Gay Marriage and Straight Divorce

by Harry on May 25, 2006

Are divorced opponents of gay marriage hypocrites?

I suppose it all depends on the reasons why they oppose gay marriage, and on the reasons they divorced. So I can imagine lots of ways of consistently endorsing one’s own divorce and opposing gay marriage; for example, one might oppose marriage tout court and, having freed oneself of its bourgeois chains, be determined to prevent others from being enslaved by it. Or one might simply hate gays and want to prevent them to get at the good of marriage.

But neither of these are the dominant public reasons for opposing gay marriage.

The dominant public reason is that gay marriage will harm the institution of marriage. Suppose this is your reason for opposing gay marriage. You could still avoid the charge of hypocrisy by believing that divorce does not harm the institution of marriage, and hence that one’s own divorce has not harmed the institution one is defending. And, indeed, despite very high divorce rates, people continue to get married, so this isn’t a crazy view. But it does seem a strange view for conservatives, who are the main opponents of gay marriage, to hold. I presume that a conservative about marriage holds an ideal that marriage should be for the lifetime of the shorter-lived spouse, and that practices and behaviors that undermine that ideal damage the institution. Surely divorce does that; and, in particular, surely one’s own divorce does that. (One might, of course, believe nevertheless that divorce should be legal, because one might recognise that some marriages fall so far short of the ideal that it is better that they end, even though this does harm to the institution, or one might believe that keeping divorce legal made available certain goods to married people (like the rather delightful knowledge that one’s spouse remains married to one despite the fact that she is entirely free not to). But if one does, then one has opened the door to the possibility that gay marriage should be legal because it realises certain goods, even though it damages the institution).

Some divorced people who hold the combination of the two views I’ve described (that gay marriage harms marriage, and that divorce does) can still avoid the charge of hypocrisy. They might, for example, have been divorced against their will (my own marriage license is from the State of California, and I’m pretty sure that either of us can divorce the other just by informing the licensing authority, without even telling the other spouse — we got this kind of license because it was $20 cheaper than the other kind, and had no fears). But, again, my guess is that many divorced opponents of gay marriage played some active role in their divorce.

The charge of hypocrisy does not only taint divorced opponents of gay marriage. What about undivorced people who count divorced people among their close and un-shunned friends and acquaintances? They do not make comment on the (ex hypothesi) anti-marriage behaviour of their friends, but they pick out particular non-friends as unsuited to participate in anti-marriage behaviour. Isn’t this hypocritical?

Of course, the charge of hypocrisy has much less power if, although they oppose gay marriage, these people refrain from doing anything to prevent it. If, for example, when a state referendum puts forward a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, they humbly refrain from voting for that amendment, it seems to me that they are, if not in the clear, at least worthy of some respect.

You can imagine why alll this matters to me. I don’t believe, of course, that gay marriage damages marriage, but that it confirms it, and I believe that as someone who is very sympathetic to conservative ideals of marriage (that it is lifelong, monogamous, and that the government quite properly promotes it). I don’t have any data, but it seems to me that in the November elections a considerable number of divorced opponents of gay marriage who hold roughly the views I’ve outlined will be voting, and I would like to find a way to dissuade them from voting for measures which make it even more difficult than it currently is for gay marriage to get on the books, and to save them from the vice of hypocrisy.

Am I wrong? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d like to get this right, and am open to discovering that almost everything in this post is mistaken!



compar 05.25.06 at 11:01 am

“for the lifetime of the shortest-lived spouse”

You mean “the shorter-lived” spouse, right?

Unless–oh no! The slippery slope, right to polygamy!!


Kieran Healy 05.25.06 at 11:10 am

I had a “similar thought”: a while ago.


Adam Kotsko 05.25.06 at 11:16 am

The presumption among some conservatives seems to be that a change in the institution of marriage is in itself damaging to the institution. What no one seems to want to admit is that the ship has already sailed on that one — no-fault divorce produced a much more radical change in what marriage is, in my opinion, than gay marriage ever could. Or if we wanted to push it back even further, the idea of “marriage for love” is the big change that opens up the door to so many other changes (and, incidentally, reading this change back into past historical eras leads to a huge misunderstanding among Christians of what the New Testament passages about marriage would have meant in their own contexts).

I think that deep down, everyone realizes that opposition to gay marriage is a rearguard action, so outside of those who genuinely are grossed out by gays — a number that is apparently declining — I can’t see much enthusiasm for it in the long term. No one wants to return to the days of marriage as a utilitarian institution, to arranged marriages, etc. — that’s “traditional” marriage, and it’s inconceivable that we even could return to it.


harry b 05.25.06 at 11:19 am

Well, I’m glad that I haven’t completely plagiarised; I do remember your post now, and am sure I unconsicously took it all on board.

So — what about writing an op-ed piece together and trying to place it in a non-liberal newspaper in the Fall sometime. Or, of course, you could do it yourself…


SteveG 05.25.06 at 11:26 am

The most likely line I can foresee is considering a marriage license to be a sexual driver’s permit — that gay marriage is a governmental green light for gay sex and that MUST be harmful because it is just so yucky and doesn’t make babies. In this case, a divorce is like revoking someone’s driver’s license and that does not necessarily harm the roads.

The most charitable line may be something like: divorce harms the institution, but leaves intact the possibility for the divorced parties to re-marry and still form standard government issue families, whereas that possibility does not exist for those “alternative” families that would be embraced under gay marriage. Divorce may harm the institution, but it does not undermine it as gay marriage would.

A lousy argument, sure, but the best one I could see in support of it.


harry b 05.25.06 at 11:27 am

I’ve corrected the grammar, and the previously bizarre title (which no doubt some comment awaiting moderationwill mention) –its Gay Marriage and Straight Divorce, not Gay Divorce and Straight Marriage as previously…


Bruce Baugh 05.25.06 at 11:30 am

Underlying a lot of opposition to gay marriage is the conviction that homosexuality itself is basically wrong – and if it’s natural, it’s natural in the way that diabetes, pedophilia, and parasites that devour living hosts are. Not everything natural is good, after all. The anti-gay marriage argument usually boils down to “it doesn’t matter if they chose it or are victims of it, we still don’t have to reward or encourage it”.

I don’t buy any of that, but it seems to be what people I’ve talked with about it come down to, sooner or later. Divorce is a (usually) bad thing gone wrong with a basically good institution; for these people, gay marriage can never be good.


Adam Kotsko 05.25.06 at 11:41 am

The old title was funny — I thought it was on purpose.


compar 05.25.06 at 11:47 am

steveg makes a good point; the charge of hypocrisy can be easily met by saying “well, there’s harms and there’s harms,” and then filling out the distinguo in any number of ways.

(E.g., harms around the edge vs. fundamental harms; harms as unintended consequences of imperfect compliance vs. harms arising from intentional violation; harming the letter vs. harming the spirit; and lots more).

Consider your reaction (my reaction) when some war-blogger tells you that your criticism of the president is “harming” the troops’ morale, and thus the country. Seems to me that Abu Ghraib did a lot more, and more fundamental, harm to the country than whatever diminution in hoo-ah is experienced by the troops by my pointing out what a disaster Bush is. Point being, even if I *grant* that my criticism “harmed” the country in some small, trivial, way, that does not show that I am hypocritical when I rage against the harm that Bush has done: there’s harms and there’s harms, and the differences between them are not all merely quantitative.

It’s a general problem in political debate: the charge of hypocrisy is generally not a persuader, because it is too easily answered.

So before you write up the op-ed, think about recasting it: I think the hypocrisy strategy will not succeed in moving anyone.


Doug Williams 05.25.06 at 12:00 pm

You seem to be using an inaccurate definition of hypocrisy. To be a hypocrite one must only pretend to have a certain moral standard. Yet the way you frame your question you seem to concede that you’re talking about people who really do believe in something. You’re simply pointing out ways in which you think they’re behaving inconsistently.

Pointing out inconsistency in thinking or behavior can be a very effective way to get one’s point across, while spouting accusations of hypocrisy almost never is. Your same point might be made in less accusatory – and likely more effective – fashion if you framed it that way.

Also some of your examples (e.g. people who don’t believe in divorce should actively shun divorcees among their friends and acquaintances) are guilty of begging the question.


Jaybird 05.25.06 at 12:12 pm

So what if someone happily married opposes gay marriage?

Are they significantly more able to argue that gay marriage is harmful? Do we have to listen to them longer? Do they have more insight into The Covenant?

I’m asking for a friend.


lemuel pitkin 05.25.06 at 12:25 pm

I’m 100% on your side on the larger issue, but not convinced by this particular argument. All of us presumably support rules or norms that we ourselves would not voluntarily follow in every case — that’s why they have to be rules. The fact that you make individual choices based on what’s best for you individually, and support social policies based on what’s best for society, doesn’t strike me as inherently hypocritical.

E.g. I might support a higher income tax on people at my income level without fear of hypocrisy even if I do not voluntarily donate the amount I think I ought to be paying to the tax authorities.


Richard Bellamy 05.25.06 at 12:48 pm

Am I wrong? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d like to get this right, and am open to discovering that almost everything in this post is mistaken!

Here is my best try at a fundamentalist anti-gay marriage response:

“I support only granting building permits for houses that are deemed architecturally sound, because I want all homes to have sound foundations. While it is true that granting demolition permits hurts architecturally sound structures, it clears the ground for other buildings with sound foundations. I am in no way a hypocrite in supporting the grant of demolition permits, while continuing to oppose the grant of construction permits of buildings that are not deemed architecturally sound.”


RickD 05.25.06 at 1:01 pm

I think a better argument for gay marriage points out that the opposite proposal essentially presumes every possible straight marriage would be better than any possible gay marriage. I don’t see why gay couples should be the whipping boys for the failures of heterosexual marriages.


Richard Bellamy 05.25.06 at 1:21 pm

I also think, however, that it is not a proper mode of debate to enter into an argument about whether “gay marriage” is more or less bad than other items with negative connotation.

The best case scenario is getting a concession that gay marriage is “less bad” than divorce, pedophilia, incest, bestiality, polygamy, etc.

The argument itself degrades what you want to really be arguing as a “good thing”, like, say, “marriage.”


Scott Martens 05.25.06 at 1:32 pm

I’m 100% in favour of gay marriage too, but let me do the devil’s advocate thing and offer what I think is more like the mainstream anti-gay marriage logic: Not all sexual relationships are marriages, and not all close relationships, whether sexual or otherwise, are marriages. Most people – even most hard-core fundamentalists – do not want to get involved in other people’s sex lives and personal relationships. I suspect that the vast majority of gay marriage opponents do not want to recriminalize homosexuality or go back to restrictive divorce laws. However, those people think that a heterosexual marriage – even a failed heterosexual marriage – is a qualitatively different thing than any possible same-sex relationship. Therefore, the social and legal structures that marriage entails are not appropriate to gay relationships. Furthermore, any failure to acknowledge and maintain the qualitatively different nature of heterosexual marriage from other kinds of relationships is an undermines the qualities that make heterosexual marriage unique among human relationships.

Now, I remind everyone, I am not making that argument. I don’t agree with it. But it is the argument I’ve heard, in various forms, from my mostly anti-gay marriage family members and their friends. Exactly what characteristics they believe to distinguish heterosexual pair bonds from gay bonds differ from person to person. For the most religious, heterosexual marriage is qualitatively different in God’s eyes, and that’s reason enough. Others will talk about the potential for reproduction.

The one argument that made the most sense to me was the claim that because men and women do not possess equal social power, a straight relationship is intrinsically more likely to be or to become a relationship between people with unequal power over their own lives. As a result, straight marriage requires a different kind of legal and social institution because the protection of dependent spouses and children is more important in a straight relationship than a gay one. But this secular argument rests on a very anti-liberal footing: we only need special status for straight marriages because women are less powerful than men.

I do think that it is possible to defend a pro-divorce, anti-gay marriage position without hypocrisy if you evoke the notion that straight marriages are a qualitatively different kind of relationship. But that means that the pro-gay marriage argument should try to show that being gay isn’t much different from being straight, so being in a gay relationship shouldn’t be treated differently from a straight one. I think that’s hard case to make to people who have little exposure to real gay people.


harry b 05.25.06 at 1:42 pm

richard — I think gay marriage is exactly as valuable and legitimate as heterosexual marriage (and, from me, that means quite valuable). What I want to do, though, is formulate/present an argument that will convince/shame a bunch of people into not voting for amendments that would result in a need to change State constitutions in order to introduce gay marriage. I’m not so worried about collateral effects of making such an argument.


Steve LaBonne 05.25.06 at 1:46 pm

Why aren’t the divorce lawyers lobbying like crazy for gay marriage? Just think of it: a whole new- and disproportionately affluent- clientele to fleece!


lemuel pitkin 05.25.06 at 1:56 pm

a whole new- and disproportionately affluent- clientele

This is a myth.


djw 05.25.06 at 2:04 pm

Harry, I think they’ve got some ways out of hypocrisy you don’t consider. I try to explain here.


lt 05.25.06 at 2:17 pm

1) Divorced opponants of gay-marriage are indeed hypocrites if they use the “timeless institution that never changes” rhetoric. So are women who make that argument who like not being the legal property of their husbands, people married to those of a different race, etc.

2) Arguing on the basis of what’s good for the institution is giving up the store. Institutions serve men, not the other way around. Arguing that opening something up will destroy it has all kinds of bad implications when applied to democratic rights.


Daniel 05.25.06 at 2:24 pm

My experience with divorced Catholics is that in general, they agree that divorce is a terrible thing which ought to be banned, but in their particular case, there were really quite extraordinary circumstances. I have never pushed the point to find out how extraordinary these circumstances really were.


Clayton 05.25.06 at 2:32 pm

Can I go on the record and say that divorce is good for the institution just as it would be great for the institution to allow homosexuals who want to be part of it to marry? Maybe I bartended too many depressing Midwestern weddings in grad school and maybe I’m just jealous of the fact that someone else married my first love, but I’d like to think that what is good for marriage is good marriage and divorce is instrumental for weeding out the bad.


Scott Lemieux 05.25.06 at 2:41 pm

“My experience with divorced Catholics is that in general, they agree that divorce is a terrible thing which ought to be banned, but in their particular case, there were really quite extraordinary circumstances. I have never pushed the point to find out how extraordinary these circumstances really were.”

And, of course, this is also true of abortion. Somehow, there’s always a good reason for you to get one, but if the state doesn’t get involved those slutty poor women in Alabama will get them for the wrong reasons.


engels 05.25.06 at 2:47 pm

I don’t see why gay couples should be the whipping boys for the failures of heterosexual marriages.

Hmmm… “heterosexual marriages”, “gay couples”, “whipping boys”… I just know there’s a cheap joke about senior members of the British Tory party in there somewhere…


Martin James 05.25.06 at 3:45 pm


What model of the political behaviour of those you want to change led you to assume that they respond to convincing/shaming arguments.

I would try more arguments aimed at self-interest.

For example, take the Brokeback Mountain strategy.

Isn’t one message of this film that if you are discriminate agianst gay men, they will marry your daughters and, over time, make them miserable?

The same type of argument can be made for gay marriage. By legitimizing gay relationships through marriage, you decrease discrimination, which lowers the probability that someone you love will inadvertently marry a closeted person.


aimai 05.25.06 at 4:12 pm

The conservative opposition towards divorce is, and only ever has been, based on Jesus’s admonitions against it. Before that a “conservative” position of divorce would have found it a very good thing in cases where it was necessary for the patriarch to get rid of a difficult wife, or an infertile one, or to make new political alliances. There is no, properly speaking “conservative” opposition towards divorce that is based on a generic “defense of marriage” there is only a defense of sacral and civil marriage as a kind of social replication of a divine ideal or the discharge of a divine commandment. Where the “conservative” is not religious he or she doesn’t have a leg to stand on being opposed to divorce (which has been, throughout human history, quite as traditional as marriage even if sometimes somewhat harder to get). So, for faux conservatives who support divorce, even “for cause” or “for other people” but who attack gay marriage because its “against religion” well, they are simply picking and choosing which biblical injunctions they are blessing with attention. Something their god, if he exists, must frown on. They can do it with impunity because, I’d argue, their god doesn’t exist. But they can’t do it with consistency, and there isn’t much point trying to find a way to make what is both patently illogical and yet more patently bad faith on their part add up to logic and good faith. My conservative sister-in-law, when braced on just this issue as she and her pastor plan to schism from their church over recognition of gay marriage, admitted that technically marriage *isn’t even a sacrament* in their church but she still protests gay marriage. Consistency isn’t the hobgoblin of small minds–its been entirely abandoned by people who privilige their bigotry over thinking at all.



parse 05.25.06 at 7:45 pm

I’d be interested to see how many gay people would still be interested in marriage if adultery divorce were illegal. If marriage truly meant “forsaking all others, till death do us part,” I hope most gay folks would realize what many seem to be willing to ignore just now: that marriage as an institution has failed miserably for straight people and gay demands to be allowed are like clamoring to be the first to board the Titanic.


Xero 05.25.06 at 7:59 pm

I am confused about why this is being applied simply toward gay marriage. Before you can talk about who can oppose gay marriage you would need to know the reasons someone supports governmental sanctioning of marriage at all. Arguments for why a government should be promotting the marriage include family stability and procreation. As our laws surrounding consenting adults become more and more relaxed (like the lack of enforcement of sodomy and fornication laws) the less governmentally supported marriage becomes an ethical issue and the more it becomes an economic issue. Both stability and procreation have profound economic effects on a society.

So if you support government sanctioned marriage on the bassis of stability and you have yourself been divorced then I see you as being considered a hypocrite. If, on the other hand, you believe it is to support the continuation of the civilization, and during you married time you did procreate, then being against gay marriage is not so hypicritical.

The point is, the scope of this topic is far broader than being discussed here. I don’t think that there would be a simple way to determine a person hypocricy based on such limited criteria.

Personally I think the government should get out of the marriage buisness and leave that up to the religious folk to make up what every rules they would like (no matter how contradictory). I mean after all isn’t this just like saying if you have only one spouse can you comment on polygamy.


Dæn 05.25.06 at 8:21 pm

Following up on aimai’s point, I would suggest that all effort poured into making the case for gay marriage based on its benefits to society or the contradictions of its detractors are ultimately futile. Just as in the case of abortion, those conservatives who oppose gay marriage do so on the basis religious values that are not susceptible to logical attack, and well-intentioned attempts to change their minds will tend to fall straightaway into an all-too-familiar incommensurability. We can only wait for personal experience, the passage of time, and impassioned political advocacy to help these conservatives realize that gay life partners deserve the legal status accorded their straight counterparts.


Thomas 05.25.06 at 8:48 pm

Why can’t someone who was active in her own divorce believe, say, that divorce laws are mistaken? Can’t one believe that, were the divorce laws and the concomitant culture as they should be, one wouldn’t have divorced? That is, can’t one be a victim of and a perpetrator of/participant in the same cultural phenomenon?

Stepping back, couldn’t one think that public recognition of marriage is simply a subsidy for the institution of marriage. In that regard, divorce and public recognition of gay marriage aren’t similarly situated, are they? Divorce cuts off the subsidy, while gay marriage begins it. So, in the present scheme of things, there are some benefits that flow to those in the institution of marriage, but no real bars to exit. There are no subsidies to divorce–to the contrary, even with liberalized divorce laws it is often expensive and there is no public support for those with limited resources. To treat divorce and gay marriage similarly would mean that gay marriage shouldn’t be subsidized through recognition by the state (though people should be able to commit themselves to the goods of gay marriage without the subsidy, just as they avail themselves of the goods of divorce, despite any damage done to the institution of marriage).


Z 05.25.06 at 8:52 pm

I think I am with Xero on that one. If a society promotes marriage (which is, in my country, a very specific state, not contract, involving rights and duties bouding two individuals), then individuals should have the right to marry the person they choose.

That said, on the purely practical question, my mother, for one, held the position that a family was ideally composed of parents of both gender for fear that children would be ridiculed and singled-out until I pointed to her than then my (paternal) grand-parents should not have been allowed to divorce (as it obviously included a lot of ridicule and singling-out for my father when he was a child). I am not sure she was being an hypocrite, but certainly inconsistent, and pointing inconsistencies can work.

Maybe the most effective argument is simply to point that legalizing same-sex marriage has a miniscule effect on you if you are not interested in entering one (if not no effect at all), while not legalizing it has an enormous effect on other people so you should refrain from preventing its legalization. So one can disapprove, sure, but not vote against it. A position than could be sumed up as “strive to be rational when dealing with matters that influence other people”.

A good position to think about same-sex marriage and a not too bad one for any other question.


LogicGuru 05.25.06 at 10:34 pm

My bet is that the operative reason for opposing gay marriage but not straight divorce is that gay marriage puts the imprimatur on what opponents call the “gay lifestyle” and, by extension reinforces the cultural message that (heterosexually) married-with-children is, at best, faintly comic.

During the ’50s which most Americans, particularly those who haven’t lived through the period, regard as a Golden Age, the Dick and Jane family was represented as the norm and indeed the epitome of the Good Life. Divorce doesn’t undermine that vision: people who get divorced have just failed to achieve the Good Life–and may still get it if they remarry. Single people will get it when they marry, have kids and set up house in the suburbs. Bachelors are fools and spinsters are to be pitied.

People who buy into the vision, live it, and like it are on the defensive. For the past 20 years or so, in popular culture or on TV at least, the Good Life has been represented as the comaraderie of the glitzy law firm, unwinding at the after work bar and home to the apartment in an urban high-rise–a world without children where there’s no marriage or giving in marriage. “Suburbs” is a funny word in the way that mother-in-law used to be and “housewife” is a dirty word.

The “gay lifestyle” as people perceive it is just a special case of that world. Gay marriage stamps it with respectability. This hypothesis has some explanatory power since it explains not only why people who oppose gay marriage as a threat to Family Values don’t oppose divorce but why a significant number of Americans who oppose gay marriage don’t oppose gay “civil unions” and why even more oppose anti-sodomy laws. These guys don’t want the state to intrude in people’s private lives–they just don’t want what they see as an official stamp of approval on alternative life styles that they see as more prestigeous than their own.

As an avid TV viewer and pop culture consumer I’ll be interested to see the response to Big Love: heterosexuality, piety, family values, sex roles, suburban life and housewives–just too many per male breadwinner.


Dan Kervick 05.25.06 at 11:16 pm


Your argument doesn’t seem very persuasive to me. It strikes me that the following set of attitudes toward a given institutionalized form of behavior are mutually consistent: (i) it is very important to preserve the institution, (ii) actions that harm the institution are therefore prima facie wrong, but (iii) bringing an end to certain deficient instances of the institutionalized behavior do not harm the institution, but actually help preserve it.

Suppose a village has a tradition of weekly square dances and vocal concerts. The people in the village think it is very important to preserve this tradition, and participation is more or less mandatory. Skipping is roundly and severely condemned, as are certain other acts that threaten the survival of the tradition – for example, organizing competing dissident events, or positively disrupting the dances and concerts.

Yet a relatively small minority of people are exempted or excused. Those who have proven themselves to be incorrigibly disruptive are banned. And those whose vocal abilities or physical coordination are so bad that they would seriously degrade the quality of the events, and damage the high esteem in which they are generally held, are excused. Some of these latter give it a try, but ask to be excused after failing repeatedly to improve and to contribute in a positive way through their singing and dancing. These people are usually asked to help support and preserve the tradition in other ways.

One of these excusees even runs for mayor, and makes it his chief aim in life to preserve the tradition of the weekly dance and vocal concert. While he allows for reasonable exceptions, he passes some laws to prevent widespread truancy or shirking, and passes other laws that prevent dissidents from holding alternative events, in which certain novel forms of singing and dancing are practiced.

Now the mayor may be wrong or misguided. Maybe his fears about the dissident forms of dancing and singing, and the threat they pose to the dominant tradition, are overblown; or maybe the tradition could get along perfectly well with larger numbers of shirkers; or maybe it isn’t so all-fired important to preserve the dominant tradition in the first place. But I wouldn’t say the mayor is a hypocrite because he, himself, asked to be excused from the events. Removing a few terrible singers and dancers may in fact help to preserve the institution, and not at all harm it.

So just as seeking to end one’s incorrigibly deficient participation in traditional weekly dances and concerts does not necessarily harm that tradition, and may even help preserve it; so seeking to end one’s own incorrigibly deficient marriage may not harm the institution of marriage, but help preserve it.


Joe 05.26.06 at 1:05 am

We all agree with the fact that gay marriage is not natural but still if it makes one happy by marrying a person of their choice irrespective of sex, then there is nothing wrong on it. After all marriage is all about being happy for the rest of your life. And like any other couple they should be allowed to take divorce.


Harald Korneliussen 05.26.06 at 2:00 am

Scott Martens wrote:”straight marriage requires a different kind of legal and social institution because the protection of dependent spouses and children is more important in a straight relationship than a gay one. But this secular argument rests on a very anti-liberal footing: we only need special status for straight marriages because women are less powerful than men.”

If it was true that women were inherently more vulnerable than men (I’m not sure), then there is nothing inherently illiberal with such a law. Recognizing a fact does not mean we are happy about it.
But you forget the children in your argument because children are less powerful than adults. There can be no doubt that children concerns the state – it may be the easiest way to become a citizen, after all, just be born. As such, I recognize that the state may need to concern itself with who has children or not. They may also want to know if people live in the same household, share ownership of property, etc. What the state should not do, IMO, is try to (re)shape the old social-religious institution that is called marriage. They should be completely separate, and everyone should be clear that the legal part, the one the state does, is NOT marriage. That is the detail that France and some other countries get wrong.


Tim Worstall 05.26.06 at 4:16 am

” Why aren’t the divorce lawyers lobbying like crazy for gay marriage? Just think of it: a whole new- and disproportionately affluent- clientele to fleece!”

Civil partnership rather than gay marriage in the UK but the first break up only took three months (and there is a one year waiting period to boot).

Divorce lawyers are quoted so I’d guess they’re already aware of the opportunity.


Slocum 05.26.06 at 6:58 am

You could still avoid the charge of hypocrisy by believing that divorce does not harm the institution of marriage, and hence that one’s own divorce has not harmed the institution one is defending. And, indeed, despite very high divorce rates, people continue to get married, so this isn’t a crazy view.

I think that’s too simplistic. I am a supporter of gay marriage, but I would say that opponents believe that legal gay marriage would change the institution by changing the meaning of marriage, in ways that are difficult to anticipate completely. Furthermore, I think it’s reasonable to suspect that it would tend to change the meaning of marriage in ways that liberals would find congenial and religious conservatives would not. Heterosexual divorce, on the other hand, would have no such effect.

My own message to religious conservatives is, “Sorry, but the human rights of gay people outweigh your concerns about changes in the institution of marriage”. But to pretend that gay marriage and divorce are somehow comparable or that religious conservatives are delusional in believing gay marriage will change how society views marriage–that’s just not honest. Legalizing gay marriage will change the institution of marriage, but it should be done anyway.


james 05.26.06 at 10:56 am

I currently do not have a dog in this fight. It is, however, apparent that many people just don’t get it. The fight over gay marriage is not about State recognition or even sex. It is about which ideology gets to say what is right and what is wrong. Conservatives and people of faith (not always the same thing) want to be able to teach their children that homosexuality is wrong. They do not want their children taught differently in sex Ed classes. They do not want the State sanctioning it. They do not want it established as part of one of their traditional sacraments. The majority people could care less what someone else does. You start messing with their families in any real way and all bets are off.


paul 05.26.06 at 2:48 pm

“Conservatives and people of faith (not always the same thing) want to be able to teach their children that homosexuality is wrong.”

Yep, and that black people are genetically inferior and that the earth was created in seven 24-hour days and gosh-all what else. And yet the nation survived both Scopes and Loving v. Virginia…


james 05.26.06 at 5:38 pm

Paul: Let’s see, all hetero sex is really rape, history is an example of white men keeping women and non-white men down, all views of right and wrong are defined by culture – so there is no right and wrong. If you want to ‘play the dozens’ in an effort to discredit a point of view, we can certainly go that route. Pretty sure it won’t be convincing.


Brett Bellmore 05.26.06 at 6:50 pm

“So if you support government sanctioned marriage on the bassis of stability and you have yourself been divorced then I see you as being considered a hypocrite.”

As was pointed out prior to your post, under no-fault divorce laws, one can be resolutely opposed to divorce, perfectly innocent of any marital wrongs, and STILL end up divorced, if you happened to marry somebody who didn’t share your views on the subject. This is rather like accusing a rape victim of being hypocritical on the subject of monogamy.


Tony 05.28.06 at 9:49 pm

Is this some kind of joke? You neglected several obvious possibilities, mostly of the form “the principle at issue is something more nuanced than ‘anything that harms marriage is bad.'” You probably think (and I would agree) that these are bad principles poorly justified, but if their belief is sincere, they’re not hypocrites.

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