Want to protect traditional marriage? Ban divorce!

John Marcotte shows what those who *really* want to save traditional marriage should be doing. He does a lovely job of echoing the arguments against gay marriage. For example:

We live in a pro-divorce culture. Our children are constantly being taught that divorce is “OK” by television, films and even our evening news programs. And now it is even taught in our children’s textbooks that getting divorces is not only a “right” — but actually preferable in some circumstances.

I’m Catholic. My faith teaches me that divorce is a sin. I don’t believe that the government should be indoctrinating our children — telling them that divorce is “cool” or “legally permissible.” That type of moral decision should be taught within the confines of the family. It is not the government’s job to teach our children what to think about the morality of divorce.

When my child read that Ronald Reagan had gotten a divorce in his history textbook, he cried for a week. Shame on you, public school system! It’s a parent’s responsibility to teach their child about reality — not the state’s.

26 thoughts on “Want to protect traditional marriage? Ban divorce!

  1. sorry, just to be clear: this man actually is *against* prop 8. his campaign is a stunt to try to force the ‘protecting marriage’ folk to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak. so yes, he’s a brilliant satirist, not a raving nutcase. (or well, he might be both. but he’s pro-gay-marriage.)

  2. Hmm, it took me til the last paragraph to realize that John Marcotte was writing satire.

    Does that suggest I’ve just not slept enough? Or is it worrying, that us Europeans think that badly of (some sectors of) America?

  3. Speaking of Poe’s Law, there is that awful example of Michael Swift’s gay satire being used by the Family Life Network as if it is real.

  4. Marriage should be saved by practivcing basic social and emotional awarness skill followed by lots of you know what.

  5. what the heck has that man done to his kid that he would cry for a week over ronald reagan’s divorce??? kid’s got mad issues

  6. Quite seriously I’d be in favor of banning divorce–or at least making it a lot harder to come by. The US is a very high-risk society without much by way of contractual relationships we can count on and without social safety nets and we’ve internalized the idea that there’s something virtuous about shooting the moon. We’re always in the people-pleasing business, always selling ourselves, always “working on relationships.” It’s strenuous, stressful and time-conconcuming.

    One wants to get the necessities squared away and secure–a good enough house, a good enough income and a good enough marriage–so that one doesn’t have to bother with these thing and can get on with the interesting things. Like philosophy.

    If you want to maximize, satisfice!

  7. One could think of matrimonial law (the institution of civil marriage) as a regulatory scheme to promote certain behaviours and discourage others, and mitigate the negative effects of the undesired behaviours when they occur. Like legislative incentive/disincentive schemes, there are carrots and sticks involved. The costs imposed by divorce laws are a stick (although the benefit of those laws to the partner who didn’t seek the divorce is a carrot from that partner’s perspective, i.e. an incentive to enter into a marriage). And the legal effects of divorce (alimony, etc.) are supposed to help offset some of what would otherwise be negative effects of one partner leaving the other.

    Accordingly – though this may seem counterintuitive – it doesn’t necessarily make much sense to think of divorce as posing a threat to marriage. “Marriage” is really the entire scheme, not just the portion when the couple are together. When a couple gets a divorce, then assuming the divorce laws are sensible, economically efficient and applied fairly, the divorce is not a failure of the marriage regime, it’s an example of how the marriage regime works.

    By analogy, let’s say someone breaches or defaults on a contract and is taken to court by his/her counterparty so that the legally available remedies may be applied. When that happens, we don’t think of it as a sign that the sacred institution of contracts has been damaged (even though a contract may have ended). Rather, it’s a sign that the institution of contracts (i.e. the contract law) is working as intended.

    Granted, if the divorce laws are not efficiently tailored (which, many scholars assert, has turned out to be the case with no-fault divorce) then the overall regime is harmed. But that’s different from suggesting that banning divorce would rescue the institution of marriage from a threat.

    Obviously, Marcotte is satirizing here. But the joke depends in part on the plausibility of a premise that doesn’t work, so for me it kind of falls flat.

  8. @Nemo: You wrote:

    “One could think of matrimonial law (the institution of civil marriage) as a regulatory scheme to promote certain behaviours and discourage others, and mitigate the negative effects of the undesired behaviours when they occur.”

    Well, it was quite amusing to read the above, to say the least. What you wrote for matrimonial law is virtually indistinguishable from what one could have written for “contracts”, which in fact you use in your polemic, later, to illustrate the putative role of such laws. Obviously, you went to a great length to convince the rest of us that a civil marriage is really a contract of sorts. Clearly, that is the best argument for gay marriage that I have heard from someone who is ever willing to highlight the importance of the evolution of civil marriage laws (here as well as elsewhere) that in their present form cannot (should not?) support gay marriage.

    And, since you have taken pains to look into the history of civil marriage laws, may I point out that in the evolution of humans (as a species) over a period of around 2 million years or so, the current civil marriage laws, of which you are so fond of, are merely a thousand years old. On top of that, they are really Eurocentric and cannot possibly be representative of modes of thinking (on unions and marriages) prevalent in other cultures.

  9. Vishal,

    I think what I wrote in the text you cited is generally true of legislative incentive schemes (which, on one view, might be generally extended to most of the positive law). So it is arguably something that matrimonial law has in common with the contract law, but not necessarily more so than with a great many other laws. I mentioned the contract law not because I wanted to suggest that civil marriage is a kind of contract, but because most people (even those not particularly familiar with matrimonial law) have some ordinary experience with contract law, more so than with complex tax incentives or government subsidy schemes.

    That said, there are undoubtedly some more specific respects in which civil marriage resembles a contract (albeit not a strictly bilateral, private one). The danger in stressing those resemblances, I think, lies in their potential to obscure the really quite important disparities. That’s all beyond the scope of my earlier point and is a subject for a separate discussion.

    You suggest that Western marital law conventions “cannot possibly be representative of modes of thinking (on unions and marriages) prevalent in other cultures.” Quite possibly so, though whether they are representative of any modes of thinking would seem to be secondary to the question of whether they are well-equipped and well-adapted to regulate the particular behaviours and human situations to which they relate (which themselves may not always be culture-specific).

    We can observe that even in Western jurisprudence, some characteristics of marriage laws have tended to evolve while others have remained relatively constant. Likewise, there are some ways in which aspects of marriage laws seem relatively constant across cultures, and others in which they differ.

    Often when we observe such a phenomenon in law, the constant part (which often is linked to intrinsic or immutable underlying realities) has something to do with what the *changing* parts of the law have primarily adapted to handle.

    Take the persistence of the heterogeneity of sexes in matrimonial relationships and the matrimonial law (certainly over time in our own culture, but I think it’s basically the case across other cultures). It should come as no surprise that the panoply of marriage laws turn out to be primarily adapted to regulate specific aspects of male-female relationships (for example, incentive conflicts arising from different procreative life cycles, among others).

  10. Divorce needs to be banned.

    50 years ago the majority of Christians would have been livid if someone would have suggested that marriage was not permanent. The world has now fallen for one of Satan’s greatest deceptions.

    “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery and the man who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” –Jesus Christ

    “Look at the legalized adultery we call divorce. Men marry one wife after another and are still admitted into good society; and women do likewise. There are thousands of supposedly respectable men in American living with other men’s wives, and thousands of supposedly respectable women living with other women’s husbands.” — R. A. Torrey

    R.A. Torrey (1856-1928)
    Pastor and graduate of Yale University
    Superintendent of Moody Bible Institute for 19 years

    In the 1800’s, when the churches taught the truth, that marriage was permanent, the divorce rate was 10% and that was considered an epidemic!

    “A wife is married to her husband as long as he lives.”
    1 Corinthians 7:39

    http://www.cadz.net/mdr.html

  11. The problem is, Erin, that not everyone is a Christian. And not everyone who is a Christian interprets that passage as condemning all divorce.

  12. @Nemo: You wrote:

    “I think what I wrote in the text you cited is generally true of legislative incentive schemes (which, on one view, might be generally extended to most of the positive law).”

    It is quite clear what your argument is. You are arguing that civil marriage laws have the important (most important?) function of offering a set of incentives for certain kinds of behavior while rejecting them for others. [As an aside, this reminds one so much of behaviorism!] This brings us to the important question, “What kinds of behavior should be associated with the purported incentives?” I would very much like to get an answer from you to that question. And, even more importantly, why wouldn’t the state be able to “regulate” or elicit the desired kinds of behavior in homosexual couples, given that (as you said earlier) that is exactly what it is able to do in the case of heterosexual couples (with varying levels of success!)

    You also wrote:

    “Often when we observe such a phenomenon in law, the constant part (which often is linked to intrinsic or immutable underlying realities) has something to do with what the *changing* parts of the law have primarily adapted to handle.”

    I wish to hear from you more on the “immutable underlying realities.” In particular, what immutable underlying realities are civil marriage laws dealing with? I think I know a part of the answer to that question! Perhaps it is contained in the following observation of yours.

    “Take the persistence of the heterogeneity of sexes in matrimonial relationships and the matrimonial law (certainly over time in our own culture, but I think it’s basically the case across other cultures). It should come as no surprise that the panoply of marriage laws turn out to be primarily adapted to regulate specific aspects of male-female relationships (for example, incentive conflicts arising from different procreative life cycles, among others).”

    According to you, the predominance of heterosexual marriages demonstrates that heterosexual relationships form the overriding norm in almost all societies and therefore homosexual relationships can’t be taken as seriously. But, has it occurred to you that such a norm has been established and that homosexual inclinations/tendencies /relationships have been curbed/discouraged/prohibited by precisely the civil marriage laws that are in discussion? Again, to repeat my earlier question, why can’t homosexual behavior be brought under the ambit of our current laws to regulate it just as heterosexual behavior has already been brought under the purview of such laws?

  13. With regard to what kinds of behavior should be (or in fact *are*, which is what I’m talking about) associated with the purported incentives and disincentives, they are manifold, but would include abandonment and adultery (or refraining therefrom). Certainly, it’s possible for abandonment and adultery (or similar behaviours) to arise in a same-sex couple, but in the case of conventional marriage, these rules have evolved because there are specific biological realities of heterosexual couplings which increase private incentives toward the socially undesirable behaviours (and which may aggravate their consequences). Doug Allen, a Simon Fraser economist who studies these issues in marriage, has described (in a Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy article from a few years ago) some examples: “In the context of marriage, the conflict between the private and social incentives is often linked to the biology of procreation. For example, because women bear children at a young age, they make large, family-specific investments early in their lives. Such investments place them at risk of abandonment by men who initially indicate commitment in exchange for sex. But biology cuts both ways; because men seldom know the paternity of their children with certainty, a woman who mates with a given man might be able to ‘breed up’ by exchanging sexual intercourse with a higher quality male, allowing the original mate to raise the latter’s child unknowingly. These are just two examples of how biology could create a conflict between private and social incentives.”

    (I would say that perhaps the classic example of one of these behaviours is a man who abandons his partner in the wake of an unexpected pregnancy.)

    If you understood that the “underlying realities” I alluded to in my earlier post have something to do with procreative biology, then you’re absolutely correct. However, you go on to say: “According to you, the predominance of heterosexual marriages demonstrates that heterosexual relationships form the overriding norm in almost all societies and therefore homosexual relationships can’t be taken as seriously.” Well, first of all, I hardly said that. I’m not concerned with any normative aspect of this. What I suggested was that the substantive content of marriage laws have largely evolved to address (chiefly but not exclusively) issues – especially incentive issues – specific to heterosexual couples. That some or all of these issues may not arise in any given heterosexual couple doesn’t materially detract from this, naturally.

    You go on to ask: “But, has it occurred to you that such a norm has been established and that homosexual inclinations/tendencies /relationships have been curbed/discouraged/prohibited by precisely the civil marriage laws that are in discussion?” Again, I’d respond that this is completely irrelevant to my point.

    Finally you ask again “why can’t homosexual behavior be brought under the ambit of our current laws to regulate it just as heterosexual behavior has already been brought under the purview of such laws?” I think the answer is that it obviously *can* be regulated in the same way, but it is not efficient to regulate it in the same way, and it’s not clear that anyone would ultimately benefit from having it regulated in the same way. The huge range of legal rules relating to marriage have evolved to address (as optimally as possible over time) one context. It’s unreasonable to assume that they would be optimized as a regulatory scheme for what is, in some salient respects, a substantively different context. And given that all regulatory schemes involve some social costs, it’s legitimate to consider whether simply expanding their scope is a good way of furthering the state interests in question.

  14. @Nemo: You wrote:

    “It’s unreasonable to assume that they would be optimized as a regulatory scheme for what is, in some salient respects, a substantively different context. And given that all regulatory schemes involve some social costs, it’s legitimate to consider whether simply expanding their scope is a good way of furthering the state interests in question.”

    Your whole argument against gay marriage – I hope I am making a safe assumption about you on this one – hinges on two extremely minor points, which of course you couch in clever words. It must be acknowledged you certainly don’t seem to have the “religious/normative” baggage that most people have about marriage laws and which in fact have been hindering considerable progress on the gay civil rights issue. That’s good to know!

    But, whatever objections you seem to have, to not put too fine a point on it, are trifling! Let me rephrase the aforementioned points you raised.

    (1) According to you, current marriage laws have evolved to cater to the needs of heterosexual couples and their accompanying dynamics/idiosyncrasies. That is, such laws have been “tailored-made” (a word that I use for lack of a better term) for heterosexuals, and therefore they are not suitable for homosexuals in general. Point acknowledged! But, are you suggesting that with the gargantuan legal machinery/tool/technology that we – let us restrict “we” to the US for the sake of convenience – have at our disposal cannot be deployed to meet this supposed challenge? Surely, you are not suggesting that so many of our legal professionals in both academia and the industry cannot come up with reasonable marriage laws in a reasonable amount of time to cater to the needs of homosexuals, are you?

    (2) Coming to your second objection, you write that the state does not or cannot (possibly?) have any interest in changing current (marriage) laws that directly affect (negatively, quite obviously) around 10% of its population. That’s a really funny thought! I mean, given that African Americans, historically and till the present day, comprise around 12% of the US population and that they had been well “adapted” to the institution of US slavery for at least a couple of centuries (if not more), gee I wonder why American laws were changed to dismantle such an institution. Please bear in mind that I am not comparing the two groups (that of African Americans and homosexuals) with each other as if they are the same on some level. I am only wondering why the state cannot or does not have any vested interest in providing equal rights to its gay members!

  15. Vishal,

    You raise a valid point, and before responding I would qualify something you’ve said above – don’t think of the current marriage laws as being adapted to catering to the needs of homosexual couples so much as they are catering to the needs and interest of the state in regulating a particular situation where, as I said, the private incentives of individuals are particularly susceptible, for partly biological reasons, to divergence from the social objectives.

    Having said that, let me get to your question about whether we could deploy resources sufficient to come up with marriage laws that would do something similar for the cases of homosexual couples. Well, we can certainly try, and some are trying. Remember, though, that the current laws have evolved over a long time, and in terms of developing optimal laws, it’s hard to substitute the benefit of such a long feedback process (the main feedback mechanism here being – particularly in a common-law tradition – instances of legal-related difficulties arising in untold thousands or millions of individual marriages over many generations, which interact with the legal system through court adjudication etc., and each particular case imparts a little bit of feedback to the system which slightly modifies the common law jurisprudence in response, etc.

    But let’s say we come up with, as you put it, “reasonable marriage laws in a reasonable amount of time to cater to the needs of homosexuals.” You realize that they wouldn’t be the same laws, right? I don’t just mean they wouldn’t be the same laws we currently have; I mean they would naturally be two different regimes. Possibly *three* different regimes, since if you accept the premise that a marriage system adapted to heterosexual unions is not necessarily adapted to homosexual unions, then I think you also have to consider that male-male and female-female unions will present different public/private incentive problems from each other (why lump them together?). And of course, from there, each regime would continue the process of evolution into the future, becoming ever more optimally adapted. Yet each one would evolve along different lines, unless artificially and inefficiently restrained by being forced into a one-size-fits-all regime, in which case they would not evolve optimally for any purpose.

    Finally, you said that you are “only wondering why the state cannot or does not have any vested interest in providing equal rights to its gay members”. You’ve phrased this as an equal rights question; but if you look at civil marriage as a tailored incentive/disincentive scheme along the lines I’ve outlined, I think that an equal rights analysis begins to seem inapposite. You might as well frame any regulatory incentive scheme as unequal, because the behaviours it promotes or discourages (and as a corollary, those who engage or are inclined to engage in them) are treated differently. Ultimately the state cares about addressing the situation the scheme is designed to regulate. It’s not as though the civil marriage laws have any regard for any individual’s sexual orientation or attraction to his or her partner.

    Now, I’m hardly suggesting that there are no social interests at stake with respect to a same-sex union. What they are could be the subject of another thread. But it’s pretty clear that the social objectives of same-sex marriages would overlap only modestly with those of mixed-sex marriages, for the reasons I outlined. The negative social outcomes that civil marriage is largely aimed at curtailing or mitigating are substantially less likely to arise on their own in same-sex unions. So why would any objective observer think that regulating the two situations in exactly the same way is the best use of the state’s resources?

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