The Corner

Re: Marriage Proposal

Another response to Deroy: The thing I would feel subliminally guilty about, were I to feel guilty, is the sudden resurging of the out-of-wedlock birth rates. In my first 20 years of fighting for marriage, we eventually won the argument that marriage matters for children: Mothers and fathers raising their kids together is better than the ”all kinds of alternative family structures” hypothesis once so trendy among elites.

And thanks to that culture shift, and probably to welfare reform, and to the mysterious gift of the gods, the unmarried birth rate appeared for a few years around 2000 to have halted its breathtakingly rapid rise. We seemed poised on the brink of living in an America where every year fewer children — rather than more and more — are born to an unwed parents.

But in the last five years, unmarried child-rearing has resumed its inexorable rise. 38 percent of all babies are born out of wedlock, which implies probably more than half of women who become mothers for the first time do so while not married.

Is it mere coincidence that this resurgence in illegitimacy happened during the five years in which gay marriage has become (not thanks to me or my choice) the most prominent marriage issue in America — and the one marriage idea endorsed by the tastemakers to the young in particular? I don’t think we can ever know for sure because the cultural changes that affect sexual behavior consist of myriad inputs that social science will seldom be able to tease out. Marriage was already in crisis.

All we can say for sure is that, as David Blankenhorn pointed out in The Future of Marriage, the scientific data confirms gay marriage and the “progressive” attitudes towards family structure tend to go hand-in-hand — not only here, but everywhere around the world.

For conservatives, who believe ideas have consequences, this is not that hard to understand. If what ”Allen and Steve,” to use Deroy’s terminology, are doing is marriage, then marriage is obviously not about connecting sex to love, babies, mothers, and fathers. It no longer has deep roots in nature; it’s an artifice of government, to be distributed among adults according to legal and political processes, to achieve merely utilitarian purposes.  

Gay marriage is the point where we as a society decide collectively and publicly that many, many other things are more important to us than connecting mothers and fathers to their children. We discard marriage as an idea prior to and bigger than government. Marriage becomes something that was dreamed up by legislators on a good day, rather than rooted in creation itself.

To be sure, it works in both directions: The only reason gay marriage is plausible is because we were already losing the idea that marriage is bigger than government, that its “sanctity” comes from the intrinsic sacredness of bringing together male and female in the service of making the future happen. But officially endorsing gay unions as marriages is a very big marker of cultural change: It visibly discards as false this once honored and honorable ideal, now considered stigmatized, backwards, and discriminatory.

Not to mention, thanks solely to gay marriage, we’ve now reached the point where getting government out of the marriage business is being advanced by conservative intellectuals. Just a few short years ago, that idea was solely the province of the radical Left. (The conservatives who do this do so as part of a futile attempt to reduce the law’s power to redefine marriage’s intrinsic meaning). And I’m supposed to believe this whole gay marriage thing doesn’t matter? 

I understand why gay marriage advocates like Deroy attempt to make people feel ashamed or embarrassed about caring so much about the meaning of marriage. This is, to my mind, one of the most corrupting things about the way the gay marriage debate is being conducted: Not only do so many now try to make people afraid to speak up for the good, they seek to make people ashamed of the good itself.

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