The Corner

Dutch Marriage

Jonathan Rauch has some questions about my causal framework. The short answer is that the impact of gay marriage depends on pre-existing conditions in a particular country. Gay marriage weakens the idea that the fundamental purpose of marriage is to encourage a mother and father to stay together for the sake of the children they may produce. The stronger that notion is to begin with, the greater is the impact of gay marriage. For more, see “The Marriage Mentality.”

As to the issue of timing, it’s certainly striking that the Dutch passed registered partnerships in the same year that a long, continuous, two-percentage point rise in the Dutch out-of-wedlock birthrate began. But the passage of laws is only part of the process by which same-sex marriage contributes to marital decline. Even before the law changes, public debate begins to shift the meaning of marriage for society as a whole. In The Netherlands, we had significant debate in parliament in 1996, and symbolic marriages (Gavin Newsom lite) in many municipalities, well before that. All that had a strong effect on the public’s view of what marriage meant. For more, see “Going Dutch?

I remember all those articles in the American press about how “the sky hasn’t fallen” in The Netherlands. Most of those stories used Dutch gay marriage advocates as sources. Only a decade ago, marriage in The Netherlands was quite strong in comparison to the rest of northern Europe. If you want to see what’s become of Dutch marriage today, have a look at this essay by Jan Latten, a demographer at CBS, Holland’s official statistical agency: “Trends in Cohabiting and Marriage.”

This is what’s become of Dutch marriage in the years since registered partnerships and gay marriage passed. Ask yourself if Latten’s account is consistent with the “conservative case” for same-sex marriage. For my comments on Latten’s essay, see “Standing Out.”

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