A luxury good for the rich paid for by the poor?

01.25.2013, 10:37 AM

At First Things today, Rusty Reno argues that cotemporary liberalism tends to favor the upscale at the expense of the vulnerable.  Two of his examples are obscenity and gay rights:

The old constitutional test for obscenity was to define it as material that tends “to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.” The idea was to protect the morally vulnerable. That changed in Miller(1973). The Supreme Court substituted “average person” for “minds open to such immoral influences.” The test is less rigorous because, well, because we don’t want the weak to limit our freedom. We’re not going to let the moral vulnerability of the few to be a burden to the many.

Drug legalization is another obvious case of the socially liberal war on the weak. Gay marriage is a less obvious instance, but a significant one. The strong have the resources to sustain a post-traditional culture of marriage. Everybody else? Data of declining marriage among the poor and middle class suggest not. The deconstruction of what’s left of the tattered traditional culture of marriage is very likely to make things worse, unless of course the social liberals crusade for the revival of marriage as a social norms, which they show no signs of doing.

Reno concludes by listing “LGBT rights” as among today’s “luxury goods for the rich paid for by the poor.”

To me, this argument has power, and there are more examples (I think, for example, of state-sponsored gambling) that could be proposed for Reno’s list.  But I think and hope he’s wrong about gay marriage.  When I opposed gay marriage, I was pretty sympathetic to the idea that it was mostly a battle being waged by upscale people, mostly men, most of whom probably wanted the right to marry, and the cultural victory that would entail, more than the actual opportunity.  Now I see matters differently, mostly because of the gay and lesbian couples I meet and hear about, who seem mostly to be ordinary people living ordinary lives – they seem to be, as Jonathan Rauch jokes, just as boring as straight people.   Especially when marriage is there.   As my colleaugue Barbara Dafoe Whitehead points out, American history is full of “outsider” groups who join (and impact) the mainstream, in large part through participating in marriage.  This process — call it the lessening of gay differentness, in part via marriage – seems to be what is happening today in gay America. 

In any event, notwithstanding the merits of Reno’s overall argument, I think he’s missing much of what is happening on marriage; and the slogan that “LGBT rights” are “luxury goods for the rich paid for by the poor” strikes me as quite lop-sided and unfair. 

P.S.  Rusty says that liberals today show “no signs” of supporting marriage as a broad social institution.  I’m not so sure that that’s true, either.  We are about to put out a public statement, “A Call for a New Conversation on Marriage,” that says quite a lot about the crisis of marriage (and not just gay marriage), and plenty of liberals have been willing to sign on.  More to come on that issue, too …

50 Responses to “A luxury good for the rich paid for by the poor?”

  1. annajcook says:

    There is a strong argument to make that the type of LGBT activism that is a priority in mainstream queer rights groups favors wealthy “insider” donors over the needs of those within the queer community who are the most vulnerable (e.g. those in poverty, queer youth, queer people of color, queer people whose immigration status is insecure, queer people who are in prison). See Urvashi Vaid’s latest book, Irresistible Revolution for a much more detail analysis than I can offer here. Michael Shelton’s Family Pride also provides a trenchant assessment of the vulnerability of queer-headed families, particularly those without middle-to-upper-middle class cultural and economic capital.

    But my point is this: recognizing human sexual diversity and the diversity of family formation is NOT some sort of rich/privileged peoples’ “luxury” agenda item. Queer youth, queer women, queer people who aren’t white — we’re disproportionately likely to live in poverty. We’re at risk of losing our jobs due to our sexual orientation. We’re excluded from many of the safety-net systems the federal government provides (however paltry) due to our relationships not fitting the expected forms. Our children are bullied in schools, not covered by their parents’ healthcare policies, at risk of being taken away from their parents for parental “unsuitability” … and in all of these cases, the more marginalized the queer person is due to socio-economic status, the fewer resources they’re going to have to push back against discrimination due to sexual orientation, relationships, or practices.

    If “LGBT rights” are reduced to the “gay marriage” question, then an argument could be made this is an elitist priority due to the fact that it is the upper classes who are most concerned with the economic benefits that come from being married. But even there, I am dubious. My wife and I would — if DOMA weren’t in place — be in a better economic position because our income patterns are such that we would pay less filing jointly than separately, and my wife would be able to collect more in social security benefits as my spouse than on her own. We’re decades away from retirement, true, but couples like us who are struggling to make ends meet and are transitioning into retirement are facing that discrimination as elderly gay and lesbian couples — and it could be the difference between “retirement” into a comfortable monthly income and “retirement” into the constant struggle to pay the bills.

    We can argue the current system of welfare (presuming hetero marriage) is broken, and needs drastic alteration, but for the moment it’s what we have and for couples in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, it can be a severe disadvantage to be cut off from those avenues for assistance and marriage-based entitlements — ESPECIALLY when you’ve survived on a marginal income for most of your life.

    It’s pretty insulting from where I’m sitting, therefore, for Rusty Reno to assume that these issues are class-specific. Being queer isn’t some sort of white, middle-class “luxury.” It’s a state of being that exists across communities, and discrimination impacts all of us — and the economically marginal most of all.

  2. fannie says:

    “Being queer isn’t some sort of white, middle-class ‘luxury.’ It’s a state of being that exists across communities, and discrimination impacts all of us — and the economically marginal most of all.”


    It really is too bad that the default face of the LGBT rights movement is the wealthy white gay man who attends expensive HRC functions and supports same-sex marriage, because opponents of SSM often mistakenly think that most LGBT people are that sort of “Elite Gay.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being an Elite Gay, it’s just not actually representative of all LGBT people.

    I mean, I get what Reno is saying, but he overlooks the same-sex couples and LGBT people who are poor and who seek the tangible benefits that marriage can provide.

    I will also add that if it’s true that liberals show “no signs” of supporting marriage as a broad social institution, I would suggest that that’s because many liberals and progressives see supporting marriage (or “marriage defense”) as mostly an exercise in bigotry and prudery. That perception may not be completely fair, but if we’re talking broadly about social groups (as Reno is), I would task conservatives with coming up with better messages about marriage than they have been for at least the past decade.

    A new conversation is needed. So, I for one will be interested in what your public statement says.

  3. David Hart says:

    With respect to gay marriage, I suspect that Mr. Reno knows better. Yet, he is appealing to stereotype of gay couples. He writes:

    Data of declining marriage among the poor and middle class suggest not. The deconstruction of what’s left of the tattered traditional culture of marriage is very likely to make things worse …

    Is Mr. Reno arguing that the decline in marriages among the poor and middle classes (assuming that is true) has some connection to gay marriage. If so, he doesn’t make a case for it. In fact, blue states tend to have lower divorce rates (Oklahoma is at the top and Massachusetts at the bottom).

    If we reach back to the era when John graduated from high school, got a job and married Jane, the problem is not that John is now marrying Jim. The problem is that John is probably living with his parents working at a low paying non-union job that sucks the life out of him without reward, pension, prospects or benefits.

  4. La Lubu says:

    Provocative post by Reno that is entirely without substance. If he’s going to lead with “moral vulnerability”, then he needs to (a) provide a definition of it and, (b) identify who the “morally vulnerable” are and why. Otherwise, this is just more meaningless, paternalistic posturing. While he’s at it, he can provide a definition of what “traditional” means, since there is ample evidence that the lower marriage rates among working class and poor people is strongly related to their (our) retention of “traditional values” (especially in regards to financial and work expectations).

  5. Maggie Gallagher says:

    David, what I’ve been wrestling with which is relevant to this is Jon Rauch’s perspective. Without a doubt the fight for gay marriage has changed gay culture. People who wish to partner and avoid the bathhouse culture have new status within their own community because of this fight.

    And yet, and yet, the proportion of gay people who will marry when it is available is a tiny minority of a tiny minority. What do we make of that?

  6. JHW says:

    “We should ban gay marriage because not enough gay people will use it” strikes me as a profoundly odd argument against same-sex marriage. Most importantly, it is a non sequitur. Furthermore, however, its premise is doubtful. At least in the United States, it is not consistent with the data (see pp. 19-21). And, generally, it’s unreasonable to expect that legal same-sex marriage will cause a group of people who have traditionally been excluded from the tradition to rush to embrace it at the same rate as those who have traditionally been included.

  7. David Blankenhorn says:

    Maggie, I don’t know what will happen over time. But my hopethesis is that marriage will exercise an institutional pull, which in turn will contribute to a reduction (not elimination) of gay differentness. This is largely how the process has worked historically with other groups.

  8. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Reduction of gay differentness. Yes I think so. Whether that it is part because marriage ceases to have the same pull over either gay or straight is another question.

    Realize you and Jon are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.

  9. David Hart says:


    In 2011 in Spain, same-sex marriages accounted for about 2.4% of all marriages. As we adjust our culture more towards our own acceptance of marriage equality, the numbers will increase.

    Moreover, there are still gay people in loveless marriages due to the fact that they cannot come out – or at least they think that they cannot.

    Getting back to the point, though, I would argue that long-term economics have much more to do with declining marriages than anything else. I come from a family of senior level executives (my dad was CEO of a publicly held casualty insurance company). I’m no socialist. However, what Reagan never realized was that tax policy affects behavior. Among other things we lost the margin between personal and corporate rates. IMHO, we are getting deeper and deeper into the same ditch (with occasional respites). Unless and until we start making stuff kids coming out of high school will not have a job available to them that will pay for a house and a middle class lifestyle. Corporate America has eaten its own customers. Ugh!

  10. Billy: Your comments in this thread are being deleted because they violate our civility policy. Please read the policy (it’s recently been revised). You may not use this forum to lash out at others, mock others, call them names, etc. If you continue to do so, you will be banned from commenting. If you abide by the policy, you are welcome to comment here. You seem like someone who has much of value to add to the conversation.

  11. Kevin says:

    I don’t understand the scale of “upscale” at one end, and “vulnerable” at the other. Are wealthy people not also gambling addicts or porn addicts? Money insulates against a lot of things, but not everything.

    The author is talking about excesses, and then includes same-sex marriage? What is the analog excess in gay marriage? That too many people will get same-sex married? And what is the detrimental effect?

    I understand that some people become so addicted to pornography or gambling that it negatively impacts their lives, their relationships, destroys their finances, whatever. What, pray tell, is the associated downside of legal same-sex marriage, especially compared to legal different-sex marriage?

  12. fannie says:


    “Without a doubt the fight for gay marriage has changed gay culture. People who wish to partner and avoid the bathhouse culture have new status within their own community because of this fight.”

    I think your comment makes a similar flaw that Reno’s does of assuming that all, or most, queer or gay people are gay men. Queer women (bisexual, lesbian, and other non-heterosexual women) have never had a “bathhouse culture.”

    Perhaps you are right, though, that the fight for gay marriage has changed parts of some “gay culture” (although I’m also not sure what you mean by “gay culture”- the culture of gay men only? are gay women included?). I realize this is just a blog comment, but I still wonder what sources you are relying on when making that claim. Your own observations? Anecdotal evidence? Studies?

    I’ve read several comprehensive books on LGBT history and the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US that present a more nuanced explanation for changing “gay culture” than merely the fight for gay marriage.

    I would also argue that the increasing acceptance of homosexuality has also changed gay culture in that gay people are no longer relegated to having to go to secret clubs and bathhouses to meet other people like themselves- which, for men, has been correlated with less risky sexual behaviors, which lower the HIV rate. (See also, “Tolerance and HIV,” by AM Francis and H Mialon).

  13. fannie says:

    And, if people are interested, some informative books I’ve read over the years on this topic include:

    Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970, by John D’Emilio

    And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts

    Sex Variant Woman- The Life of Jeanette Howard Foster, by Joanne Passet

    When Romeo Was a Woman, by Lisa Merrill

    Lillian Faderman and Leila Rupp have also written some interesting books on the history of non-heterosexual women.

  14. Teresa says:

    And yet, and yet, the proportion of gay people who will marry when it is available is a tiny minority of a tiny minority. What do we make of that?

    I’m actually wondering about this statement. I’d guess I’d answer that question with one of my own. What do the opponents of same sex marriage make of that?

    I’m gay and opposed to same sex marriage; but, I can only view this question as demeaning to gays who want that choice to marry. Is this question a way to trivialize the same sex marriage debate … it affects just a tiny, tiny group of people; why are you upsetting the str8 married world?

    That’s how I’m reading this, and I apologize if it sounds disrespectful.

  15. Kevin says:

    I assume the gratuitous reference to “bathhouse” culture was the usual dig at gay men for having the temerity to get stereotyped as promiscuous. If my reading of that reference is correct, the complete thought goes something like, “and therefore they are lesser creatures, and can be denied legal rights….” or some such thing.

    Ah, straight privilege. Because straight men are not, of course, promiscuous. Yet there seems to be a “prostitute culture,” whereby even married straight men find sexual pleasure with females not their wives, and using the families finances to boot, and a rather common “adultery” culture, where the married straight man has a romantic encounter with a woman not his wife.

    Let’s talk about the promiscuity of a group that is socially and legally discouraged from forming long-lasting committed relationships, with a group that is socially and legally encouraged, often under great pressure to do so. Whose promiscuity is more offensive?

    Save the promiscuity digs for straight men, ok?

    Gay marriage will not stop gay people, married or not, from going to bathhouses, if that’s what they feel like doing. Straight marriage has not stopped straight men, married or not, from going to prostitutes or taking mistresses.

    Ms. Gallagher, you want marriage to be, and mean, something that it isn’t, and can’t be, don’t you? It’s not a straight (pardon the pun) jacket or enforcement mechanism, for either straight men or gay men.

  16. SexualMinoritySupporter says:

    Theresa, I am l.aughing, because I had copied the exact same sentence as you, had it on the clipboard and kept reading the comments until I got down to the empty comment box.

    Maggie, “And yet, and yet, the proportion of gay people who will marry when it is available is a tiny minority of a tiny minority.”

    How do you know this? How do you know that only a very, or in your words a very “tiny” percentage of sexual minorities will marry? Can you prognosticate the future?

    My understanding is that the number of sexual minorities in the United States is approximately equal to the number of people of Jewish decent. Where in our country would we make laws and say, “We’ll it will hurt the Jews but so what, you know they are such a tiny minority”. It is like Theresa said it’s insulting.

    Not only that, but our Constitutional Rights are individual rights. Say even if it were true (and I do not concede that it is) say it were true that a very small minority of sexual minorities marry one day, should they be denied their individual right to marry based on other members of their group do not marry? Our Constitution Rights are not “Group” rights our rights our individual rights. And the Supreme Court has said 14 times that Civil Marriage IS a Fundamental Constitutional Right. Same gender couples are similarly situated to opposite sex old couples beyond the age of pro-creation, yet they are treated differently under the law. That is not fair.

  17. David Hart says:


    There are more gays than Jews. I am both thus, perhaps I am the tiny minority of a tiny minority. ;-)

    This entire thread is yet another frustrating effort to provide a secular argument in opposition to marriage equality. Mr. Reno is a professor of theology at a Catholic university. Reno is a very smart and very interesting guy who I happen to disagree with. Yet, I cannot help noticing that none of these secular adventures seem to come from very secular people. Therein lies the overwhelming problem with opposition to marriage equality.

    Olson and Boies are submitting briefs on February 21 and 22 re Prop 8 and DOMA respectively. Blankenhorn’s NY Times piece will surely be an exhibit to the Prop 8 material. Things are going to get even more interesting.

  18. mythago says:

    Mr. Reno either doesn’t understand law very well, or he’s being disingenuous, because his argument about Miller is ridiculous. The legal definition of obscenity had undergone many changes before Miller came along, and was not about protecting the weak from ‘depraved’ influences. That is because of the First Amendment, which I am sure Mr. Reno is quick to cite in support of his right to spin false and nasty argument against the rights of people he dislikes. The “reasonable person” or “average person” standard is a very common test in the law. It’s not about tossing aside the weak so we can have our porn.

    His arguments are little more than a weak attempt to gotcha liberals: you guys rant about the poor but you hurt them with your deviant ways! I’m disappointed that the Family Scholars crowd would admire them so.

  19. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Fannie you are right I was thinking of Jonathan Rauch and gay male culture he grew up in.

    Not all gay men liked that culture by any means and now alternatives are far more visible, thanks to making gay marriage the centerpiece of gay rights.

    On the minority of a minority, here’s some data, after ten years in the Netherlands: http://www.marriagedebate.com/pdf/iMAPP.May2011-rev.pdf

    And a look at the data as of 2006: http://www.marriagedebate.com/pdf/imapp.demandforssm.pdf

    Of course that could all change. But it looks like after a big bump at first, gay marriage ceases to be a big draw in the gay community. A minority of a tiny minority enters marriage. (And dissolution rates are twice as high)

  20. JHW says:

    Maggie: According to your link, 20% of same-sex couples have married in the Netherlands, as opposed to 80% of different-sex couples. That’s interesting, I suppose. I wonder what you make of the US data I linked to earlier, however, which finds that after about six years of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, 65% of same-sex couples in that state are married, compared to 91% of different-sex couples. Perhaps marriage has a whole lot more “institutional pull” in Massachusetts than the Netherlands. And certainly that casts doubt on attempts to discern marriage take-up rates among same-sex couples in the US from marriage take-up rates among same-sex couples in other countries, and suggests that cultural differences (with the accompanied potential for cultural change) matter a whole lot beyond essentialized characterizations of what gay people and same-sex relationships are like.

    I’m curious what your source is for the claim that dissolution rates are twice as high. It can’t be from the Dutch data, which suggests the opposite.

  21. David Hart says:


    The percentage of gays who marry is irrelevant to the argument.

    If marriage equality has become a proxy for gay rights (and to some extent it has) it is because of the way that those opposed to equal marriage have campaigned. Throughout this “debate” our opponents have blown the not-so-hard-to-hear dog whistle that gays are a threat to children. We know that the underlying theme is “disordered and depraved.” Some of our opponents cannot even refer to us as “gay people.” They use descriptions like “people with same-sex attraction.”

    This can all be changed to something positive (and more realistic) if our opponents would simply campaign to ensure that their religious rights and liberties are protected. Right now, “victims” are relished as a source of argument in opposition. It’s always that hapless photographer in New Mexico or that church-owned pavilion in New Jersey. Now it’s the guy who thinks that he is doing God’s work by driving a trolley around Baltimore. It’s craziness.

    Frankly, I would rather move on to ENDA.

  22. Teresa says:


    There is also no hard data on the number of people who are gay and lesbian, which may vary according to the definition used.

    We use the best available country-specific estimates of the proportion of the population that are gay and lesbian to generate estimates (typically around 2% of the population). Because of the widespread view among scholars and activists that official statistics undercount the gay and lesbian
    population, we also estimate the proportion of homosexual people who have entered same-sex marriages using a more generous 5% estimate of the proportion of the population who are gays and lesbians.

    The Canadian Community Health Survey conducted by Statistics Canada first asked about sexual orientation in 2003. In that year, 1.3% of Canadian men and 0.7% of Canadian women aged 18 to 59 self-identified as gay or lesbian.

    We also calculated the proportion of gays and lesbians who have
    married using a more generous 5% estimate.

    Isn’t the science on this rather shoddy concerning ‘using a more generous 5% estimate’? Considering there is no hard data on the number of gays and lesbians; and, the ‘best available country-specific data is 2%’, why the ‘generous choice of 5%’.

    That initial wrong choice skews all your further numbers. Good science doesn’t say “we don’t know”, and then proceed to pick “the widespread view” of 5%. You don’t get to dismiss a Statistical Sample that indicated the percentage was 2%.

    The choosing of a ‘biased’ % produces junk results. Any good scientist, any person who has a desire for the truth, would dismiss papers that are based on ‘what we want our results to show’ vis-a-vis what they really show. A good scientist will stay with the truth, even if it hurts his original hypothesis.

  23. And yet, and yet, the proportion of gay people who will marry when it is available is a tiny minority of a tiny minority. What do we make of that?

    The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, but women didn’t vote at the same rates as men until 1980. In the first decades after 1920, the majority of American women didn’t even register to vote, let alone actually vote.

    What do we make of that? Do we say that therefore suffrage wasn’t necessary, and the suffragettes were making a big unnecessary fuss, since most women didn’t really want to vote anyway?

    What I make of that is that social change is not instant. Legal equality is necessary but not sufficient, for opposite-sex and same-sex couples to marry at equal rates. For that sort of change, we need a combination of legal equality, social equality, and time. As with women voting, it could take a couple of generations of lesbians and gays growing up in a more equal world before outcomes equalize.

    Note that I’m not saying that we ever will have absolute equality of outcome in marriage rates, or that such equality would even be desirable. (If nothing else, I suspect that there will always be at least some opposite-sex couples who decide to marry because of an unplanned pregnancy, and that will never happen to same-sex couples.) But if we ever have equal or nearly-equal rates, it will take time to happen.

    This is a defense I’ve seen used by gay marriage opponents who have been hindered by their inability to show any negative effects of SSM – maybe it’ll take a couple of generations for the negative effects to show up. But this would be an argument, not only against SSM, but against gay people ever having any legal rights at all, since folks like Robert George have always predicted that any movement towards gay rights will have dreadful long-term consequences. (George was an leading defender of sodomy laws). It’s not reasonable to call for unending legal discrimination against minority groups in order to avoid purely hypothetical future harms.

  24. Kevin says:

    The US Supreme Court didn’t seem to reject inter-racial marriage for lack of participants. They made a unanimous, sweeping ruling, based on the request of ONE couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, and in the face of great opposition from society.

    Inter-racial marriage then, as now, is rare. So what? What legal theory envisions a right based on how many people might exercise it?

  25. Diane M says:

    I agree with Barry Deutsch and I wanted to add a couple of thoughts. Some straight couples get married because they are getting ready to have kids, not just because they are pregnant. So I think if same sex couples want kids, we’ll see marriage.

    I think we’re going to see a surge in marriage at first as people who have been waiting for years finally get married.

    Honestly, I think it may give a little push for heterosexual marriage as people see that it’s something that is valued and wanted.

    There may be some couples where one person was married before who hold back for financial reasons.

  26. mythago says:

    Kevin, that’s an excellent point.

    Of course, I’m still waiting for Ms. Gallagher and other marriage-equality opponents to address the rights of county clerks who think that interfaith or interracial marriages are evil and immoral to refuse to issue licenses for interfaith or interracial couples.

  27. annajcook says:

    I think it may give a little push for heterosexual marriage as people see that it’s something that is valued and wanted.

    Interestingly, I know some hetero couples who have held off getting married until their same-sex friends also have access to that right. It’s probably a statistically insignificant number of people (and I personally am not offended by straight friends who haven’t chosen this form of protest … obviously, I also chose to marry though the option isn’t available to many of my queer peers!) but it’s also interesting to think about the ways marriage may become more attractive to EVERYONE the less discriminatory and more democratic it becomes.

    This has certainly been true historically for women — that although the economic and social protections afforded to us via marriage under patriarchal systems are less necessary now, the legal loss of self that getting marriage once demanded no longer applies. The egalitarian marriage law and practice is, the more likely women (the partner historically at a disadvantage) will be to desire to participate in the practice. At least, in my circle of thirty-something women, that’s definitely a priority for them.

    Maggie, many people have already responded to your comments, but i just wanted to add my observation that it’s unclear what your ultimate point is, even if your argument were true — which is disputable. If a tiny minority of same-sex couples is interested in marriage, so what? Wouldn’t this, in fact, be a comforting statistic for those of you who are concerned that same-sex couples will fundamentally alter the institution of marriage? If our participation in the institution is so vanishingly small then marriage will continue to be a heteronormative institution, from the perspective of mainstream culture.

    I, like JHW, would like to know where your assertion that same-sex marriage dissolution rates are “twice as high” comes from. I have not looked at statistical analysis, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the patchwork of marriage law in the United States currently makes legal dissolution of a same-sex marriage quite difficult (see, for example, the personal essays in Here Come the Brides! about women who have needed or wanted to dissolve their unions). For example, if you are married in the state of New York but move to Michigan (where there is a DOMA law on the books) you cannot divorce in Michigan as you aren’t recognized as married, but also cannot register a divorce in New York where you are no longer a resident. Because of this situation, I would imagine that it would be very difficult to accurately track the dissolution rate of same-sex marriages … let alone that any statistics we do gather at this point would be very weak in terms of long-term predictive value, since same-sex marriage has only been legal in ANY part of the United States for a period of less than ten years.

  28. Peter Hoh says:

    The wealthy gay men whom Reno wishes to cast as the “poster boys” for the marriage equity movement can afford to avail themselves of the lawyers necessary to draw up the legal documents that can protect partners from some of the financial and legal hassles that could impact a couple who cannot get legally married.

    The gay and lesbian couples in my neighborhood could also seek out a lawyer for this kind of help, too, but it will take a much larger chunk of their income to do what straight couples do when they get a marriage license and get a civil ceremony for considerably less money.

    Marriage equity is not a mere plaything for the “upscale.” Marriage equity offers important protections to economically vulnerable same-sex couples and their children.

  29. Maggie Gallagher says:

    If the actual demand for ssm is irrelevant to the debate, that is just a restatement of the idea that gay rights advocates are advocating for gay marriage as right, not as a norm or a social institution.

    The exact percentage of gay people who will choose to enter a legal union is not knowable because the exact pecentage of who counts as a gay person is not easily definable.

    Only a minority of gay people are coupled. Of that minority only —perhaps 1 in 5?–will enter a legal union. The majority of these unions will fail (if the gay dissolution rate is approximately twice the opposite-sex couple rate, that would be around 80 percent, but it may be lower).

    Only a tiny minority of a tiny minority appear likely toenter stable legal unions.

    So how is gay marriage important to the lives of gay people? As a statement of a new moral norm in which any distinctions between gay and straight are verboten as the moral equivalent of racism, or possibly sexism.

    There are very few Jonathan Rauch’s out there in this debate, but I admire his courage and his willingness to try to build the world he imagines in his pro-gay marriage book.

  30. annajcook says:

    Maggie, again, please provide the source of your statistics/assumptions about the rate of queer coupling / long-term partnering / relationship dissolution in comparison to the rates found in the hetero population. Without any sources cited, I can’t help but feel that you’re simply reproducing stereotypes of promiscuity and instability that have long haunted queer folks’ lives.

    So how is gay marriage important to the lives of gay people?

    As a woman currently “gay married” I can tell you marriage is very important in the life of myself and my wife. It not only provides us with a host of legal rights related to the (state-level) recognition of our family unit — hopefully soon enough federal recognition as well! — but also serves as an avenue for broad socio-cultural legibility as well. Introducing my wife as my wife communicates in a single word what her position is vis a vis me (and why my position is vis a vis her). Obviously everyone understand the (private/religious) rights and responsibilities of marriage very individually — each couple will have their own understanding as to what their relationship entails. But marriage “means” to my wife and I exactly what it “means” to any other couple who chooses to take that route to relationship recognition, regardless of the sex or gender of the people in question.

    I continue to be confused, Maggie, by your insistence (if I’m reading your comments correctly?) that queer people as a population don’t desire access to marriage. What’s the “so therefore…” of this assertion? That all queer people should be denied the ability to marry same-sex partners? That somehow this is an agenda being foisted upon us by … whom? That somehow we’re doing marriage “wrong” when we do exchange vows? I’m just not sure where you’re going with this train of thought.

    And I’d really appreciate it if you’d back up your assertions about queer people as a population with references. Because you’re making assertions about a population to which I belong that, as an insider, I do not see reflected in the community.

  31. David Hart says:


    If the actual demand for ssm is irrelevant to the debate, that is just a restatement of the idea that gay rights advocates are advocating for gay marriage as right, not as a norm or a social institution.

    The number of participants is irrelevant to equal protection under the law. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with marriage equality serving as a proxy for gay rights.

  32. JHW says:

    Likewise, e.g., women’s suffrage wasn’t about empowering the minority of women who wanted to vote to actually do so (after all, why would women have any interest in voting?), but rather was a covert feminist plot to obscure all differences between men and women.

  33. kisarita says:

    I have no idea how many gay people there are but as social acceptance increases the number of people in same sex relationships is bound to increase exponentially.

    I also wonder if children raised by same sex parents are more likely to find themselves on the queer spectrum. but I have no idea.

    Agree with Maggie on this. SSM movement is a movement for recognition by society, which is what marriage is. Marriage isn’t a particular activity or place or anything like that which is barred from gays. Marriage is a particular status accorded to a relationship.

  34. Billy says:

    I find it unbelievable that one is allowed to propagate the following:

    “The exact percentage of gay people who will choose to enter a legal union is not knowable because the exact pecentage of who counts as a gay person is not easily definable.

    Only a minority of gay people are coupled. Of that minority only —perhaps 1 in 5?–will enter a legal union. The majority of these unions will fail (if the gay dissolution rate is approximately twice the opposite-sex couple rate, that would be around 80 percent, but it may be lower).”

    If you do not know how many gay people there are, then it is utterly irresponsible to say that only a minority of them are coupled and than only a fifth of those coupled will enter a legal union, of which 80% will fail.

    This is not only illogical, it is defamatory and certainly uncivil.

    But if it were true, the numbers would be so low that you must forgive me from howling at the “storm is approaching” videos that NOM will be putting out.

  35. mythago says:

    @JHW, you might find some agreement here on that, actually.

    @Maggie, do you believe that the actual number of interracial couples should have been relevant to the question of whether “anti-miscegenation” laws were good or bad?

  36. David Hart says:


    Cordileone does it even better. The Archbishop refers to me as a person who “experiences same-sex attraction.” My honest reaction to that would get me banned at Family Scholars.

    The argument over equal marriage can be distilled, in my opinion, to tortured logic in an effort to posit a secular argument when none really exists. I refuse to get into the weeds of how many gays there are and how many want to marry.

    As far as I am concerned, were there 100 gays in the US and were there one couple that wanted to marry, it is there legal right to do so. Moreover, their marriage has no effect on anyone else’s “traditional marriage.” None.

  37. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Annajcook, I provided links in an earlier post. Check.

  38. Peter Hoh says:

    This thread made me consider the integration of baseball’s major leagues, which caused the demise of the Negro leagues. As much as one may feel nostalgia for the Negro leagues, I don’t think there’s anyone who wishes that the major leagues had remained white-only so that the Negro leagues could continue to flourish.

  39. annajcook says:

    Maggie, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t assume I failed to read your earlier posts. I have read them, and I have looked at the two links you provided above, which are both policy briefs rather than studies — one of which is co-authored by you.

    The first looks at same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, which while potentially relevant is a cross-cultural study and therefore arguably doesn’t have very much applicability for the U.S. studies that compare the U.S. and the Netherlands as sexual cultures (see, for example, Amy Schalet’s exploration of parent-teen negotiations around sexual behavior Not Under My Roof) make the case that American and Dutch citizens have markedly different political-social contexts for sexual practices and so any data from the Netherlands should be used with care when trying to predict how Americans might behave in similar circumstances.

    The second, looking at the “demand” for same-sex marriage, asserts in the executive summary:

    Trend data is extremely limited, but the available data suggest that the number of gay marriages tends to decrease after an
    initial burst (reflecting pent up demand). Whether same-sex marriage will emerge as common or normative among gays and lesbians, or fade as time and novelty passes, cannot yet be determined.

    Neither of these briefs substantively address the question of queer relationship stability (either as evidenced by relationship formations broadly or divorce rates more narrowly). I repeat my point that vague allusions to queer peoples’ inability or disinterest in forming long-term relationships builds on harmful stereotypes about queer individuals and queer culture — and simply linking to your own policy briefs on quasi-related topics is not substantive evidence to support the truth of those assertions.

    Contrary to your assertions about the astronomically high divorce rate for same-sex couples, this June 2012 story from The Atlantic cites a Williams Institute study of American same-sex couples that found “on average the annual divorce rate for same-sex couples is similar to, though slightly lower than, the rate for different-sex couples.” So clearly, whatever data you are looking at is not the only data out there, and is contradicted by fairly recent U.S.-based data.

    And others have already pointed out that the data you draw on regarding the same-sex marriage rate conflicts with other studies and is, in any event, not really relevant to the question of marriage equality since even one couple denied recognition of their marriage is one couple too many.

  40. fannie says:


    Thanks for providing those links. I’ve actually read those papers before, and I think the situation in the Netherlands is more nuanced and complicated than how you (and the paper’s author) are talking about it, and not entirely parallel to the situation in the US.

    I think it’s likely deserving of its own full post, and I would like to be able to do that soon.

    I’d also like to echo the comments of other folks who are wondering what your point is when you suggest that only a minority of a minority wants to actually marry their same-sex partners.

    Is your argument that if only some gay people want to get married, then society doesn’t have to, or shouldn’t, grant the right for gay people to marry?

    It’s also interesting that the claim is that same-sex couples seek the right to marry because it signals social acceptance. If that’s the case, I would think “marriage defenders,” if they truly wanted to defend marriage from gay people, might want to consider supporting the acceptance of gay people in society so that maybe we’ll stop “using” marriage as a way to gain acceptance.

    “Marriage defenders” pushing for acceptance of homosexuality seems out of the realm of possibility. I wonder why. Actually, I don’t. Bigotry is alive and well, of course.

  41. Diane M says:

    So in my world, all the lesbians are “coupled up.” I suspect this is because of my age, where I live, and who I hang out with. At my age, most people are married or have been. Where I live, it’s not easy to afford a place on your own. And who I hang out with is mostly parents, because that’s who I meet.

    I’m not aware of as many gay male couples in my various communities, but the men I think of first do want long-term relationships. And I know a married gay male and a just-got-engaged hooray gay male.

    This is not a study, I know, but we don’t seem to have studies.

    Changing gears a little, I really liked Peter Hoh’s earlier comment. The couples who will most benefit from being able to easily get legally married are the ones who have less money and can’t afford to trot off to the lawyer to draw up three dozen contracts.

  42. Diane M says:

    In any case, if I were trying to talk about how the culture of the elite affects marriage for everyone else, I would be looking at straight marriages.

    For example, wealthier couples can afford to divorce and maintain separate households. Their children may not be happy about it, but by and large, they won’t suffer terribly financially. Their parents can pay for them to have counseling or tutors or trips across country to see the other parent.

    So does this affect divorce laws? or cultural attitudes and studies about divorce?

    I have at least the impression that elite women are likely to give advice on this subject that may not be sensible financially for other women. (I’m thinking of Pepper Shwartz’s bio.)

  43. Teresa says:


    As an opponent of same-sex marriage, I think the further down the logic trail we go, our argument loses.

    We can’t get our knickers-in-a-twist about what percentage of gays actually marry (we have no good estimates of how many gays there actually are). We can’t even engage about the whole adoption issue, in my opinion. This is far after the fact of the opposition to same sex marriage.

    Kevin brought forth an excellent point about inter-racial marriages. Maggie, numbers don’t matter. This is not at all what this argument is about.

    My opinion, and my opinion only, my opposition to same sex marriage stands principally on the principal/primary end of marriage being the ‘natural’ procreation of children between a man and a woman. The old-fashioned make a cake recipe. If a couple is infertile, principally known by age, makes zero difference. The natural process is at work.

    I know our virtual reality world has decimated all the old-fashioned mores; and, I’m spitting in the wind on this. I’m OK with that. So, let the conversation continue.

  44. mythago says:

    If a couple is infertile, principally known by age, makes zero difference. The natural process is at work.

    I genuinely do not understand this argument. What ‘natural process’?

  45. kisarita says:

    I don’t understand Teresa’s wording either, but my understanding is that an aged heterosexual couple does not challenge the procreative function of marriage because they still support the norm of heterosexual intercourse; ie reproductive intercourse, taking place within the marital framework.

  46. Teresa says:

    is that an aged heterosexual couple does not challenge the procreative function of marriage because they still support the norm of heterosexual intercourse; ie reproductive intercourse, taking place within the marital framework.


  47. David Hart says:


    That makes absolutely no sense. The integrity of marriage is dependent upon the presumptive support of couples who choose not to have children or cannot have children? Come on.

    There does not exist a compelling and coherent secular argument in opposition to marriage equality. BTW, France looks good within the next week or so – Debate starts Tuesday.

  48. mythago says:

    kisarita: one, a same-sex couple doesn’t “challenge” the idea of vaginal intercourse, either. Two, it’s interesting how people have forgotten that inability to have vaginal intercourse and inability to bear children used to be reasons to prohibit or dissolve marriages. Baehr v. Lewin pointed out that the state of Hawaii used to require people to swear they were ‘neither infirm nor impotent’ in order to marry. That requirement was abolished, not in the interests of same-sex couples but because it was felt this was intrusive and inhumane; why bar marriage to those too elderly to have children, or to the disabled? (Hawaii was not unique in such a requirement, either.)

    The ‘natural processes’ argument is the marriage equivalent of Intelligent Design; it takes an irreducibly religious argument and tries to tart it up in secular trappings.

  49. SexualMinoritySupporter says:

    Teresa, I think you are, “Pulling the mask of the old Lone Ranger” and you are messing around with Jim.

    You say Civil Marriage is for pro-creation, yet you give old people beyond the years of pro-creation a free pass because their sexual intercourse is penis/vagina and when they were younger, that, “Would Have” made a baby. So they are following the “form” of what makes a baby even though they are firing blanks.

    You can’t have it both ways Teresa, either the central purpose of Civil Marriage is pro-creation or it isn’t. If, it is as you say, for pro-creation, then your argument of, “We’ll they are following the form of it anyway, so they get a marriage license and gays don’t follow the pro-creative form so they do not get a marriage license.”

    What you are saying Teresa, are you not, is that the right to a Civil Marriage is based on Penis and Vagina sex, it is NOT about pro-creation at all? You are saying our government should privilege penis-vagina sex over any other type of sex. Your argument shifts from pro-creation to the privilege, maybe the preference, of penis-vagina sex. Your argument places form over substance, or form over actual pro-creation. So your argument is that, what counts is penis-vagina sex and old people can do that so they get a Marriage License, your argument is not about pro-creation

  50. kisarita says:

    mythago; they are irrelevant to the norm.