Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Why Gay Marriage is Wrong

The gay marriage debate rumbles on. Yesterday, a well-argued  paper by Policy Exchange was published, which I would recommend to anyone interested in the subject to read for a good summary of the arguments in favour of the change. Policy Exchange put together a reasonably strong case, arguing in essence that a redefinition of civil marriage would prove helpful to gay people and would not affect heterosexual attitudes to marriage. On the other hand, many Libertarian's, including some in UKIP, take the view that it is not the states business to define marriage at all or to favour one lifestyle over another. 

However neither case that is entirely convincing. Unlike Policy Exchange and my fellow blogger Stuart Parr who has argued previously on this blog in favour of gay marriage, it is my belief that gay marriage is profoundly wrong, because any marginal extension of the institution to gay people is more than offset to the likely damage to marriage generally in the long term.

Lets accept for the moment the assurances - which in fact I gravely doubt - that Churches will not be affected by the legislation, and that the role of the Christian religion in our national life will not be affected. Let us also ignore the rather sinister and arrogant assumption of government that it should seek to redefine words that belong to the common culture. Let us also ignore the potentially serious constitutional questions. Instead, let us employ empirical reasoning and weigh in the balance those likely to gain from it against those likely to lose from the measure.

On the plus side, there is the gay community itself. Statistical estimates vary, but that last ONS survey suggested that only 1.5% of the country is homosexual. It must be said that other estimates in the past have been considerably higher, but the ONS figure is close to the proportion of civil partnerships  to marriages registered  each year (6,385 vs. c.280,000 in 2010). Moreover, polls show the gay community itself is divided on the issue, does not regard on the whole the legislation as a priority and is in part cynical regarding the motivations behind it. The number of people who will directly benefit from the measure, or who feel that existing civil partnerships legislation discriminates against them, is therefore minimal.

One the negative side, there are the likely affects on marriage, and all that entails for society. By itself, I largely accept that gay marriage is not likely to affect things greatly, although it is disingenuous to say it will have no affect at all. Marriage as it stands is not, as the Lynne "Featherbrain" Featherstone states "and expression of love" between two people, but primarily the union of a man and a woman for the procreation of children. Of course not all marriages are child-bearing, but that is the expected default. Gay marriages, as they are less likely to  involve child-rearing, will skew the understanding to a more shallow, adult-centric view of the institution based on human gratification rather than duty. A definition, of course, more in-tune with the narcissistic culture of Metropolitan Liberals who are far more enthusiastic promoters of gay marriage than homosexuals themselves are. Still, marriage would still be understood as union between two people, so the effect in itself on mainstream heterosexual behaviour is not likely to be all that great.

 The 'Slippery Slope' Fallacy Fallacy

Instead, the major argument against civil gay marriage is in essence the classic 'slippery slope' one: namely that, once changed to accommodate homosexuals,  marriage will be  opened for further redefinition on the basis of equality. This is precisely what has already happened in some jurisdictions that have legalised gay marriage: for instance, Mexico is now considering temporary marriages.

Advocates of gay marriage such as Policy Exchange rightly state such arguments have always been made against change. Indeed they have, but that does not invalidate all such arguments. For example, our entry into the European Economic Community, as it then was, was very clearly seen by some as a 'slippery slope' towards substantial loss of sovereignty, and so it proved.

A 'slippery slope' argument against a given change is valid where there is a strong likelihood that the change, whether or not in is itself desirable, will create significant momentum towards greater change that is undesirable. So, we are left with two questions: 1) will gay marriage results in momentum for further change? 2) is that change likely to be benign or malign?

In answer to the first question, it would appear very likely that in Britain the redefinition of marriage to include homosexual unions would result in pressure for further change. At the moment, the 'core culture' argument against the redefinition of marriage can just about be maintained: namely that this is a country with Christian traditions and a Protestant Constitution, and the word has a strong understanding within that culture. It should therefore not be changed by government diktak. Once you negate that argument on the basis of equality in order to placate a given minority, it will be much harder to resist further change on the same basis, and it seems reasonable that other minorities will follow suite. The major pressure for further redefinition is likely to come from Islam, which allows a man to marry up to four wives. (Some Islamic schools of thought also allow for temporary marriages.)

Even the authors of the Policy Exchange paper on gay marriage accept that changes to allow polygamy would have malign consequences. Polygamy is known to lead to significant social problems such as greater violence in society, as well as poorer bonds and outright feuding within the family unit. However, they argue that these truths will allow a rational defence against further redefinition of marriage away from monogamy to be made.

But the great weakness of their position is that it  is an intellectual argument, not a political one. Like it or not, Muslims form a powerful demographic in many areas of the country and the Labour Party in particular can not ignore the Muslim vote if it is to re-elected to office. Calls for legalising polygamy in Britain have already been made by Muslim pressure groups as early as the year 2000. Higher Muslim birth rates and immigration will only increase the political power of Islam in the years ahead.  Always assertive in putting forward it's case, nevertheless political Islam may continue to accept a definition of marriage based on Christian precepts, a religion for which it has considerable respect. However, it beggars belief to suggest that it will be anything like as willing to accept a situation in society where what Allah and The Prophet decreed concerning marriage is deemed inferior to homosexual marriage. And it will be a very brave and principled politician who, when standing for election in a constituency where the Muslim vote is vital and faced with calls to legitimise polygamy on the basis of cultural equality, tells them so. In the longer term, it will make sense for the Political Class to accommodate Muslim demands. Those who scoff at this as mere scare-mongering should first pause and reflect at just how willing our politicians have been in the past to placate or at least turn a blind eye from socially highly destructive Islamic cultural practices in the past.

If polygamy is legalised, then clearly polyandry - the right of women to marry more than one husband - will follow on the basis of equality. Likewise a bisexual could justly claim that their sexuality is discriminated against and they should be able to marry a combination of men and women.  In the very long term, it would likely that the meaning of marriage will be diluted to encompass all sorts of arrangements. As a consequence, it  would mean that for all but the deeply religious marriage will be perceived as  a 'pic 'n' mix" of different lifestyles, all equally valid.

The Weakness of the Libertarian Case on Marriage

All this brings us to the main Libertarian arguments in favour of marriage redefinition. Many Libertarians would argue on principle that people should be able to enter into any arrangements they wish to and presumably call them what they wish as well, and that government should have no role whatsoever in the matter: gay marriage is thus a step for liberty.

But such an argument is shallow and unimaginative. It ignores the fact that monogamous heterosexual marriage is by far the best and most stable environment known for the bringing up of children. Battered by divorce and the rise in cohabitation as it certainly is, marriage as it is currently defined remains a powerful totem in our society.   Purist Libertarians, who are usually very bright individuals but often somewhat blinkered in their thinking, signally fail to understand that inherited social constructs and traditions such as marriage act as especially vital pointers for the less able in society. Such people sadly often lack the imagination to see the likely consequences of different lifestyle choices in the same way a highly-educated Metropolitan Liberal  can, and also usually have fewer financial resources at their command to recover from making serious mistakes.

It is, of course, children who are usually most damaged by mistakes in lifestyle choices made by adults. As children have no control over the environment into which they are born, it is the duty of the state to promote adult living arrangements that maximises their welfare. It is also in the state's interest to promote arrangements which will minimise the impact on wider society of social problems that stem from family breakdown such as delinquency. The state therefore has both a powerful incentive and responsibility to promote the current definition of marriage as a model.

No doubt many would see this as a patronising, paternalistic argument. It is also a realistic one.

"The Sky Hasn't Fallen In" Myth

Lastly, many advocates of gay marriage state that the fears of those against change are disproven because in those jurisdictions where gay marriage has been introduced, social disaster has not swiftly followed.

And nor will it - for now. Instead, cultural changes  will take place over the very long term, and will take equally long to reverse, if indeed they are reversible at all.

People forget that to some extent we have been here before: from the 1960s onwards, it became highly fashionable in middle-class Liberal circles to suggest that marriage was an outmoded anachronism and that all lifestyles were equal for the bringing up of children. These ideas were initially treated with incredulity but nonetheless, they slowly became accepted in society and filtered down to the more socially conservative working-class communities.

It took decades for the sky to fall in, but in the end the downgrading of marriage to just another lifestyle choice was shown to have resulted in utter disaster, as extensive review of the data by the Centre For Social Justice has shown. Cohabitation and divorces rates spiraled in poorer communities whereas, ironically, middle-class communities, some of which had initially championed the modish liberal approach, were much less affected. As a result, poor areas experienced rocketing crime rates, increasing health problems  and much poorer educational standards. Not surprisingly, the collapse of marriage in poorer areas became a major factor in declining social mobility and poverty. Granted, the decline of marriage amongst the poor was in part driven by powerful economic trends in society, such as the decline of well-paid blue-collar employment for men,  but the change in perception of the value of marriage certainly played a large part. 

Now, instead of promoting the value of marriage to society in order to reverse these malign trends, the Metropolitan elite obsesses about it's redefinition to a far greater extent than gay people do themselves, even though doing so risks completely destroying the meaning of the term and it's value to society . The redefinition of marriage to include homosexual couples may well be emancipating for a small number of people in the short term, but in the very long term there is significant risk that it damages  far, far more people than it helps. It is also unclear how, once enacted, such changes could ever be reversed. 

Overall, it is a risk that is simply not worth the candle. And if that risk does come to be realised, then not for the first time the ordinary people of this country will pay a high price for the narcissism and selfishness of a Metropolitan elite who will largely unaffected by the huge cultural changes they have inflicted upon others.