With Friday nightâ€™s vote in the New York Senate, the Empire State is set to become the sixth state, in addition to the District of Columbia, in which gay marriage is legal. And because New York will be by far the largest state to take that step, the number of Americans able to marry others of the same gender will effectively double.
This is, of course, the end of Western civilization and of the foundation on which it is built, which is the institution of marriage. Or not.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing at the National Reviewâ€™s â€œThe Corner,â€ has likened the vote by elected representatives in New York to the brutal repression exercised in North Korea, bizarrely claiming that we Americans are â€œwitnessing tyranny today that is fostered by a false sense of freedom, a tyranny that faux tolerance ferments.â€
John Guardiano, writing in the American Spectator, also laments the decline of marriage:
â€œâ€¦. the institution of marriage is [under threat] â€” so much so that marriage rates in America have plummeted and out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed.
National Reviewâ€™s Rich Lowry notes, for instance, that the number of Americans in intact first marriages has dropped from 73 percent in the 1970s to as little as 39 percent today, depending on socioeconomic status. And the poorer and less educated you are, the more likely you are to suffer from the political and cultural degradation of marriage.
Just 45 percent of moderately educated, middle-income Americans are in intact first marriages. For the poorest and least-educated Americans, the corresponding figure is 39 percent.â€
Personally, Iâ€™m a strong believer in marriage, both as a living arrangement for adults and as the best possible setting in which to raise children. (â€Best possible,â€ however, should not be confused with â€œonly;â€ the unpredictability of human beings and the realities of life do not allow such blanket statements.)
However, Iâ€™ve never seen even a vaguely convincing argument that gay marriage has any affect whatsoever on the status of marriage among heterosexual couples.
Guardiano, for example, tries to suggest that gay marriage has â€œeverythingâ€ to do with some ill-defined campaign by ill-defined forces to undercut marriage and bring the country down around our ears.
â€œSure, this breakdown in the family has occurred independent of the push for â€˜marriage equalityâ€™,â€ he writes. â€œBut it is still part and parcel of an overarching effort to undermine and deprecate traditional marriage and the traditional family. It is still part of a broader political and cultural movement to decouple marriage from its principal purpose, which is the care and raising of children.â€
The care and raising of children is certainly â€œAâ€ purpose of marriage, and is in fact one reason that gay couples seek that right. However, it is not THE purpose of marriage.
The existence of millions of loving couples who are childless either by choice or by nature refute that claim. Marriages of older couples beyond their child-bearing years refute that claim. Guardiano and others who make such an argument actually belittle marriage by stripping it down to a crude, single-purpose functionality â€” the raising of children â€” that seeks to deny its deep emotional rewards and challenges.
The suggestion that gay marriage is part of a guerrilla effort to undercut marriage itself is further undercut by hard data. In general, gay marriage has gained a foothold in those states in which marriage is already strongest, and it is rejected in states where marriage is more threatened.
Massachusetts, the first state to make gay marriage legal, has by far the lowest annual divorce rate in the country, at a mere 1.8 percent. New York has an annual divorce rate of 2.5 percent.
Georgia, in contrast, has an annual divorce rate of 3.2 percent.
In fact, the seven jurisdictions in which gay marriage is now legal, including the District of Columbia, have an average annual divorce rate of 2.7 percent. The average annual divorce rate in the 28 states in which recognition of gay marriage is explicitly banned, including Georgia, is 3.9 percent.
For the record, the New York bill contains explicit protections to ensure that religious organizations cannot be forced to recognize gay marriage or be forced to host marriages, receptions or similar ceremonies. While such protections are probably unnecessary, I think theyâ€™re also entirely appropriate. The histrionics of Lopez and others about tyranny aside, this is not an attempt to use government to impose something; it is an attempt to convince government to allow all of its citizens, not just some, to share in the benefits, rights and obligations of a critically important human institution.
â€“ Jay Bookman