Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Gay Marriage and Radical Individualism

Folks on this blog have been making this argument for some time. Here’s a first-rate piece on the subject from Christianity Today. A snippet:

We cannot very well argue for the sanctity of marriage as a crucial social institution while we blithely go about divorcing and approving of remarriage at a rate that destabilizes marriage. We cannot say that an institution, like the state, has a perfect right to insist on certain values and behavior from its citizens while we refuse to submit to denominational or local church authority. We cannot tell gay couples that marriage is about something much larger than self-fulfillment when we, like the rest of heterosexual culture, delay marriage until we can experience life, and delay having children until we can enjoy each other for a few years.

In short, we have been perfect hypocrites on this issue. Until we admit that, and take steps to amend our ways, our cries of alarm about gay marriage will echo off into oblivion.

Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 21 Comments

"We cannot tell gay couples that marriage is about something much larger than self-fulfillment when we, like the rest of heterosexual culture, delay marriage until we can experience life, and delay having children until we can enjoy each other for a few years." Wow, that really nails it. While I'm sure the evangelical community agrees with the big picture, I wonder what they think about implications of the "delay of having children" contributing to the weakening of the institution? I always thought one of the stronger arguments in favor of marriage as a institution that strengthens the nation was that it teaches moderation to the family members. If one believes marriage is really just the pursuit of personal happiness, then there really isn't any reason to object to gay marriage. Thank you for the article.

I tend to agree more with AD on this one. There is nothing wrong with saying that marriage needs strengthening as an institution in America. Duh. There is nothing wrong with saying that people ought not to be so radically individualistic that they think first and foremost at all times about what fulfills their own deepest pleasures or perceived needs. Duh, again. But to say that marriage, imperfect as it now is and ever has been (because, duh, people are imperfect) cannot be distinguished from homosexual relationships unless it is now and suddenly perfected stretches credulity in my view. It appears to be, as AD says, but a prelude to giving up. Besides, the deeper and more meaningful argument against sanctioning "marriage" for homosexual couples is that it denies sexual differences. and the implications of doing this stretch far beyond the meaning of marriage.

If you take any run-of-the-mill imperfect to lousy marriage between a man and a woman and compare it to the best of all possible unions between two people of the same sex, the work being done in those two unions is nowhere close to similar. Even bad marriages serve a social purpose in that they bring together two opposites for the purpose of civilization. At the very least they attempt to do it. It's not even simply about the raising of children . . . though the importance of a mother and a father is not to be denied.

Who is this 'we"? This is a good case for ending no-fault divorce, not for gay marriage.

This weekend I am attending the wedding of a couple the average of whose ages bring them right to the median age for marriage. They have been living together for 2-3 years. The young woman is pressing for marriage. The young man doesn't care and thinks the ceremony and reception a silly expense. They are marrying in a church, although neither of them attend that or any other church. The young man consented to marriage on the grounds that if she gets pregnant, his insurance will cover her medical bills.

That's what he says. She says, "Well, you know..." and has no reason she can express. Truly, she floundered in truth, unable to bring herself to say, "Well, you know, it is only right." That is what she wanted to say, which I know because when I said that, she visibly relaxed and smiling said, "Well, yeah!"

How have we done this to ourselves? I encounter this with my students; they are unconvinced of a right to believe in their own morality. "Who am I to say gay marriage is wrong, even if I think it is wrong." What a pity this is.

Kate: Great response. I'm just waiting for someone to get on this thread and start talking about "language games" and "cultural differences" and "perceptions" in objection.

T-Hag, that was an exceptional thread. You can only walk upstream so long before you gotta jump out and let it do its thing. The sands of NLT will not be shifting anytime soon.

The young man consented to marriage on the grounds that if she gets pregnant, his insurance will cover her medical bills.



Yikes!!! As "right" as it might be for these two to get married, if that's the justification for their union I worry for their marital future . . .

Touche, Matt.

Women always want to try marriage, and they are generally the first ones to abandon it (66% of filers are women). And yea, I know, many will say that the men have done something to destroy the marriage, but increasingly it's the women who just walk out for no very good reason. And what are men doing to protect themselves in this culture? Well, resisting marriage and responsibility...they are learning that women use the courts to push them around (looting, I think it's called), and so they revert to their normal behavior (noncommittal, focused on career & male-bonding activities, opportunistic sexual predation). For years feminists have bitched and moaned about how oppressive marriage is for women, little realizing that by liberating themselves they unharness men from the civilizing institution of patriarchy (yea, that's right girls...patriarchy was your friend!). Now we are reaping the whirlwind.

But please don't get me wrong. I think lots of men have been complicit in this process. People in general are shortsighted and selfish (explaining why I'm a conservative).

We are all worrying that the young man's indifference to his marital vows will force his bride out of their marriage. Maybe she will tame him with love; she has got him to the altar. Almost.

Redwald, I agree, mostly. I am among those who would say that men "do something" to cause their women to divorce them. Yes, the incidence of divorce is higher since women are more likely to be able to fend for themselves. Although, those with children have a very bad time in divorce, unless they thoroughly "loot" their husbands. Marriage is hard work and it was a better career option for women before they were expected to maintain careers outside of the home, too. Those of us fortunate enough to be, or in my case, to have been, kept women while raising the children are a minority these days.

Perhaps since no one can expect to be "kept" anymore our image of marriage has been damaged by what we have come to mean by "all men are created equal" which becomes both right and requirement.

The author is making the best the enemy of the good. Knippenberg's "perfect hypocrites" is a loose accusation to say the least.

I fully agree with Julie's comments. I see Knippenberg didn't himself say "perfect hypocrites," but he seemed to agree with it. Thus criticism is still in order.

In our failure to learn to strive to "deserve," we have all learned instead to come to "expect." Marriage is the worst place in the world to engage in discussions of "rights"--especially as they have come to be understood today in American politics. If we understood our rights rightly . . . and looked at them both as liberating us from unnatural tyranny and simultaneously binding us to important obligations for the preservation of liberty (i.e., obligations to ourselves, to our natures, and to our equal partners in civilization) then we all might be happier. But, then, we'd also know that happiness is as much a job as it is an accident . . . and we wouldn't expect it.

Julie, do you consider yourself a kept woman? Isn't there a degree of choice regarding one's keptness? One need not defend choice at all costs, and one can defend marriage, and stay at home moms, and all the rest, and still balk (a little) at the expression kept woman. Heck, one can even be a manly man and object.

John, since it is my word that offends, not Julie's, I feel free to interrupt -- if you have better descriptive term, hand it over. Mine does have a certain pumpkin-shell quality to it.

I think my point is that women do have many choices in the career/family equation these days. I thought of staying home to raise our (many) children as a career option. Very few husbands offer that option to their wives these days, as far as I can tell.

I always thought I detected a bit of irony in the expression as Kate used it--though I could be wrong. It has never been clear to me, for example, who was "keeping" whom. And I thought that was rather the point.

Very few husbands offer that option to their wives these days, as far as I can tell.



Unless you live pretty much anywhere but in the United States, where paid paternity leave is guaranteed and parents can plan accordingly . . . That certainly doesn't seem like it would hurt family values. But it would, of course, reek of socialism.

Julie, yes, actually. However, that someone in a family has to go out and earn the money that pays the bills means that the person laboring in the home is kept, while keeping. As AD points out, work in the home is much easier than it once was due to technological advances. Yet work outside the home is similarly easier for the same reason. Of course, that is one reason women are more capable of working outside of the home.

I was interested in one of the points William Saletan makes in this connection; the one about fertility and we handle female fertility, which relates to how we see marriage.

Women are increasingly devoting their 20s to education and careers, pushing marriage and motherhood into their 30s and 40s.

Marriage and reproduction become a choice to educated women with careers. No, we would not go back. How to go forward is a really good question. Marriage as simply a choice is not good enough. Marriage as a covenant is something different from a vocation, I think. If marriage is nothing sacred, then anything goes.

AD is absolutely correct; increasingly, women walk out the door because they feel under-appreciated, etc. The real sin is that the whole society supports them in this, and the courts act as if the man is guilty without a hearing. Some states still have alimony on the books, and the threat of this is used to extort money from husbands who never did anything (legally) wrong in the first place.

As for gay marriage, who the hell cares anymore? Marriage as an institution is so demeaned at this point, I just don't think it matters who practices it. Half of those who try it will end up in court, and the wealthiest of the pair will be ritually (economically) raped for having the audacity to wed.

I'm with the Peter Pan boys -- play video games, watch sports, and drink beer. The odds are stacked against building anything like a solid family in this legal and social environment. When in Rome!

What was the median age of brides in 1890? Grooms waiting until they could provide made sense. Did people live together before marriage, which has got to be one of the reasons the current median age is still so late. When did that begin?

Women have always worked, as you point out above, but not always for pay and/or out of the home. In 1930, or even twenty years before or after, how many young women were working in the homes of other people? That is where women of that generation whom I have known were working. Except for my paternal grandmother, who was first a librarian and then the private secretary to the director of the Cleveland Public Library -- which was a local scandal. Also, my husband's Polish grandmother, who worked hand-rolling cigars after she arrived in the US. Those are very different occupations, but neither required heavy lifting.

How many mothers worked back then? My point was not about single women working (none of those I know, or knew had any regrets about leaving careers) but about working after marriage.

Gathering from this that you don't know very many gay couples, that you've never engaged them in conversation, or, if you have, their answers don't mean much to you.

I think you're going to need to do a lot of reevaluating over the next decade and I wish you good luck and cheer with that task.

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