Saturday, April 23, 2005

On The "Cheapening" of Marriage

I am an avid InstaPundit reader but disagree with Glenn Reynolds 30% of the time (roughly proportional to the percentage of his posts with a truly libertarian bent on social issues). This morning Glenn just happened to repeat an argument that is increasingly irritating to me. It's not his argument, necessarily, he's just repeating it with apparent approval:

Brian Anderson's South Park Conservatives (which I've now finished) notes that campus conservatives seem to split with middle-aged ones on the question of gay marriage, not least because they've seen so much marital hypocrisy from their parents' generation. As one student observes, heterosexuals have already done plenty to cheapen marriage.
"Heterosexuals have already done plenty to cheapen marriage." Undoubtedly true, but what conclusions do we draw from that? I want to blog more about this later, but for now I'll just observe that simply because we as a society do a poor job of honoring marriage is not an argument that marriage should be further dishonored, or that the concept of marriage should be altered fundamentally. It's the flimsiest of arguments, like saying, "Well, the Washington Monument is really falling apart and we have done a poor job of caring for it. Let's tear it halfway down, paint it blue, and change its shape." Maybe not the best analogy but I'll bet you get my point.

Dennis Prager has written passionately and convincingly about this. I've yet to see anyone (including the InstaPundit) come up with a well-made argument in opposition. Prager's stinging conclusion:

[W]hile most divorces are terribly sad, divorce itself no more undermines the institution of marriage than car crashes undermine the institution of driving. In fact, the vast majority of people who do divorce deeply wish to marry again; painful divorce has not undermined marriage even among those who have divorced.

There may be honest reasons to support the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples. The argument that heterosexuals divorce a lot is not one of them. It is, in fact, demagoguery.
As Glenn might say: Indeed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Logical steps in Prager's argument:

1) Many people who divorce deeply wish to remarry.
2) Therefore, people who divorce do not undermine the institution of marriage.

Implicit in this chain is the unstated step 1A, that people who deeply wish to marry reinforce, rather than undermine, marriage.

In light of this unspoken piece of the argument, isn't it true that when gay people deeply wish to marry, they are reinforcing rather than undermining marriage?


Posted by A

Saturday, April 23, 2005 9:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lowell -

Check out the article linked in my post "GAY MARRIAGE - Pushing the whole camel under the tent!" 


Posted by J. A. Gillmartin

Saturday, April 23, 2005 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I''l give you credit for a valiant effort at argument, but I think what you are saying is ultimately specious. Not only do you miss the point, you attempt to hijack it. Yes, many people desire marriage, including gays. That's why even those who are divorced overwhelmingly want to try again. Prager's point is that failure at marriage does not cheapen its worth. To argue that because gays desire marriage, that makes marriage more valued, and therefore gays should be allowed to marry, is circular reasoning of the worst kind.

Posted by The Hedgehog

Saturday, April 23, 2005 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have yet to read an argument against gay marriage that doesn't rely on the writer's own bigotry. You yourself wrote that allowing gay marriage will "further dishonor" marriage. The notion that their association with marriage will somehow "dishonor" the institution reveals your own bigoted views toward gays. Until you can come up with a rational argument that doesn't appeal to your own bigotry, Dennis Prager is right that the damage to the institution of marriage by the high divorce rate is a non-issue. Because it's not about marriage. It's about your own bigotry.

Posted by nash

Saturday, April 23, 2005 3:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nash, methinks thou dost protest too much. Why do those supporting your point of view rush to name-calling? Why is everyone who disagrees with you a bigot? Look at the quote from Glenn Reynolds: ". . . they've seen so much marital hypocrisy from their parents' generation. As one student observes, heterosexuals have already done plenty to cheapen marriage." I was simply expressing their argument and then attacking it: They say marriage is already cheapened (again, they used that word, not I) and so what's the harm of cheapening it further?"

For the record, I do not think allowing gay marriage would "dishonor" marriage. It would, however, re-define it to mean something it has never meant. Do we want to do that? That's the debate. Name-calling will get us nowhere. 

Posted by The Hedgehog

Saturday, April 23, 2005 8:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marriage is simply a civil contract under the law. You people that want to make a big religious deal about it should keep it in the religion. As far as the government is concerned let people contract as they wish.  

Posted by Anonymous

Sunday, April 24, 2005 1:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To begin with, neither Dennis Prager nor I made "a big religious deal" out of this. Anyone can argue that what we call a family is an important societal matter; it doesn't have to be a religious discussion. But leaving that aside, your argument goes way too far. If a citizen's views about a public policy matter are informed by his religion, he has to keep quiet about that issue? Come on! 

Posted by The Hedgehog

Sunday, April 24, 2005 8:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm simply calling a spade a spade. I searched your blog and couldn't find any post where *you* argue against gay marriage so I can't speak to *your* specific reasoning, but every argument I've read on how gay marriage will somehow cheapen or dishonor the institution relies on a moral judgement that homosexuality is inherently wrong, which I don't buy and see as purely bigotry. I welcome you to show me that I'm wrong.

I don't think the quotes from Glenn are meant to be a rebuttal to the argument that gay marriage will somehow cheapen the institution. I think he's simply pointing out how preposterous that argument is given the reality that the institution has been trashed by straight society and nobody is worried enough to propose any fixes.

Marriage has been redefined throughout the ages. I don't see how including gays in the institution is bad. If your next argument is that it will lead to polygamy, then I don't have a problem with that either. If Jesus didn't have a problem with it in his day then I'm not sure why I should. 

Posted by Anonymous

Sunday, April 24, 2005 9:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It would, however, re-define it to mean something it has never meant. Do we want to do that? That's the debate. Name-calling will get us nowhere."

I think that's a valid question. And a fair statement. I just think the answer is fairly obvious. Before Loving v. Virginia, marriage "meant" a union between two people of the same race. The experience of a change in the definition of marriage to allow interracial relationships to fall within that definition shows that such evolution is not new to us, nor even very interesting. Things go along as they always have, some opposing and some supporting. In the end, dictionary definitions of social institutions are not nearly as important as how we each choose to live out those institutions in our personal lives. 

Posted by A

Sunday, April 24, 2005 2:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A, your dialectics frighten me. While I consider myself 'spiritual not religious' you must understand that under no circumstances can 'standards' even removed from the context of 'right and wrong' ever be philosophically negotiable.

My wife and I married, each with the understanding that if we were going to do it, we were going to do it for life. Divorce would never be an option. Sure, two people can negotiate their own 'civil union' contract, but under no circumstances can that ever be a marriage. 

Posted by Matthew Peek

Sunday, April 24, 2005 6:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matthew, outside of whatever religious belief you were married under what the hell do you think your marriage is? Whether you want to believe it or not your marriage under the law is, in fact, a "civil union" contract.  

Posted by Anonymous

Monday, April 25, 2005 12:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


For you, a "civil union" contract will never be a marriage. However, to two people who become bound in a "civil union" and conceive of that union as a marriage, it is marriage.

From your perspective, no matter how loud or how long or how strong they scream that they have a marriage, it will never be a marriage in your eyes. So surely you can understand that to them, your similar protests also fall on deaf ears and no matter the strength of your defamation of their union, it will always be a marriage.

Definitions are subjective. No one, not even you, has the power to control how each couple defines their relationship. 

Posted by A

Monday, April 25, 2005 7:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Point 1. correct, that is a legal fact however your logic is fallacious. "If a then b" does not equate to "b, therefore a"

Point 2. correct, but that doesn't make it good.

Point 3. No, they are not. Those that allow them to be are the same insidious moles that gnaw away the roots of society.

Point 4. correct, but who said I was trying? 

Posted by Matthew Peek

Monday, April 25, 2005 5:44:00 PM  

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