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The Eternal Sanctity of Marriage

Of all the arguments against same-sex marriage, I always thought this one, given by Maggie Gallagher to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in March of 2004, was the most rational: The available evidence indicates that children raised by both their biological parents in a low-conflict marriage tend to fare the best, on average, in our society. Government should have the freedom to promote this most successful arrangement above any other family structure, reserving for it the prized label of marriage.

Or, to put it another way:

Society is structured on the institution of marriage. … It has more to do with the welfare and civilizations of a people than any other institutions. … The state has a natural, direct, and vital interest in maximizing the number of successful marriages which lead to stable homes and families and in minimizing those which do not.

And honestly, it’s also true that families headed by partners of the same sex “are subjected to much greater pressures and problems” than straight families are, no doubt. Of course, the principal cause for that is probably societal bigotry, but when it comes to protecting the children, we must legislate with a mind to consequences as well as causes.

While I’m on a roll, it’s worth agreeing that removing the ban on same-sex marriage really does put us on a slippery slope towards things society considers unsavory, since it stands “on the same footing as the prohibition of polygamous marriage, or incestuous marriage.”

You have to admit, these are all rational arguments. Fortunately, the Supreme Court didn’t find them convincing 38 years ago yesterday, when it ruled against Virginia in the case that made interracial marriage legal in every US state.

All the quotes in this post were from the arguments made by Virginia’s counsel in that case, R. D. McIlwaine III, reproduced from the transcript of the case.

June 13, 2005 / Uncategorized

One comment

Hannah Arendt famously took a stand against school desegregation when the federal authorities forced integration in Little Rock in 1957. Part of her argument was that it was senseless to force Southern schools to integrate when interracial marriage was still prohibited in so many Southern states — that in some sense, the misplaced emphasis undermined the very notion of a civil right, a privilege of the private sphere upon which the state had no right to encroach.

There are problems with Arendt’s position, but sometimes I wonder what our political landscape would look like if interracial marriage, rather than desegregation, were the flagship issue around which the civil rights movement mobilized itself. I don’t know if it would have been better or worse — probably both in some ways — but I doubt we would recognize it. On the other hand, though, it some ways we’re finally catching up to that counterfactual.

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