posted at 12:51 am on June 26, 2011 by Dafydd ab Hugh
Perversity’s blowback as the savior of marriage
Now that New York State has approved same-sex marriage — rather, now that the New York State legislature has done so, probably over the objections of a strong majority of its own citizen constituents — we need a battleplan to hold the line against this becoming the norm.
Why? So what if the federal circus courts begin striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in this and that circuit, forcing states that oppose SSM nevertheless to have it de facto anyway. What’s the big deal?
The “big deal” is that once same-sex marriage (SSM) has become nearly universal around the country, then we’re going to see the same terrible effects on our society that we already see in Europe: diminished interest in marriage (it’s no longer special), more domestic violence, even quicker divorces, a marked drop in the fertility rate, massive importation of fecund immigrants who have no loyalty whatsoever to the United States… and of course ever greater pressure to also allow polygamy and polyandry, group marriage, and so forth.
Pro-SSM people (like Patterico) are fond of making the argument that somebody else’s SSM doesn’t affect his own marriage; his marriage is still just as strong! Just as strong, perhaps; but not just as special as it used to be, not when any random association between two or more people of any gender can also be called a “marriage.”
It’s like counterfeiting money: If I print my own twenty-dollar bills, that doesn’t physically change the real bills you have in your wallet at this moment; they don’t magically change into newspaper, the ink doesn’t turn a different color, Andy Jackson doesn’t morph into George Soros. In that sense, my counterfeits don’t directly affect your sawbucks… but my counterfeits indirectly devalue your real bills, creating uncertainty about which currency is real and which is fake, how much is out there, which is truly legal tender and which an ersatz copy that, if discovered, is worthless.
My counterfeit currency spreads fear, uncertainty, doubt. Private counterfeiting is as bad as rampant money-creation via the Federal Reserve; worse in the sense that at least the Fed must report on its activities from time to time.
By this analogy, traditional marriage is the currency backed by some form of specie, that which gives the institution of marriage itself the very cache and social benefit that same-sex couples want to claim for their own. Contrariwise, any other form of union that is legally called marriage is the fiat or counterfeit currency; it piggy-backs on the real institution of marriage, hoping some of the moral, emotional, and sacred virtue rubs off.
Marriage is quite a special social institution; that’s why it’s the one to which we entrust child rearing. But to paraphrase Dash in the Incredibles, when everything is “special,” then nothing is special.
So what to do, what to do? With the third largest state in the U.S. falling, I fear that train has left the station. Even if there is a later referendum in New York and the people reverse that decision, already hundreds of thousands of people across the nation will have flown to the Bug Apple and gotten legally married. And as we’re finding out in California, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle again, even if it was let out in despite of the voters.
You can’t fight something with nothing; we need something positive to fight for, not just something negative to fight against; we can’t allow ourselves to be put on the defensive by the Left and by libertarians who oppose legal marriage altogether. I believe there is only one answer: The Covenant marriage movement must become a popular front, just as the Tea Party movement already has.
Covenant marriage (CM) as a distinct legal institution arose comparatively recently, in response to the jump in the divorce rate in the 1980s. It differs significantly from normal legal marriage in ways that make it vastly more exclusive an institution:
- In a CM, couples must first undergo pre-nuptial counseling before they can marry.
- They agree to limit the grounds for divorce from the standard normal around the country — if either party wants a divorce, that’s grounds for divorce — to a much narrower set of grounds, usually spousal or child abuse, felony conviction, or adultery. (If a state allows a CM couple to negotiate its own covenant, there can of course be more or fewer grounds for divorce.)
- Any CM passed by citizen demand would, by its enabling legislation, be restricted to the traditional definition of marriage — one man, one woman. Creating a new form of marriage to exclude non-traditional groups of people being married is the only reason that CM legislation is likely to be passed in most states.
- CM is non-denominational and can be performed by civil authorities as well as religious; there’s no religiosity requirement.
But how could CM become “the savior of marriage?” It’s clear that the law cannot confer any greater legal status upon a couple married under CM than normal marriage confers upon the two, three, n-number of males and/or females who “marry” under that regime.
Yet that very point should make it harder for the courts to subvert CM: Same-sex couples (and later, groups of people larger than two) cannot argue that they’re excluded from legal marriage, up to and including the name “marriage.” They have the same legal rights and status, insofar as the secular law is concerned. Therefore, they have no legal ground to demand that Covenant marriage be forced to allow same-sex, polyamorous, group, incestuous, or under-aged marriages. The only difference between normal and Covenant marriage is that the latter has a number of restrictions not found in the former.
True, CM confers no more legal rights than normal marriage; but extra legal rights were never really the source of the specialness of marriage — except perhaps the legal right for spouses not to testity against each other. (That last will certainly have to be revisioned when polyamorous marriages are allowed, unless we want entire Mafia families and street gangs to “marry” each other, so that nobody can squeal.)
No, the specialness of marriage has always flowed from its exclusivity and its permanence… which is why the Left has persistently attacked both those qualities by (a) twisting the definition of marriage towards making any association of any number of people a “marriage,” and (b) making it easier and easier to walk away from a marriage upon the slightest pretext, provocation, or whim.
By restoring exclusivity and strengthening permanence, CM becomes the “real” marriage, and ordinary legal marriage just a trendy domestic partnership. And if that is how people begin to see it, we’ll see more and more traditional couples getting married under Covenant, so they can demonstrate to the world their commitment to, and determination to work at, the union.
Ordinary legal marriage will persist, and will still confer the same legal status and rights; but it will probably fall into greater and greater disrepute among the majority: “Oh, you won’t marry me with a Covenenant marriage? What, you want a back door out whenever you get bored with me? Drop dead, you creep!”
Women especially will have good reason to demand a CM or nothing: They know better than most men how vital is an intact family, with a male father and a female mother, when raising children.
A few caveats, none of which changes the basic equation:
- It’s very unlikely that Congress will pass a federal version of CM. Nor should it. We have an enviable system of federalism; let it work! Each state can decide what exact kind of Covenant marriage to allow, if any, in its enabling legislation.
- Even if your state enacts a strong version of CM, it cannot make it illegal for one of the partners to move to another state, establish residency, and then get divorced under that state’s no-fault divorce law that doesn’t recognize the covenant. That’s the price of liberty.
There will never come a time when normal marriage is abolished altogether; because if it did vanish from a state, then the Left could once again raise the spector of “unequal treatment.” Specious though it is — gays and straights alike are constrained in who they can marry; neither can marry a sibling, for example — the judiciary has signalled that it is ready to cram SSM down our throats, and to hell with voters.
But that’s a feature, not a bug; when state citizens must actually make a choice which type of marriage to enter into, they necessarily will have to think longer and harder about it that with a normal legal marriage. (As of course we all should, and do, if we believe it to be a solemn vow.)
Just as tea parties have swept the nation in a “popular front“ — and I believe I was the first person to so desribe them, back in February, 2010 — I see Covenant marriage doing the same (with a vast overlap, most likely). And that means those of us who support traditional marriage no longer need wage a defensive war, trying to protect every state, city, village, and farm from the contagion of the “love bug,” the untenable and cockamamie meme that “love is all you need” for marriage.
That bit of wrongthinking leads directly to our present discontent, the conclusion that any two or more people who “love” each other should be allowed to marry… men, women, siblings, fathers with their daughters, forty year olds with fourteen year olds, one man with eight women.
Instead, we can revert to the traditional American strategy of opening our own offensive. Rather than try to defend the status quo ante, we fight to implement a new form of marriage that is more exclusive and more permanent, bucking the leftist trend towards inclusion and impermanence. We slap both kinds of marriage on the table, then let the people choose. I predict that after an astonishingly brief time, “normal” marriage, with its unspecial universality and unserious provisional nature, will sink into desuetude, the last step before moribundity.
Americans may be many things, but not generally a mob: When the Left forces mob-rule upon us — or more accurately, when they gin-up mobs to force tyranny upon the rest of us, with themselves as smug, self-satisfied tyrants — we the people have a glorious history of rising up against them. This is true whether it’s the tyranny of socialism, the tyranny of “diversity,” or the tyranny of perversity.
As SSM spreads and infects more and more states, CM will grow alongside and surpass it in every venue. Soon the Obamunists will be fighting the defensive war, clinging to their “inclusive” definition of marriage. We achieve victory within the culture, despite — even because of — the Left’s victory in the courts and legislatures. As an institution that is far more societal than legal, a solid victory within the culture is of much greater moment and future value than merely winning legal and legislative battles on the ground.
As the pushback becomes a wave, then a tsunami, and more and more states enact some version of Covenant marriage, then we’ll once again have an exclusive and durable form of union to offer in preference to the liberals’ and leftists marriage-lite. I sense that people, most especially young adults, have grown tired of weak tea and tolerance of everything, including intolerance itself. They crave something permanent, solid, bigger than themselves.
Give us Americans the choice, and I believe we will once again lead the rest of the world out of its moral morass.
Cross-posted on Big Lizards…
Recently in the Green Room:
- Programming note: Guest-hosting the Hugh Hewitt Show tonight w/ MKH
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- Winning entry for HHS’s ObamaCare propaganda video contest: “Forget About the Price Tag”
- The Ed Morrissey Show on hiatus
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