Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Review: Federalist Society Online Debate About Marriage

The libertarian-leaning Federalist Society recently hosted an interesting debate on same-sex marriage as part of its Online Debate Series. Participants included law professors Dale Carpenter, Robert Nagel, Andy Koppelman, and Amy Wax. I encourage interested parties to read through the postings for themselves. If you don't feel like wading through all the posts, what follows is what I believe to be some of the more interesting parts of the debate (all quotes from the debate).

The real fun begins when Professor Amy Wax actually uses the phrase "gay agenda," as though gay marriage advocates are one monolithic like-minded group, in her argument. Hold on to your hats and glasses, folks, whenever you hear that phrase you can bet it's going to be all downhill after that. For instance, she states:

"First, whether we like it or not, a big part of the gay agenda for decades has been to repudiate what are regarded as overly restrictive expectations of monogamy and sexual fidelity....Even more unfortunately, what has been happening in inner city and low income communities illustrates this all too starkly: the rise of multi-partner relationships as a way of life has been a major force in the decline of marriage. So we should be wary of extending marriage to a community with influential people who believe that sexual monogamy isn't that important, that sexually unfaithful partnerships are not such a big deal."

In other words, gay people aren't monogamous. If we let this group of non-monogamous people marry, they will influence heterosexuals to be non-monogamous and this will de-stabilize marriage. She is quickly taken to task for this argument, but I just want to jump in and say seriously? Does this woman know gay people? Does she actually know that lesbians are like the most monogamous people on the planet and are actually really boring once they are in relationships!?

Also of note is the complete non sequitur about how what's been happening in "inner city and low income communities" illustrates "this" very well. Wow, policy wonks take note: The crisis in the inner cities will definitely be exacerbated by the "fact" that gay people are not monogamous. What a fun variation on the Gay Marriage Will Exacerbate Black Fatherlessness argument. Yet, those of us who are operating in the real world know that when it comes to the Inner City Crisis (tm), studies actually show that it has nothing at all to do with gay people or gay marriage. Rather, studies show that "Male unemployment and low wages are primary reasons why parents do not marry, why 2-parent families break up, and why fathers fail to remain involved with their children."

Ooooh, and want to hear an interesting paternalistic/authoritarian double-standard? When black people in urban areas are promiscuous, social conservatives tell them to get married. When gay men are promiscuous, conservatives tell them they cannot get married because they are too promiscuous. What confused arguments. I suppose for magical reasons, marriage will promote monogamy for black people but not for gay men.

Continuing on, Dale Carpenter counters Wax:

"Professor Wax’s first concern is that gay couples resist sexual monogamy and that allowing them to marry might entice heterosexuals to follow their libertine ways. The force of this concern is blunted at the outset by the fact that two-thirds of legally recognized same-sex couples are lesbians, who are famously monogamous. The contagious-promiscuity argument is really about *guy* marriage, not gay marriage."

Thank you, Mr. Carpenter, for remembering that lesbians are also involved in this debate. So many of those opposed to same-sex marriage base their opposition on the alleged behaviors of gay men as though non-monogamous gay men are the only gay people who matter. If this non-monogamy argument is the only reason some are opposed to same-sex marriage, then there is absolutely no reason why monogamous gays and lesbians should not be allowed to marry. He continues,

"More importantly, there’s no reason to believe that heterosexual couples model their sexual lives on gay men....Consider the numerical obstacle to such influence. Male couples will be about 1% of all marriages. Some will commit to monogamy; others will be discreet about their non-monogamy. So we’re really talking about much less than 1% of marriages. That paltry number will undermine heterosexual morals? Undermine them more than our super-monogamous lesbian role models will reinforce them?"

I think those opposed to gay marriage think gay men are much more powerful and influential than they actually are. I know the gays are pretty trendy, but I doubt they'll start a ginormous swinger revolution. Give me a break.

Amy Wax responds, mostly by re-stating her original argument: Yes-huh, gay philanderers will too influence society. It's all a slippery slope my friends:

"If some 'tolerate' philandering, and that makes philandering more prevalent and more acceptable (which it does) and that leads to more philandering, and that puts stress on relationships or creates more instability in relationships, we have a problem. If philandering breaks up families and produces extra-marital children that the rest of us end up helping support, that is what I call an impact. Indeed, the havoc that lack of sexual restraint wreaks is VERY MUCH something that affects all of us every single day."

I think she missed the part of Carpenter's argument where he stated that less than 1% of all married couples would be non-monogamous if gay couples were allowed to marry. I mean, I guarantee that currently AT LEAST 1% of current heterosexual married couples are non-monogamous. (See how capitalizing words in your sentences bolsters your argument?). Ever heard of swingers clubs? See, what I can't stand is how so many of those opposed to gay marriage hold gay people to much higher standards of behavior than they hold heterosexual couples to. It's a fact that some hetero married couples are non-monogamous right now, but somehow it will be the non-monogamy of a small group of gay men that will, for special lucky reasons, wreak social "havoc"? I think not.

But alas, Wax continues her completely out-of-touch with reality theories:

"[I]f lots of homosexuals decide that monogamy is really not that important -- not an essential part of marriage, which is really just about 'rights' and getting 'equal recognition' -- that is not just 'their business.'"

But that's the thing, Professor Wax. "Lots" of "homosexuals" are not deciding that monogamy is "not that important." Educate yourself before making such ignorant statements. Please.

And why are we all talking about gaymansex so much anyway?

Carpenter wonders too:

"But if you knew nothing about the gay-marriage debate except what you read in this exchange, you’d get the impression it’s all about gay male sex. This is odd but, alas, not uncommon in discussions about including homosexuals in the laws and institutions of this country. Forget lesbians, forget children, forget committed and tradition-minded gay-male couples who are the most likely even to want to marry – all that matters is that a small number of married gay male couples may have too much sex with too many people."

How accurate. In my experience, most discussions surrounding this issue invariably degenerate into arguments surrounding gay male promiscuity, non-monogamy, HIV/AIDS, and that lovely outdated pseudo-medical term "gay bowel disease." Among the general population and especially anti-gays, there remains a peculiar fascination, repulsion, and "ick" factor surrounding gay male sexuality. Yet, Carpenter continues, with this obsessive focus on the sexual behavior of some gay men, gay families are being harmed by their lack of inclusion in the legal system:

"Meanwhile, what is the traditionalist response to the decades-long growth of gay families, including families with children? So far, it’s been malign neglect. I really suspect that many traditionalists do not give much thought at all to the needs of gay families. If they think about these things at all, they wish it would simply go away. But it is not going away."

So, while "concerned" folks like Peter LaBarbera, the Concerned Women For America, Focus on the Family, and others obsessively focus on gay male sexuality, they ignore the fact that millions of families are left out of the legal system. They snap their pictures of leather fairs and men kissing on the streets and present it to their members, as though these non-representative snapshots are representative behavior of all gay people. As though no gay people are just average people like them trying to make in the world. These "family values" groups utterly ignore the real, everyday families that are harmed by their bigotry and obsession with gay male sexuality. It's time to stop focusing on the anus, folks, and start actually focusing on families.

To end, I'd like to quote Andy Koppelman. I like much of what Professor Koppelman had to say. He was clear-headed, well-spoken, and refused to roll down many of Wax's slippery slopes. He jumped in the debate to question whether there is some moral difference between gay relationships and heterosexual ones. Of those who argue that gay relationships are not intrinsically valuable, he said:

"...[T]here is a fundamental difficulty in the claim that there is too much love in the world, and that we therefore must weed out love of the wrong kind."

I find that statement to be particularly convincing as, essentially, those who oppose homosexuality are saying that love, an undoubtedly positive emotion, is somehow wrong, bad, or evil. Is there so much love in the world that there isn't room for us, as a society, to sanction more of it?

I think not.

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