The Corner

Eskridge, The Book

What’s the worst thing a same-sex marriage advocate could say to damage his own case? Well, he might throw in his lot with the folks up in Canada who are trying to replace marriage with a “non-conjugal” domestic partnership system. Or he might tout the sexually open unions of gay male couples as an advance over current marital norms. William Eskridge and Darren Spedale do both of these things in their new book, Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse? (I’ll refer hereafter to first-author Eskridge alone.)

Today, in “No Nordic Bliss” I respond to an earlier article by Eskridge critiquing my work on marriage in Scandinavia. Eskridge has now expanded that article into a book on same-sex marriage in Europe (chiefly Denmark), and I’ve been working my way through an advance copy.

I’m a bit taken aback by the radicalism of this book Eskridge encourages supporters of same-sex marriage to ally with anti-marriage radicals. He suggests that at least one American state should adopt a comprehensive “non-marriage” partnership regime of the type backed by Canadian marriage abolitionists. Eskridge offers this report by Brenda Crossman as an example.

And while Eskridge appears “conservative” when claiming that Scandinavian registered partnerships may foster monogamy, he’s positively enthusiastic about gay Danish couples with sexually open marriages. Here’s a quote:

“Of course, not all couples in relationships choose to practice monogamy. Several of the partnered gay men we spoke with were not monogamous. They were open about this with their partners, which is something of an advance over the twentieth-century marital norm of repeated, but secret, cheating….” (p. 147)

No polyamorist could have said it better. The idea that open and honest sex with multiple partners is better than a fallible monogamy is the central plank in the emerging case for multi-partner marriage. Eskridge says conservatives are mistaken to think that same-sex marriages will undermine monogamy. He doesn’t seem to realize that his own approval of sexually open gay unions does exactly that.

I’ll have a more thorough critique of the Eskridge book in the future. In his original article, Eskridge totally ignores the two countries at the center of my causal case on gay marriage: Norway and The Netherlands. In his new book, Eskridge finally says something (very brief) about both countries. Yet both accounts are highly unsatisfactory. For example, Eskridge ignores my regional analysis of Norway, a key to my causal case there. He likewise avoids central points in my treatment of The Netherlands, the place where the causal effect of same-sex marriage can be isolated most clearly. (See “Standing Out.”) Still, the Eskridge book focuses overwhelmingly on Sweden and Norway, and I’m satisfied that my piece for NRO today responds to Eskridge’s core points regarding those two countries. I’ll have more to say about the new book soon. But what stuns me is the degree to which the book defends same-sex marriage by attacking marriage itself.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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