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    I love you like a ball and chain

    Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has posted a lengthy response to Maggie Gallagher’s guest posts at the Volokh Conspiracy on gay marriage (via Gay Orbit). Kuznicki’s commentary is worth reading in full, especially if you don’t want to have to slog through all the comments at the Volokh Conspiracy to figure out what the main counterarguments being offered are.

    I don’t feel like reproducing my last year and a half of effusion on the issue, especially since it’s all available under the marriage debate category on the left there. I do think that one of Kuznicki’s points is worth responding to anew, though:

    Meanwhile, Gallagher has also neglected the opposing argument, namely that same-sex marriages might actually strengthen the institution of heterosexual marriage. Although the empirical data on either side is scarce (and although this scarcity gives weight to the go-slow approach mentioned in the last comment I linked), still, I think there is at least a conceivable causal mechanism to explain why same-sex marriage might do a lot of good to the institution of heterosexual marriage: If we as a society send a message that marriage is a universal goal, one that admits of no exceptions and knows no gender lines, then it is reasonable to think that more people of all sexual orientations will want to get married.

    But if large numbers of people–gays and lesbians, for example–are told that they do not need marriage, or that marriage cannot help them, or that they are unworthy of the institution, then some marginal number of straight people, especially those who identify most closely with gays and lesbians, will almost certainly come to have contempt for the institution of marriage and to see it as antiquated or irrelevant.

    I’m perfectly willing to argue that homosexual relationships are no less moral than heterosexual relationships, that contribution to civilization in the form of the creation and upkeep of artifacts is just as important as contribution to civilization in the form of the creation and bringing up of children, and that the law should not be throwing obstacles in our paths when we try to care for our partners within the relationships we’ve chosen.

    However, I’ve always found the argument above, even in the carefully qualified way Kuznicki presents it, to be ridiculous. The vast majority of people do not view homosexuality and heterosexuality as the same; that’s true even among those who believe our relationships are just as valid (word of the week, apparently) as theirs. Despite all the changes in medicine and in the family structure over the last century, there simply remains no chance that a homosexual couple will suddenly finding itself producing a child that needs eighteen years of intensive looking-after. The number of people so bohemian in outlook that they regard their gay friends as facing the same real-life sex-related issues in all respects is so small that “marginal” hardly does it justice.

    My friends hardly constitute a scientific sample of the population–good thing for America we don’t!–but I doubt their attitude is untypical. A few years ago on our e-mail group, I tried to get a discussion about gay marriage going…and failed utterly. The replies were along the lines of “Of course, I think you and Atsushi should be able to get married–why the hell wouldn’t i?” Even so, my friends’ expressed preference has been for marriage; there have been a half-dozen weddings since we were in our late twenties. (The result, BTW, is that I’m now friends with [even] more Jews than I was in college: three of the girls converted in order to marry three of our Jewish buddies. Talk about populations that recruit!) If forced to choose between showing solidarity with gay friends and providing the most stable possible environment for their own children–assuming that’s the choice they actually have to make–most people are obviously going to side with their kids.

    6 Responses to “I love you like a ball and chain”

    1. Eric Scheie says:

      There seems to be a real, almost obsessive need to “prove” that opposition to same sex marriage constitutes bigotry. I don’t think this is the wisest way to argue anything, and I find myself wondering whether Maggie Gallagher is playing the role of a sort of political tar baby. The harsher the attacks against her, the more insecure her opponents look. (Not that ideologues would care…)

    2. The main reason I wrote what I did above was not really to advance it as a serious argument: I admit that it’s kind of strained, and that it takes as its sample population the very liberal friends that I made as a humanities graduate student. But the real reason I made the argument is to show that where the claim “gay marriage reinforces straight marriage” has at least this slight causal explanation, I have failed to find any causal mechanism for the claim that gay marriage denigrates or devalues straight marriage–except perhaps that genunine bigots would not want to share the same legal institution with homosexuals, and would therefore be disinclined to marry. (And, for the record, I doubt that Gallagher is an anti-gay bigot at all. I do think, however, that she shows a certain intellectual bigotry in that she is so unwilling — or unable — to engage with her critics directly.)

    3. I’m always right! But you’re a bigot!

      Sean Kinsell offers another example of something in short suply these days — a thoughtful post about same sex marriage, in the context of Maggie Gallagher’s guest blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy. For those who don’t want to read through…

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      I know, Eric. Half the time, I read or listen to these characters who are on “our” side and think, Well, honey, I just hope you give great head, because nothing else you do when you open your mouth is profiting the tribe much.

      Jason, I know that when it comes to the gay marriage issue, the argument you were advancing there is not the main arrow in your quiver, but thanks for clarifying for people who may not have read you before. I’m not really sure what guidelines Eugene Volokh gave Gallagher when he invited her to post; she may not have thought that she was going to be expected to comb through the comments for all reasonable objections and respond to them point by point. She seemed to be taking the opportunity to post things off the cuff, in relatively raw form. That’s obviously a poor choice when offering oneself up to a comments section populated by lawyers and lawyer wannabes; but it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s incapable of making good arguments.

    5. “[Gallagher] may not have thought that she was going to be expected to comb through the comments for all reasonable objections and respond to them point by point.”

      Strawman. Her stated purpose was to “achieve disagreement.” It’s hard to see how someone can do this while responding to, I believe, only a single comment during the entire time she was there. If she wanted to disagree, then she would have to do more than just repeat herself as though no one else were there–which is exactly what she did for essentially the entire week.

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      Straw man? We are plain-spoken people around here. “No, bitch, you’re wrong” is a perfectly acceptable statement, especially since I nowhere set up a caricatured, foolish opponent to knock down.

      Here’s a thought experiment: suppose a supporter of gay marriage had been invited to post about it on a site with mostly social conservative commenters. If he had devoted much of his brief time writing posts that said, in effect, that it was hard to find a point of departure for debate because the two sides hadn’t yet agreed on which facts and principles were to be held up for consideration, would you be criticizing him for failing to engage with his opponents?

      I wish Gallagher had said this directly–that she did not made her arguments sound diffuse and tone-poemy when I don’t think they really were–but what I think she was driving at is suggested a little more clearly by the context of that bit you quoted:

      I have no illusions I’m going to spend this week persuading people to change their minds on gay marriage. So I’d like to try to do something else big and important: to ‘achieve disagreement.’ To figure out for myself, and maybe for you too, what has changed that makes the original, cross-cultural, historic understanding of marriage literally unintelligible to so many of this country’s best and brightest.

      See? She didn’t envision this as a debate over whether gay marriage is a good idea. Frankly, I would have preferred to see that myself. She was trying to get a sense of the backstory: How have we arrived at the point that we’re framing the argument in the terms we’re using? You may disagree that that’s a big, important question. You may think she’s arrogant for using someone’s comment section as a sounding board while she ruminates on something she happens to find interesting. But I don’t think she failed, in any significant way, to do what she said she was setting out to do.

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