Monday, May 24, 2004


The New Republic: single people are the next frontier in equal rights

A column published today in The New Republic online suggests that once society gets used to equal rights for same-gender couples, the next frontier in equal rights will involve single people.  The author, Gregg Easterbrook, is a senior editor at The New Republic.

Here is what he had to say:

Yours truly, married with three kids, and a churchgoer, supports the recognition of gay marriage, for somewhat quirky reasons that don't matter to this article. (I spell out my quirky reasons here, contending there is a religious argument for same-gender unions.) American society is now inalterably on track to broad if not universal acceptance of gay marriage and, when the razzle is over, future generations will wonder why the whole matter was controversial in the first place. I don't think same-gender union will usher in the Age of Aquarius: Married homosexuals will bicker, become unhappy, and divorce at about the same rate that traditional couples encounter these problems. Overall, though, gays and lesbians who wed should be glad they did, since sociological research finds powerful evidence that most people benefit from marriage. This book by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite and writer Maggie Gallagher shows that, as a group, the wedded are happier, healthier, live longer, achieve a higher standard of living, and even enjoy more and higher-quality sex than singles. (No, I don't know how researchers measure quality of sex, but clearly it is important to measure!) Presumably married homosexuals as a group will resemble married heterosexuals as a group: most of them better off, some rendered miserable by their vows.

But as today's riotous controversy regarding complaints of social prejudice against same-gender union sorts itself out, prepare yourself for the next big conundrum: Singles will complain that society is prejudiced against them. There are 59 million people 16 years of age or older in the United States who have never married, and another 41 million who are separated, divorced, or widowed. Defenders of traditional marriage say that it is a 3,000-year-old institution that has withstood tremendous trial and proven itself the best organizing basis for communities and for raising children. But if marriage loses its classical definition of a union between one man and one woman, acquiring a new definition of "benefits granted to any two people who make a legal commitment to each other"--since last Monday this has basically been the definition of marriage in Massachusetts--singles may have reason to be ticked off. Why shouldn't they get the benefits, too?

Much of the recent gay-marriage debate has been conducted on two grounds. First, gays and lesbians wish to be acknowledged as ordinary people who can enter into any ordinary social position, whether that means assuming a role as a teacher or a clergy member or taking a vow to serve the country in the military or honoring the bonds of matrimony. On this first point the same-sex union argument is strong. Gays and lesbians are that way because that's the way God made them. The majority of the gay men and lesbians I've known have struck me as amazingly normal, considering the barriers and extra anxieties they deal with, and considering that coming to terms with sexuality is traumatic even if you're straight, good looking, and bathed in the approval of the world. Homosexuals are the way God made them, and the ones who behave responsibly--passing the same test heterosexuals must pass--deserve the embrace of society.

The second recent grounds on which same-sex union has been argued is that defining marriage as a state entered into by one man and one woman denies privileges and benefits to gays and lesbians. Married people have an easier time getting credit and a much easier time adopting children, get each other's health-care benefits and Social Security survivor benefits, can inherit property from each other without tax, and enjoy other advantages over those living together outside marriage. Denial of these advantages to same-gender couples who want to marry is the crux of a civil-rights-like complaint regarding gay union. Denial was the essence of the Massachusetts court decision that put the current gay-marriage debate into fifth gear. The Massachusetts judges ruled that granting benefits only to one-man-one-woman unions constituted lack of equal treatment under the law.

On this second grounds for same-gender union, I'm not so sure. Jonathan Rauch contends persuasively in his extraordinary new book Gay Marriage that the best argument for same-gender union is that it will improve life for everyone--for the traditional majority as well as for gays and lesbians. Same-gender unions, Rauch reasons, will represent a vote of confidence for the institution of marriage, currently beset by divorce; will stabilize communities, by placing gays and lesbians into relationships that are socially acceptable; will help communities, by allowing gays and lesbians to assume their share of community labors at the church, the PTA, and so on; will replace a source of discord with a source of comity; will remove a great fear of huge numbers of parents, that they will have a gay child who must live in prejudice. Once communities adjust to gay union, the traditional majority will feel happier--and this, Rauch thinks, is the clincher argument.

It's certainly a better argument than, "We demand benefits!" If significant numbers of gays and lesbians begin to wed, the 100 million single people may become more dismayed that still more people wearing rings get special deals while they do not. Equally important, for every gay or lesbian pair who weds, winning benefits, a couple of single people must be taxed more to fund these benefits. Benefits can't just be demanded; someone must provide them. Marriage benefits for gays and lesbians will not come from the pockets of those in traditional one-man-one-woman unions. The benefits will come from the pockets of the single.

You chortle now, but as same-gender unions gain acceptance, prejudice against the single may become the final frontier. Marriage definitely isn't for everyone; some people were made by God to be single, and why should society punish them for that? Millions of people wish to marry but cannot find suitable partners; why should society punish them for that? The single makes substantial contributions to society, including often assisting in the all-important raising of children. Many single people form long-term or even life-long bonds to each other based not on eros but Platonic friendship; why shouldn't such people be able to pool their credit, inherit each other's property without taxation, and so on?

A utilitarian might care more about the denial of privileges to the unmarried, than to gays who wish to wed, simply because the numbers in the former category are so much larger. At any rate, complaints from the single seem the next logical progression of this debate, and complaints from the single are going to be hard to rebut.

 

 

Yours truly, married with three kids, and a churchgoer, supports the recognition of gay marriage, for somewhat quirky reasons that don't matter to this article. (I spell out my quirky reasons here, contending there is a religious argument for same-gender unions.) American society is now inalterably on track to broad if not universal acceptance of gay marriage and, when the razzle is over, future generations will wonder why the whole matter was controversial in the first place. I don't think same-gender union will usher in the Age of Aquarius: Married homosexuals will bicker, become unhappy, and divorce at about the same rate that traditional couples encounter these problems. Overall, though, gays and lesbians who wed should be glad they did, since sociological research finds powerful evidence that most people benefit from marriage. This book by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite and writer Maggie Gallagher shows that, as a group, the wedded are happier, healthier, live longer, achieve a higher standard of living, and even enjoy more and higher-quality sex than singles. (No, I don't know how researchers measure quality of sex, but clearly it is important to measure!) Presumably married homosexuals as a group will resemble married heterosexuals as a group: most of them better off, some rendered miserable by their vows.

But as today's riotous controversy regarding complaints of social prejudice against same-gender union sorts itself out, prepare yourself for the next big conundrum: Singles will complain that society is prejudiced against them. There are 59 million people 16 years of age or older in the United States who have never married, and another 41 million who are separated, divorced, or widowed. Defenders of traditional marriage say that it is a 3,000-year-old institution that has withstood tremendous trial and proven itself the best organizing basis for communities and for raising children. But if marriage loses its classical definition of a union between one man and one woman, acquiring a new definition of "benefits granted to any two people who make a legal commitment to each other"--since last Monday this has basically been the definition of marriage in Massachusetts--singles may have reason to be ticked off. Why shouldn't they get the benefits, too?

Much of the recent gay-marriage debate has been conducted on two grounds. First, gays and lesbians wish to be acknowledged as ordinary people who can enter into any ordinary social position, whether that means assuming a role as a teacher or a clergy member or taking a vow to serve the country in the military or honoring the bonds of matrimony. On this first point the same-sex union argument is strong. Gays and lesbians are that way because that's the way God made them. The majority of the gay men and lesbians I've known have struck me as amazingly normal, considering the barriers and extra anxieties they deal with, and considering that coming to terms with sexuality is traumatic even if you're straight, good looking, and bathed in the approval of the world. Homosexuals are the way God made them, and the ones who behave responsibly--passing the same test heterosexuals must pass--deserve the embrace of society.

The second recent grounds on which same-sex union has been argued is that defining marriage as a state entered into by one man and one woman denies privileges and benefits to gays and lesbians. Married people have an easier time getting credit and a much easier time adopting children, get each other's health-care benefits and Social Security survivor benefits, can inherit property from each other without tax, and enjoy other advantages over those living together outside marriage. Denial of these advantages to same-gender couples who want to marry is the crux of a civil-rights-like complaint regarding gay union. Denial was the essence of the Massachusetts court decision that put the current gay-marriage debate into fifth gear. The Massachusetts judges ruled that granting benefits only to one-man-one-woman unions constituted lack of equal treatment under the law.

On this second grounds for same-gender union, I'm not so sure. Jonathan Rauch contends persuasively in his extraordinary new book Gay Marriage that the best argument for same-gender union is that it will improve life for everyone--for the traditional majority as well as for gays and lesbians. Same-gender unions, Rauch reasons, will represent a vote of confidence for the institution of marriage, currently beset by divorce; will stabilize communities, by placing gays and lesbians into relationships that are socially acceptable; will help communities, by allowing gays and lesbians to assume their share of community labors at the church, the PTA, and so on; will replace a source of discord with a source of comity; will remove a great fear of huge numbers of parents, that they will have a gay child who must live in prejudice. Once communities adjust to gay union, the traditional majority will feel happier--and this, Rauch thinks, is the clincher argument.

It's certainly a better argument than, "We demand benefits!" If significant numbers of gays and lesbians begin to wed, the 100 million single people may become more dismayed that still more people wearing rings get special deals while they do not. Equally important, for every gay or lesbian pair who weds, winning benefits, a couple of single people must be taxed more to fund these benefits. Benefits can't just be demanded; someone must provide them. Marriage benefits for gays and lesbians will not come from the pockets of those in traditional one-man-one-woman unions. The benefits will come from the pockets of the single.

You chortle now, but as same-gender unions gain acceptance, prejudice against the single may become the final frontier. Marriage definitely isn't for everyone; some people were made by God to be single, and why should society punish them for that? Millions of people wish to marry but cannot find suitable partners; why should society punish them for that? The single makes substantial contributions to society, including often assisting in the all-important raising of children. Many single people form long-term or even life-long bonds to each other based not on eros but Platonic friendship; why shouldn't such people be able to pool their credit, inherit each other's property without taxation, and so on?

A utilitarian might care more about the denial of privileges to the unmarried, than to gays who wish to wed, simply because the numbers in the former category are so much larger. At any rate, complaints from the single seem the next logical progression of this debate, and complaints from the single are going to be hard to rebut.

 

Yours truly, married with three kids, and a churchgoer, supports the recognition of gay marriage, for somewhat quirky reasons that don't matter to this article. (I spell out my quirky reasons here, contending there is a religious argument for same-gender unions.) American society is now inalterably on track to broad if not universal acceptance of gay marriage and, when the razzle is over, future generations will wonder why the whole matter was controversial in the first place. I don't think same-gender union will usher in the Age of Aquarius: Married homosexuals will bicker, become unhappy, and divorce at about the same rate that traditional couples encounter these problems. Overall, though, gays and lesbians who wed should be glad they did, since sociological research finds powerful evidence that most people benefit from marriage. This book by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite and writer Maggie Gallagher shows that, as a group, the wedded are happier, healthier, live longer, achieve a higher standard of living, and even enjoy more and higher-quality sex than singles. (No, I don't know how researchers measure quality of sex, but clearly it is important to measure!) Presumably married homosexuals as a group will resemble married heterosexuals as a group: most of them better off, some rendered miserable by their vows.

But as today's riotous controversy regarding complaints of social prejudice against same-gender union sorts itself out, prepare yourself for the next big conundrum: Singles will complain that society is prejudiced against them. There are 59 million people 16 years of age or older in the United States who have never married, and another 41 million who are separated, divorced, or widowed. Defenders of traditional marriage say that it is a 3,000-year-old institution that has withstood tremendous trial and proven itself the best organizing basis for communities and for raising children. But if marriage loses its classical definition of a union between one man and one woman, acquiring a new definition of "benefits granted to any two people who make a legal commitment to each other"--since last Monday this has basically been the definition of marriage in Massachusetts--singles may have reason to be ticked off. Why shouldn't they get the benefits, too?

Much of the recent gay-marriage debate has been conducted on two grounds. First, gays and lesbians wish to be acknowledged as ordinary people who can enter into any ordinary social position, whether that means assuming a role as a teacher or a clergy member or taking a vow to serve the country in the military or honoring the bonds of matrimony. On this first point the same-sex union argument is strong. Gays and lesbians are that way because that's the way God made them. The majority of the gay men and lesbians I've known have struck me as amazingly normal, considering the barriers and extra anxieties they deal with, and considering that coming to terms with sexuality is traumatic even if you're straight, good looking, and bathed in the approval of the world. Homosexuals are the way God made them, and the ones who behave responsibly--passing the same test heterosexuals must pass--deserve the embrace of society.

The second recent grounds on which same-sex union has been argued is that defining marriage as a state entered into by one man and one woman denies privileges and benefits to gays and lesbians. Married people have an easier time getting credit and a much easier time adopting children, get each other's health-care benefits and Social Security survivor benefits, can inherit property from each other without tax, and enjoy other advantages over those living together outside marriage. Denial of these advantages to same-gender couples who want to marry is the crux of a civil-rights-like complaint regarding gay union. Denial was the essence of the Massachusetts court decision that put the current gay-marriage debate into fifth gear. The Massachusetts judges ruled that granting benefits only to one-man-one-woman unions constituted lack of equal treatment under the law.

On this second grounds for same-gender union, I'm not so sure. Jonathan Rauch contends persuasively in his extraordinary new book Gay Marriage that the best argument for same-gender union is that it will improve life for everyone--for the traditional majority as well as for gays and lesbians. Same-gender unions, Rauch reasons, will represent a vote of confidence for the institution of marriage, currently beset by divorce; will stabilize communities, by placing gays and lesbians into relationships that are socially acceptable; will help communities, by allowing gays and lesbians to assume their share of community labors at the church, the PTA, and so on; will replace a source of discord with a source of comity; will remove a great fear of huge numbers of parents, that they will have a gay child who must live in prejudice. Once communities adjust to gay union, the traditional majority will feel happier--and this, Rauch thinks, is the clincher argument.

It's certainly a better argument than, "We demand benefits!" If significant numbers of gays and lesbians begin to wed, the 100 million single people may become more dismayed that still more people wearing rings get special deals while they do not. Equally important, for every gay or lesbian pair who weds, winning benefits, a couple of single people must be taxed more to fund these benefits. Benefits can't just be demanded; someone must provide them. Marriage benefits for gays and lesbians will not come from the pockets of those in traditional one-man-one-woman unions. The benefits will come from the pockets of the single.

You chortle now, but as same-gender unions gain acceptance, prejudice against the single may become the final frontier. Marriage definitely isn't for everyone; some people were made by God to be single, and why should society punish them for that? Millions of people wish to marry but cannot find suitable partners; why should society punish them for that? The single makes substantial contributions to society, including often assisting in the all-important raising of children. Many single people form long-term or even life-long bonds to each other based not on eros but Platonic friendship; why shouldn't such people be able to pool their credit, inherit each other's property without taxation, and so on?

A utilitarian might care more about the denial of privileges to the unmarried, than to gays who wish to wed, simply because the numbers in the former category are so much larger. At any rate, complaints from the single seem the next logical progression of this debate, and complaints from the single are going to be hard to rebut.

 

 

  • email.jpg (4107 bytes)Comments and Suggestions

  •