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    Everything she wants

    Right Side of the Rainbow says everything I’ve ever wanted to say about defenses of traditional marriage against gays here. If I read his tone correctly, he’s dead serious but also being arch. I particularly like this point:

    Strip marriage of the rules that make it unappealing to gay men but keep all the nice perks that come with it — what, you think we don’t want our partners to have health insurance? — and you get the inevitable. You get a political campaign driven by middle class gay men, possessed as all middle class Americans are of a suffocating sense of entitlement, that will not relent until it succeeds.

    People talk about gay activists as if their sense of entitlement were some kind of evidence of special gay selfishness. But entitlements are the way modern civic life works–remember Jonathan Rauch’s chapters on lobbyists in Demosclerosis? I’m happy to deplore this, and to join in any principled objection to the excesses of leftist gay advocacy. It’s a target-rich environment, to be sure; however, I get very uneasy when it’s treated as some sort of freakish aberration in American politics, rather than the wack-job end of a continuum that runs all the way through it.

    Added on 17 February: Eric at Classical Values has mentioned common-law marriage in connection to gays, and I was sure that, somewhere, he’d pointed out that some gay-marriage advocates might not be so hot on the prospect of being considered a de facto married couple after cohabiting for seven years. Can’t seem to find the post I’m thinking of, but the point was a good one.

    Oh, and one more thing: childrearing is the single most important thing most people do in life, and the amount of sacrifice it requires is considerable. The view one hears nowadays that childrearing = selflessness and altruism, however, is coarse and misleading. Everywhere outside the developed world, people recognize very matter-of-factly that they’re having children not just to let happy new life loose in the world but to provide work for the household, including elder care when the parents themselves are old and incapacitated.

    The same mechanism operates here in the First World, of course; it’s just that our money economy means that people are less likely to need their children’s financial support and that the literal care they need can come from other people’s children in the form of strong, young nurses and deliverymen. The investment of energy in child-rearing feels obvious and real. The payback from the pool of workers who keep the economy going feels diffuse and is easy to gloss over (in that one often hears people talk about parenting as an investment in the future, as if the effort went in a single altruistic direction only).

    One must also consider that, in a world in which many of us don’t do physical labor, and those who do are rarely involved in the farming of life’s essentials, sex and the production of children is one of the few experiences left that serve primal, animal urges–which civilization teaches us to subsume but doesn’t actually banish.

    I am not arguing here that parenthood is on balance a selfish project. What I do think is that it paints a false picture to posit child-bearing straightness in an unqualified way as saintly and self-abnegating, which I think is the effect (however unintended) of quite a bit of the current discourse on marriage and parenting.

    16 Responses to “Everything she wants”

    1. Michael says:

      I think his post is incredibly insulting and incredibly untrue. He must have a very low opinion of our ability to form monogamous relationships.
      “Look, if you get married, you’re probably going to have to stay married to this one partner for your whole life. And if you have any sex outside your relationship, you risk going to jail.”
      Hardly any gay men, especially those in their 20s or 30s, will want to hear that.
      I would definitely marry under these terms – BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT A MARRIAGE IS.
      And to say that gay people can’t control their sexual impulses any more than straight people is akin to the arguments for lynching black men who slept with white women in the last century.
      “…everything I’ve ever wanted to say”??? I think it’s sad that you agree with him on this.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I’m sorry I seem to be so good at insulting you this week, Michael, but surely we can all acknowledge that gay culture in general needs a lot of work without devaluing all our individual relationships or casting aspersions on our potential.
      I mean, there are two aspects to the post in question. One is whether straight people mean it when they say they’re just interested in strengthening the environments in which children are reared. I think Paul’s dead-on about that. Conservative family-values PACs may be populated by people who want to see divorce laws tightenedI have no doubt that church congregations and Bible study groups expend a lot of energy on helping people strengthen their marriages, but try using the argument that the state should not be facilitating behavior that’s proven to have an adverse effect on children who cannot protect their own interests, and see how well it would go over with voters, including those who helped pass 11 constitutional bans on gay marriage. Yeah, right. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.
      The thornier issue for our team is whether making marriage a serious, no-joke commitment would scare gay guys away from it. Why is it necessary, to make an argument like Paul’s, to believe that gay men can’t (in some fundamental way) control their impulses? You only have to believe that gay culture as it exists hasn’t evolved to the point that it does a good job of encouraging us to do so. You seriously want to contest that, dude?
      Besides, he didn’t say no one would want to marry under those terms, only that most young gay guys wouldn’t. Again, do you really disagree with that? You can believe that it has more to do with youth than sexuality. It’s possible that, nowadays, most young straight guys wouldn’t go for that arrangement either. In fact, that’s an interesting point Paul might have raised, but it wasn’t in the main line of his argument about what would be politically expedient.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Oh, and Michael, speaking of having a low opinion of our ability to form monogamous relationships: what do you think about the way both Andrew Sullivan and Jon Rauch have taken pains to argue that, yes, gay men will screw around on their spouses but it’s still okay to let us marry? Are they being insulting, too?
      [That came out a little more combative than I intended, but I can’t think of a better wayt to put the question, so I’ll leave it.]

    4. Paul says:

      It’s okay to deride my views, but please don’t ascribe to me views I didn’t express. Nowhere did I say that gay men can’t control their sexual impulses.
      I did imply — and I stand by this — that most gay males, and especially the young ones, aren’t likely candidates for a lifetime of monogamy with a single partner. That’s my observation and experience. If yours is different, fair enough.
      But that doesn’t make me guilty of saying gay men can’t control their sexual urges. Of course we can control our urges; we do, however, lack a compelling reason to follow the heterosexual model of long-term monogamy. And consequently, I think most of us don’t.
      Heterosexuals are confronted with the procreative potential of their sex; we’re not. Gay men who pull off a lifetime of monogamy with a single partner — and by the way, I personally don’t know any such gay men; do you any? — might do so for reasons of religious conviction or emotional need or because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do. But they can’t claim an empirically-rooted fear of an unplanned or out-of-wedlock pregnancy, which explains a lot of the disapproval for heterosexual infidelity.

    5. My difficulty with his argument is not that gay men are unlikely to want a long-term monogamous relationship. My difficulty is accepting the idea that long-term monogamous relationships are somehow easy for straight couples. Serial monogamy in the form of civil marriage and divorce, pre- and extra-marital affairs, and massive consumption of pornography and the services of prostitutes would all seem to suggest that unswerving monogamy is more an aspiration than an accomplishment in the case of straight marriages. I am fully prepared to accept stereotypes about men being the cads in these situations more often than women (though this is arguably sexist, Victorian thinking) but why on earth have higher expectations of gay men than straight men when presented with the same circumstances?

    6. Mrs. du Toit says:

      If I may jump in here… part of the problems with the discussion of “The State of Marriage” is that it is also full of false assumptions and myths.
      Granted, there are lots and lots of divorces, but marriage isn’t as ill, unfashionable, or in desperate need of an overhaul as the MSM has led many to believe.
      The fact that some people also buy/look at pornography isn’t a reflection of the whole, or even the majority.
      But, let’s look ONLY at the marriage stats:
      The common meme is “50% of all marriages fail.”
      Right? That’s what you hear over and over.
      So, what does that statement mean to you? Well, most believe it means that if you get married you have a 50/50 shot of your marriage staying together.
      And if you thought that, you’d be wrong.
      50% of marriages end in divorce, but NOT 50% of people who are married get divorced. Far more (about 75%) stay married to one person, until they die.
      My husband and I have 5 marriages between us. In order for the 50% stat to remain constant, it means that 4 other couples will never get divorced. And our combined total of 5 is what gives the false picture.
      People that get divorced often get divorced more than once. Serial marriage is more common than a single divorce. So, for every serial bride or groom, there are a 4-5 couples who will have that ideal, stereotypical, “marriage until death.”
      Regarding infidelity: Kinsey was wrong. Even Kinsey admitted later that his stats were wrong. But even if Kinsey had been right, what it showed was that “at some point” in a lifetime of marrage X percent of couples would have an experience of infidelity, or THOUGHT about it. ONE. A mistake, a one night stand in a 50+ year marriage span does not a serial adulterer make.
      But if you want some advice from someone who has no vested interest (other than reasonable liberties for those who deserve it), stating the case that “gays can control their sexual urges” isn’t going to fly with straight people (those that are anti-gay to begin with–which, if the votes on gay marriage are any indication, represent MOST people). IF, from a straight person’s perspective, gays COULD control their sexual urges, then they would be celibate, ie, not having any sexual encounters with someone of the same sex. So you’re using a losing argument, if that is the one you choose to make, AND just bringing it up will backfire, for that reason.
      I’m not saying I agree with it, just pointing out the problem with that one.

    7. Sean Kinsell says:

      “If I may jump in here….”
      Ew! A hetero biowoman! Where did you come from? Shoo! SHOO!
      Since everyone has now brought this up in various forms…Ghost (I hope that’s your preferred form of address), you’re right that if sexual infidelity were so easy to avoid for straights, there wouldn’t be so many historical references to it and safeguards against it.
      But even leaving aside what Paul said about the possibility of a one-night stand’s leading directly to pregnancy, there’s still the point that men and women have different sexual expectations. By and large, a straight man is going to run up against his wife’s tolerance limit for philandering much faster than a gay guy is going to run up against his boyfriend’s. He’s also going to find it more difficult to find willing sex partners. That’s true, I submit, even in countries in which guys are expected to screw around pretty much at will (not to mention any East Asian island chains).
      Is that the unalterable way of things? I doubt it. Anthropologists believe the male stake in paternity began as a cultural production. It’s not hard to believe that, in our advanced civilization, the lack of evolved protections against disease and the desire to bond with someone for life could make fidelity the pattern for gay men. But I think it’s safe to say it’s going to take longer than forty years after the 60s cultural revolution.

    8. Mrs. du Toit says:

      Anthropologists believe the male stake in paternity began as a cultural production.
      But… but.. but… so did all relationship activity. Those who bred more, kept their women around to keep their children alive and tended, survived to breed. So while it might have started as a random cultural experiment, it became a dominant trait in the survival of the species.
      Women also ran away from men who were scarier than the bears and lions, also reducing the chances of breeding, and carrying on traits that were TOO brutal. Some brutishness was a requirement for defending the turf, but only to the extent that it wasn’t extended to the people IN the cave, too. Then we have nature’s proclivity to spread disease through promiscuity and we have a limit on nature’s tolerance for being too frisky. As with all things, “Balance, Grasshopper.”
      Since breeding isn’t a factor in homosexuality, evolution is directly irrelevant. Just like middle age onset illnesses are not impacted. Nature only cares about you until you breed and live long enough to keep your offspring tended, until they can tend for themselves. Then nature tells all of us, “Well, it’s been fun. See ya.”
      Gays will be impacted only by the traits inherent in the breeding pairs, so if society evolves to become more capable of monogamy (without becoming too wimpish to defend themselves from Barbarians), then it will, by extension, impact the genetic make up of gays, too. But, it doesn’t appear that monogamy is being influenced in a positive way. It’s also impacted in incredible ways by coercize breeding (modern fertility treatments) and modern medicine. Nature did not intend 1 out of 7 couples to conceive, 1 out of 5 babies to come to term, nor did it expect “weak” children to survive. We’ve been messing with the primordial pond. We have no way of knowing what genetic strands we’re not releasing into the pool. I’m glad I won’t be around to see the longer term impact. It makes Mary Sheely seem like a spinner of nursery tales.

    9. Sean Kinsell says:

      “Women also ran away from men who were scarier than the bears and lions, also reducing the chances of breeding, and carrying on traits that were TOO brutal.”
      Ooh, tell me more about those!
      Anyway, I was just mentioning paternity as an example that came obviously to mind when sexual fidelity was the topic at hand. You’re right that there are plenty of others.
      Your point about keeping alive children who would have died off before is also…well, blunt but pretty incontrovertible, from what I can see. I wouldn’t say, and I don’t believe you’re saying, that we should let them die for the good of the species a few hundred years from now. It’s just one of the tradeoffs we make as a society that values individuals as ends in themselves and uses technology to boost their native abilities in the quest for achievement.
      Similarly (in case the connection occurs to others) I also think it’s good that our ability, through social liberalization and fertility treatment, to make it more likely that those who remain childless are those who want to remain childless and channel their talents to the good of civilization in other ways. I think it’s the right moral tradeoff, but it is a tradeoff.

    10. John says:

      Sean, most of the deliberately childless couples I’ve seen in NY have such nasty personality traits I’d rather see them not reproduce, even if they are working at jobs that really don’t amount to having the good of civilzation at heart – their childlessness is adding chlorine to the gene pool by raising the average EQ (especially true with lawyers and HR professionals ;-))
      I agree with Mrs. du Toit about the marriage stats. (I’ve been married 11 years, first marriage for both). But I have real problems with allowing the social conservatives to tighten up the divorce laws as a result of the gay marriage debate, although I agree they need tightening. There needs to be an escape hatch that can be opened in the case of abusive relationships – I’ve seen too many of those to want to make divorce as difficult as it was in the past.

    11. Marzo says:

      Sean: that Eric Scheie’s post you were looking for is here, I think (scroll down to “Till WHAT Do Us Part?”).

    12. John says:

      Connie, I’m afraid my company would opt for childless people so they’d work 24 / 7 😉
      I agree about the pernicious effect of an easy out. A woman very dear to my wife approached her marriage with that attitude, despite my wife’s warnings. Her husband was a twit. (My wife also warned him that the relationship had to be deep to survive the inevitable cooling of ardor with time, and he insisted that would not happen to him). Guess what? They divorced after 3 years.

    13. Sean Kinsell says:

      Marzo, thanks! I think that is the post I was thinking of. Good old Eric. You can tell he’d gone beyond stomping-mad to glacial-mad because he included sub-headings.
      John, EQ is ethics quotient, I assume? I’m almost a decade out of the loop on catch phrases at home. If that’s your creation, LOL.
      More seriously, I don’t like the horse-trading attitude that has come into discussions of gay marriage, either. I know that’s the way of hardball politics, but it creeps me out to hear people talking about marriage and family policy in terms of “we’ll consider what you want if you support a return to this old-fashioned standard.”
      And I think that, as Connie says, restricting divorce now wouldn’t return things to the way they were previously, largely because the biggest problem women used to have–no way of making a living for themselves and their children if they left–is no longer an issue most of the time. I’d say the more misty but possibly just as damaging problem that society was more forgiving toward divorced men than divorced women has been lessened a lot, too.

    14. There does need to be middle ground, John.
      My mother was one of those people who had one of the oft described ugly divorces of the 1960s. Those were the days you had to sue for divorce–you had to have a reason. Tthere were limited acceptable reasons and the judge decided.
      The problem is we’ve gone to the other extreme. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that some people mutually agree to end a marriage or that some people desperately need to end a marriage because of abuse.
      It is because by making it easy to get out of it, to “dissolve” it so carelessly, people approach it with just as much carelessness.
      What about trending backward, but grandfathering in anyone who is already married? Set a date when marriage is final, unless specific reasons are given (abuse, adultery, etc.) far into the future–say 5 years ahead. Any marriage before that date has an easy, dissolve out. Anything after that is back to the old rules–with the penalties of estate forfeit if you want out and choose the adulterous or abusive route? Then, for those who want easy paperwork, but none of the financial perks (community property, health benefits of the spouse, or social security entitlements), they can get something like a domestic partnership agreement, that gives the partner a limited set of authorities, such as death bed decisions, turning off the phone, etc.?
      No one HAS to get married. Offer people the option of a domestic agreement. But if you do not opt for the big commitment, you don’t get the big perks, either. Restore the rewards we all pay for only to those who truly have earned them and deserve them.
      We also need to give society back its edge on this. If a company finds out one of their employees is cheating on their spouse, they need to be able to fire them, if they choose to. Right now the greater society (and I’m NOT including a government employer in this, only private sector) cannot fire or have in place any sort of morals clause–which is their right as private individuals/company owners. Put some consequences back in being a scoundrel. Also allow companies to give preference in hiring to married people with children. They ARE more stable, reduce their attrition, work harder, steal less, have lower health and accident claims, etc. Companies are already doing this, they never stopped, but they’re breaking the law by doing it–which is an unconscionable position.

    15. John says:

      Sean, EQ is Emotional Quotient, as opposed to the more calculating IQ, it is a measure of interpersonal skills and emotional maturity.

    16. Sean Kinsell says:

      Oh. That might explain why I’ve never heard of it. :)