Back to the Drawing Board on the Marriage Debate

Over at the magazine The American Conservative, college professor Stephen Baskerville argues that defenders of traditional marriage need to rethink the arguments they have been offering up to this point in the debate.

The weakest argument for the traditional cause, Professor Baskerville claims, consists of the “vague assertions that homosexual marriage weakens true marriage in some way—which in itself, actually, it does not.”

Baskerville argues that it is not the homosexual lobby that has brought about the decline of traditional marriage – rather, its heterosexual should-have-been supporters bear the blame. While Robert P. George et al.’s new article (on the nature of marriage and the state of the gay vs. traditional marriage debate, as referenced on a separate post) would disagree with some of his theories, Baskerville claims,

The demand for same-sex marriage is a symptom, not a cause, of the deterioration of marriage. By far the most direct threat to the family is heterosexual divorce. “Commentators miss the point when they oppose homosexual marriage on the grounds that it would undermine traditional understandings of marriage,” writes family scholar Bryce Christensen. “It is only because traditional understandings of marriage have already been severely undermined that homosexuals are now laying claim to it.”

Though gay activists cite their desire to marry as evidence that their lifestyle is not inherently promiscuous, they readily admit that marriage is no longer the barrier against promiscuity that it once was. If the standards of marriage have already been lowered, they ask, why shouldn’t homosexuals be admitted to the institution?

“The world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50% divorce rates preceded gay marriage,” Andrew Sullivan points out. “All homosexuals are saying C9 is that, under the current definition, there’s no reason to exclude us. If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead. But until you do, the exclusion of gays is simply an anomaly—and a denial of basic civil equality.”

Not only do the current, massively-lowered standards surrounding traditional straight marriage make it difficult its supporters to exclude gays. Baskerville thinks that arguments typically offered in defense of traditional marriage are just as weak:

The notion that marriage exists for love or “to express and safeguard an emotional union of adults,” as one proponent puts it, is cant. Many loving and emotional human relationships do not involve marriage.

What is the proposed solution? What can supporters point to as a feature of traditional, straight marriage that elevates its meaning?

Marriage exists primarily to cement the father to the family. This fact is politically incorrect but undeniable. The breakdown of marriage produces widespread fatherlessness, not motherlessness. As Margaret Mead pointed out long ago—yes, leftist Margaret Mead was correct about this—motherhood is a biological certainty whereas fatherhood is socially constructed. The father is the weakest link in the family bond, and without the institution of marriage he is easily discarded […]

[…]Even the conservative argument that marriage exists to rear children is too imprecise: marriage creates fatherhood. No marriage, no fathers.

Once this principle is recognized, same-sex marriage makes no sense. Judge Walker’s [the federal judge who overturned California’s Proposition 8, which restored a traditional definition to marriage within the state]  “finding of fact” that “gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage” is rendered preposterous. Marriage between two men or two women simply mocks the purpose of the institution. Homosexual parenting only further distances biological fathers (and some mothers too) from their children, since at least some homosexual parents must acquire their children from someone else—usually through heterosexual divorce. [comment added]

Treading this new road, Baskerville concludes, will not be easy:

This is not a small undertaking. It would mean confronting the radical sexual establishment in its entirety—not only homosexuals but their allies among feminists, bar associations, psychotherapists, social workers, and pubic schools. It would raise the stakes significantly—or rather it would highlight how high the stakes already are. It would also focus public attention on the interconnectedness of these threats to the family and freedom. It would foster a coalition of parents with a vested personal interest in marriage and parental rights.

The alternative is to continue mouthing platitudes, in which case we will be dismissed as a chorus of scolds and moralizers—and yes, bigots. And we will lose.

There is also an extensive discussion concerning the importance of marriage as a political institution, as well as positive steps policy makers can take make this newly-tweaked approach to marriage a reality. The entire article is well worth the read.

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