Saturday, November 05, 2005

Equal Time: The Sequel

REVISED, 11/05 @ 5:07 PM (CT)

I recently linked to a series of posts at The Volokh Conspiracy in which guest blogger Dale Carpenter lays out his case for same-sex marriage (SSM). I said that when Carpenter had finished posting I would try to summarize his conclusion and compare it with that of Maggie Gallagher, who had earlier guest-blogged at Volokh about her case against same-sex marriage.

Carpenter has made my job easy. In his final post, he wrote this:

Analogies can obfuscate, but in their own way they can distill a matter to its essence. In her last post two weeks ago, Maggie described the issue of gay marriage by use of a vivid analogy that I will never get out of my mind:

Imagine you stand in the middle of vast, hostile desert. A camel is your only means of transversing it, your lifeline to the future. The camel is burdened-- stumbling, loaded down, tired; enfeebled-- the conditions of the modern life are clearly not favorable to it. But still it’s your only hope, because to get across that desert you need a camel.

Now, chop off its legs and order it to carry you to safety.

That’s what SSM looks like, to me.

That’s one way to see it. Here’s another:

Imagine you stand with your loved one and child in the middle of a vast, hostile desert. You are burdened – stumbling, loaded down, tired. These are the conditions of modern life for you and they are not favorable, but you’ve been trying to make it. To get across that desert you need a camel.

Along comes a caravan with a hundred camels, three of them with no riders, more than enough for you and your family. You plead to use them, agreeing to pay your way and live by their rules for the journey.

But they say, "No, it might disturb the camels we’re riding on."

That’s what the denial of marriage to gay families looks like, to me.

Both analogies fail, though Gallagher's comes closest to the mark. Here's the right way to look at SSM vs. traditional, heterosexual marriage:
Imagine a society that depends on the camel (the family, in this analogy) for transportation across a dangerous desert and into an oasis of civility. A camel that is operated by a man and a woman -- joined contractually to do their best to steer the camel from danger -- is most likely to arrive at its destination safely because the man and woman have complementary skills, and because they (and their offspring, to break the analogy for a moment) are bonded in an irreplicable biological symbiosis. A camel that is operated by either a man or a woman alone is next most likely to arrive at its destination safely because a sole operator, knowing that he or she lacks certain skills, is at least likely to try to compensate for that lack. A camel that is operated by two persons of the same sex is least likely to arrive at its destination safely because: (1) the operators' bonding can never be as complete as that of a man-woman team and (2) the operators deliberately choose to omit half the skills required for the job.

Those differences might have only a marginal effect on the overall success of camel-driving operations if the state were not involved in licensing and supporting camel drivers. But the state is involved in licensing and supporting camel drivers, and it has done poorly by the camel in the process. The state began many years ago to encourage solo camel driving by enabling man-woman teams to break their contracts at will instead of trying to work out their differences. (The lesson: When the state sends signals about private arrangements, private arrangements tend to align themselves with the signals being sent by the state.) The state later began to encourage yet more solo camel driving by subsidizing women for driving solo (for raising children out of wedlock, that is) and fostering the dereliction of camel-driving duty in the name of "equality" (as if camel driving were a lesser occupation than, say, camel trading). Now the state is beginning to encourage the formation of man-man and woman-woman camel-driving teams. Given the state's record in such matters, the predictable outcomes of that development are these:
  • An increasing proportion of camels will be driven by same-sex teams, thus decreasing the likelihood that camels will arrive safely at the oasis of civility.
  • A decreasing proportion of men and women will feel the need to form opposite-sex camel-driving teams, as they see that the state (having usurped society's role in legitimating and supporting camel driving teams) values such teams less and less, thus even further decreasing the likelihood that camels will arrive safely at the oasis of civility.
The problem isn't the number of marriages, as Dale Carpenter would have it, it's how many marriages are traditional, heterosexual unions. Given the signals being sent by the state, the rate of formation of traditional, heterosexual marriages will continue to decline. (According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of adult males who are married dropped steadily from 71.1 percent in the 1960 census to 58.6 percent in the 2000 census; for females, the percentage dropped from 67.4 to 54.6. About half of each drop is explained by a rise in the percentage of adults who never marry, the other half by a rise in the percentage of divorced adults. Those statistics are what one should expect when the state signals -- as it began to do increasingly after 1960 -- that traditional marriage is no special thing by making it easier for couples to divorce, by subsidizing single mothers, and by encouraging women to work outside the home.)

All types of marriage are not created equal. Although it's true that traditional, heterosexual unions have their problems, those problems have been made worse than ever by the intercession of the state. Nevertheless, the state -- in its usual perverse wisdom -- seems about to create new problems for society by legitimating same-sex marriage. And that will harm traditional, heterosexual marriage by signaling anew its diminishing importance in the scheme of things. Society will suffer. Mark my words.

Related posts:

A Century of Progress? (01/30/05)
The Marriage Contract (02/16/05)
Feminist Balderdash (02/19/05)
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values (04/06/05)
Consider the Children (10/07/05)
Same-Sex Marriage (10/20/05)
"Equal Protection" and Homosexual Marriage (10/30/05)