Friday, March 07, 2008

A Clarification In Defense of Marriage

I had a thoughtful response to some previous posts. I was going to answer in the comments section, but it ended up too long. I am glad I was asked to elaborate. Sometimes when I write, I know what is in my head and don't realize that I am not being very clear. Dennis said:
For one, I wonder whether economic incentives should motivate people to marry? If people are not willing to marry without government incentives, then I think they shouldn't be marrying at all. Giving marriage incentives for people who otherwise wouldn't marry does little to defend what marriage ought to be.
One problem is that people let economic incentives prevent them from getting married. My thinking was influenced by an article in NRO from back in 2004 (see here). The fraud that is described in that article (a fake marriage) would place huge financial burdens on the military and other groups that provide benefits to couples. The end result would be that no one would get couples benefits. People should not get married just for the benefits, but if marriage doesn't mean anything, it will practically vanish.

Again, I should be more clear. It is not the government's job to promote marriage per se, but there are lots of things in public policy which disincentivize marriage. For example, welfare policy sought to help single mothers by providing benefits for each child they have. I laud the idea of helping single mothers, but then some women would have more kids just to increase their benefits.

Not all marriages result in children, but the main purpose of defending marriage is to protect the most formative years of children's lives. Many studies show that no matter the race, children in single parent homes have higer risk of crime, drugs, and prison. It would be good to ask: What role should government have in defending marriage? Job one would be to not cheapen the institution.

So, how does all this tie together? In my mind, the looser the definition of marriage, the less likely people are to actually get married. The potential for gay marriage is only part of the issue (and probably only a small part). No-fault divorce is arguably a much larger problem. Everyone throws around the statistic that half of marriages end in divorce. That harms far more children than would ever be directly affected by gay marriage.

Admittedly, Obama has said some good things about fathers in the home. That is one reason I was willing to give him a very long look. I will stand with anyone who will fight to put fathers back in America's homes. But, I believe Obama's stand on civil unions undermines the end result he claims to want.


Jos76 said...

It is not quit clear to me why so many right-wing conservatives are completely against gay marriage. They are essentially trying to convince people that mutually respectful relationships are not beneficial to the couple or the society around them. In addition, Democrats that favor civil unions over marriage rights are opening the door to straight couples entering into civil unions so that they can get the benefits alloted, without actually getting married. Civil unions, then , will actually lower the overall marriage rate. Who is to stop two straight “friends” from filing for a civil union in order to get work-related benefits in a state. Legalizing gay marriage would raise the overall marriage rates and civil unions would lower it. This is perhaps the goal of both political parties. Civil unions means no access to Social Security, whereas marriage does give access.

I’m a legally married gay man in Massachusetts, and because there is no federal recognition of our marriage, we will not contribute to the bankruptcy of Social Security because we will not have access to the money that we pay for legally married straight couples who tap into the Social Security Benefits of his/her spouse. Civil Unions may have nothing to do with gay rights, but rather may be a way of keeping money available in Social Security.

cougartex said...

I have a fundamental belief that every child has a right to a mother and a father in their home. Gay marriage and civil unions would be less of an issue if adoption were not going to be attached to those issues.

By the same standard, divorce is a plague sweeping across the land. It is much more of a problem in my view than gay marriage will ever be. I would far rather talk about lowering divorce than gay marriage, but I would be a voice in the wilderness.

People hate the slippery slope argument, but look at Europe and Canada. Now Muslim men are claiming welfare benefits for their multiple wives. If one form of marriage is valid, why not another?

Dennis said...

I see what you're saying, but I'm not convinced that the reason that marriage might vanish is because it doesn't mean anything economically (given my argument of there being no economic incentive to marry). I have a hard time believing that our entire history of marriage is due primarily to economic advantage. Especially when you look at our recent history. Let's suppose that the government decided in the 1950s (just an arbitrary date) that there would be no economic incentive to marry. Would you suddenly see a major drop in the number of people who are married? I don't think so; people would still get married because of societal and parental expectations, religious beliefs, and a desire for formal commitment (for the sake of one's self and future children).

Of course, there were major differences back then. Married people, whenever they were able, had children. Men typically were the sole breadwinners. And divorce was much less common. Given these differences, it made perfect sense that there would be economic incentives for "mere" marriage (even without considering the question of children).

But times have changed. No longer do married couples automatically have children (and when they do, it's often relatively older married couples and only one or two children). No longer is the husband the sole breadwinner. And divorce is rampant. To continue to "incentivize" ALL marriages, given these changes in society, is (1) a poor investment and (2) unfair. I can think of NO REASON WHATSOEVER that an elitist married couple, for which each partner works full-time, with no intention of having children, should receive ANY formal economic benefit whatsoever. (Of course, many benefits might naturally follow, such as lowered total costs for rent and food.) And this is where the very persuasive "discrimination" argument comes in from gay marriage activists. And frankly, their argument does make a lot of sense. It does seem, given the completely utilitarian marriage I'm talking about, that a ban on gay marriage or at least civil unions is arbitrary and discriminatory.

Now, I am against gay marriage, but it is hard for me to argue against civil unions given the circumstances I'm talking about. For me, the only defensible way that I can argue against civil unions is to argue against economic incentives for "mere" marriage. This "mere" marriage I am talking about is already cheapened, and it has nothing to do with money.

This would not disallow, however, government benefits for certain family conditions. Tony, you and I certainly agree that marriage between a husband and wife is the best arrangement for children. Moreover, we both agree, I'm pretty sure, that it is best for mothers with children, especially young children, to be "full-time" mothers. Yet our current economic climate makes it awfully hard for this to happen (and interestingly this is the result of both liberal and conservative politics -- liberal social politics have made it more fashionable for mothers to also be career women, and conservative economic politics have been brutal to the middle-class single-income family). So THIS, in my mind, should be the area of economic incentives. I think that families who are raising children (including later-term pregnancy) and who opt for having one spouse to be in the home full-time should receive some kind of incentive for doing so (I'm might not talking about a parenting salary here, but perhaps an amount similar or slightly greater to the current incentives that "mere" married couples now enjoy).

Of course, it would be hard to have this kind of incentive without also offering some support to single-parent households. And the discrimination argument is raised once again when we consider gay and lesbian couples who are or want to raise children. (My suspicion, however, is that few of these couples would opt for having a one-partner income merely for the sake of some relatively minor economic incentives. Especially when you consider that these couples, as far as I am aware, are relatively affluent. In any case, it would be a far better situation in my eyes than the marriage fraud cases that you cite.)

One thing I want to be clear about. As long as we continue the "mere" marriage economic incentives, the demand for "equal rights" for gays and lesbians will not go away, whether its civil unions or bona fide marriages. The demand will only get stronger. And a marriage amendment will not be passed at this point, I'm pretty sure. So if we really care about preserving marriage in terms of what marriage should be, rather than marriage-in-name-only, we might consider rethinking the whole economic incentive issue.