Same-sex marriage spam

March 10, 2008

Someone posted a not-entirely-spammy comment on the GOPork post which was completely off-topic and aimed solely at promoting the website for a documentary about same-sex marriage. Based on the tone of the comment, the poster perhaps mistook my post for an attack on the GOP itself. I marked the comment as spam, because that’s what it was.

To give whoever a chance for a more contextual post, I might as well state that I do not believe the secular State has any place recognizing or delegitimizing the rituals and sacraments known as marriage. Those are a matter for private belief and practice in accordance with the norms of one’s chosen religious or irreligious community. What the state should do is allow adults to form contracts and have them enforced and respected by the institutions of the state and civil society. Citizens should be able to make decisions for themselves about inheritance, power of attorney, insurance benefits, and so on. The private sector will work out the ways to accommodate these freedoms, but it should never be the case that default assumptions are made based on random quasi-religious social standards. Contracts can, of course, revert to the same defaults, but let them be specified in the contract.

That just seems more sensible and in line with the principles of our Constitution.


4 Responses to “Same-sex marriage spam”

  1. Yes, keep government out of religious rituals and sacraments.

    Yes, make contracts between individuals subject to state adjudication when the parties disagree and their religious bodies can’t mediate a settlement.

    But does not a society have both the right and the obligation to provide incentives to its members, through social norms, commercial norms, and law, to do what will benefit others in much greater measure than the cost of those incentives?

    Americans have right to marriage as their religions define it. They do not have any right to marriage as their government and their society define it. This marriage comes with a bundle of social, financial, and legal incentives intended to get you to commit to one partner for the benefit of society.

    And our government has no business offering these incentives to everyone, without regard to the benefits of their particular form of union to the rest of us. Our social and commercial institutions are foolish to offer them, too.

    But because we’re caught up in some confusion between the right to our religious sacraments and rituals and the right to these incentives, we’re making a mess of the question of same-sex marriage.

    Our societal rationale for providing incentives to marry derives not from religion, but from the actual benefits to society of people’s long-term commitment to a partnership with one other adult through their child-raising years and their old age — less crime, better health, better mental health, greater productivity, and lower societal costs for caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

    There’s no evidence it makes any difference whether the other adult is of the opposite sex. But there’s lots of evidence it matters whether there is a long-term commitment and the societal expectations, religious fellowship support, and family connections that come with the ritual (spiritual or otherwise) of marriage.

    The confusion between the right to marry and the government/employer package of goodies for those who marry has driven those advocating same-sex marriage into supporting “domestic partnerships” — the recognition of alliances between adults, both same-sex and opposite-sex, whether long-term and surrounded by ritual and societal expectations or temporary and outside the influence of religion or society.

    It’s a dangerously foolish overgeneralization.

    As we move into the major societal changes likely from the Baby Boomers reaching an age where many will need long-term health care and social support, it appears we may compound them. That’s what will happen if we reduce the incentives to form long-term couples, whether it’s by moving toward short-term contracts called domestic partnerships or toward government ceasing to acknowledge marriage as religions define it.

    We Baby Boomers who raised our children as single parents or step-parents blinded many of them to the importance to us all of fostering relationships strong enough to endure changes in our dreams, our incomes, our health, and our luck. I fear it’s our grandkids who are going to pay for what we’ve done if we keep going in either of the directions we’re now being pulled.

  2. iqag Says:

    This is an oddly awful interface in which to respond to such a long comment. I almost put in a pre-emptive paragraph about the “shouldn’t government take positive action to induce favorable outcomes” argument, since I could hear you as I wrote it. Rather than a paragraph, I have some questions:
    * What makes marriage different than any of the other countless things which government should perhaps be encouraging? That, of course, is one of the fundamental questions of political debate: where do we draw that line? My instinct is generally to err on the side of non-intervention. I think that you need to show: one, the real importance of a given goal; two, that the goal is actually achieved through the government intervention proposed; and three, that the intervention does not produce onerous side-effects which reduce the value of the sought-after results. Note that the side-effects needn’t fully outweigh the good to make the good unworthy of pursuit. That brings me to the second question:

    * What is the evidence that government and corporate incentives are actually encouraging marriage? More to the point, can you show that they not only encourage marriage but actually encourage stable long-term commitments to the raising of healthy families? I think they rather obviously do not.

    * Are the current government incentives on the books an actual effort to encourage stable family life, or are they the vestiges of the form taken by statute and industry in response to the nature of a society which no longer exists?

    As far as I am aware, the only societal forces which can hold families (wives and husbands, parents and children, brothers and sisters) together are shame and dependency. The governmental extensions of these social forces are punishment, a regulated marketplace, and financial incentive. Does that mean that people don’t choose to hold families together for noble reasons? Of course not. But those are matters of one’s beliefs and values, and can not in any system be enforced from outside. At best one can use the societal and governmental methods mentioned to enforce conformity to the outward appearance of these values. But as you and I know these same pressures produce horrible negative side effects, and become less and less effective as societies become more fluid and individuals and families more mobile. The underpinnings of nearly all traditional societies are on their way out and have been for a long time. It is a process that is nearing completion. Much legislation and regulation on the books now is without any firm rationale in the society it aims to govern.

    I am extraordinarily wary of massive social reforms. But we are in a situation where we *must* recreate the legislative framework in aspects relating to family life. To do so in a way which sets priorities and preferences about the way individuals should structure their family life seems to me to be embarking down a path of government-driven social experimentation. Even a defense of the status quo is not what it seems. The statutes we deal with now were adaptations to organically developed social structures. Those structures no longer exist. Maintaining the status quo (and bringing it back from moribundity) is tantamount to launching an experiment in the creation of a new society, and it’s blindness to assume that the result would be a return to the past for our society.

    That’s where my preferred solution comes in. It is the most conservative, and leaves the most freedom for societies (or rather the individuals who make up societies) to develop new social structures organically.

    As for the goal of promoting stable families, I think the best that can be done from the perspective of the government is in the field of education. But when we are so incredibly inept at teaching arithmetic, I’m very wary about the idea of values education, and I think it needs a lot more public discussion.

    Do stable marriages really prevent other social ills as well as we’d like to think? It seems to me the evidence is insufficiently examined. I’m running out of steam here, but I think there’s a lot to discuss regarding that.

    With specific regard to Boomers and their children, is there really anything to suggest that the few raised by married parents are raising their children any differently than their peers? As they say, “men resemble their brothers more than their fathers.” Any failure is likely to be generational in each case. Not to mention that most of those Boomers were raised in steady married (if not loving) households, and they all screwed up anyway.

    I highly doubt that in any society in history the majority of families have been loving and mutually supportive. And I know that nearly all societies have been violent, crime ridden, and corrupt, and perceived their own times as shot thorough with moral failure and looked longingly at a long-past era and its perfect mores and safe and comforting environment.

  3. iqag Says:

    I also wanted to say that I did watch the trailer for the film the original spam was promoting. I felt that it was driven by blind prejudice. It claimed to want to defuse the debate, and it seemed to take the strategy of trying to show gays seeking the right to marry as as normal and stable as possible. This suggests to me that the filmmakers are stuck – as many are – in the “if only they new how normal we are, they wouldn’t hate us” idea. They assume that the outlandish rhetoric they hear on talk radio is the true opinions and limits of knowledge and experience of those on the right. They don’t realize that all of that is farce and hyperbole and entertainment, and has little to do with what voters really think about the issue. In that sense it was hard not to be offended by the movie. My usual response to political statements of this caliber is to assume they were produced by High Schoolers, or people who entered adolescence pathetically late.

  4. (1) Re opposite-sex couples, I’m in favor of the current package of benefits for those who agree to marry, ie, to subject themselves to the government’s legal constraints and their religion’s or community’s moral constraints. There are demonstrable benefits to society and evidence of reductions in obligatory government spending offsetting the cost of the intervention.

    (2) There is nothing in the benefits evidence to suggest same-sex marriages would not produce most or all of the same benefits. However, I do understand many have religious beliefs about possible negative side-effects for our society. No debate is likely to resolve this difference of opinion.

    (3) My biggest concern is that we don’t settle this difference by turning these incentives into a “right” of all couples or all individuals in exchange for avoiding conflict with the religious definition of marriage. There’s no constitutional justification for most of these incentives unless they produce societal benefits in excess of their financial and other costs, and there is no evidence cohabiting couples offer the same advantages to society as married couples. In fact, there’s a good deal arguing against this hypothesis.

    I will hope your comment on using the least intervention means we agree it’s better to remove the incentives for married couples than grant them to all. I will return another day with arguments for keeping them for married folks.

    >> As far as I am aware, the only societal forces which can hold families (wives and husbands, parents and children, brothers and sisters) together are shame and dependency. <<

    Here are some more:
    – Spouses are automatically included, by social convention, in weddings, funerals, social gatherings, work functions, and other events where we are expected to relate intimately with others, so they can be included in this intimacy, rather than requiring separating, competing social bonds.
    – Children are encouraged by outsiders (less so today, I suppose, but still in large measure) to respect their parents.
    – Friends and family rally (again less so today, but still in many cases) to help spouses over tough spots in their marriages, to counsel children who reject their parents’ legitimate moral guidance.
    – Friends and family often help married couples find or build, landscape, and maintain a family home.
    – Schools and jobs allow time off for helping family members through illness or grief, because this is an important time for maintaining bonds.
    – Although it’s becoming less popular as we practice a greater mix of religious holidays, society encourages and facilitates family gatherings on holidays, including some non-religious ones, and for many, it’s worth staying civil around any estranged siblings or parents to be part of these multi-generational celebrations.
    – Most folks still recognize others’ spouses as off-limits for sexual advances and celebrate couples’ longevity, reducing the need for shame or dependency to keep a couple faithful to one another.
    – Society offers up books and classes and retreats and religious counselors and free counseling to guide couples through challenges in their relationships.
    – Spouses with different levels of earnings are rewarded for staying together at least ten years, when the lower-earning one becomes entitled to Social Security and pensions based on the higher-earning spouse’s contributions, at no cost to the higher-earning spouse.

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