8/13/10

Dumb Things Watch

Today on Dumb Things Watch we have Ross Douthat's really dumb column from a few days ago.  The dumb argument he makes for keeping gay marriage illegal is that lifelong heterosexual marriage with kids is ideal. Okaaaay....let's suppose it is.  That means various things are sub-ideal. For example,  it's sub-ideal when two people can't stay together for life, because one dies. A new relationship involving the survivor can't possibly measure up to the ideal of lifelong heterosexual marriage, cuz it ain't lifelong.  So... second marriages should be illegal?   But no, that's silly, so there must be something wrong with his argument.

And there is. We simply don't attack or disrespect or challenge the ideal of lifelong heterosexual marriage if we let widows and widowers have second marriages.  Likewise, if lifelong heterosexual marriage is ideal, we don't disrespect that ideal by allowing gay people to marry. Now, some will say I'm granting too much.  Are lifelong heterosexual marriages really ideal?  It's not an outlandish notion, even if I'm not straining at the bit to agree.  The point is: so what?  Even so, it wouldn't even begin to mean gay marriage should be illegal.

12 comments:

amos said...

Life-long hetereosexual marriage with children is not my ideal.

Douthat would really have to present better arguments to convince me that it is an ideal.

The best relationships, in my experience, are the most flexible and creative ones, as long as that flexibility and creativity are in the service of making all parties involved happy and promoting their well-being/flourishing.


Given this guy's journalistic standards, maybe the TLS can hire him.

amos said...

Life-long hetereosexual marriage with children is not my ideal.

Douthat would really have to present better arguments to convince me that it is an ideal.

The best relationships, in my experience, are the most flexible and creative ones, as long as that flexibility and creativity are in the service of making all parties involved happy and promoting their well-being/flourishing.


Given this guy's journalistic standards, maybe the TLS can hire him.

Jean Kazez said...

As a matter of sheer argumentative strategy, I think it's more effective to argue "ad hominem"--in the technical sense. That is, you accept your opponent's premise (life long heterosexual marriage with kids is ideal) and show that logically, the conclusion doesn't follow.

But OK--is it ideal or not? Let's say we had to outlaw every type of marriage but one. What should we preserve? I'd say the marriage of the mother and father of growing children is what ought to be preserved, if we can't have all types of marriage. There's more reason for that sort of marriage than for any other.

Fortunately, we don't have to be so stingy. There is plenty of reason to allow many other types of marriage as well, including marriage without kids, gay marriage, etc.

amos said...

When society or an op ed columnist in one of the world's most prestigious newspapers establishes an ideal, some people feel obliged to live up to it.


However, not everyone likes children nor is fit to raise them; not everyone is hetereosexual; not everyone is monogamous; not everyone's flourishing will be promoted by spending the next 60 years with someone who fascinated one at age
24; and not everyone wants to share a living space with another human being.

So the type of ideal that Douhat sets up makes lots of people feel that they have failed to live good lives. It is a pernicious ideal, one which damages the self-esteem of everyone who cannot conform to what you call a "dumb" standard.

Jean Kazez said...

No, I called it a dumb column, I didn't call it a dumb standard. Quite the opposite. I've said I don't think it's outlandish to view lifelong heterosexual marriage as an ideal, and I think it would make sense to give that sort of marriage priority, if we really had to allow exactly one kind. The point is that we don't.

Wayne said...

Wait a sec.... I'm not sure what the significance of marriage is to children. Lets go with Jean's hypothetical... we have to outlaw all marriages save one. Why preserve the ones with children? Because two people aren't married, does that mean that they can't live together, parent together, etc? Heck, even divorced couples can raise a child together.

The marriage label doesn't make people better parents. Quite the opposite, people who are staying married for their children are usually doing their children a disservice, as they only have unhappy parents as role models. Good parents would be parents that are happy, cooperative with each other, love each other, etc. Marriage doesn't make any of that happen, but instead keep two people together for sillier reasons.

I say if we had to reserve marriage for one group, we reserve it for those who love each other.

Jean Kazez said...

Children are vulnerable and need extra protection. With a marriage contract in place, I think it's much more likely that children will make it to adulthood with the support of both biological parents. I think that's a much more important function of marriage than sealing a love relationship between two childless adults.

amos said...

I've seen everything from married couples who love each other and have zero interest in or concern for their own children to divorced couples who put aside their personal differences whenever the interests of their children are concerned out of love for their children to step-parents, who may not love their step-children, but who are empathetic and ethically concerned people and who
raise and educate their step-children with much more care than do many married couples. It's difficult to generalize.

Jean Kazez said...

Right, marriage doesn't always work, and non-marriage sometimes does work. It can still be true that the most important benefit of marriage is the benefit to children. Obviously, there are other benefits as well.

amos said...

I see what you're saying: marriage does not necessarily benefit children, but of all the possible, contingent benefits that marriage provides, the possible, contingent benefits to children are the most important.

I would also say that in all relationships which involve children, whether or not the people involved are married or not, the benefits to the children are the most important.

Geoff Coupe said...

OK, I'll play...

"Children are vulnerable and need extra protection".

Agreed. No argument.

"With a marriage contract in place, I think it's much more likely that children will make it to adulthood with the support of both biological parents."

Erm - I'm not sure that that is necessarily the case. I might grant you "likely" but I don't think I'd grant you "much more likely". Indeed I think there's a case to be said that same-sex parents at the moment think much more deeply about the upbringing of children than many heterosexual couples. Of course, the irony is that as same-sex parents become increasingly nothing to get worked up about,, then the successes and failures will just sink down into the noise of the norm.

"I think that's a much more important function of marriage than sealing a love relationship between two childless adults".

OK, that's your view. But I think that my marriage has brought me benefits. Maybe not to your ideal, but then I recognise that I am not suited to bring up a child.

Perhaps that recognition in itself is something that wouldn't even register with many heterosexual people. And it also doesn't negate the fact that many homosexual couples bring up children quite brilliantly. Hats off to them.

Jean Kazez said...

What I said in the post is that absolutely nothing follows from the supposition that "lifelong heterosexual marriage with kids" (LHMWK) is ideal. You could grant the supposition, and you'd still be no closer to having an argument against gay marriage. That's my real point, and I suppose I just shouldn't have let myself get drawn into an irrelevant discussion about the supposition.

But I guess the cat's already out of the bag...so I will say this. I do think there is some truth in LHMWK if only to the extent that marriage is important for establishing paternal responsibility for children, so that kids are not raised by single mothers. In many low-marriage communities, you do have lots of kids without fathers in their lives, and lots of associated problems.

When I say that the benefit to kids is pre-eminent, I really don't take myself to be denigrating other benefits of marriage. The marriages of childless couples are beneficial too, etc etc. Marriage is something we don't have to ration, so seeing some marriages as more critical than others really doesn't hurt anyone.

Least critical marriage I can think of at the moment--Rush Limbaugh's 4th marriage to some woman half his age this week. It's disgraceful that people like him think they're experts on the meaning of marriage.