I already blogged pretty heavily on Douthat's thoughts on gay marriage. But time has passed and New York has made gay marriage legal, and Douthat writes about it again, so I have to blog about it once more.
Here's Douthat's latest.
There's nothing too new here, but I think it's worth pointed out nonetheless. I hit this topic pretty hard because I think the religious argument against gay marriage has been given short shift, for two reasons. First, the argument is legitimately hard to express succinctly. But just because an argument is difficult to express does not mean it's wrong, it's just makes it difficult to express. Douthat describes in his earlier posts, how the intermingling of marriage, procreation, and sexuality is complex or "thick", his word, to describe this. And to express this thickness is challenging, but Douthat's arguments are the most well thought out from the opposition side of this debate and definitely worth considering.
Also because this argument has been so poorly made by the conservative side, I think it's also been too easily dismissed, and those who believe in this view have been labeled as bigots and compared to the racists of our nation's earlier years. This is fundamentally unfair.
In Douthat's latest, he laments:
"Critics of gay marriage see this as one of the great dangers in severing the link between marriage and the two realities — gender difference and procreation — that it originally evolved to address. A successful marital culture depends not only on a general ideal of love and commitment, but on specific promises, exclusions and taboos. And the less specific and more inclusive an institution becomes, the more likely people are to approach it casually, if they enter it at all."He follows this article up here specifically addressing Dan Savage's point of view.
"The ideal of monogamy is a fragile achievement of civilized life, not something that’s written in our glands and genes." Meaning that it's hard to be monogomous especially if you extend that to pre-marriage. It goes against our nature, but just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's not an ideal worth aspiring toward, and it doesn't mean it's something that society shouldn't enforce, especially considering what's at stake.This is at the core of all of Douthat's argument and it's written better in his original article I'll quote here again:
"This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.That, in a nutshell is the ideal: that "organic connection between human generations". That my biological kids are mine and my wife's and we are there's. To preserve this unique entity as an ideal is important, to recognize that it's extremely difficult to maintain and thus worthy of extra sociatal support is what Douthat argues.
The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support."
While Douthat continues to cling to his views, another moderate conservative I admire, David Frum dithers. But his logic as to why?... is just dumb:
It's true that marriage, among the educated middle class, has actually strengthened recently which weakens the argument that gay marriage destroys traditional families. But that's only true if you believe gay marriage is the only and the strongest factor that will destroy families. I believe there are a multitude of societal factors at play and changing gay marriage laws is just one of many and not near the most important. I'm not sure how you can separate these out in way to come to the conclusion Frum comes to.I meant to blog about this article earlier but I'm getting to it now, and it's too long and difficult to quote from it directly, so you really need to read it because there are a lot of really good points here that goes beyond the argument of gay marriage.
Here's her thoughts on the consequence of loosening divorce laws and how that affected the marriage institution that resonates:
"A couple in 1940 (and even more so in 1910) could go to a minister's parlor, or a justice of the peace, and in five minutes totally change their lives. Unless you are a member of certain highly religious subcultures, this is simply no longer true. That is, of course, partly because of the sexual revolution and the emancipation of women; but it is also because you aren't really making a lifetime commitment; you're making a lifetime commitment unless you find something better to do. There is no way, psychologically, to make the latter as big an event as the former, and when you lost that commitment, you lose, on the margin, some willingness to make the marriage work. Again, this doesn't mean I think divorce law should be toughened up; only that changes in law that affect marriage affect the cultural institution, not just the legal practice."And her final piece of advice.
"My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes. The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can't imagine it changing yours personal reaction is pretty arrogant."The point here is that what matters is what happens on the margins. When you make significant changes to laws it affects both the legal and the cultural identity of that institution with all of the unexpected consequences that go along with that. There are simply no institutions that matter as much as marriage does. The institutional changes matter because at the margin some people will make different choices because of those institutional changes. Their decisions will influence others in unexpected ways. Eventually, marriage in the 21st century will be fundamentally different than what it was in the 20th.
Expanding marriage to include same gender is a significant change. Douthat argues that this change will weaken it. Many, including me, believe it has already been weakened so this affect may be minimal, but I think it's affects may be bigger than any of us realize.