synthetic zero

August 13th, 2010

In recent columns in the NY Times Russ Douthat makes strained attempts to find some rational justification for a prohibition against gay marriage:

The interplay of fertility, reproductive impulses and gender differences in heterosexual relationships is, for want of a better word, “thick.” All straight relationships are intimately affected by this interplay in ways that gay relationships are not. (And I do mean all straight relationships. Because they’ve grown up and fallen in love as heterosexuals, the infertile straight couple will experience their inability to have children very differently than a same-sex couple does. Similarly, even two eighty-nine-year-old straights, falling in love in the nursing home, will be following relational patterns — and carrying baggage, no doubt, after eighty-nine years of heterosexual life! — laid down by the male-female reproductive difference.) This interplay’s existence is what makes it possible to generalize about the particular challenges of heterosexual relationships, and their particular promise as well. And the fact that this interplay determines how and when and whether the vast majority of new human beings come into the world is what makes it possible to argue — not necessarily convincingly, but at least plausibly! — that both state and society have a stronger interest in the mating rituals of heterosexuals than in those of gays and lesbians.

There are so many obvious logical holes in this argument it’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, the most salient: in what possible way would granting marriage rights to homosexual couples affect, even in the slightest, how the marriage institution impacts heterosexuals, our “mating” behavior, the way in which we decide or don’t decide to reproduce, etc.? I cannot see, in any sense, how gay men and lesbians marrying would have even in the slightest affected my own decisions regarding sex, marriage, and having children. Can Douthat be seriously suggesting that his own marriage and/or sexual or reproductive choices would have been influenced by the fact that gay men or lesbians were getting married as well? All he seems to be saying is that the existence of marriage as an institution has an effect on reproductive habits (which is obviously true), and that this only applies to heterosexual couples (which is obviously false - see below - but even if it true, would be irrelevant), but regardless, it is still obvious that extending marriage rights to homosexuals could not possibly, in any way, affect the behavior of heterosexuals. So where’s the compelling state interest here?

Of course it also falls flat because homosexual couples can choose to reproduce as well, and/or adopt. They might do so via any number of means, including surrogate mothers/fathers, sperm donation, egg donation, etc. A gay couple might get a sister or brother to donate an egg or sperm. Furthermore, extensive research indicates that children of homosexual parents grow up to be perfectly healthy. So the argument falls flat here as well (though again, it wouldn’t matter even if it didn’t).

Finally, Douthat ignores the fact that marriage confers many state benefits which have nothing to do with children, but have everything to do with recognizing the fact that a loving couple has created a long-term bond. Marriage provides tax benefits both at the state and Federal level; it affects probate/inheritance rights, visitation rights, workers’ compensation, medical benefits, legal testimony issues, property ownership, etc., all of which are linked to the notion of a long-term, committed relationship, and have no obvious relation to Douthat’s irrational argument with respect to procreation. There’s clearly no compelling state interest to discriminate, whatsoever, and many strong reasons to believe this discrimination subjects a group of citizens to second-class status based solely on irrational grounds.

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2 responses to this post:
  1. Gubatron says:

    I have to read his article, can’t believe he meant to say that OTHER straight relationships would be affected by homosexual relationships, specially in a society where we don’t even know the name of our next door neighbors.
    I think he’s just saying heterosexuals experience their relationship and the expectancy of fertility in ways a homosexual couple never will, even at different stages in life.

    Whatever the case, I really wish a law will be passed to grant them rights for marriage, I couldn’t care less who other people marry.

    Plus it’ll be very fun to also see the effects on immigration (and immigration law) once the stats on gay marriage start looking a little too inflated,

    1. because of all the LGBT international community coming here LEGALLY to get married and living a life with full rights (which in a way is already happening, literally all but one of my gay friends come from latin america and eastern europe.)

    2. because of all the LGBT international community looking to get married with Americans legitimately and staying and…

    3. because of all the LGBT international community and the non-LGBT looking for an easy green card to escape their countries.

    August 13th, 2010 at 11:16 am
  2. mitsu says:

    He’s specifically saying that the state has an interest in privileging heterosexual marriage because it is involved in reproduction, as he notes at the end of the quoted paragraph, above: “And the fact that this interplay determines how and when and whether the vast majority of new human beings come into the world…” But it still makes no sense, whatsoever, even if it were true (which it isn’t) that somehow heterosexual love is more “thick” than homosexual love, because the state interest, if there is a state interest at all, only hinges upon its effect on our reproductive habits (as he himself admits). But clearly homosexual marriage would have no impact on heterosexual reproductive habits whatsoever! So the whole argument there is total nonsense.

    Furthermore, Douthat elides over the fact that preventing gays and lesbians from marrying causes them great harm by preventing them from taking advantage of the many benefits society confers upon married couples. So one really has to justify pretty strongly a compelling state interest and I can’t see any state interest whatsoever that makes any sense, beyond “I just happen to think heterosexual relationships are better and I want the state to officially say so even if it makes no difference whatsoever to me personally or to my life, other than validating me and my love life as better, richer, more valuable than the love life of homosexuals.”

    August 13th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

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