no third solution

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Because Marriage is a Public Good…

June 25th, 2007

…gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry.

Wait – WTF?

When they said “This has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman,” they lied. The worst argument I’ve ever heard against marriage “benefits” for unmarried people:

Society gives “benefits” to marriage because marriage gives benefits to society. Therefore, when those who are not married, such as people in homosexual or cohabiting relationships, seek to receive such public benefits, they bear the burden of proof…

He goes on about this “burden of proof” argument, citing the virtues of a recent Michigan ruling which stipulates that “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.” But what’s striking about the Michigan ruling is that it may also prevent companies from offering privately provided benefits to gay or lesbian couples, although even if it doesn’t go that far, it will certainly be harmful to “society” in another manner: the gay physics professor at the local university, the lesbian district attorney – they’ll be looking for another job in a friendlier locale. And “society” will be forced to hire the second-best candidate for these jobs, which means that society will get second-rate physics and second-rate prosecution. This is objectively a social welfare loss, not hocus-pocus like “marriage gives benefits to society.”
But back to the “public goods” argument:

The legal and financial benefits of marriage are not an entitlement for every citizen regardless of lifestyle. They give an incentive to enter into the socially beneficial relationship of authentic marriage and give protection to the social institution of marriage.

Now, maybe I was being naïve, but I thought the idea of marriage was a loving commitment between two people – you know, cherish in sickness and in health, till death do us part, and so on? The hidden implication of this position is that gay marriage would not merely not be a public good, it wouldn’t even be neutral, and would actually cause net negative externalities.

Sprigg really suggests that marriage is a public good – one that would be underprovided in a free market, therefore smuggling in the justification for State-funded economic “incentives.” This is a position which is simply worse than false. We don’t need to institutionalize marriage in order to procreate: people love to fuck, and they’ll do it anyways. Nor does marriage ensure procreation – the social “benefit” Mr. Sprigg holds in such high esteem. This is an argument which KipEsquire has more than adequately addressed:

[S]ociety neither requires married heterosexual couples to have children nor denies marriage to heterosexual couples who cannot conceive (do we really need to reinvent this wheel every single time there’s a gay marriage lawsuit anywhere?)

Well, we shouldn’t need to reinvent this wheel, but some people have a funny habit of ignoring logical arguments with which they don’t agree. Under scrutiny, like most “public goods”, it fails both tests – the institution of marriage first and foremost bestows benefits of a psychic nature on the married couple. This is the prime incentive to wed, and one that is perfectly excludable to the extreme, because gays are drawing from a distinctly different pool of potential partners: other gays. Nobody marries in order to confer benefits upon society (although it could be argued that at least some people get married to game the system for the ‘legal and financial benefits’) – they marry for their own well-being. Whatever ancilliary “benefits to society” can be derived from a relationship are of practically no consequence – every human relationship sustends society, and provides “benefits” to society, some to a greater extent than others.

Moreover, the argument for “protecting” marriage is an absolute farce – it’s a point Sprigg makes here, but gives no further indication that it’s one he can defend. Sprigg’s entire position can be summed up as a post hoc rationalization. Marriage wasn’t institutionalized in order to protect it from gays, and spousal privilege wasn’t codified in order to induce people to bear children. Expanding the public “benefits” to include a miniscule minority of the population doesn’t ruin or dilute the benefits given then to anyone else.

So, should we conclude that childless couples are parasitic free-riders, who should be condemned equally, the subject of vitriol – since their relationships do not benefit society “in the same way and to the same degree” as child-bearing couples’. Of course not. What is more likely is that he’s just another hatemongering bigot, writing a cookie-cutter editorial for USA Today, spewing the same nonsense that every other “pro-Family” religious zealot uses to reinforce his own fear and hatred.




no third solution

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