Monday, July 25, 2011
NY Gays Tie the Knot: What's Lost by Re-defining Marriage
Why shouldn't Alvin Woods, 27, and Antonio Lopez, 25, enjoy the public revelation of their tattooed wedding rings at their legal linkage? For these and the other happy couples newly wed in New York, to headlines celebrating the ability of same-sex partners to become "like everyone else," it's a day to proclaim love.
What could possibly be wrong with that?
It's true that people who believe that God gave us His commandments in the Bible--and that God is not to be dissed--won't accept two of the same gender as married. History, too, would contra-indicate that two of the same sex qualify as spouses. Dictionaries, at least until very recently, defined "marry" like mine does: "1. to join as husband and wife; unite in wedlock, 2. to join a man to a woman as her husband, or a a woman to a man as his wife... (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language)"
But why not just change things? History is no argument to continue an archaic institution; civilization is the story of improvement--for example, women now fulfll their potentials in far more than motherhood or as support for their men (or librarians, teachers, nurses and secretaries, the only four professions expected for women as recently as the mid-1960s). Those who want to hold by the Bible's dictates don't have to participate in gay marriages, and dictionaries are easily re-written.
Certainly that's what's coming.
But in declaring the union of two men or women as exactly the same as the marriage of opposite genders, we lose an important distinction that in other areas we wish to preserve: male and female. With gay marriage legally sanctioned, we are to believe that sex between two lesbians has the same consequence for society as sex between a man and woman. Male plus male? Male plus female? Female plus female? It's all the same in marriage, under New York law.
Here's the hitch: In elevating gay relationships to be equivalent to straight marriages, we proclaim that it is no longer worth society's endorsement for a child to be raised by his or her biological parents. We no longer assert that our nation is best served when children live with their natural mothers and fathers, together.
Research on outcomes for children without that benefit suggest otherwise. Children raised by single parents, or in combined families, or by gay couples can certainly emerge healthy. However, in no gay family could a child be raised by both biological parents. Kids learn different things from a mother and a father. And have least complications when that mother and father are their own.
For that reason, the nation has a stake in promoting married biological families. "Every major social pathology that can trouble an American child happens more often when his or her parents are not joined by marriage," writes Maggie Gallagher in The Meaning of Marriage (2006), "more poverty, dependency, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, suicide, depression, mental illness, infant mortality, physical illness, education failure, high school dropouts, sexually transmitted diseases, and early unwed childbearing, and later on, divorce."
When we re-define marriage as the union of any two people who love each other, we change the focus from our nation's future to warm touchy-feelies of love, in the present. We lose a long-term perspective, substituting a carpe diem, emotional priority.
As a nation, we need children to grow up with optimized chances to succeed, earn money, and create further happy families. We like it when gay citizens can live with those they love, and feel respected. But that's not the government's business or job--let religious officials, friends and family declare these unions permanent and appreciated. Don't make these people go through expensive public courts to dissolve them when they fail, since their existence, while adding to personal satisfaction, contributes little to national goals that governments control.
Sari Kessler and Erika Karp were married 12 years ago in their synagogue by their rabbi. But that wasn't enough for them, despite having three daughters, ages 9, 6 and 3. "People need to know we're just like everyone else," Sari Kessler said in explanation for why she is "absolutely elated" to gain legal married status. "Our families are just as valued and important and special as any other family in the world,'' affirmed her bride.
But actually, with all due respect, gay families may be important and special and valued--but not as much by a society with a need to encourage an ideal. Yet officially, in the six states where gay marriage is legal, they are now just as ideal as marriages with the potential to provide children both a biological mother and father.
And that's what we've lost. We've lost the ability to say, "we have evidence that this is the preferred way to do it; this way, with both a mother and father raising their biological children, provides something our society values more because it offers the best chance to produce children that will turn out whole, well-adjusted and ready to emulate mothers and fathers they've had loving them and each other."
Men and women are not interchangeable. All the brain research confirms that the genders have fundamental, irreducibile differences that complement each other. The 1.4% of people who are homosexual deserve to spend their lives with whomever they please. But we do ourselves and our children a disservice to suggest that the unions they form are the same as heterosexual marriages.
Distinctions serve a purpose, especially when based on replicated research--men and women are different, and the bond they form is different from the bond formed by two of the same gender. But we're coming to a time when legally, we can know it and even demonstrate it but can't live it. Now that gay marriages are becoming numerous enough to warrant widespread research and analysis, we'll soon have data, and from what studies I've seen so far, I suspect academics will confirm that yes, marriages of, say, lesbians are dfferent from, say, marriages of gay men. When we must deny reality, that will surely be a big loss.