In a controversial recent piece in the Wall Street Journal (“Gay Marriage is Good for America”, June 22) Jonathan Rauch hails the benefits of matrimony in terms that most conservatives will enthusiastically endorse.
“Marriage makes you, on average, healthier, happier and wealthier,” he writes. “If you are a couple raising kids, marrying is likely to make them healthier, happier and wealthier, too. Marriage is our first and best line of defense against financial, medical and emotional meltdown.”
No fair-minded observer can argue against any of these observations, but at this point Mr. Rauch makes a logical leap that involves some neat rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Concerning the institution of marriage, he suggests that “its absence can be calamitous, whether in inner cities or gay ghettos. In 2008, denying gay Americans the opportunity to marry is not only inhumane, it is unsustainable.”
The weak point in this argument is the attempt to use the term “marriage” when he really means “long-term relationships.” Not all committed, long-term relationships are marriages. And not all marriages result in committed, long-term relationships (unfortunately).
In other words, it’s true that the absence of lasting relationships has proven “calamitous” for inner cities, but the heterosexual couples in those communities enjoy full access to the institution of marriage. The problem of “baby mamas” and their irresponsible impregnators doesn’t reflect a denial of “marriage rights”—it stems from a lack of commitment.
It’s not “marriage” – some magical status granted by the government – that serves to make people “healthier, happier and wealthier.” It’s the behavior associated with the marital ideal that brings benefits to couples and their children. That behavior doesn’t require official sanction – any more than official sanction guarantees such behavior.
Jonathan Rauch begins his column with reference to Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, “the pioneering gay rights activists who have been a couple for more than 50 years,” and who became the first lesbians to wed under California’s new dispensation. The elderly pair told USA TODAY that they weren’t even interested in marriage until other activists “pushed them into it.” Did their romantic life together (apparently enjoying the manifold benefits of a long-lasting, committed relationship) somehow suffer because the state of California never before granted them a marriage license?
On the other side of the ledger, consider some dysfunctional couple, gay or straight, with the lovers engaged in the angry, selfish, unreliable behavior that destroys relationships. Will a wedding license from city hall somehow redeem or stabilize this shaky partnership?