Ford and Sides on Gay Marriage

by Henry on July 18, 2006

Do people oppose gay marriage because they dislike gay people, or because they’re in favour of marriages with traditional sex roles for blushing brides and chivalrous grooms? Richard Thompson Ford wrote a piece for Slate last week suggesting that the latter is more important than people think and that opposition to gay marriage doesn’t necessarily stem from homophobia. My colleague John Sides has taken a quick look at the survey results on this – I append his findings below the line. Short version: Ford is likely right that attitudes to traditional sex roles help explain attitudes to gay marriage, but it’s a much less important explanatory factor than basic like/dislike of gay people.

[John Sides]

Richard Ford, a law professor at Stanford, authored a recent piece in Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2145620/nav/tap2/) in which he argues that argues that opposition to gay marriage may not reflect only anti-gay attitudes but also support for traditional gender roles:

“If I’m right, there are two reasons someone might oppose same sex-marriage: anti-gay animus or a desire to protect traditional sex roles.”

This can be tested in a superficial, but nevertheless informative, way using the 2004 American National Election Study (which is perhaps the gold standard of surveys about American politics in political science). This survey contains defensible measures of the three key variables:

1) Attitude toward gay marriage:

The question is worded: “Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry, or do you think they should not be allowed to marry?”

This creates a simple binary support/oppose measure. (Note: the “civil union” option was not a response option, though a small number of people volunteered this as a response. I ignore them for the present purposes.)

2) Feelings towards gays and lesbians

This is measured with a “feeling thermometer,” which asks respondents how warmly or coolly they feel towards a particular group on a 0-100 scale. The instructions for survey respondents said:

“Ratings between 50 degrees and 100 degrees mean that you feel favorable and warm toward the group. Ratings between 0 degrees and 50 degrees mean that you don’t feel favorable toward the group and that you don’t care too much for that group. You would rate the person at the 50 degree mark if you don’t feel particularly warm or cold toward the group.”

This provides a simple but serviceable measure of people’s feelings towards gay men and women.

3) Support for traditional gender roles

“Recently there has been a lot of talk about women’s rights. Some people feel that women should have an equal role with men in running business, industry, and government. (Suppose these people are at one end of a scale, at point 1.) Others feel that a woman’s place is in the home. (Suppose these people are at the other end, at point 7.) And, of course, some other people have opinions somewhere in between, at points 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6.”

This creates a seven-point scale where one end-point indicates strong support for equality in gender roles and the other end-point indicates strong opposition to equality and support for traditional gender roles.

Then, we can estimate a simple statistical model (a logit model, for any stats geeks out there), where the probability of supporting gay marriage is a function of feelings towards gays and support for traditional gender roles. (The model also includes education, frequency of church attendance, and party identification as control factors.)

What are the results? The results suggest that both attributes have a significant effect on attitudes towards gay marriage. So Ford is right, up to a point. HOWEVER, feelings towards gays have a much stronger effect on attitudes toward gay marriage.

When one shifts from strongly opposing equality for women to strongly supporting equality (i.e., the maximum possible shift on this scale), the probability of support for gay marriage increases by about .26. That is to say, the change that one will support gay marriage increases by 26%.

When one shifts from strong aversion to gays/lesbians to strong affinity for gays/lesbians (i.e., the maximum possible shift on this scale), the probability of support for gay marriage increases by about .74.

Thus the effect of feelings towards gays/lesbians is almost three times as large as that of support for traditional gender roles.

This analysis suggests that attitudes towards gay marriage depend far more on attitudes towards gays themselves than on beliefs about gender roles. Ford’s thesis is less persuasive than it might otherwise be.

[/John Sides]

{ 77 comments }

1

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 9:50 am

This analysis suggests that attitudes towards gay marriage depend far more on attitudes towards gays themselves than on beliefs about gender roles.

In other breaking news, dog bites man. Film at 11.

2

Uncle Kvetch 07.18.06 at 9:56 am

Slightly longer Steve Labonne: “Slate writer dresses up knee-jerk contrarian piffle with junk science, in an effort to prove that everything everybody else thinks about [topic] is wrong. Film at 11.”

3

Ralph Hitchens 07.18.06 at 10:01 am

My sense is that this statistical analysis is correct. While gays have gained high visibility in the media, entertainment industry, and popular literature, mainstream acceptance by the American public lags behind. The public face of gaydom is the wrong one, characterized by adjectives like “flaming” and the perception that promiscuity is commonplace. The gay people I have known — subdued in appearance and demeanor, in committed relationships — are below the surface. This is a shame because knowing such people changed my opinion over the years, and more exposure would undoubtedly change attitudes toward gay marriage. With regard to that, however, I wonder if the key issue isn’t just the word. Would the gay community be willing to forswear the word “marriage” for the sake of realizing the legal equivalent, universally recognized?

4

Uncle Kvetch 07.18.06 at 10:03 am

Incidentally, Robert Farley neatly disposed of Ford’s “argument” (to put it generously) recently on Lawyers Guns & Money last week.

5

Jane Galt 07.18.06 at 10:20 am

I haven’t access to the data, so perhaps you’ve already accounted for it, but don’t we need to know the relative proportions of each group in society? I’m not surprised that people who hate gays are opposed to gay marriage, and are more likely to oppose gay marriage than people who believe in traditional gender roles; if I hate a group, why would I want to give them a benefit? But if there are only few people who hate gays (as opposed to not particularly caring about gays as a group one way or the other–the situation I suppose I’m in, since while I have loads of gay loved ones, I’m no more favourably disposed, or infavourably disposed, towards gay peoeple as a group than I am towards Filipinos or bowlers), and a lot of people who believe in traditional gender roles, then traditional gender roles would swamp gay-hating among opponents of gay marriage, even though any individual gay hater is much more likely to oppose gay marriage than any one traditionalist.

6

Richard Bellamy 07.18.06 at 10:20 am

The gay people I have known—subdued in appearance and demeanor, in committed relationships—are below the surface.

If only those conservative homosexuals were more flamboyant, people would be able to see how subdued they were!

7

Functional 07.18.06 at 10:36 am

HOWEVER, feelings towards gays have a much stronger effect on attitudes toward gay marriage.
When one shifts from strongly opposing equality for women to strongly supporting equality (i.e., the maximum possible shift on this scale), the probability of support for gay marriage increases by about .26. That is to say, the change that one will support gay marriage increases by 26%. When one shifts from strong aversion to gays/lesbians to strong affinity for gays/lesbians (i.e., the maximum possible shift on this scale), the probability of support for gay marriage increases by about .74.

This is a complete non sequitur.

Imagine that you have 1,000 people who oppose gay marriage. The question that Ford is asking is this: What are their reasons? Dislike of homosexuals? Or belief in gender roles?

Suppose that it’s the case that 900 of the 1,000 believe in gender roles, while the other 100 believe that way out of sheer dislike for homosexuals.

Ford would be correct in that circumstance, would he not?

Yet the point made here by Sides could also be correct. It could still be the case that for the 900 people who believe in gender roles, their likelihood of supporting gay marriage would increase by a mere 24% if they stopped believing in gender roles, and that the other 100 people would support gay marriage by a increased 76% margin if they started having wonderful feelings toward homosexuals.

In short, Sides’ point does zero to rebut Ford.

8

Alex Gregory 07.18.06 at 10:38 am

“This is measured with a “feeling thermometer,” which asks respondents how warmly or coolly they feel towards a particular group on a 0-100 scale.”

Mightn’t it be the case that people have a tendency to respond cooly to gay people on the basis that “they’re those guys/girls trying to undermine traditional gender roles”? If that’s the case, then might Sides simply be showing that people who support traditional gender roles dislike those who try to undermine them? (which is, I would’ve thought, not the same as simple homophobia)

9

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 10:40 am

If you believe that advocacy of “traditional” marriage alone, unaccompanied by blatant homophobia, could provide the energy we see in the anti-gay-marriage movement, I have some lovely underwater waterfront property in Florida I’d like to sell you.

10

Alex Gregory 07.18.06 at 10:44 am

I’m not sure if no.9 was a response to me, but I should add that I endorse the conclusion – I’m just not sure that Sides gets to it in the right way.

11

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 10:47 am

No, it crossed with yours- addressed somewhat to functional (#7), also somewhat just a general comment.

12

Evan 07.18.06 at 10:55 am

This statement strikes me as badly phrased: “When one shifts from strongly opposing equality for women to strongly supporting equality (i.e., the maximum possible shift on this scale), the probability of support for gay marriage increases by about .26. That is to say, the change that one will support gay marriage increases by 26%.”

The chance that one will support gay marriage does not rise by 26% if the probability rises by 0.26. It rises by 26 percentage points, which is different. The percent increase for 0.26 increase must be larger.

13

Jaybird 07.18.06 at 10:59 am

I wrote a diary about gay marriage on redstate.

The basic insight I had was that there are two kinds of Marriage:

1) In The Eyes Of God
2) In The Eyes Of The State

The majority of the anti-gay marriage forces mean banning the first when they talk about banning gay marriage.

Unfortunately, “Marriage In The Eyes Of God” is covered by the First Amendment.

So they’re stuck banning the second because they can’t ban the first.

I argue that gay marriage will eventually be accepted by society because, after a while, denying hospital visitation and inheritance rights to people who went to the Unitarians and had a Life Partnership Ceremony In The Eyes Of God will get depressing.

I think that if there is some sort of official pronouncement that you can’t sue the Catholics/Baptists/Mormons/Buddhists for denying the Marriage Ceremony to same-sex couples… even if they say “we don’t serve your kind here”… a good chunk of the anti-gay marriage sentiment will disappear.

Too many anti-civil unions people aren’t against civil unions because they don’t like gays, they just see civil unions as the nose of the camel. (I think that they’re right to, personally.) If they could get assurances that their right to deny marriage to same-sex couples in their church is covered by the First Amendment, I’d guess that a large amount (though maybe not a plurality) of the hostility to gay marriage will just evaporate.

14

SamChevre 07.18.06 at 11:07 am

I’m with Jane Galt in #5; the conclusion doesn’t follow from the data. It’s a basic Bayes Theorem problem.

15

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 11:07 am

Sorry, jaybird, that just doesn’t add up. These people are NOT worried that THEIR preacher will be forced to “bless” gay marriages. I’ve seen plenty of their propaganda (leading up to the passage of a state constitutional “defence of marriage” amendment in 2004) here in North AlabamaOhio and that just doesn’t feature at all. They don’t want the Unitarian minister down the street to be able to do it no matter how much she’d like to. That’s plain homophobia, no matter how you ty to slice it. (Also, not too many of them would be willing to tolerate civil unions, either.)

16

Jaybird 07.18.06 at 11:21 am

Let me clarify:

I’m sure that they don’t want the Unitarians down the street to do it.

I would just point out to them that they don’t have the right to do this as it’s a First Amendment issue and see if they realize that religious freedom entails people performing ceremonies in other churches that they themselves find heretical.

I would argue that they see “Marriage” as a “Eyes Of God” kinda thing and if you read Leviticus 20:13 again you’ll see what God has to say about Gay Marriage!!! “But what about other religions? Can they perform the ceremony?” READ LEVITICUS AGAIN! “But what about religions that don’t hold the Bible as canon? Can they perform the ceremony?” THEY’RE ALL GOING TO HELL! “But what about before they go to hell? Can they perform the ceremony?”

You can, eventually, get these people to acknowledge that the Unitarian ceremony is TECHNICALLY protected by the First Amendment and, yeah, they don’t want the minister or the people having the ceremony arrested and fined or thrown in jail… they just want it to not happen.

After you reach this point in the argument, it becomes an issue of arguing about life insurance and legal documents.

You can bore them into submission at that point.

17

saurabh 07.18.06 at 11:33 am

I think the correct way to do this would just be statistical correlation (R2) – what’s the correlation between opposing gay marriage and hating gays, or opposing gay marriage and supporting traditional gender roles. This should tell you the fraction of “opposition to gay marriage” explained by either of these factors. Jane Galt’s criticism in #5 seems to hold water, as well.

18

Liberal Chris 07.18.06 at 11:39 am

Although your stats seem correct, your conclusion is wrong. That is to say, I am sure you are correct that one’s feelings towards gays are more predictive of one’s attitude toward gay marriage than are one’s feelings on gender equality. but that doesn’t prove that feelings towards gays is the more important social factor.

Here’s an example. What if we found that miners exposed to coal dust are 100x more likely than the average person to get lung cancer, and that smokers are 2x more likely than the average person to get lung cancer. We could not conclude from this that coal mining is the most important factor in causing lung cancer.

Put another way, obviously people who hate gays aren’t going to support gay marriage. But that doesn’t tell us whether this is the driving force between most opposition to gay marriage.

19

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 12:19 pm

I think some of the commenters need to step out of their coastal / academic environments into “Middle America”, where MOST PEOPLE I encounter exhibit homophobia that is at one and the same time virulent, and casual almost to the point of unconsciousness. I think that a lot of peple who are sheltered from this reality greatly underestimate its strength and prevalence.

20

Functional 07.18.06 at 12:47 pm

Comments 5, 14, and 18 are all saying the same thing that I was trying to say.

21

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 1:14 pm

I’ve always wondered why there is so much hatred for gays when I know many that are perfectly fine people, why traditional marriage has lasted so long, and why no one seems to have ever made non-traditional marriage work before. I mean, historically, long-lasting enough that it became tradition. I have this view:

Small change in birth rates translate into an enormous population and demographical difference over time. Any civilization that drops it’s birth rate to accomodate alternative (childless) lifestyles would have vanished inside a century, conquered, absorbed or marginalized by faster-growing neighbors.

Saying it’s okay to be childless was in some ways the same as saying “it’s okay if our children lose their country to invaders”. It doesn’t surprise me that a they would be scorned.

Thoughts on this idea?

22

mcd 07.18.06 at 1:20 pm

The analogy about coal miners in #18 is irrelevant. To compare the relative importance of coal dust and cigarettes, we’d need to study their prevalence in the same group of people. In the analogy, you’re comparing miners to non-miners (of which there are many many more).

BTW, studies show that cigarette smoking greatly increases the effects of coaldust exposure in coal miners.

23

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 1:30 pm

Let me clarify, I don’t agree that it is RIGHT to scorn gays or others who differ from traditional values, I’m only saying that childbearing and survival are closely linked, and therefore breeds protectionist attitudes.

24

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 1:46 pm

My, the farfetched rationalizations are flying thick and fast here. Some people just don’t want to see the ugly bigotry, that’s right in front of their noses, for what it is.

25

John Sides 07.18.06 at 2:00 pm

Responses to various posts:

1) Jane Galt and Functional raise an interesting question about the basic distribution of anti-gay sentiment and support for traditional gender roles.

On the gay/lesbian feeling thermometer, the mean score is 48.5, or just below the “neutral point.” The distribution of opinion suggests that roughly one-third of respondents rates gays below 50, one-third right at 50, and one-third above 50.

The distribution of support for traditional gender roles is quite different. On the seven-point scale, the majority of respondents (61%) select the endpoint of the scale corresponding to the strongest support for equal roles. An additional 22% select the two closest values on that spectrum. Thus, a total of 83% are on the “equality” side of the spectrum. That leaves 16% at the midpoint and 7% on the “traditional” end of that spectrum.

Of course, neither indicator is perfect, and so one mustn’t make too much of this simple analysis. But these results suggest that the fraction who feels “less-than-warmly” towards gays as a group outnumbers the fraction who professes to support traditional gender roles. Again, that conclusion is anything but iron-clad, but it does comport with my own intuition: that acceptance of some degree of gender equality is more widespread than positive feelings towards gays and lesbians.

(Jane Galt’s further point about the meaning of feeling thermometer scores toward large groups is well-taken. This is not an ideal measure of anti-gay sentiment.)

2) Alex Gregory asks whether people who respond coolly to gays do so because they believe gays violate traditional gender roles. Interestingly, the bivariate correlation between these two measures is .26, which is far from 0 but far from perfect as well. If you look at those who respond coolly to gays (less than 50 on the 0-100 scale), most (73%) are on the pro-equality side of the traditional gender roles scale (and 46% are at the pro-equality endpoint). So, in short, it appears that a significant number of people profess to support equal gender roles while simultaneously harboring less-than-warm feelings towards gays and lesbians.

3) Evan’s point is correct. I should have said 26 percentage points. My oversight.

4) Sam Chevre: Can you elaborate?

5) Saurabh: I computed the simple bivariate R2 that you propose. The answer is that feelings towards gays explains much more variance in attitudes towards gay marriage than does attitudes towards gender roles (21% vs. 7%).

In sum, it is not a simple question to say which of these two factors is more important in driving attitudes towards gay marriage. All of the results from this survey suggest that attitudes towards gays are more important, but this is far from the last word. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts. Incidentally, this is not a focus of my own research, only something I did in my “spare time” because I was curious about the empirical merits of Ford’s thesis.

26

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 2:27 pm

If 24 was directed at me, I’m not rationalizing anything, and I’m aware it’s ugly. You have to understand why people act the way they do if you want to deal with them.

Reducing your birth rate reduces your population relative to your neighbors. Civilizations that promote childlessness as a lifestyle disappear, and our instinct as human beings is to survive at any price. It’s understandable that some people resist this passionately.

27

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 2:36 pm

Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner.

28

Functional 07.18.06 at 2:37 pm

Sides — thanks for the response. I’d point out, though, that the survey question that was apparently used would not necessarily correspond to a belief in “traditional gender roles” that would support opposition to homosexual marriage.

To expand this point:

Your post suggests this question:

“Recently there has been a lot of talk about women’s rights. Some people feel that women should have an equal role with men in running business, industry, and government. . . . Others feel that a woman’s place is in the home.”

Now your most recent comment suggests that only “7%” of people are in agreement with “a woman’s place is in the home.”

Well, that’s interesting. But one need hardly believe that “a woman’s place is in the home” in order to believe in some differentiation of gender identities, such that (a la Ford’s piece) one might be opposed to homosexual marriage.

That’s why Ford himself says, “Today both men and women reject the constricting and unequal sex roles of past generations, but most still desperately want meaningful sex identities.”

I.e., there are people who DO reject that “a woman’s place is in the home,” but who still “want meaningful sex identities.”

This might be false or misleading or exaggerated, but it’s really not responsive to point to how few people believe that “a woman’s place is in the home.”

Thus, I think you’re vastly underestimating the number of people who believe in “gender roles” of the sort that Ford was talking about.

29

ghr 07.18.06 at 2:49 pm

John (#25),

I interpret Alex (#8) differently. It may not be that respondents are thinking that gays personally violate traditional gender roles, but that the gay rights movement is undermining them politically. In other words, the respondents may not be thinking “I don’t like gays because they are swishy” but “I don’t like gays because they are trying to redefine marriage.” If this is the case, then the analysis has it backwards and homophobia is not a cause, but an effect of opposition to gay marriage. I think that the relationship is probably endogenous (ie, causation goes both ways).
If I’m right, opinion polls should have picked up a feeling thermometer drop towards gays right after the Goodrich decision.

30

Uncle Kvetch 07.18.06 at 2:51 pm

But one need hardly believe that “a woman’s place is in the home” in order to believe in some differentiation of gender identities, such that (a la Ford’s piece) one might be opposed to homosexual marriage. […] I.e., there are people who DO reject that “a woman’s place is in the home,” but who still “want meaningful sex identities.”

Functional, could you please expand on what maintaining “some differentiation of gender identities” or “having meaningful sex identities” has to do with same-sex marriage?

More specifically, exactly how are people who “want meaningful sex identities” harmed in their pursuit of those identities by other people marrying those of the same sex?

31

sprite 07.18.06 at 2:59 pm

#27 – I take it you feel it’s wrong to try to understand opponents of gay marriage, because you think their behavior is then too easy to forgive. You make an excellent point. Imagine what might happen if more straight people tried to understand what life is like for gay and lesbian couples. Why, they might support gay marriage! And we can’t have that, can we?

Understanding has to go both ways. We can’t demand it of others and then refuse to give it back; why would they listen? It’s true many people are too prejudiced to change their views, but we’ll never win the people in the middle if we don’t try to understand them; only through understanding can we learn how to be convincing.

32

james 07.18.06 at 3:13 pm

A dislike or rejection of what some see as a moral choice does not equate to fear. I dislike broccoli, do I automatically have broccoliphobia? You will also find that people tend to have more favorable views towards women who happen to be gay compared with men who happen to be gay. Since the word gay in US English is also synonymous with homosexual men (vs lesbian), the wording of the questions may have effected the results.

33

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 3:17 pm

I’m sure you were very understanding of those fine upstanding Southron folk who just had, you know, a little problem with the “nigras”.

34

SamChevre 07.18.06 at 3:19 pm

John,

My concern was the same as Jane Galt/liberal Chris. That’s what I meant by referring to Bayes Theorem–the underlying population matters. (My own analogy: almost all bicyclists hit by a car are killed; most occupants of a car hit by another car are not killed. However, more of the people killed in car accidents are in cars than on bicycles, because so many more people involved in accidents are in cars than on bicycles.)

As such, your response to Jane addressed my question as well.

35

John Sides 07.18.06 at 3:26 pm

Functional: I agree that the ANES survey item is not the last word on how people perceive gender identities. But it was all I had to use. My larger question — I suppose it’s ultimately a question for Ford — is what “meaningful sex identities” means and how (echoing Uncle Kvetch here) it helps explain attitudes toward gay marriage. My own intuition (at least somewhat supported by the survey data) is that when people are asked about a policy change that benefits a particular group, their opinion of that policy will depend in large part on their attitude towards that group, not on something as abstract as “meaningful sex identities.”

James: The question about gay marriage refers to “same-sex couples.” The feeling thermometer item refers to “gay men and lesbians, that is, homosexuals” (a fact I neglected to mention in the original post). So it seems unlikely that question wording affected the results in the way you suggest.

36

Functional 07.18.06 at 3:32 pm

My own intuition (at least somewhat supported by the survey data) is that when people are asked about a policy change that benefits a particular group, their opinion of that policy will depend in large part on their attitude towards that group, not on something as abstract as “meaningful sex identities.”

It wouldn’t necessarily occur in people’s minds as a reference to “meaningful sex identities.” It might occur in the form of a thought like this: “Two men marrying each other? Look, they can live their lives however they want, but that just doesn’t seem like the same thing as an actual ‘marriage.’ Who’s the husband and who’s the wife?”

UK: I’ve been addressing the point that Ford made — i.e., that some people do seem to believe in “meaningful sex identities,” or however one wants to put it. You seem to think that I wanted to defend “meaningful sex identities” on the merits. You’re confused.

What’s going on there is not “I hate/fear homosexuals,” but “I don’t think that what they’re doing is the same sort of thing.” And that latter belief could be described — abstractly — as about “meaningful sex identities.”

37

Functional 07.18.06 at 3:33 pm

Damn it, I got two paragraphs reversed. Don’t know how that happened:

My own intuition (at least somewhat supported by the survey data) is that when people are asked about a policy change that benefits a particular group, their opinion of that policy will depend in large part on their attitude towards that group, not on something as abstract as “meaningful sex identities.”

It wouldn’t necessarily occur in people’s minds as a reference to “meaningful sex identities.” It might occur in the form of a thought like this: “Two men marrying each other? Look, they can live their lives however they want, but that just doesn’t seem like the same thing as an actual ‘marriage.’ Who’s the husband and who’s the wife?”

What’s going on there is not “I hate/fear homosexuals,” but “I don’t think that what they’re doing is the same sort of thing.” And that latter belief could be described—abstractly—as about “meaningful sex identities.”

* * *

UK: I’ve been addressing the point that Ford made—i.e., that some people do seem to believe in “meaningful sex identities,” or however one wants to put it. You seem to think that I wanted to defend “meaningful sex identities” on the merits. You’re confused.

38

pdf23ds 07.18.06 at 3:43 pm

“when people are asked about a policy change that benefits a particular group, their opinion of that policy will depend in large part on their attitude towards that group, not on something as abstract as “meaningful sex identities.””

But abstract considerations like that can also potentially shape people’s opinion of a group, can they not? The push for equality in marriage could threaten people’s sense of meaningful sex identities (whatever those are–rigid gender roles?) and thus create animosity to gays, without being caused by homophobia.

Sorry if this point has already been made. I’m skimming today.

39

Uncle Kvetch 07.18.06 at 4:03 pm

I’ve been addressing the point that Ford made—i.e., that some people do seem to believe in “meaningful sex identities,” or however one wants to put it. You seem to think that I wanted to defend “meaningful sex identities” on the merits. You’re confused.

Functional, I wasn’t suggesting that you were defending “meaningful sex identities.” But you do seem to be suggesting that there’s some kind of connection in these people’s minds–whether you think it’s justifiable is another matter–that leads from “two men getting married” to a weakening of those “meaningful sex identities.” But I almost never see opponents of SSM even attempt to get from Point A to Point B–it’s simply taken as a given. And Ford’s stab at establishing that connection is simply laughable: a mess of anecdotes (Thelma & Louise? WTF?), decontextualized factoids about opinion surveys, and pure speculation.

Now, you do (or did) seem to want to defend Ford against Sides’ critique, so I asked: whether you agree with them or not, how, in your opinion, do SSM opponents get from my marrying my partner to a weakening of “sex identities”? And for that matter, whose “sex identities” are we talking about here? Maybe they think that our relationship renders both of us somehow less than fully “male” (“who’s the bride and who’s the groom?”), but even that begs the question: how does our relationship affect them personally, or society as a whole?

In short, when people try to make the argument that maybe opponents of SSM aren’t motivated by antigay animus but by “something else,” but they can’t even make a reasonable explanation of what that “something else” might be, I’m inclined to call bullshit.

40

Uncle Kvetch 07.18.06 at 4:06 pm

The push for equality in marriage could threaten people’s sense of meaningful sex identities (whatever those are—rigid gender roles?) and thus create animosity to gays, without being caused by homophobia.

The push for civil rights in this country threatened a great many people’s sense of the natural order of society, too. And yet we somehow came around to a general consensus that “separate but equal” (“I’ve got no problems with them, I just want them to keep to themselves”) was little more than a facade for racism. I’m still failing to see how this is any different.

41

sprite 07.18.06 at 5:13 pm

whether you agree with them or not, how, in your opinion, do SSM opponents get from my marrying my partner to a weakening of “sex identities”? And for that matter, whose “sex identities” are we talking about here? Maybe they think that our relationship renders both of us somehow less than fully “male” (“who’s the bride and who’s the groom?”), but even that begs the question: how does our relationship affect them personally, or society as a whole?

Some years ago, a friend of mine had a divorced colleague whose young son was visiting for the weekend. My friend said, “Oh, you should take him to the pride parade – that will be a lot of fun.” And the colleague said, “No, I don’t want him to be confused.”

When I heard this story, I wondered, confused by what? Now I think he didn’t want his son confused about “proper” masculine behavior. Gender roles are taught by example and are socially enforced. Since gay couples don’t conform to those perceived roles, children who see them may realize that the traditional roles aren’t a given. And of course their traditionally minded parents don’t want that to happen.

You might think that’s a stretch, but visible role models have a powerful influence over the choices kids make. Once most girls didn’t even consider becoming a doctor because they didn’t see women inhabiting that role. Now we have many women doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. Once women in those roles were scary examples of unfeminine behavior. Now they’re normal.

I think any two people in a loving relationship provide a good example for others, so to me it only seems natural that young people would be influenced by seeing a happy gay couple. Do you disagree?

42

dr. m 07.18.06 at 5:35 pm

I have not found persuasive (or even intelligible) the argument that [straight] marriage is somehow “devalued” through recognition of gay marriages, for that invokes a kind of comparison of value, as on a currency market, that is foreign to the intimacy and immediacy of one’s own marriage, understood as one’s own. It is true, however, that one may be brought (perhaps kicking and screaming) to re-examine one’s own marriage, and attitudes toward sex, gender and equality generally, by this issue. And that may be what the opponents are truly fearful of. In that light, the present dispute is but another tremor of the cultural earthquake that began in the 1960s and has by no means played itself out yet. (This may be glimpsed in the way in which some of the objections have the flavor of, “And now this, too?” As though it is a final straw, merely the latest and hardest to accept in a long, simmering string of developments that upset what had been unquestioned cultural verities.)

If all this is right, it points to what I think is another big, though overlooked part of the problem: the implicit equality, not only among marriages, but within a same-sex marriage. In a same-sex marriage, both partners “wear the pants” (or the dress, as the case may be); at the very least, in a same-sex marriage with an unequal division of labor or power (as in a gay parody of a 50s marriage), the division will have been determined on some basis other than gender, which here provides no ground for distinction. This – gender equality, not merely equal protection of various sexual activities & relations – is still deeply troubling to large swaths of the country.

43

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 5:45 pm

Here’s a thought that often interferes with y willingness to condone condone childless marriage.

Those who do not contribute children to the next generation still expect to benefit from them, don’t they? To be protected, to be cared for. A strong economy, a good military and tax-supported institutions don’t just happen, they have to be supported, and that takes work.

If it’s your right to withhold contributing to the next generation, that can be fine and good, but to each their due, isn’t that fair? Why should childless men and women, who don’t make the sacrifice of childrearing, share equally in the benefits of their output?

Which is more wrong? For society to pressure people to contribute children in exchange for an equal share, or for people to oblige society to provide them with an equal share whether they contribute or not?

It should be noted that if we reach a point in our scientific development where all labor is done by machines my objection will vanish, because literally nothing you can do will affect anything, but PRESENTLY, we still need people to do work for us.

44

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 6:01 pm

#41 “I think any two people in a loving relationship provide a good example for others, so to me it only seems natural that young people would be influenced by seeing a happy gay couple. Do you disagree?”

Not at all, but it’s not a given that childless relationships are the equal of childbearing relationships, and we should not encourage the perception that they’re equal. I believe contributing a child has limitless value to society, since we benefit from everything he or she will accomplish in his or her life, including having future children. Childless couples work is for their own benefit. It’s not wrong but it’s hardly sacred. I simply feel that those who rear our next generation are deserving of a status that fairly reflects their superior contribution.

45

winna 07.18.06 at 6:01 pm

I guess we childless people don’t pay property taxes to support schools, or state income taxes to support schools, or donate to school programs, or work with Big Brother/Big Sister or with Junior Achievement.

No, we don’t contribute in any way to the wellbeing of children. We are sterile plants in the garden of civilisation!

46

sprite 07.18.06 at 6:15 pm

I simply feel that those who rear our next generation are deserving of a status that fairly reflects their superior contribution.

There’s a big difference between producing a child and rearing it to be a productive adult. Plenty of couples, gay and straight, rear children that they didn’t conceive themselves; they have foster children or they adopt. Both provide a great service to society and to the next generation. I see no reason to give one couple greater protection under law simply because both members are straight.

47

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 6:15 pm

Your contribution is recognized however, I don’t think it equals the value created in the lifetime experience of a new human being. Not by any stretch.

If Generation B requires X amount of labor to properly care for Generation A, then reducing B’s membership by 20% requires us to either A) diminish A’s support by 20%, B) increase B’s output by 25%, or let those in A who didn’t contribute to B fend for themselves. Which option do you think is fairest?

48

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 6:23 pm

#45 I see no reason to give one couple greater protection under law simply because both members are straight.

Oh I agree Sprite. Bring on the gay childrearers. I’m not against gay marriage, especially, I’m against redefining marriage to regard childless couples as equal to childbearing couples. That’s wrong. Investors who share the risks of failure get the dividend checks. The same principle applies to the symmetrical responsibilities that people and society owe one another. Put more in, get more out. Put less in, get less out. Fair.

49

sprite 07.18.06 at 6:28 pm

If Generation B requires X amount of labor to properly care for Generation A…

You raise a good question with regard to how a large group of retired adults can be supported by a smaller group of working adults, but I don’t see what that has to do with gay marriage. If, for instance, I chose option C – to let members of the older generation who hadn’t had offspring pay for their own retirment – that would certainly mean a lot of folks, gay and straight, would lose out on Social Security benefits, but I don’t see why that would necessarily affect their marital status.

50

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 6:52 pm

#49 I don’t see why that would necessarily affect their marital status.

Couples who contribute children are deserving of higher social status for their efforts. It’s nothing more than giving them their due, and it gives us leverage to demand quality performance from them.

If childless couples have the same rights and honors through marriage, then instead of being recognized for their contribution they become linguistically and legally indistinguishable, with no rights or honors that aren’t available to any single man or woman. Hardly seems fair compensation for what they do, and hardly gives us the moral authority to expect them to make the sacrifices parents are required to make.

51

peggy 07.18.06 at 6:54 pm

Commentators have theorized that gay men may lead to population decline or other darwinian catastrophes. Yet recent research shows that mothers modify their male fetuses toward homosexuality after several male babies have been born. Canadian researchers have consistently documented a “big-brother effect,” finding that the chances of a boy being gay increase with each additional older brother he has. If this trait has survived in evolution, perhaps having a gay uncle is what every kid needs.

If the thread insists I’ll provide the Boston.com cite.

52

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 7:00 pm

Also, I don’t see what great benefit childless couples get from Marriage beyond attaching the weakening honorific of the title to their relationship. Any legal protection they want is either already covered under our civil law, and anything else (like wills, disposition of joint assets) can be handled by contract.

53

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 7:07 pm

#51 Commentators have theorized that gay men may lead to population decline or other darwinian catastrophes.

Gay men do not lead to population decline. Gay men do not lead to Darwinian catastrophes. Childless unions lead to population decline, and a civilization that adopts the idea that the members of one generation do not have a duty to create and rear the next leads to Darwinian catastrophes, in my view.

54

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 7:18 pm

Wow, I’ve seen plenty of threads hijacked before but usually by garden-variety trolls rather than bug-eyed lunatics. There’s no point in responding in detail but as a parent I just want to be on the record that I find this weird breeders-uber-alles theology deeply offensive and certainly don’t want chriss’s “recognition” for my “contribution” to society.

55

John Quiggin 07.18.06 at 7:22 pm

Coming back to the stats, and assuming for simplicity that the “traditional values” question is one that divides the population equally, the best way to test would be to look at the answers on the “warmth” scale that correspond to the 25th and 75th percentiles. On the stated assumption, moving from one answer to the other on values is, on average the same as moving from the 25th to the 75th percentile.

56

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 7:29 pm

Last thought: #51 recent research shows that mothers modify their male fetuses toward homosexuality after several male babies have been born.

I’ve never heard anything suggesting this before. I can’t attest to it’s truthfullness but it seems logical. The feminine and masculine mind beautifully counterpoint one another, so in a predominantly-single sex environment, I can see Mother Nature forcing a software change to maintain intellectual balance.

57

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 7:43 pm

I am carefully considering everything I say Steve. I’m saying nothing that hasn’t been handed down as wisdom in every prior civilization since the dawn of man. If childless marriages had successful precedent in history I would consider them in my arguments as well.

I’m genuinely sorry you are offended, but unless you feel children have ‘zero net value’ I fail to see why you think parents should not be honored.

58

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 7:48 pm

Actually, given the state of the planet, children in intensively resource-consuming (and carbon-emitting) societies like the US may well be a negative net value. If you don’t understand the serious case to be made for that statement you’ve been reading way too much right-wing techno-optimist bullshit.

59

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 8:16 pm

Steve – children in intensively resource-consuming (and carbon-emitting) societies like the US may well be a negative net value.

So should we fine you Steve? As a parent you’re apparently guilty of environmental misconduct.

You’re possibly a little too close this. Thousands of generations of traditional marriage to zero generations of childless marriage and you’re certain it’s society that has a problem.

60

peggy 07.18.06 at 8:24 pm

This is the ref on older brother influenced

gay from the womb

61

Steve LaBonne 07.18.06 at 8:25 pm

I have one child, below replacement level. So my fine will be commuted. ;)

What exactly, by the way, is “traditional marriage”? The 1950s nuclear family for which contemporary US conservaives are so nostalgic? That sure as hell doesn’t go back “thousands of generations”. I think you need to do a little research on the history and comparative anthropology of the family.

62

peggy 07.18.06 at 8:42 pm

As a geneticist, I’d like to point out that really traditional socities, say tribal Iraq, see kinship relationships as more than just the nuclear family, but include all the aunts, uncles, and cousins. This works for genetics also. Helping one’s sister to have the largest possible family is half as good as having the children oneself from a Darwinian point of view. If a gay man helps his four brothers he may spread more of his genes into the next generation than if he took the risk of marrying.

63

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 9:33 pm

- Steve: I have one child, below replacement level. So my fine will be commuted. ;)

Good for you :) See? If everyone did that our population would plummet.

- Steve: What exactly, by the way, is “traditional marriage”?

Every culture I have ever looked into has been anchored by strong customs of pairing men with women for the purpose of procreation. The particulars of the union vary from culture to culture, but as you travel away from the basic mom, pop and baby format it becomes increasingly infrequent. No culture that I know of has ever considered the act of cohabitation to require binding vows like marriage, and I happen to agree that they are separate categories of relationship, not to be confused with one another.

By ‘binding vows’ I mean that when you make them, society will enforce them as law. Parents with children need this kind of societal oversight to help them stay together in hard times, but two adults? There is no reason why society needs to enforce interdependent relationships between consenting adults.

64

ChrisS 07.18.06 at 9:38 pm

- Peggy: I’d like to point out that really traditional socities, say tribal Iraq, see kinship relationships as more than just the nuclear family, but include all the aunts, uncles, and cousins.

I agree. Family is more than direct bloodline. I’m all for people being directly involved with the raising of their sibling’s nephews and nieces. Partly why I support marriage as an unbreakable institution between mother and father is that it promotes access to the protection of their relations on both sides of the family.

65

Alex Gregory 07.19.06 at 2:47 am

No.29:
“I interpret Alex (#8) differently. […] the analysis has it backwards and homophobia is not a cause, but an effect of opposition to gay marriage.”

Yes, this is indeed what I intended. Mere correlation does not tell us which way the causation goes.

66

Sam Dodsworth 07.19.06 at 3:14 am

#41:

When I heard this story, I wondered, confused by what? Now I think he didn’t want his son confused about “proper” masculine behavior.

I heard that one from some of the teacher-training students when I was at university and the right-wing lunatics in the government were banning the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools. I think it wasn’t so much about behaviour as the idea of ‘normality’. The idea is that you teach young children a simplified version of the way things are and don’t “confuse” them with all the exceptions: which includes being gay, if you’re the kind of person who thinks being gay is “abnormal”.

67

Uncle Kvetch 07.19.06 at 7:26 am

I’m against redefining marriage to regard childless couples as equal to childbearing couples.

Marriage is already defined in this way, chriss. Childless married couples, whether childless by choice or by circumstances beyond their control, are completely equal to married couples with children under the law.

It’s clear that you find this objectionable, but the fact is that it has virtually nothing to do with same-sex marriage.

68

abb1 07.19.06 at 7:46 am

Huh? What do traditional gender roles have to do with any of this?

Maybe they should try a correlation between those who oppose gay marriage and those who prefer shorter haircuts.

69

John Sides 07.19.06 at 9:38 am

A quick reply to Alex Gregory (#65) and ghr (#29):

First, apologies for missing ghr’s point the first time around. The question is whether attitudes toward gay marriage is a cause or consequence of feelings about gays in general. My off-the-cuff answer is that, for most people alive today, their feelings about gays were “formed” before their feeling about gay marriage, given how recently gay marriage has become a salient issue. So my intuition is that the causality is generally running from feelings toward gays to attitudes about gay marriage.

However, it is possible that the salience of a relatively unpopular issue, gay marriage, made some people feel more negatively toward gays in general. GHR asks whether the feeling thermometer score dropped after the Goodridge decision in Massachussetts. That decision was announced on November 18, 2003. So, one might ask whether the feeling thermometer score dropped between the 2002 National Election Study and the 2004 NES (which I used to produce the analysis in the original post). (To be sure, comparing 2002 and 2004 is pretty rough, since the surveys don’t precisely bracket the Goodridge decision.) Below is the mean on the 0-100 thermometer for every year the question was asked. As you can see, there has been a substantial increase since 1984, which parallels numerous other trends in public opinion towards gays and lesbians. Between 2002 and 2004, the evidence suggest a small increase rather than a decrease in the feeling thermometer:

1984- 29.9
1988- 28.5
1992- 37.7
1994- 35.5
1996- 39.8
1998- 45.4
2000- 47.3
2002- 46.4
2004- 48.5

So there is no evidence here that feelings towards gays in general grew less favorable as a result of the debate.

I did a little searching in some polling databases to see if I could find questions that (1) measured general feelings towards gays and lesbians and (2) were asked relatively close to the Goodridge decision (both before and after). I didn’t see anything that fit the bill, though my search probably wasn’t exhaustive.

Hope that is helpful.

70

ChrisS 07.19.06 at 11:08 am

- Kvetch: Marriage is already defined in this way, chriss. Childless married couples, whether childless by choice or by circumstances beyond their control, are completely equal to married couples with children under the law.

Are you certain this is a good thing? It seems to me that when you disconnect marriage from childrearing two things happen. 1) childless couples can legally marry (no problem, I guess), and 2) children can be legally born out of wedlock. This concerns me greatly.

I’m sure you’re aware that children can be put to all kinds of evil uses: unpaid labor, sex trade, organ harvesting. Children born in anonymity have no protection against abuse or exploitation, and creating a culture of anonymous children attracts human predators like crows to roadkill.

71

abb1 07.19.06 at 11:40 am

‘Wedlock’ is a good word. Dammit.

72

bellatrys 07.19.06 at 6:30 pm

wtf? Why does chriss think that us bastards are more likely to be exploited if we have legal protection, than in the “good old days” when we didn’t? Or does he think that the lack of legal status for bastards stopped adults from fucking back in the “good old days” somehow–?

73

Ampersand 07.19.06 at 7:36 pm

This Pew survey asked people why they oppose same-sex marriage. It doesn’t really address the question at issue in this thread, but I thought it might be interesting to folks nonetheless.

74

Chris S 07.20.06 at 1:34 pm

- Bellatrys: “Why does chriss think that us bastards are more likely to be exploited if we have legal protection, than in the “good old days” when we didn’t?”

I don’t. Of course you’re better off today than yesterday, but society can’t protect your civil rights if it doesn’t know you exist. Children born out of wedlock, sometimes without the knowledge of the father, sometimes without the knowledge of the mother’s own family, are legally invisible, and legally invisible people have no rights.

75

Chris S 07.20.06 at 1:51 pm

#73, I don’t oppose any SSM’s that include children. I don’t think friends, sex partners, roommates or soulmates need marriage, I think families need it.

Or putting it another way, I don’t so much mind marriages without children as I mind children without marriages. Allowing one seems to allow the other. See 70, 74 for why I consider it a bad idea.

76

mythago 07.23.06 at 9:33 am

What do traditional gender roles have to do with any of this?

This really isn’t a startling or counter-intuitive thought. If women and men are supposed to behave in different and complementary ways, then you can’t possibly have two women or two men in a marriage. How will you know which one of them has to earn a living while the other stays at home? Who’s the “man of the house”? Who initiates sex?

You can also add the sterotype that a woman who takes on a “man’s role” must act, feel and behave according to a stereotypical, traditional male role (and the reverse for men), which is anathema to those who admire rigid gender roles. This is where you get ignorant comments like “But which one of you is the man?”

chris s, I don’t know where you get the idea that children born out of wedlock are ‘legally invisible’.

77

HepCat 07.23.06 at 9:08 pm

#52 chris s – Your assertion that “Any legal protection they want is either already covered under our civil law, and anything else (like wills, disposition of joint assets) can be handled by contract,” is absoLUTEly UNTRUE! What research did you do to arrive at this conclusion? It seems to me that you just sat around and thought really really really hard.

Under United States federal laws, according to a 2003 GAO report, there are 1,138 laws relating to the rights, privileges, and obligations of marriage. Google “gao gay marriage report” to find it.

A marriage license costs, what, 40 bucks? My same-sex partner and I spent $2500 for wills, powers of attorney, medical powers of attorney, and living together agreements. Let’s see, 1,138 minus 4 = 1,134. At $625/document (actually 2, one for each of us per line item) times 1,134 . . . that’s $708,750 we would have to shell out! Wow! What a bargin! Thanks for opening our eyes to the beauty of contracts!

But wait, reading through the GAO’s report, I see a few interesting items which have nothing to do with couples who have children: the right not to be compelled to testify against one another in a court of law, the right to claim a deceased spouse’s body (as well as to determine burial), the ability to sue on a spouse’s behalf were the spouse gravely injured at work, etc., etc., etc.

Unmarried same-sex partners CANNOT contract for these and “anything else” as you so blithely phrase it. Get real.

Comments on this entry are closed.