By Ben Kaufman
Like with the validity of climate change research, the only people who continue to deny that marriage equality is an absolute no-brainer are conservatives. It’s time to put that debate to bed once and for all. Sixty-three percent of Americans support gay marriage, more than 70 percent of Americans live in places where it’s allowed and each of those numbers is poised to keep on growing as we move forward. The fact that we’re still even discussing this is mind-boggling. America, marriage equality won. Let’s turn the page.
Of course, the question at hand isn’t that of LGBT rights as a whole, but rather the argument that the federal government should place more value on straight couples because they have a higher chance (that is, any) of procreating. This is deeply troubling even only as a contention, let alone as a theoretical piece of public policy.
A good place to start in evaluating the above proposal, putting aside relevant ethical and legal ramifications, is the question of whether Americans need to be encouraged to have more children in the first place. The answer, of course, is that they very obviously don’t. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that America will be home to nearly 417 million people by 2060, putting the U.S. on track to handily defend its current third-place position behind only China and India in population rankings. If we were facing a demographic crisis like Japan’s, it would make sense for our government to take evasive baby-promoting action. The simple fact, though, is that we aren’t.
Next, let’s consider what the pursuit of a utilitarian baby boom would truly entail. Perhaps the government was looking to fix Social Security by bringing us back to the 159.4:1 ratio that existed between workers and retirees in 1940, a ratio that reached 2.9:1 in 2010. By 2050, the retired population is projected to hit 83.7 million. A 159.4:1 ratio under such circumstances would require a workforce of 13.3 billion people, equal to almost ten Chinas, eleven Indias, about 42 current Americas or 1.9 times the population of our current global population. Our physical infrastructure is already being pushed well beyond its limits; imagine the traffic on the 101 if two Earths were shoved into the U.S.
Plus, given that there are about 120 million full-time workers in America, a workforce of 13.3 billion would require us to come up with 13.18 billion new workers by 2050. That in turn means that every woman in America (of which there are about 161 million) would need to contribute 82 new workers by 2050, or 2.3 kids a year. Ask a female friend how she feels about that, and then consider the massive improvements that already need to be made to our physical, medical, agricultural, environmental and educational infrastructure just to support our population along current growth projections.
Still, the most worrisome aspect of any policy favoring heterosexuals over other couples is its stark incompatibility with both American laws and American values. The argument that some people are entitled to special treatment because their sexual preference also happens to make them more likely to procreate assumes that, for the government, citizens exists purely as an instrument to maximize the nation’s growth and power with no consideration of domestic well-being. That’s ridiculous. Our government exists to protect and serve, not to milk the population to defend our nation’s international supremacy without any consideration of repercussions at home.
This isn’t to say that there are no cases in American life where freedoms are sacrificed toward social good, and it’s no accident that our Constitution’s self-declared goal is, “ to form a more perfect Union” Indeed, we give up some amount of our freely-earned income so that we can support the framework of civil society, and we forfeit our right to beat up innocent people on the street because we wouldn’t want someone else to end up doing that to us. But each of these situations involves a trade-off where the benefits substantially and evidently outweigh the negative effects.
In striking down Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Kennedy wrote, “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” Especially when America has absolutely no demographic reason to pursue policies that give preference to heterosexuals, there is simply no positive outcome to be had in prioritizing straight couples that ‘overcomes’ such a blatant violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
And what would this incentivization of child-bearing look like anyway? In nations that currently engage in such policies, parents are generally offered extensive tax breaks, day care services, medical care, paid maternal (and often paternal) leave, to name only a few perks. Ignoring cost, such practices (in the absence of a crisis) would make sense only if people chose to be gay and if this were a question of swinging the balance of their decision-making toward being straight. We know that they don’t. Such practices thus serve only to discriminate.
The point is that promoting straight couples doesn’t make us a better nation in any (any) way. It does nothing more than make us one that implicitly de-prioritizes gay couples, and by inevitable extension, homosexuals as a whole. We’ve done enough of that over the years. Let’s move on.
Contact Ben Kaufman at bkauf614 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
There’s a new wrinkle this time in the Great Marriage Debate. Location: Alabama, where Judge Granade recently overturned the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage during Strawser vs. Strange. Date: Feb. 9, two weeks back. Character: Justice Glenn Murdock from the Alabama Supreme Court, who submitted along with the Court’s order a two-page opinion that warns of a line drawn in the sand. If Alabama permits same-sex marriage as law, his next vote may be to abolish marriage altogether and simply deny the so-affirmed rights of marriage to everyone.
His reasoning may be a little far-fetched, but there is some sense behind it. The idea of constitutionally-protected marriage rights has always been somewhat vague. Though the Supreme Court has a long history of defending the irrefutability of marriage, the confusing nature of federal jurisdiction on this subject remains. By this opinion, this one judge has finally forced all of us to ask the question at the very center of this debate.
It goes something like this: Why should government concern itself with the marital state, or lack thereof, of its constituents? What matters to it when two human beings choose a commitment to life-long fidelity in partnership? I don’t mean the rulers; no doubt high-profile relationships are a frequent subject of discussion around the Senate water cooler. But to the body of law and theory that dictate rule this idea would seem irrelevant. What reasons could government itself have for legally recognizing this union?
Perhaps financial stability? Most forms of government have vested interests in promoting economic security among their citizens. But insofar as relating to the nominal recognition of marriage this argument doesn’t hold. When two or more people live and work under one roof they automatically benefit from the social and economic advantages that follow (shared rent, divided tasks/responsibility), whether or not they share a marriage certificate. Could it then be for purposes of organization? Possibly, but it should be remembered that in this day and age computers make this trivial. Not to mention that marriage is not the only bloc by which two or more people may choose to affiliate themselves; “Head of Household” is also a category in tax returns.
And here I’ll mention that it is not the government’s job to make sure its citizens are happy and leave it at that.
No, when emotion is stripped from the case and replaced with the pure reason law requires, there remains only one reason why government should place any kind of value on an institution as socially oriented as marriage. It’s children.
For it is in a government’s interest to ensure the maintenance of its population. It is in a government’s interest to encourage the continuance of the next generation, through methods that result in healthy, stable and intelligent workers who themselves will later contribute their talents to the strength of the country. One might even say that the government invests in its youth (think Department of Education) to ensure an excellent final product. By doing so, the government not only ensures its own survival, but also the prosperity and increased wealth of its citizenry. It is a callous argument, but concerned only with logic.
Hence the advantages married couples receive. Tax breaks that allow couples to put aside for the childrearing years when they first marry and spend more of their resources on their kids once they arrive. Employment benefits that grant a family security when the working spouse(s) is injured or dies. Medical exceptions that give parents the responsibility over their child’s health.
If it is accepted that, from a government’s point of view, marriage exists to create an atmosphere suitable for child rearing (which decades of sociological research have proven it does), the next consideration would be this; which environment is most suitable?
It will take many more years before a complete study that accurately compares the effects of parent combinations on children is done. If such a study proves that the familial situation a child is raised in ─ foster, single parent, adopted, same-sex, different sex, polygamous, etc. ─ makes no difference whatsoever on a child’s psychological and emotional development and prepares them all equally for the challenges of adulthood, I for one will be thrilled. But such a result would be both unlikely and counterintuitive. There are times when where one comes from matters, even if it’s only as a point of reference. And as children grow, the most basic question of “Where did I come from?” may turn to a darker “Why would anyone give me up?” A thought they cannot quite shake, a thought that changes them ever so slightly.
And so, the government looks down upon its populace from on high and calculates their best interests. The people should have houses, it says; incentivize this. Make it cheaper for them to have houses. The people should have children, it says; incentivize this. Make it cheaper for them to have children. The people should be married? Well, we are not sure about “should,” but it does seem make it easier for those children. Fine. And it relaxes back into plush leather and congratulates itself on a job well-done.
Then it notices something it could not have predicted, that to its calculations went unnoticed. It seems a bond that forms, first between mother and child seconds after the pain stops, then between father and child outside the waiting room, then perhaps between brother and child as he peers at this new arrival over the crib. And it wonders.
The people should be married, it says. Incentivize this.
We may elect government to represent our interest, but behind each law, each decision, there is reason. The links between children and the marriages that produce them are too powerful to deny, particularly when they relate to legislation or court matters. Taken from this perspective, Judge Murdock’s opinion serves only to make a political statement without understanding why and how the government recognizes the institutions it should encourage. If only for the children.
Contact Wyatt Smitherman at wtsmith ‘at’ stanford.edu.