Why Stick With Marriage?

Dear Friends,

My latest column on National Review is a response to two recent books by major family scholars Andrew Cherlin, and Isabel Sawhill–both of whom suggest we should give up on promoting marriage per se and promote stable committed relationships:

I explain why that is not a practical suggestion:

“In Generation Unbound, the Brookings Institution’s Isabel Sawhill regretfully says she no longer believes reviving marriage is possible for the less-educated two-thirds of America. The old marriage norm should be replaced with a new social script: It is wrong to have children that are unplanned. “The old norm was ‘don’t have a child outside of marriage.’ The new norm should be ‘don’t have a child before you want one and are ready to parent.’” How would a young adult know whether he or she is “ready”? Like Cherlin, Sawhill retreats to the idea of “commitment”: “For most people it means completing their education, having a steady job, and having a committed partner.”

Here’s my problem with this nice-sounding new script: I think the majority of young people who have children outside marriage are already doing that, to the best of their limited youthful abilities.

Sixty percent of births to unwed mothers, as Sawhill notes, are to cohabiting women. Most of the recent increase in single motherhood has come from increasing births to women who are cohabiting, not solo moms.

The problem with retreating from marriage as a bright line is that, in practical terms, young women in love are not very good at figuring out whether or not they are in a committed relationship.

A 2008 study by Kathryn Kost and colleagues, found that . . . .cohabitation is one of the most serious risk factors for contraceptive “failure.” In 2002, one out of five cohabiting women reported contraceptive “failure,” double the risk for married women. Compared with never-married or divorced single women, only cohabiting women had a significantly higher risk of contraceptive failure than married women.”

Retreating from marriage to “stable relationships” doesn’t work because cohabiting women believe they are in stable loving relationships, that is one reason they aren’t that motivated to prevent birth. I end with a modest proposal:

“[T]he truth is we simply haven’t tried to do very much to encourage marital childbearing in this country. Before we give up completely, may I suggest one idea that would cost virtually no money at all and would involve no new government program?”

Read the rest of the story here.

Catholics and Queer Theory

John Corvino, the co-author of my latest book, takes on Catholics like Michael Hannon, who in First Things essay “Against Heterosexuality” try to use queer theory to dismantle homosexuality as a “real” category in Commonweal (John is an ex-Catholic and an ex-seminarian as he makes clear):

“Hannon argues that religious conservatives should embrace queer theorists’ view that sexual orientation is a social construction, rather than a natural and inevitable feature of persons. Furthermore, they should stop categorizing anyone as gay, because doing so organizes that person’s sexual identity around a particular temptation to sin, leading him to believe that he needs that sin in order to be fulfilled. Finally, and most important, they should stop categorizing anyone as heterosexual, because doing so lets people off the hook as “normal,” thus blinding them to their own sin. . .

Hannon, who is a candidate for religious life with the Norbertine order, is hardly the first Catholic to invoke queer theory in support of conservative causes. Back in the late 1990s, when the essentialist/constructionist debate was still fresh, my old sparring partner Maggie Gallagher made a similar point at a Georgetown University conference on “Homosexuality and American Public Life.””

Small point, I don’t recall making this point in that conference but it’s years ago and I don’t still have a copy of that talk (and neither does John).

In any case I agree with John Corvino more than I disagree with him in this piece on his main point, although he seems to interpret a discussion of how Christians should think about same-sex attraction and the people who have it with an attempt to determine how everyone thinks about it.

Even if the broader culture accepts homosexuality as a social fact, which is clearly the case whether Hannon likes it or not, that does not settle how Catholics should think about it.

Here’s my view: When Christians tell me that homosexuality is “socially constructed” and therefore not a “real” permanent feature of human existence, I generally respond “I know gay people exist the same way that I know that Methodists exist. I’ve met them.”

In other words, not all categories that are real are founded on fixed unchangeable essences. Sexual orientation as a concept is a way of organizing “given reality” (sexual attraction) into a communal identity, the strongest kind.  It is therefore not at all like race, and but rather more akin to religion.

I never ever think of myself as a heterosexual, nonetheless my own ideas about my experience of sexuality (“we are born male and female and called to come together in love in this thing called marriage”) are core enough to my identity and my sense of what is required for communal good that I am willing to suffer rather than renounce them, if necessary. They are not positions I hold, they are part of who I am.

Corvino acknowledges that in a gay-affirming culture more people will label their feelings as gay and grow up to live a gay life, which he sees as the great moral advance on the subject and orthodox Catholics see as Not a Good Thing. (Although the openly gay community of priests, brothers, and seminarians in Corvinos’ seminary by his account applauded his coming out).

I do not have strong feelings whether Hannon is right or whether  orthodox gay Catholics like Eve Tushnet are right in thinking she should retain her lesbian identity while committing herself to faithful Christian practice (meaning in her current situation, celibacy).

But as an atheist, that is not the question that John Corvino is thinking about.

Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family

marriage-markets-book

In their new book Marriage Markets, law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn point out perhaps the single most important fact about the state of 21st century American marriage: it’s bifurcating.

It is not just that marriage among the poor has disappeared, although it has.  It is not just that marriage is declining dramatically among the middle third of American society, although it is.  Divorce rates continue to rise and out of wedlock births are becoming the new middle-American normal.

Read More…

Bend it Like Benham

The best bit of good news I have seen is this report from the Hollywood Reporter suggesting multiple other networks are considering picking up the series “Flip it Forward” that HGTV cancelled.

Since Carrie Prejean was hounded off the national stage for the crime of answering the question, should every state have gay marriage, with a polite “no,” Hollywood and the entertainment industry have made their point of view crystal clear: The glamour of television and movies is not for people who believe marriage is the union of a husband and a wife.  (The pageant judge who videotaped himself and posted the video calling Ms. Prejean the “c-word” was welcomed back to judge more young would-be beauty queens—what does that tell us? And when Carrie’s not atypical California teenager’s sexual/romantic history was exposed for the clear malicious purpose of “slut-shaming” her to retaliate for her refusal to recant on gay marriage, not a single progressive voice rushed to her defense.)

Duck Dynasty’s survival was the first crack in this new and quite literal McCarthyism, the one sign of hope that the new blacklist was not impenetrable, some could seep through.  True, the Robertson’s Duck Dynasty was a monster hit network-sustaining franchise player.  But when the family who would not recant faced down a network whose economic survival depended on this hit franchise, the entertainment industry and its LGBT allies relented: that show at least could go on.

Read More…

Cooper, Mozilla, Arizona

A friend asked me, after reading my last interview with HuffPo, “So are you really stepping down from the marriage and religious liberty fight?”

No, I told him.  Sorry if it sounded like that.  What I am advocating doing is three very big, and very hard things: a) accepting where we are and b) learning from what we did not succeed in so that we can get to c) how do we build anew?

Right now most people who believe in the classic understanding of marriage are in shock, they are awed by the powers now shutting down the debate and by our ineffectualness at responding to these developments.

The temptation to shout and yell and stamp our feet in ineffectual ridiculousness is understandable, but it is to be resisted.

Read More…

What’s Next?

I did an interview wth HuffPo Gay Voices. Of course some might call this an admission of defeat—because I repeat my belief that it is clear they now have 5 votes for gay marriage on the Supreme Court.

But really it is about taking up the next battle. If true, what next for those of us who do not believe in gay marriage?

A taste here:
‘ What’s next? In my view people who believe in the traditional understanding of marriage, and believe that it matters, have to become a creative minority, finding way to both express these sexual views, culturally, artistically and intellectually and to engage with the newly dominant cultural view of marriage respectfully but not submissively.

Lots of thoughts packed into the latter sentence.

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Suicide By Consultant

The debate launched by our report “Building a Winning Coalition: Lesson from 2012” continues. Ramesh Ponnuru takes us to task for even imagining inflation is an issue, or that monetary reform could be a voting issue.

I am writing to you from the Tyson’s Corner Ritz Carlton.  Frank Cannon is on the panel making the case the social issues are an important part of a winning GOP coalition.
I spent the morning listening to folks say things like “we should be pro-life, but talk about it better, or preferably less.”

The belief that social issues are hurting us politically remains a fixed faith, hard to shake among the consulting and donor class, but is it grounded in hard political fact?  Or are we committing suicide by consultant?

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Reaction to Prop 8 Ruling

The Supreme Court has just abandoned 7 million voters, giving us no justice and no access to the courts..  The California Supreme Court made it clear that the proponents of Prop 8 are delegated the right to defend the law if state official refuse to do so.  But after accepting standing in DOMA because. . .well because it wanted to, the majority of the Supreme Court justices simply punted unable to recognize a clear injustice in kicking out of court people who have devoted thousands of hours to the democratic process –and $3 million to the defense of the law–that the Court today treats as beggars with no interest in the outcome. Read More…