The "Marriage Crisis" in the Church and Around the World

The Church is big into protecting marriage. In the United States, that seems to often mean deeply discouraging out of wedlock births and politically lobbying against homosexual unions.

But, according to Stephanie Coontz, who wrote the book Marriage, A History, you may be surprised to know that “the marriage crisis” is a phenomenon taking place all over the world. But fascinatingly, that crisis doesn’t take the same form.

While United States legislators are worried about out of wedlock births, in Germany and Japan, policy makers are far more interested in increasing the birthrate, regardless of whether or not the parents are married…The United Nations recently initiated an enormous campaign to raise the age of marriage for girls in Afghanistan, India, and Africa (where the health of these young women is greatly impaired by early motherhood), whereas in Singapore the government launched a campaign to convince people to marry and have babies at a younger age.

In Spain, the government is worried about the high percentage (50%) of women in their late 20’s who are unmarried, fearing that this bodes ill for the birthrate, whereas in the Czech Republic, researches welcome single living, hoping that it will decrease the high divorce rate (50%).

And in Italy, commentators are worried about the huge number of mammoni or “mama’s boys”. These are educated, employed single men in their 20’s and 30’s who choose to live with their parents. In contrast, in parts of the Arab world, commentators worry about the extremely high bride prices which prevent men from being able to get married, even though they want to*

The fact that marriage is “in crisis” all over the world – and in such very different ways – really struck me. Perhaps that’s because I don’t know what to do with the rhetoric I hear from Church leaders and political leaders in the U.S. about marriage being so threatened.

The threat that currently seems to be referenced often in the U.S. is the threat of homosexual marriage. I’m always left feeling a bit baffled whenever I hear this. How do two people who want to form a permanent, loving, legally recognized marital relationship threaten my marriage in any way? Ironically, it’s the prude in me that makes me feel like homosexual (and heterosexual) marriage is a good thing. I’d far rather people establish permanent unions than be promiscuous.

Do you personally feel like marriage is in a state of crisis? Why? And how do you deal with the outspoken stance the Church has taken against homosexual marriage?

*all facts about marriage around the world were taken from Coontz’ book.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women’s Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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  1. Paradox says:

    What I’m about to say may come out as contradictory, but it’s how I feel.

    To give into homosexual temptation is a sin. Remember Sodom and Gommorah? To have feelings and struggles is not sinful, but to give into this temptation, no matter what label it’s given (“marriage” or “civil union”) is a sin. We can’t forget that. So to say that homosexuals unions should be allowed because of the good marriages that could come of it really doesn’t make sense. Marriage is a religious union. To permit unions that contradict of the religion that would be joining a couple in marriage does not make sense.

    The Newsroom on LDS.org is a great read for anyone wanting to know where the Church DOES stand on hot-button issues like homosexuality. I suggest we all pop over there to know what the Apostles and leaders of the Church have to say before we start telling everyone what they “deeply discourage.” The Church itself is politically neutral. There’s a difference between the leadership helping those who actually struggle with homosexual desires and taking a political stance against homosexuality. As Saints, we would do well to remember that these two actions ARE NOT the same thing.

    And we cannot allow other nations’ stances on issues to sway our policies in this one. Consider Japan, who actually has “Beware of Pervert” signs on their subways because sexual advances are such a problem in their country. They struggle to meet the needs of their citizens just as much as we do here. We can’t go looking to them for advice on how to handle marriage.

    I have quite a few people that I’ve met in my travels that struggle with homosexual desires. Advice, prayers, and understanding as their loving spirit brothers and sisters are the best we can offer them; not permission to lose their place in Heaven by allowing them to sin.

  2. Nick Literski says:

    Wow…so it’s up to you to choose whether or not to “allow” others to commit acts which your religion declares “sin?” Do you even realize how dramatically your statement conflicts with Mormon doctrine? Think council in heaven. Think lucifer’s proposition.

    Furthermore, I suggest you re-read the Sodom & Gommorah episode, paying special attention to the changes made by Joseph Smith in his translation. You might be surprised. Joseph also taught that the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah was “failing to heed the prophets,” not homosexuality.

    I’m just floored that you would consider yourself holy enough to give “permission” to “allow” someone not of your faith to make their own moral choices.

  3. Caroline says:

    Paradox, thanks for your contribution. But I must say I’m confused by many of your points.

    First, marriage is not only a religious union. All over the world people are married and it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. Think of all the marriages that take place in court houses. No religion there.

    Secondly, the United States does not have one monolithic religion that all its citizens adhere to. Therefore it doesn’t make sense to say that it goes against religion to allow these unions. (Whose religion?) And if we follow that logic, should we make pre-marital sense against the law too?

    Perhaps you mean to say that sexual relations between homosexuals go against our own LDS religion. So it does. The Church has the perogative to not allow temple marriage between homosexuals. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that the country needs to not allow these unions.

    Thirdly, do you really disagree that the Church “deeply discourages” out of wedlock births? Wow. To me that’s a pretty gentle way to put it, and I can’t imagine any Mormon having a different perspective on that one.

    Fourthly, the Church claims political neutrality because it does not officially support particular candidates. But as I’m sure you well know, the Church is more than willing to politically organize to pass or defeat certain legislation on certain hot button issues. Think of ERA or the recent “marriage is between a man and a woman” ammendment. We were actually, over the pulpit, encouraged to contact our senators about this. And if you live in CA you’ll remember how members were asked to make phone calls, put signs up, and pass around political petitions to encourage similar legislation six years ago.

  4. Caroline says:

    oops, that’s “pre-marital sex” in the third paragraph.

    Nick, your idea about whether or not, in this situation, we should allow those not of our faith to make their own moral decisions resonates with me.

    But I suppose we all just draw our lines differently. On some topics, I’d be willing to try to legislate. On others I’m not – and this is one of them.

  5. JohnR says:

    Caroline, I don’t know if the book touches on this, but I think it’s interesting to see what ultimately drives marriage and family policy in these different countries (and are China and India mentioned?) In the Japanese case, for example, the motivation is driven not by morality but by practical concerns: Japan is faced with a rapidly graying population and a looming social security crisis that makes ours look like a day at the park. This situation is exacerbated by concerns about racial purity, which limit immigration. An increase in births = more young people to support a population of retirees a bit longer.

    I see this as fundamentally different from policy in the U.S., which seems to be driven more by ideological and moral concerns than by pragmatism.

    One thing that your summary highlights is the relativism of marriage morality–the ideal varies greatly depending on location, culture, circumstance. Mormons, with their history of polygamy, should have a better awareness of this than anyone else. Given this background, it’s ironic that the Church toots its horn so loudly on the sanctity of the nuclear family (a relatively modern phenomenon). But as we’ve seen with recent sex scandals (e.g., Vitter, Gingrich, Foley), often the moral high ground is occupied by the most serious offenders.

  6. Caroline says:

    John, I have only read the very beginning of the book, so I’m sure it will get into the motivations behind marriage policy. I agree that in certain countries, pragmatics seem to supercede traditional morality.

    You said it perfectly – it is the relativism of marriage morality that was so interesting to me. Makes me wonder what the “crisis” will be 100 years from now.

  7. Nick Literski says:

    John R. noted his belief that in the United States, debate about marriage “seems to be driven more by ideological and moral concerns than by pragmatism.”

    This is not entirely true. Some conservatives make an additional argument against gay marriage, claiming that it would be detrimental to the economy. Despite the fact that these same types like to argue that homosexuals represent much less than one percent of the population, they suggest that allowing gay marriage would have an enormous financial impact on businesses, because of increased number of people eligible for spousal benefits, such as health insurance.

  8. Anonymous says:

    If I may . . .

    I can see where paradox was going with his/her comments and how they could be interpreted as they were, but I don’t think (s)he meant it that way.

    I think the kernel of the post was that we LDS view homosexual actions as sin. A natural leap is that if a group views homosexual actions as sin, it is not good (in the eyes of that group) for society to condone sinful behavior.

    I am all for people to have the freedom to chose what ever they wish to do. However, I also think of the book of mormon when Mosiah sets up the new government of judges and the voice of the people. His warning was (paraphrasing) the day the people chose evil over good is the day that the people are ripe for destruction. I think that this is why you see a bunch of local mormon political action groups fight to defeat certain bills which those groups see as choosing evil over good.

    Would letting couples who indulge in homosexual acts enter a legal union change the quantity of homosexual sin is being committed? Probably not. But to some LDS, it might be a sign of the people choosing good over evil.

    Now as to the rest of the OP, every nation worries about it’s own ability to propagate. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that marriage is in crisis, but national propagation is in crisis (or not, depending on the nation). Nations are going to make policies that ensure the propagation of their citizens, by any way they see fit. For example, in the Arab world, there might be a bride price cap (take that Johnny lingo). This is probably why, in europe, you see such huge maternity benefits because procreation there (and almost everywhere else) is stagnant. Interestingly enough (I have no source for this), but it was mentioned to me that Joseph Smith once said that, in the latter days, the time would come that the only people willing to have children were LDS women. I will end my ramblings here.

  9. ME says:

    No, I don’t think marriage is in a perpetual state of crisis despite hearing it ad nauseum at church.

    I get tired of the fear-mongering in the marriage-in-crisis rhetoric from the church and its stance on same sex marriage. Not to mention the hysterical, nothing-on-this-earth-is-more-DIRE (twelve exclamation points) manner that so often accompanies the delivery of both messages.

    What bothers me is that people get lathered up about marriage crisis, sit around agreeing with each other that there’s a Problem and there’s typically not much useful information about how to approach it or solve it. Personally, I prefer a more solution oriented approach.

    I’d rather hear ideas about how to enhance and strengthen your own marriage/significant relationship; if single, prepare to make informed decisions in/about significant relationships and creating a family; give loving, non-judgmental support to people whose marriages have ended or are ending (because divorce sucks for everybody involved); comfort those who are grieving the death of a spouse.

    So when that discussion starts, wake me up. Otherwise, I plan to nap through all the hand wringing over a largely manufactured marriage crisis.

    Mary Ellen

  10. Starfoxy says:

    I think when it is said that Gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage, it really means that a successful gay marriage would break down traditional gender roles. A marriage between a man and a woman means marriage between a manly man and a womanly woman.

    If a successful marriage *requires* someone to act manly and someone to act womanly, then a sucessful gay marriage would indicate that a man can act womanly, or that a woman can act manly- meaning that our strengths and roles may not necessarily be linked to our sex.

    Or it could also prove that the roles aren’t necessary at all, that one can have a marriage between equals without one presiding over the other, or anything else of the sort.

    If either of those things are true then just about all of our beliefs about men and women fall apart.

  11. Ana says:

    Right now my stand is that I will not join in any campaign against legalizing homosexual marriage. Because of my family (2 gay brothers) I’ve given it a lot of thought. To me, a good compromise would be to make civil union the legally recognized institution and marriage a religious institution, defined by different religions as they see fit. But I’m no expert and I certainly admit a bias because of the individual gay people I care about. Heck, I even think we ought to let them adopt and rear children — I’m an adoptive and foster mom and see the need for families far outpacing the supply, especially for kids with disabilities, kids from overseas and kids with minority ethnic heritage.

    I think pornography, abuse and apathy are far bigger threats to “traditional marriage” than homosexual marriage is. If I’m going to work for marriage, I’d want to work against those things.

  12. Nick Literski says:

    Interesting thoughts, Starfoxy. I know there is really nothing “womanly” about my partner, nor is there about me. We’re both very masculine men, and since we both are attracted sexually and emotionally toward men, we wouldn’t be together if one of us was “womanly.”

    Old stereotypes lead to people asking gay couples silly questions, like “so which one of you is the woman?” (I kid you not, I’ve been asked that more than once.) If anything, most stable gay relationships I know are close to the kind of egalitarianism that even the LDS church says should exist in marriage.

  13. Caroline says:

    Nick, interesting point about the economics that might inform some conservatives to lobby against gay marriage.

    Anonymous, thanks for giving another perspective to Paradox’s thoughts and for sharing your own.

    ME, I totally agree. I’d also like to hear more practical ideas about strengthening relationships, as well as sensitive acknowledgement that not everyone is going to be married.

    Starfoxy,
    Interesting ideas about how gay marriage challenges gender roles. I’d never thought of it like that – perhaps that does have something to do with why so many LDS feel threatened by gay relationships.

    Ana, you hit the nail on the head. Abuse, unkindness, apathy, infidelity, even poverty seem like bigger threats to marriage to me.

    Nick, very cool that you have such an egalitarian relationship.

  14. bigbrownhouse says:

    I don’t see marriage as being in a state of crises. It is in a state of flux, like it has been since the beginning of time.

    The outspoken stance against homosexual marriage by the LDS church breaks my heart and boggles my mind.

    Marriage is not an inherently religious institution. I mean, it is relious for those for whom it is, and it isn’t religious for those for whom it isn’t. (Gak! – what a sentence!) Increasingly, I am of the opinion that the State should only be in the business of recognizing civil unions, leaving the participants free to seek (or not) the blessings or recognition of whatever other institution they want to involve in the matter.

  15. cchrissyy says:

    “allowing gay marriage would have an enormous financial impact on businesses, because of increased number of people eligible for spousal benefit”

    I’ve never understood the logic here- is the idea that an interesting % of single gay people don’t already have health insurance in their jobs and that were they officially partnered up they’d get it through the other’s employer, and that the rate at which they do this is different than working singles who date/marry heterosexually?

  16. AvidReader says:

    “How do two people who want to form a permanent, loving, legally recognized marital relationship threaten my marriage in any way? Ironically, it’s the prude in me that makes me feel like homosexual (and heterosexual) marriage is a good thing. I’d far rather people establish permanent unions than be promiscuous.”

    The same-sex marriage debate is so much more complex than we often make it seem. One of the most common questions people ask is the one above–how does homosexual marriage threaten my own marriage?

    The truth is, if you change the fundamental meaning of marriage so that it encompasses everyone and can mean anything, it ultimately means nothing. And that *will* affect all marriages.

    The notion that marriage can be defined as “a permanent, loving, legally recognized marital relationship” is a purely modern construct. Historically, marriage has always been primarily about a man and a woman joining together to create a family. Certainly there are exceptions (married couples who are infertile or who choose not to have children), but the exception does not disprove the rule. Why should society even be in the business of sanctioning “loving relationships”? Marriage, at its heart, has always been about providing children with their most precious right: to be raised by the mother and father who made them. And because children are the most vulnerable members of our society, their rights trump the right of adults to choose whom they will marry. That’s why homosexual marriage is a bad idea. Whether homosexual behavior is sinful or not is beside the point.

    Additionally, how can we assume that marriage would make those in homosexual relationships less promiscuous? If we are willing to change the change the fundamental definition of marriage so that it includes homosexuals, how can we assume that the sexual fidelity part of the definition will be preserved? Sexual fidelity isn’t even a value among many in the gay population–rather, “emotional fidelity” is.

    Please read David Blankenhorn’s excellent book “The Future of Marriage.” It’s a clear-headed, thorough examination of the marriage debate.

  17. bigbrownhouse says:

    “Marriage, at its heart, has always been about providing children with their most precious right: to be raised by the mother and father who made them.”

    A lovely sentiment, but it’s only a part of what marriage is “at its heart.” Many would argue that historically, marriage was far more about creating social, political and economic alliances than creating cozy little domestic units. Children have been raised by all kinds of combinations of people for all kinds of reasons – with the sanction of their communities – for a very long time.

    Which makes me wonder…We have a rough idea of how many children Brigham Young fathered, but how many of those children were deprived of “their most precious right: to be raised by the mother and father who made them.”

    Marriage can – and has been – many many things.

    (I’m feeling a little cranky tonight.)

  18. bigbrownhouse says:

    And now I’m even crankier, knowing that I can’t go in and edit the errors of grammar in that last post. Grrr.

    >:(

  19. bigbrownhouse says:

    “Additionally, how can we assume that marriage would make those in homosexual relationships less promiscuous? If we are willing to change the change the fundamental definition of marriage so that it includes homosexuals, how can we assume that the sexual fidelity part of the definition will be preserved?”

    If sexual fidelity, as a reality or as an ideal, is an inherent part of the definition of marriage, than much of what has historically been called “marriage” must be tossed right out of the picture.

  20. AvidReader says:

    “Many would argue that historically, marriage was far more about creating social, political and economic alliances than creating cozy little domestic units.”

    What societies? Where? When? Those for whom marriage was “about creating social, political and economic alliances” were the upper classes and formed a minuscule portion of the population at large. A fundamental reason for marriage has always been procreation. As I said previously, exceptions do not define the rule.

    “We have a rough idea of how many children Brigham Young fathered, but how many of those children were deprived of ‘their most precious right: to be raised by the mother and father who made them.’ ”

    Not sure I follow . . . How were Brigham Young’s children deprived of this right? I have never read anywhere that he was not involved in the raising of his children–nor were their mothers. And as I have said (twice now), exceptions do not prove the rule.

  21. AvidReader says:

    “If sexual fidelity, as a reality or as an ideal, is an inherent part of the definition of marriage, than much of what has historically been called ‘marriage’ must be tossed right out of the picture.”

    Can I emphasize this any more strongly?

    Exceptions do not disprove the rule!!

    Now I’m the one feeling cranky. . . .

  22. AvidReader says:

    Woops . . . the last line in my my second-to-last comment should have read “exceptions do not DISprove the rule.”

    Sheesh.

  23. Caroline says:

    Avid Reader, you should check out Koontz’ book. I think she would agree with Bigbrownhouse – that marriage historically has been about uniting families ecomically or socially. She says, “until the late 18th century, most societies around the world saw marriage as far too vital an economic and political institution to be left entirely to the free choice of the two individuals involved.”

    Also, I’m still not clear on how homosexual marriage threatens my own.

    And regarding the idea of children deserving both a father and a mother… I would say that the high divorce rate of heterosexual couples is far more of a threat to that idea than gay marriage. Just curious -does gay marriage seem more threatening to you in that respect than divorce does?

    And regarding BBH’s comment about BY, I imagine she’s refering to the fact that when you have 56 children and you are president of the church, you don’t have much time to develop personal relationships with each child.

  24. bigbrownhouse says:

    Caroline, that’s exactly what I mean.

    And I didn’t mean my comments to be a slam against BY. Just an illustration of how far we can get from the “one man, one woman, raising their offspring together” model, and still be ok (and be sanctioned by the church, even.)

    If you look at the ways kinship has been recognized across human history and around the globe, there are very few universal rules.

    If you oppose the legal recognition of homosexual marriage because you believe that is what God is telling you to do, I can respect that. Really.

    But to claim that the very nature of marriage on earth is not only self-evident, but so rigid that it cannot include homosexual unions without crumbling to bits, is to ignore how versatile and flexible human society really is.

  25. Nick Literski says:

    cchrissy,
    Yes, despite the fact that conservatives want you to believe that the number of homosexuals in the population is miniscule, they ALSO believe that if homosexuals could marry, businesses which offer spousal benefits (such as insurance) would then have to pay premiums for more spouses than they otherwise would.

    I’m not saying the argument makes sense. If anything, it’s a cynical, nasty argument. Ultimately, it suggests that an entire group of people (i.e. homosexuals) should work for less pay, in the form of less benefits.

  26. Ken Yan says:

    Caroline,

    You repeat “Also, I’m still not clear on how homosexual marriage threatens my own.”

    By that logic, I would point out that neither polygamy nor incestuous marriages threaten my own. But for the record, I support neither.

    Just a thought.

  27. AvidReader says:

    “Avid Reader, you should check out Koontz’ book. I think she would agree with Bigbrownhouse – that marriage historically has been about uniting families ecomically or socially. She says, ‘until the late 18th century, most societies around the world saw marriage as far too vital an economic and political institution to be left entirely to the free choice of the two individuals involved.’ ”

    Caroline, David Blankenhorn writes, “No one denies that property and social status (and many other big realities as well) affect all spheres of human social life, from education to medicine to, yes, marriage. But what affects something is different from the thing itself. For almost all of humanity, marriage has always and in all places been ‘really’ about the male-female sexual bond and the children that result from that bond.”

    Tell you what. You read Blankenhorn’s book (“The Future of Marriage”), and I’ll read Coontz’. Deal?

    “Also, I’m still not clear on how homosexual marriage threatens my own.”

    Throughout history, marriage has united the sexes for a common purpose: the creating and raising of children. It has a shared, public meaning, and society has supported it because it has supported society. Strip marriage of its institutional meaning so that it means whatever people want it to mean, and that has an effect on all society. Do you want your own marriage to mean only what you and spouse decide it means? Do you see the effect that a purely private definition of marriage could have on children and on society at large?

    “Just curious -does gay marriage seem more threatening to you in that respect than divorce does?”

    Of course divorce is a threat to marriage. Does one threat mean there cannot be another?

    “And regarding BBH’s comment about BY, I imagine she’s refering to the fact that when you have 56 children and you are president of the church, you don’t have much time to develop personal relationships with each child.”

    I am arguing for the preservation of traditional marriage. Polygamy would be relevant only if I had said that traditional marriage must be preserved only because “the Church said so.” But I haven’t even mentioned the Church.

  28. AvidReader says:

    “If you look at the ways kinship has been recognized across human history and around the globe, there are very few universal rules.”

    Not true. There are universal rules. Marriage has always been about the man and the woman raising the child they made together. (And yes, that even applies to polygamy, but I don’t want to get off on a polygamy tangent.) That is not to say there haven’t been other less-important reasons for marriage, but procreating and enabling the child to be raised by his or her mother and father have *always* been fundamental to marriage.

    “But to claim that the very nature of marriage on earth is not only self-evident, but so rigid that it cannot include homosexual unions without crumbling to bits, is to ignore how versatile and flexible human society really is.”

    Marriage has never been changed in such a fundamental way. History has never before witnessed this type of shift. To imply that same-sex marriage would be just one more benign modification in a long line of such modifications does not reflect an accurate understanding of history.

  29. amelia says:

    “Marriage has always been about the man and the woman raising the child they made together.”

    except when the children were raised by hired help. or when the children were sent out to labor when they were still young (like four or five).

    i know, i know. exceptions, blah blah blah. the fact of the matter is, avid reader, that you’re reading backwards. you’re allowing contemporary (highly romanticized) ideas about marriage and child-rearing to color your idea of marriage. you argue that only the elite married for economic considerations. what about women of the lower class who had very few ways (if any) to support themselves without marriage? don’t you think economics may have been a consideration in their choice? and having children just for their cuddly cuteness and the opportunity to raise them? i don’t think so. historically family size was often determined by financial need–for labor in the family business or on the family farm; for security of the parents when they couldn’t work anymore. it wasn’t just the primogeniture of the upper classes that gave having children an economic tinge.

    does that mean parents didn’t love their children? or that they chose to have children only because of financial considerations? not necessarily. but i think you’re hard pressed to make the case that marriage has always been about a mother and father raising children together, as if the raising of children is a pure objective rather than also a means to some end. even today many couples have children as a means to an end; the fact that the ends are more nebulous doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    if you think homosexual marriage is wrong, that’s fine. just say it. you think it’s wrong. based on your interpretation of god’s law and your understanding of our own society. others don’t think it’s wrong. based on their interpretation of god’s law and their understanding of our own society. neither party should try to re-write history in order to justify their position.

  30. Caroline says:

    Well said, Amelia.

    Ken, I myself am not a big fan of polygamy or incestuous marriage, but I’m also not claiming that they threaten my marriage.

    AvidREader, I guess I’m just having a hard time buying into your argument that marriage is/always has been essentially about a man and woman raising children. What about older couples that get married, couples that choose not to have children, couples who can’t have children, couples who don’t raise their children, etc. etc. I have a hard time thinking that marriages such as these are somehow defying the purpose of marriage or are not as legit as marriages with kids.

    Not to mention the fact that marriage goes on long after children are raised, and I think those marriages are just as much marriages as ones where children are currently being raised.

    For me, I have a highly romanticized 20th century view of marriage – that currently in the U.S. it’s about companionship and committment. With or without kids. (But I’m not arguing that that’s what it’s always been about – I think it has served different purposes in different times and societies.)

    I’m still wondering out of curiosity which is MORE of a threat to you – divorce or gay marriage.

  31. bigbrownhouse says:

    “I am arguing for the preservation of traditional marriage. Polygamy would be relevant only if I had said that traditional marriage must be preserved only because “the Church said so.” But I haven’t even mentioned the Church.”

    Polygamy is extremely relevant, because its prevalence throughout history seriously challenges the assertion that marriage is fundamentally about children’s “precious right: to be raised by the mother and father who made them.” Propagating the species, yes. Creating close-knit domestic groupings of a mother, father, and their children – not necessarily.

    Its a pretty ethnocentric view that separates “traditional” marriage from polygamy. In some parts of the world, polygamy is the traditional ideal.

  32. Nick Literski says:

    It’s all very nice to be able to quote standard conservative arguments against gay marriage, as AvidReader does. It would be nice to see AvidReader put these ideas into her own words, rather than very recognizeable, verbatim soundbytes.

    AvidReader argues that marriage is primarily (if not all) about bearing and nurturing children. Like those she parrots, however, she fails to take her argument to its logical end. If marriage is for the purpose of child-rearing, then couples wishing to marry should be required to first demonstrate medical proof of fertility, as well as a legal declaration of their intent to have children. Otherwise, the benefits of marriage would be extended to those who either can’t have biological children, or who may choose not to have children. Likewise, senior citizens should not be allowed to enter into marriage, seeing that at least the female partner is beyond childbearing age.

    Now, because we know what sort of material AvidReader has been avidly reading and repeating, we know how she will respond to the above. Unwilling to grant the obvious point, she will maintain that even an infertile heterosexual couple should be allowed to marry, because they “symbolize” or “represent” the model ability to procreate without medical assistance. Of course, any honest person quickly recognizes just how insincere such an argument really is.

    Furthermore, these “save the children” arguments ignore the hundreds of thousands of children who already have gay or lesbian parents. I am a gay man, and I have five lovely daughters! My best friend is a gay man who has four children! In fact, several of my gay and lesbian friends have children, partly because of a social and ecclesiastical pressure which led them to attempt an ill-advised heterosexual marriage. I think we’ve taken care of our “multiplying and replenishing” duties, and then some.

    The fact remains that committed gay couples are being unfairly denied the hundreds of rights and responsibilities which adhere to legal marriage. If my partner and I purchase a home together in a state which lacks legal relationship status for gays, that home is in jeapordy when one of us dies, because some distant relative can successfully claim inheritance of my half of the home, and the law will consider the partner I’ve built a life with to be a “legal stranger.”

    In a recent case here in Seattle, a lesbian couple was parted by the horrific drowning of one partner. In a terrible storm, their basement apartment was completely flooded, with the force of water preventing the trapped woman from opening any doors, etc. The relatives of this woman instructed the funeral parlor director to BAN her partner from attending the funeral, etc. The funeral director did just that—and could do so legally–but guess who he was more than ready to collect payment from? Yes—the dead woman’s partner of many years, who had not been allowed to take any part in her loved one’s funeral. Fortunately, the Washington state legislature has seen to enact a domestic partnership law, which will take effect on July 23rd.

  33. AvidReader says:

    “These ‘save the children’ arguments ignore the hundreds of thousands of children who already have gay or lesbian parents”

    No they don’t. I know there are many gay and lesbian parents who are loving and committed to their children. But the evidence overwhelmingly shows that children are best served when they are raised by the mother and the father who created them. This is not just my opinion, nor am I invoking God here. For example, The New York Times–not exactly a conservative publication–reported, “According to a growing body of research, the msot supportive household is one with two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage” (Aug. 12, 2001).

    Change marriage, and you change parenthood. Are we willing to abandon society’s formal support of what is best for children so that adults can preserve their own rights?

    “If marriage is for the purpose of child-rearing, then couples wishing to marry should be required to first demonstrate medical proof of fertility, as well as a legal declaration of their intent to have children.”

    Sorry, but that argument doesn’t fly. Not only would this be legistically impossible, but it simply has never been necessary.

    Nick Literski cites some poignant examples of what can happen when gays and lesbians are denied of their rights. I agree that these situations are unfair. The individuals involved have been greatly wronged. But it should not require the extreme action of deinstitutionalizing marriage, at great cost to society at large, to prevent these situations.

    In situations where the rights of children bump up against the rights of adults, we must choose. And if we are going to protect the most vulnerable in our society, we have to choose our children.

  34. AvidReader says:

    “I’m still wondering out of curiosity which is MORE of a threat to you – divorce or gay marriage.”

    Please tell me why this matters. They are both threats. I don’t know which is the bigger threat.

  35. AvidReader says:

    “if you think homosexual marriage is wrong, that’s fine. just say it. you think it’s wrong. based on your interpretation of god’s law and your understanding of our own society. others don’t think it’s wrong.”

    Amelia, I think I’ve already said I think homosexual marriage is wrong, haven’t I? And I think I’ve made it pretty clear why I think it’s wrong. It’s not just a gut feeling. And if you will reread what I’ve said, you’ll notice that I have never even mentioned “God’s law.”

    I also want to make it clear that I understand that people come at this issue from different perspectives and draw different conclusions. If anyone says this is a black & white issue–no matter what side they are on–they are fooling themselves. I know that there are many people in loving and committed relationships who are hurt because they can’t marry. Whether homosexuals can or cannot marry, some group will always lose. I’m just not willing to say it should be our children. But I don’t want to dismiss the very real pain experienced by people in homosexual relationships who want to marry but cannot.

  36. bigbrownhouse says:

    “Are we willing to abandon society’s formal support of what is best for children so that adults can preserve their own rights?”

    Are we willing to deny society’s formal support for children being raised by gay parents so that some adults can continue feeling morally superior?

  37. Tanya Sue says:

    Ok, first I think we miss that historically marriage was in part about ownership. A woman truly belonged to her husband as did their kids.

    Avidreader-So according to your argument we should eliminate adoption, right? They aren’t the biological parents so they don’t have the ideal environment which is what you are trying to build. Also, should we force marriage counseling as well? The low-conflict part isn’t a guarantee in hetero marriage…Also, how does being raised by two loving parents diminish the rights of a child? I just don’t see that. I think that a child needs to be raised in a home with parents that love them and care for their well-being and I don’t care the genders of the person/people or what their sexual orientation. There is a double standard when it comes people who are attracted to those of the same gender.

    Nick-if you don’t mind me asking, as gay man in a partnership do you have an opinion about marriage vs. civil union? Is one more desirable than the other to you?

  38. AvidReader says:

    “Are we willing to deny society’s formal support for children being raised by gay parents so that some adults can continue feeling morally superior?”

    Bigbrownhouse, let me quote from the NY Times again: “According to a growing body of research, the msot supportive household is one with two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage” (Aug. 12, 2001). This has nothing to do with enabling adults to feel morally superior.

    “So according to your argument we should eliminate adoption, right? They aren’t the biological parents so they don’t have the ideal environment which is what you are trying to build.”

    Of course we should not eliminate adoption. Adoption occurs when children are already deprived of one or both biological parents. It is a loving act by which the adoptive parents respond to a child’s loss and act as if they were the biological parents. But even the most ardent proponent of adoption would not argue that the vast majority of children would be better off if they were adopted.

    “The low-conflict part isn’t a guarantee in hetero marriage.”

    That is true. Nothing is guaranteed. But that does not mean we should abandon the ideal.

    “Also, how does being raised by two loving parents diminish the rights of a child? I just don’t see that.”

    When a child is raised by parents of the same gender, he or she must deal with the loss of at least one biological parent. Also, mothers and fathers have different parenting styles and offer unique contributions to the child’s upbringing. A child raised by same-gendered parents is deprived of those benefits.

    In addition, if you remove procreation and the male-female part of the definition of marriage,
    what is sacred about the number 2? If marriage does not discriminate based on sexual orientation, what about the rights of those who are bisexual and want to be married to 2 or more people? Maybe this sounds farfetched, but it’s already happening. In the Netherlands in 2005, a three-way wedding was held between a heterosexual man and two bisexual women. And polyamorists are increasingly fighting for greater awareness and acceptance.

    I mentioned earlier that when you change marriage’s most fundamental forms, it ultimately has no public meaning–it means nothing but what the individuals involved say it means. And if that becomes the case, what reason remains for marriage at all?

  39. Caroline says:

    AvidReader, needless to say, I disagree with you on several of your points, but I wanted to thank you for contributing to the discussion – particularly when you’re pretty much on your own against a few of us. It’s been fun!

  40. Nick Literski says:

    avidreader, you keep reciting the conservative mantra about how gay marriage should be prevented, in order to “save the children!”. By all means, feel free to show us any way in which two gay men marrying each other is in any way harmful to children. No, I’m not asking for you to AGAIN repeat the conservative bogeyman about how “marriage will mean nothing, and that will hurt kids.” I mean tell us something real—not silly speculation and scare tactics.

    tanya sue, I’m glad to see progress in the form of “civil unions,” but at the same time, I’m well aware that this is quite similar to the old “separate but equal” scheme, under which racial discrimination was continued. Ultimately, we should all be treated equally under the law. A “civil union,” by its very terminology, is a “second class” relationship, identified as somehow “inferior” to marriage.

    avidreader, you suggest that allowing homosexuals to have equal marriage rights is somehow “abandoning the ideal.” Aside from your personal religious beliefs–which in a pluralistic society should NEVER be the basis for public policy–how is heterosexual marriage “the ideal” for homosexuals? “The ideal” for homosexuals is homosexual marriage.

    avidreader writes:
    “When a child is raised by parents of the same gender, he or she must deal with the loss of at least one biological parent. Also, mothers and fathers have different parenting styles and offer unique contributions to the child’s upbringing. A child raised by same-gendered parents is deprived of those benefits.”

    By this arguments, children should be taken away from single parents, and stepparents should be banned. Further, are you really so trapped in silly stereotypes as to lump all women into one parenting style, and all men into another? The suggestion is silly on its face.

    Again, avidreader…you really need to stop parroting the writings of right wing anti-gay pundits, and actually think through what you’re writing. Surely you’re more intelligent than some of these comments you’ve borrowed from those sources.

  41. Caroline says:

    Nick, let’s try to keep it nice, huh? I agree with the substance of your arguments, but I think it’s important to try to disagree respectfully.

  42. AvidReader says:

    “You keep reciting the conservative mantra about how gay marriage should be prevented, in order to ‘save the children!’. By all means, feel free to show us any way in which two gay men marrying each other is in any way harmful to children. “

    Nick, you know as well as I do that legalizing same-sex marriage will pave the way for more same-sex parenting–whether it’s through adoption (which can be a good choice for some children without parents) or through donor conception or other methods that are *not* good for children. And I’ve already cited, twice, the literature which supports the fact that children are better off when they are raised by their two biological parents.

    “You suggest that allowing homosexuals to have equal marriage rights is somehow ‘abandoning the ideal.’ Aside from your personal religious beliefs–which in a pluralistic society should NEVER be the basis for public policy–how is heterosexual marriage ‘the ideal’ for homosexuals? ‘The ideal’ for homosexuals is homosexual marriage.”

    I was referring to striving for the ideal of a low-conflict marriage. I never said what the “ideal” should be for homosexuals.

    “By [your] arguments, children should be taken away from single parents, and stepparents should be banned.”

    Of course I am not arguing that. Taking away rights has nothing to do with bestowing rights that have never been granted.

    “you really need to stop parroting the writings of right wing anti-gay pundits, and actually think through what you’re writing. Surely you’re more intelligent than some of these comments you’ve borrowed from those sources.”

    Nick, I’m sure you’re a nice guy in person. But do you really think that addressing me this way furthers your argument? I don’t even know who these “right wing anti-gay pundits” are that you think I am always “parroting.” If I am using arguments that have been used by others, how does that diminish what I am saying? Your points, and the points of others in this discussion, have also been made repeatedly by those who are in favor of same-sex marriage.

    It seems to me that people make attacks like yours only when they are feeling less secure about their position. Then it becomes all about emotion rather than logic.

    “AvidReader, needless to say, I disagree with you on several of your points, but I wanted to thank you for contributing to the discussion – particularly when you’re pretty much on your own against a few of us. It’s been fun!”

    Thanks, Caroline. I don’t know if I would say it’s been “fun,” but it’s certainly been interesting!

  43. Nick Literski says:

    avidreader writes:
    “Nick, you know as well as I do that legalizing same-sex marriage will pave the way for more same-sex parenting–whether it’s through adoption (which can be a good choice for some children without parents) or through donor conception or other methods that are *not* good for children.”

    You’re making an unsupported claim here, avidreader. Tell us *WHY* adoption by a gay couple, or “donor conception or other methods” are “*not* good for children.”

    avidreader continues:
    “And I’ve already cited, twice, the literature which supports the fact that children are better off when they are raised by their two biological parents.”

    No, you’ve twice cited a single newspaper article. You’ve not cited a single reliable, peer-reviewed study which compares children raised by a their biological parents vs. children raised by single parents or a gay couple. A newspaper is not “the literature” on a social science topic.

    avidreader continues:
    “Taking away rights has nothing to do with bestowing rights that have never been granted.”

    There are two big problems with this sentence. First of all, rights are not “given” or “taken away.” The specific right to marry the person of your choice has been ruled a “fundamental right” by the U.S. Supreme Court, meaning it is so foundational to our society, as to be unquestioned. Nobody has to “give” homosexuals the right to marry the person they love. What we need is for people like yourself to stop *denying* our rights, and *interfering* with our rights through unjust laws. Second, your sentence suggests that gays have never been allowed to marry. I suggest you study history and anthropology, rather than theology on this point. For starters, you could read *Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe* by John Boswell.

    You further deny that you are merely repeating right-wing rhetoric on this subject. I have a difficult time believing this, since I’ve read much of it, and your statements are nearly verbatim. Hint: Statements by LDS church leaders on the subject aren’t unique—they are saying precisely the same things on the subject as religious conservatives from other backgrounds. You’re simply giving us nothing new at all, and as far as I can tell, you’re not really analyzing what you say. You’re tossing out claims as if they are proven by the mere act of stating them.

  44. ME says:

    avidreader writes:
    “When a child is raised by parents of the same gender, he or she must deal with the loss of at least one biological parent. Also, mothers and fathers have different parenting styles and offer unique contributions to the child’s upbringing. A child raised by same-gendered parents is deprived of those benefits.”

    ME says: All adopted children have “lost” one or both biological parents. That’s true regardless of who adopts them.

    And wouldn’t *any* two parents–regardless of gender–have different parenting styles and offer unique contributions to a child’s upbringing?

    I’m not seeing how your claims about loss and deprivation are somehow unique to children adopted by same sex couples.

    Mary Ellen

  45. janeannechovy says:

    Sorry to pile on, but Nick’s right–AvidReader hasn’t given any real support to her claim that being raised by gay parents harms children. In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that children of gay parents are no worse off than children of straight parents. See http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/lgpchildren.html for a review of the research.

    As for me, I think if marriage is good for straight people, it’s good for gay people. Period. I also think that there’s no reason to believe allowing equal access to marriage for homosexual couples opens the door for legal recognition of polygamous, polyamorous, incestuous or other relationships.

  46. cchrissyy says:

    nick,
    what i don’t get is, I assume that the hypothetical same-sex unmarried couple is made of 2 folks with benefits at their own jobs, and so their marriage would only shuffle around the health plan, one company losing a subscriber, one company gaining one. Or they elect to not change it up.

    of course, some marriages, same sex or not, involve a job-insured person and a non-insured person. but are wannebe-married gay people any more likely to be in this situation? And of course like you say, there’s not really *that* many of them y’all there.

  47. Nick Literski says:

    Excellent question, cchrissy!
    First, when both spouses in a married couple have health benefits provided, they can often enjoy double coverage, thus eliminating copays and deductibles, so they can save money (depending on whether a company pays the spousal premium, etc.) Similarly, one spouse may have a better and/or lower-premium plan available, allowing them to choose the most cost-effective option. Finally, even where one job “provides” health insurance, it may not be very useful. One of my past employers had a great plan when they hired me, and they paid the full premium. Within a year, however, they switched to a plan that paid NOTHING until I had paid out $2,000.00 per year, out of pocket. A year after that, they moved to one that paid nothing until the family had paid out $6,000.00 in out of pocket health expenses. The two latter plans were like having no health insurance at all, since you had zero coverage until a truly catastrophic health emergency occurred. In such a case, the other spouse may have a REAL health care plan.

    Maybe I’ve been clear as mud, but the point is, spouses have more opportunity for better, less-expensive care.

  48. cchrissyy says:

    ok Nick,
    so, marriage doubles people’s chancing of getting a “good” health plan, and therefore keeping people legally single means half those people will have worse coverage.

    and if we assume that worse coverage is cheaper coverage from the employer’s standpoint, and that all else is equal… ok.

    the economist in me wants to yell about how the more expensive benefits aren’t borne by companies, but are part of the compensation package and so in salary or other benefits the higher cost must be accounted for. but anyway…

  49. Nick Literski says:

    cchrissy,
    We don’t disagree. I wasn’t justifying the conservative money argument. I was condemning it.

    Of course, we’re speaking of only one benefit of marriage here. In Washington state (where I live) there are over 400 legal rights and responsibilities pertaining to marriage. Yesterday, Washington’s first domestic partnership law went into effect, granting 23 of those rights. I’m grateful for that, mind you, but we have a long way to go. On the Federal level, there are over 1,000 rights and responsibilities pertaining to marriage.

  50. Random Policy Suggestion says:

    A compromise: How about society gets rid of marriage all together? No state has the right to grant a marriage to a couple. All people who want to gain the benefits of joining together get a certificate of civil union, homosexual and heterosexual alike. These certificates of civil union grant all the rights and responsibilities that the present day marriage contracts grant; tax breaks, health whatever (I dislike to call it coverage for obvious reasons.) and so forth.

    Now, if the couple isn’t satisfied with being united civilly, then that couple (both homo and hetero) can seek solemnization from a religious institution who has the rights to grant the title of marriage. On paper they are two different things but on earth, they are one and the same in that there are no added benefits from a state’s perspective. Therefore, if a homosexual couple wants to be (and i use this loosely) “ratified by God”, they just have to find an institution that will solemnize their civil union.

    Now, you are probably asking, what church will ratify a homosexual civil union? I am sure competitive markets will solve that problem. If none do, then who is to say that a homosexual couple can’t start their own religion to ratify their union? If none do, can you call it discrimination? No, because people have the freedom to worship according to the dictates of their heart. Are the homosexual couples being denied any civil rights? No. They have all the same rights as every other couple does according to the state. I think it is a win win policy. It grants equal rights and it protects “marriage”.

  51. Caroline says:

    Random,
    Interesting suggestion. I’d have to think more about that… I do think that whether or not a union is done in a church or in some other civil venue, people will want to use the word “married.” So I’m not sure how the language would hold up in such a system.

    And finding churches to marry gay people won’t be a problem. I can think of a few liberal denominations who would be very happy to do so.

  52. cchrissyy says:

    Nick, I agree that we don’t disagree

    Random, I totally agree with the state allowing civil partnerships without restriction and letting churches sort out what is marriage. for instance, when I’m old and my husband is long gone, if i want to make a civil agreement with full rights to my sister, I don’t want the state saying we can’t, and I don’t want a hundred legal hoops to jump through. if we want to be officially a family, that should be that.

    of course, I’ll immediately get on her better health insurance, if she has it 🙂

  53. bigbrownhouse says:

    Random, I agree wholeheartedly, and made the same point earlier on this very thread. 🙂

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