Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Ronald Reagan hated his kids

Hey, don't jump on me about it. Maggie Gallagher's the one who, in her argument against gay marriage in The Weekly Standard, suggests that the only reason people really get married is because marriage "is designed to bridge the male-female divide and sustain the idea that children need mothers and fathers." She goes on to suggest that anyone who doesn't believe in keeping a marriage together through thick and thin, then, is failing his or her children. "Do adults, or do they not, have a basic obligation to control their desires so that children can have mothers and fathers?"

You could ask Patti and Michael Reagan that question, I guess. Or the young children Newt Gingrich left with his first wife. Or, I guess, his first two wives. Or Marvin Olasky's first wife. Or twice-divorced serial philanderer and deadbeat dad Bob Barr.

Maggie does have some interesting questions to ask, though, even though she doesn't know it:

How can Bill and Bob's marriage hurt Mary and Joe? In an exchange with me in the just-released book "Marriage and Same Sex Unions: A Debate," Evan Wolfson, chief legal strategist for same-sex marriage in the Hawaii case, Baer v. Lewin, argues there is "enough marriage to share." What counts, he says, "is not family structure, but the quality of dedication, commitment, self-sacrifice, and love in the household."

Family structure does not count (italics Maggie's). Then what is marriage for? Why have laws about it? Why care whether people get married or stay married? Do children need mothers and fathers, or will any sort of family do? When the sexual desires of adults clash with the interests of children, which carries more weight, socially and legally?

The real question here isn't "what is marriage for," but, honestly, why do we have laws about it? I mean, marriage wasn't, as Maggie suggests, instituted to protect children. It was instituted as a bond between two people, sealed by an agreement with God. That's it. Hell, Gideon had many wives, over seventy sons and concubines on the side. God seemed to like him just fine, even though I doubt he had much use for the idea of "mutual caretaking and shared parenting," Maggie's two big reasons for wedlock. In Deuteronomy it even says that rebellious sons should be taken by their parents to be stoned to death. Child-rearing, apparently wasn't the point of marriage, because, if you screwed up, you could just have the kid rubbed out.

Also, if Maggie and her buddies really believed in the right of religion to be exercised without the interference of the state, she and her friends would tell the state to get out of the way and just let churches decide who gets married. It ought to be painfully obvious to all concerned that the only justifiable reason a state has to oversee marriage is because the state is the ultimate enforcer of contracts. The state, though, is not a religious institution and should have no interest in wedlock as a "sacred institution." The sacramental nature of an act should be left up to churches only. (This wouldn't, no matter what Santorum says, make marrying an animal or your a child legal, because neither are legally able to consent to legally binding contracts. It also wouldn't legalize polygamy, because, if we treat marriage just like any other legal contract, then we would see that we are making an agreement with the other person to be legally committed to one another. I can't sell my house to two separate parties, why would I be allowed to legally give my life to two different people?)

There is also a hypocrisy inherent in any argument that argues for keeping gay marriage illegal in order to protect a "social ideal," but doesn't, at the same time, argue for the criminalization of divorce; the closing of quickie Vegas-style wedding chapels; legally forbidding cohabitation; or the outlawing of out of wedlock births. What Maggie's saying is that two people who love each other and what to commit to that love aren't allowed because of their sex, but it's just fine if Joe marries Mary after a single night of drining in Tahoe, divorces her later, leaving her to move in with Bill and get pregnant. Where is the ideal represented in that completely legal burlesque?

Finally, though, there is a problem with the very argument Maggie is espousing. She's saying it's necessary to have a mother and a father to raise a child. I agree with her to the point that I don't think one person can raise a child completely on his or her own -- not well, anyway -- but I would argue that the reasons that children who come from homes with heterosexual married parents are somewhat happier has less to do with the home itself than it does to do with what happens when they leave that home. Recently, Bill Bennett argued that there must be something wrong with homosexuality, because so many gays say they wouldn't choose that lifestyle if the choice was theirs to make. Bill didn't realize, as Maggie doesn't, that gays don't usually have a problem being gay, but dealing with assholes like Bill Bennett. The son of a friend tried to commit suicide in high school when he realized he was gay. He didn't try to die because of a personal shame, but because he knew he was going to have to deal with all sorts of Bennett clones who would love nothing more than to make his life a living hell. So, if Maggie and Bill really gave a damn about kids, they would work not on trying to enforce stigmas, but by helping to erase them.


Post a Comment

<< Home