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July 15, 2006

GAY MARRIAGE IN TENNESSEE: Not likely to happen in the near future, but some people are sufficiently upset at the possibility that there's a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would define marriage as one-man/one-woman. I think that's a terrible idea: Such amendments are basically an attempt to block any change in political consensus by freezing things now, and that seems wrong to me in this context.

It's very hard to amend the Tennessee Constitution, and the amendment will fail unless it as many votes as would constitute a majority in the last gubernatorial election. An early effort to derail it on procedural grounds, brought by the Tennessee ACLU, failed on standing grounds. (Opinion here, short summary via Michael Silence here.) I'm not sure about that -- it seems to me that under Art 1 secs. 1&2 of the Tennessee Constitution there's a pretty good argument that any citizen has standing in these matters -- but it's certainly evidence that the Tennessee Supreme Court, despite its more-friendly-than-the U.S. Supreme Court treatment of abortion and sodomy, isn't grasping at any legal straw available in support of gay marriage, as gay marriage opponents fear.

I'm going to try to figure out what I can do to oppose this measure, though it's a tricky political calculus as drawing attention to it may actually help its passage, since a failure to vote on the measure at all is tantamount to a "no" vote. I suspect, though, that the anti-gay-marriage forces will make enough noise to ensure that it's not ignored.

My own sense is that this sort of thing belongs in the political sphere, and that efforts to insulate it from the political sphere, either by judicial fiat or constitutional amendment, are a bad idea.

UPDATE: This is part of a string of losses for gay marriage advocates, reports Dale Carpenter, who has detail on what's going on. As I've noted before, it seems to me that the big push on gay marriage came before the public was ready. You have to educate first; there's been good progress on public attitudes toward gays, but it actually seems to go faster when gay marriage advocates aren't getting a lot of publicity and calling people who disagree with them bigots. (Kaus has noted this, too -- scroll down due to lack of permalinks at Kausfiles.) Honey, vinegar, and all that.

My own feeling is that Americans are basically fair, and will come to support gay marriage on their own given a bit of time. And I think that -- despite claims that they're really just opposing "judicial activism" -- gay marriage opponents fear that I'm right.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Glenn Howes emails:

As a daily (actually many times a daily) reader, I think you have some obligations to explain your thinking in more detail about this issue. I think you should address the critics' of gay marriage heart-
felt beliefs. So I have a couple of questions for you.

1) Critics say that allowing gays to marry will grievously harm the institution of marriage as a whole. What are the odds in your mind that this is true? For example, what would be the odds that this change in definition will lead to a 20% drop in people who live together being married 20 years from now? How many gay marriages are we talking about, and how high would the odds have to be in order for you to say it wasn't worth it.

2) You use the "fairness" argument. If you were punditing 50 years ago, would you have supported the extension of welfare benefits to all single mothers, not just widows and orphans? The "fairness" argument was used on that occasion too, and the result was the near utter destruction of the black nuclear family. If so, would it have been worth it? In other words, is fairness more important than the family structure? If not, do you think you'd have been able to predict the effect with the same level of certainty you predicted the odds in question 1?

Hmm. Well, in answer to question (1), I don't see how this harms marriage at all. Will straight kids be more or less likely to get married because gay couples get married? It's hard for me to see the answer being "less likely." Why would it be? ("Eww, now marriage has gay cooties" doesn't seem to be a likely reaction.) Will straight marrieds be more likely to get divorces? Again, I don't see any mechanism for this. To me, gay marriage seems like a fundamentally pro-tradition move.

As for (2), well, that's hard to answer in light of my answers to (1). I don't know whether fairness is more important than family structure, but I'm at a loss to see why gay marriage threatens family structure -- but to the extent (doubtful) that it does, it's got to be orders of magnitude less damaging than easy welfare benefits or a culture (which we had for a while but don't really have any more) that treats divorce lightly.

Various other emailers ask variations on "what's more democratic than a referendum?" Well, but it's a referendum that's designed to take the question out of the purview of democracy thereafter. There are obviously subjects for which that's appropriate -- that's why we have constitutions, after all -- but this doesn't really seem like one of those to me. (But Polipundit disagrees.)

MORE: Another reader, Laurel Lowrey, writes:

A topic of this magnitude requires more than a few words to capture the scope of the argument. Society does not create marriage; the family precedes the clan which precedes the state. All a society can do is to offer support for the foundational block in a society, that grouping which offers the best hope of creating and raising the successor generation. Glenn Howes challenged your position, I believe hoping you'd offer some evidence of intellectual exercise in replying; I also believe you failed that miserably.

Consider: in the last fifty years, there has been a steady deterioration in the centrality of marriage in our society. The initial event was the introduction of the 'Pill' in 1961. I won't cover the disastrous entirety of the 60's, but the easy acceptance of a new abandon regarding sexual mores was clearly the result. The early 70's saw the introduction of 'no-fault' divorce as well as the legalization of on-demand abortion, and the race was on. By the time a single and pregnant Murphy Brown hit the airwaves - recall the public mocking of Dan Quayle when he rightly warned of the consequences of Hollywood undermining the social value of marriage - the end seemed to have been all but fated.

So, where are we today? Marriage is wavering under the relentless attack from so many directions. Tax codes penalize married couples. Hollywood, the only royalty we have, treats marriage as a great time, one which they seem eager to use like cheap shampoo - rinse and repeat. Divorce laws now allow partners to swap faster than at a square dance. Face it, marriage is under assault today, in many ways and for many reasons.

Our society has weakened its foundational stone, marriage, by breaking it free from procreation; we've accepted 'casual sex' and 'starter marriages'. The worst of all may just be 'blended' families - and egad, but what is this latest drumbeat of 'it takes all kinds of people to make a family'? Have we so forgotten the nuclear family that any accumulation and quantity of people together for any period are given the same status? Delusional.

So, you're wrong. Gay marriage will do two things simultaneously and result in a final devastation subsequently. It will 'prove' that the male/female relationship is not unique and valued in our society. It will 'prove' that marriage is not optimal for the healthy rearing of children. Finally, it will be the foot in the door to polygamy. Once we no longer require opposite gender relationships, you cannot legitimately defend the arbitrariness of the number of partners. You know that, as do I.

I have no doubt that gay marriage will become the new normal in our country, though I use the word advisedly. The selfish nature will have its way.

Will that society, easily freed from all interpersonal obligations, shedding relationships like worn clothing, children likened to vanity license plates, truly be better?

Okay, more words -- but I still don't see the connection between allowing gay marriage and a society "easily freed from all interpersonal obligations, shedding relationships like worn clothing, children likened to vanity license plates." Where's the causal relationship here?

With Glenn Howes' example, it was predictable that if the government subsidized illegitimate children we'd get more of them. But what's the government subsidizing in the case of gay marriage? It's not promiscuity, or the casual production of children -- we already have plenty of both, and there's no reason I can see that gay marriage makes them more likely.

Meanwhile, Howes responds:

Thanks for printing my e-mail. It was quite surprising and gratifying to see my name up on Instapundit.

So I take it your answers are:

1) 0% (in which case I will be bet you a dollar versus all the money
in the universe that you are wrong)

2) Yes, but you are more certain this time.

Fair enough, and thanks again for taking the time. Messing with one of the pillars of human civilization is not something conservatives like myself do lightly if at all; it's sort of what defines a conservative, at least as Jonah Goldberg would define conservatism.

Well, I'm not a conservative -- whether you use Jonah's definition, Ramesh Ponnuru's definition, or even (I think) Andrew Sullivan's definition, and I'm happy I didn't get dragged into that argument . . . .

But I'm not sure that putting something beyond the reach of anything but a pretty big supermajority -- because, as I mentioned, it's very hard to amend the Tennessee Constitution, harder than with most state constitutions -- is exactly modest, if that's part of being conservative. It seems to me to be a fairly extraordinary bit of hand-tying. Right now, there's no chance that a majority of Tennessee voters will adopt gay marriage. But an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution says that if a majority of those voters change their minds later, we're (or at least the amendment's proponents are) are so sure that we know better now than they will then that we're willing to require a very substantial supermajority to make any changes.

STILL MORE: More comments on my post here. And Chris O'Donnell also doesn't see the threat to marriage from gay marriage:

Even as I type this I'm making plans to leave Michelle for a 21 year old Hooters waitress. If Kenny Chesney and Renee Zwelleger can only last 4 months, why should the rest of us even bother trying?

Hollywood royalty? Pleeeze. Hollywood folks don't fail at marriage because they they are part of the liberal gay conspiracy to undermine traditional American values. They fail at marriage because they are self-centered idiots unable to put anybody else ahead of themselves. You sort of have to be that way to make it to that level of Hollywood in the first place.

Yes, and they do more damage to marriage than gay marriages are likely to do. Meanwhile, reader Shirley Taylor emails:

Please satisfy my curiosity. You talk about the push for gay marriage came before the public was ready - "You have to educate first." How would you do this educating? I get the impression that you think anyone who is against gay marriage is a bigot and I think that is far from true. I am against this but both my daughters, in their thirties, are for it. I think it's a gereration thing as people I work with, who would cut off their right hand rather than vote Republican, are very against it too, but given time, in my opinion, it will become acceptable - more's the pity.

For what it is worth, I have been a tax preparer for 20 years with a well known Firm and it wasn't until Congress started to do away with the marriage penalty that gay marriage advocates started their campaign in earnest, at least down here in South Florida, and I am not the only preparer to notice this trend. Before that, gays were better off taxwise being single (and you would be amazed at how so many people live their lives, to a fanatical degree, with regard to taxes e.g. no way would he/she get married and miss out on the earned income credit to name just one) but now they realize it is to their advantage to be able to marry and they are determined to get their way on this.

Just because you do not think 100% the way I do, will not make me stop visiting your blog which I find educational and enjoyable.

I agree that it's a generational thing, though I don't think that's bad. I think it's more the result of people becoming more familiar with "out" gays and not being threatened by them. And I rather doubt that this whole thing is being driven by tax concerns. I don't think that "anyone who is against gay marriage is a bigot," and I think that such notions have done more harm than good to the cause of gay marriage.

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