author is on the fence, hopefully this will help to refine the argument... my obvious biases aside.
* Straw men: simpatico
The links between the previous social reforms and gay marriage are drawn, in part, by the arguments made in their defense.
The "moderate conservative" voice in the article is logical and uses multi-sentence arguments. The disenting voices all blurt "That's rediculous!" along with a single sentence emotional argument. They are a Simplicius, a straw man to beat against.
Furthermore, since we're using the argument to draw a tie from, say, the hated income tax to gay marriage and the argument is simplistic, I can use that same logic to draw a line between gun control and gay marriage.
"That's rediculous! The American government would never try to take away my gun!"
Then I talk about what might have happened if the 2nd ammendment had not been there, much in the same way the cap on income tax is not, and use that to beat on the straw man some more.
* The 60s
Something I can't swallow is that in a time of general social and economic upheval in America (late 50s - 70s: oil crisis, civil rights, vietnam, sexual revolution, woman's lib, etc...) that one can make any cut and dry statements about the success or failure of welfare, public housing or pretty much anything going on in that period.
* That's how it was always done.
Since the article uses analogy to make its point i will make one of my own.
"marriage is an ancient institution, which has been carefully selected for throughout human history."
In this case you're defining "marriage" to mean between a man and a woman. Let's push back the clock to, oh, 1850. And let's define marriage using the issues of the times: race. Marriage in 1850 was, and had always been, between a man and a woman of the same race. Carefully selected throughout history. Bedrock of society. For some reason, marriage always and everywhere, in every culture we know about in 1850, is between a man and a woman of the same race.
As you poke holes in that argument for 1850 you poke holes in the modern one because they are the same argument, different minority.
So just continuing to do what we've always done isn't necessarily the best way to go. Which leads us to...
* Marriage or partnership?
"Marriage matters. It is better for the kids; it is better for the adults raising those kids; and it is better for the childless people in the communities where those kids and adults live. Marriage reduces poverty, improves kids outcomes in all measurable ways, makes men live longer and both spouses happier."
I agree with all that, more or less. The interesting thing to note is there's nothing in there about requring the couple be a man and a woman. Is it really *marriage* that's so important or is it life-long partnership?
Humans do better with partners. The longer standing and stronger the partnership the better they'll do. The partnership can be marriage (whatever your definition), business, family, etc. Partners allow you to share the load, provide advice and a 2nd opinion, circle the wagons when things go wrong, someone to prop you up when you're in financial trouble and a safe place to relax after the stress of the day.
So is it traditional marriage we should be defending to the point of restricting other systems because "that's the way its always been done" or should we be looking at root causes? What societal need does traditional marriage fill and what other systems can fill that role?
* Causes vs sparks
Did the loosening of divorce laws cause more divorce or did it simply allow a vent for an existing disatisfation with the American system of marriage? Previously if you were dissatisfied with your marriage (vs being provably abused) you had to grin and bear it... and maybe have a quiet affair on the side.
Losening divorce laws were not the CAUSE of more divorce, they were merely a spark. Its no coincidence that divorce laws losened up right in the middle of the sexual revolution and the assertion of the woman's lib movement. Divorce law changes didn't cause woman's lib, woman's lib caused divorce law changes. What fueled woman's lib? Part of it was (and is) a general disatisfaction with traditional marriage. If the divorce laws failed to change to reflect people's desires the disatisfaction would have vented itself in other ways also not conducive to a happy family (affairs, passive-agreesiveness, arguments, runaway wives).
The fact that marriage was already showing signs of weakness before the laws were changed suggests that the idea that we should continue to do what we've always done before because "it works" isn't quite so true.
* Marriage destroyed?
The lines are drawn to show how apparently innocent changes to social institutions "destroyed" previously existing ones. As mentioned above I find some of the associations very shaky. Additionally I can't find a direct argument as to how gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage. Will it have repercusions? Yes. Will it alter traditional marriage? Yes. If nothing else it already has as people are questioning "what is marriage". These are genies you cannot put back in the bottle.
Which brings us to the final point.
* Change and social upheval
And here is the final point of the article, that the arugment is changes to the marriage laws will have no effect on folks in traditional marriages.
This is a straw man. It already has made changes even if the laws have not yet followed. You can't turn back the clock on gay rights any more than you could turn back the clock on the civil rights. A significant minority of the citizens of the United States are gay and are getting more and more open about it. This isn't something you can legislate away. Gay marriage laws will not CAUSE a change to society, that change has already happened and is continuing to happen. The law can only attempt to track society's changes as well as it can.
When the laws fall out of sync with reality a tension arises. Let that tension build up for too long, say 100 years, and you get an explosion, say the civil rights movement of the 60s. We're still feeling the repurcusions of the changes to civil rights law. But imagine what it would have been like if the laws hadn't changed because a segregated society had worked in the past and damnit, its going to work now. Also imagine what it would have been like if we desegregated in the early 1900s, as the trend was going, rather than rolling back the clock in during the Wilson administration. Imagine eliminating two generations of bitter people living under segregation laws.
Making the marriage laws better track societal realities is a tension relief. Relieve that tension early and the repurcusions will be mild as people experiment with their new legal freedoms. Take too long, let the laws fall too far out of touch with reality, and you wind up with an embittered minority and when the adjustment comes, its a big one with long ripples through our future.
Watch yourself for...
- using straw men
- oversimplifying complex historical issues
- confusing existing societial tension being allowed to vent via a change in the law and changes in law causing the tension and associated venting.