Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Marriage and the Slippery Slope

I read two posts discussing gay marriage this week, both are from a fairly Libertarian perspective. The first is recent one written by John the Methodist reflecting on a Florida ballot proposition. The other is an archived post by Megan McArdle which Kim du Toit linked to a few days ago. They're both good reads, but I'm afraid Megan McArdle's work largely trumps John's. Sorry John.

For example take this paragraph from Locusts and Honey:
Another argument is that gay marriage harms the marriages of heterosexual couples. I just don't see this works. The health of my marriage is dependent upon the emotional health of my wife and me, and our ability and willingness to commit to each other. If a gay couple next door gets married, I simply don't see how it affects us. If a heterosexual marriage is negatively impacted by the gay marriages of others, then it was pretty weak to begin with.
An almost direct response to this comes from Megan McArdle (although it's actually about divorce.)
That's ridiculous! said the reformers. People stay married because marriage is a bedrock institution of our society, not because of some law! The only people who get divorced will be people who have terrible problems! A few percentage points at most!

Oops. When the law changed, the institution changed. The marginal divorce made the next one easier. Again, the magnitude of the change swamped the dire predictions of the anti-reformist wing; no one could have imagined, in their wildest dreams, a day when half of all marriages ended in divorce.
I assume most of the people reading my blog are in a situation similar to my own. You have a lot of respect for the institution of marriage. If you're in one, you're probably committed to making it healthy and lasting. John is right, gay marriage isn't going to change that for us.

But that's only for us. What if you're the marginal case? Someone on the marriage fence. In that case gay marriage is just one more example of how marriage really doesn't mean anything in this day and age. Which is sad, because heterosexual marriage is the bedrock of civilized societies. Married people live longer, are less likely to live in poverty, have more successful and well-adjusted children, etc. It's a good thing. But to them gay marriage is just one more demonstration

And really that's struck me about Megan McArdle's post. Ignoring the bit about income tax, her piece largely documents the slippery slope that the institution of marriage has been on for almost a century. Gay marriage really isn't the start of a slippery slope, it's proof we're nearing its base.

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