Thursday, January 29, 2004

A Sociological Case Against Gay Marriage

I was listening to Dr. Laura by some fluke on the way back from judging a science fair yesterday when I heard her mention an interesting article on marriage in the Weekly Standard, The Death of Marriage in Scandenavia. Here's some of the choice bits:
MARRIAGE IS SLOWLY DYING IN SCANDINAVIA. A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty percent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents. Not coincidentally, these countries have had something close to full gay marriage for a decade or more. Same-sex marriage has locked in and reinforced an existing Scandinavian trend toward the separation of marriage and parenthood. The Nordic family pattern--including gay marriage--is spreading across Europe. And by looking closely at it we can answer the key empirical question underlying the gay marriage debate. Will same-sex marriage undermine the institution of marriage? It already has.

Now I'm kind of conflicted about gay marriage. On the one hand, I think that people should have religious freedom including the freedom not to believe in the sinfulness of homosexuality, fornication, etc. But on the other hand, I feel that legalizing gay marriage would further weaken families in general and thus affect the stability of our society. I mean not everyone can perform every sort of religious practice based on the first amendment. For example, I cannot smoke marijuana and claim that it's part of my religion when the cops bust me. Mormons in the late 1800's could not practice polygamy, although it was part of a strong religious belief. I think that sometimes the government has a compelling interest in defining things like marriage and what constitutes free speech if some types of marriage and free speech would be harmful to children and society in general.

SCANDINAVIA has long been a bellwether of family change. Scholars take the Swedish experience as a prototype for family developments that will, or could, spread throughout the world. So let's have a look at the decline of Swedish marriage.

In Sweden, as elsewhere, the sixties brought contraception, abortion, and growing individualism. Sex was separated from procreation, reducing the need for "shotgun weddings." These changes, along with the movement of women into the workforce, enabled and encouraged people to marry at later ages. With married couples putting off parenthood, early divorce had fewer consequences for children. That weakened the taboo against divorce. Since young couples were putting off children, the next step was to dispense with marriage and cohabit until children were desired. Americans have lived through this transformation. The Swedes have simply drawn the final conclusion: If we've come so far without marriage, why marry at all? Our love is what matters, not a piece of paper. Why should children change that?

Now that type of attitude is frankly scary. It sounds like children are just some kind of fashion accessory, mother and father optional. I come from a broken home. My parents have both been married multiple times. My siblings and I still carry scars from these experiences. We learned well that the happiness of one's children doesn't matter as much the happiness of the parents. And we also learned that children are expendable because if you mess up with one batch, heck, you might as well make a few more and try again.
Two things prompted the Swedes to take this extra step--the welfare state and cultural attitudes. No Western economy has a higher percentage of public employees, public expenditures--or higher tax rates--than Sweden. The massive Swedish welfare state has largely displaced the family as provider. By guaranteeing jobs and income to every citizen (even children), the welfare state renders each individual independent. It's easier to divorce your spouse when the state will support you instead.

The taxes necessary to support the welfare state have had an enormous impact on the family. With taxes so high, women must work. This reduces the time available for child rearing, thus encouraging the expansion of a day-care system that takes a large part in raising nearly all Swedish children over age one. Here is at least a partial realization of Simone de Beauvoir's dream of an enforced androgyny that pushes women from the home by turning children over to the state.

So from this article, I learned that if Americans want to predict what societal effects a certain law will have, just let the Europeans pass the law first, wait 10-20 years, and then see what the results are before deciding to pass a law. Do we really want to see the number of emotionally scarred children increase as a result of divorce or the ending of temporary relationships?

Some gay marriage advocates claim that legalization of gay marriage will strengthen heterosexual marriage. This has not been the case in Scandenavia.

So rather than strengthening Norwegian marriage against the rise of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth, same-sex marriage had the opposite effect. Gay marriage lessened the church's authority by splitting it into warring factions and providing the secular media with occasions to mock and expose divisions. Gay marriage also elevated the church's openly rebellious minority liberal faction to national visibility, allowing Norwegians to feel that their proclivity for unmarried parenthood, if not fully approved by the church, was at least not strongly condemned. If the "conservative case" for gay marriage had been valid, clergy who were supportive of gay marriage would have taken a strong public stand against unmarried heterosexual parenthood. This didn't happen. It was the conservative clergy who criticized the prince, while the liberal supporters of gay marriage tolerated his decisions. The message was not lost on ordinary Norwegians, who continued their flight to unmarried parenthood.

Gay marriage is both an effect and a reinforcing cause of the separation of marriage and parenthood. In states like Sweden and Denmark, where out-of-wedlock birthrates were already very high, and the public favored gay marriage, gay unions were an effect of earlier changes. Once in place, gay marriage symbolically ratified the separation of marriage and parenthood. And once established, gay marriage became one of several factors contributing to further increases in cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birthrates, as well as to early divorce. But in Norway, where out-of-wedlock birthrates were lower, religion stronger, and the public opposed same-sex unions, gay marriage had an even greater role in precipitating marital decline.

I'm not sure how this issue should be resolved in the U.S. I personally think some heterosexuals have done much already to damage marriage, but that's not an excuse to weaken it further. Ultimately, I think the choice of how to define marriage should be left up to the citizens of the U.S. to decide. I don't think that a few judges, with their self -ppointed roles of benevolent dictators or guardians of the Republic, should decide. So let a marriage amendment be proposed and let the voice of the people decide.

Update: Here's Andrew Sullivan's response to the article and Stanley Kurtz's response to his response.

No comments: