New York’s previous fault-based divorce system was out of step not only with the laws of the other 49 states but also with a culture in which divorce is commonplace and marriage for life is no longer the norm. This state of affairs has multiple and mutually reinforcing causes: female careerism, which reduces the value of the traditional male provider; the social acceptability of nonmarital sex (still quaintly termed “premarital”), made possible by the easy availability of contraception and abortion; and welfare and child-support laws that create incentives for childbearing outside marriage.
None of these developments have anything to do with homosexuality. Deroy Murdock made a good point some years back when he observed, in a column posted at NRO, that “social conservatives who blow their stacks over homosexual matrimony’s supposed threat to traditional marriage tomorrow should focus on the far greater damage that heterosexuals are wreaking on that venerable institution today.”
Murdock should have written “have wreaked for decades,” because the developments we note all long predate any serious consideration of the idea of same-sex marriage. And it must be said that some social conservatives–notably Maggie Gallagher, another frequent National Review contributor–do take a broader view of the subject. As a political matter, however, outside the area of abortion it is hard to find a constituency whose members are eager to subject themselves to greater obligations or constraints in the name of social stability or for the good of the next generation.
Thus for the foreseeable future, civil marriage is likely to retain its character as little more than a financial arrangement.