Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Thursday, April 11, 2013 :::

There were a couple of supreme court cases on same-sex marriage argued a couple of weeks ago.  The main things I caught about the arguments were one argument from each side that seemed pretty weak to me, and each in response to a question that should have been expected.

A lawyer arguing on behalf of same-sex marriage was asked to distinguish same-sex marriage from polygamy; he said there was a distinction between "behavior" and "status," by which I assume he meant that homosexuality is more innate than the drive for polygamy is.  Maybe there was more of an argument - I just caught a snippet - but this struck me as unpersuasive. I might have argued that most of the legal incidents of marriage are changed less dramatically by expanding the types of pairs of people than by allowing an arbitrary number of people - for example, either the estate tax or its marital exemption would become hard to maintain; even worse, think of what the mob might do with the right not to incriminate one's spouse.

On the other side, a lawyer was asked why, if the state's interest in opposite-sex marriage is in privileging procreative families, do we permit 55-year-olds to marry each other (the woman, at least, being presumably infertile)?  The lawyer's response started by disputing the assumption that a 55-year-old woman would be infertile.  Opponents of same-sex marriage occasionally rib its supporters for supporting the obviously untrue proposition that men and women are exactly the same, but this response rather twists that around.  The lawyer could have pointed out that "one man and one woman" is a lot less arbitrary than picking an age beyond which women (but presumably not men) are prohibited to marry or requiring a fertility test.  Such a response might also have mentioned something like this:
Bad behavior is usually more visible than good. It’s what people talk about, it’s what the news media report on, it’s what experts focus on. Experts are always trying to change bad behavior by warning of how widespread it is, and they take any opportunity to label it a crisis. “The field loves talking about the problems because it generates political and economic support,” said Perkins. 
This strategy might feel effective, but it’s not — it simply communicates that bad behavior is the social norm. Telling people to go against their peer group never works. A better strategy is the reverse: give people credible evidence that among their peers, good behavior is the social norm.
If we want to raise kids to aspire to be in committed procreative relationships, we want them to see committed procreative relationships as the norm. Even if an elderly heterosexual couple can't be procreative, they can still look like a procreative couple and contribute to a norm.  The norm would obviously not persuade all homosexuals, asexuals, or those committed to not committing, but it would encourage kids who might otherwise be on the fence to seek a life-long mate.

I consider myself a tentative supporter of same-sex marriage because I doubt it will do much harm, especially compared to allowing unilateral no-fault divorce, in part because opposite-sex marriage will still be far more widespread.  But if there is a reason that privileging stable heterosexual relationships over stable homosexual relationships is important to a society, I would suspect that the crucial mechanism is along these lines.

::: posted by Steven at 12:33 AM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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