This article is part of a series on the marriage debate. The first part can be found here.
In devising strategy, it is crucial to look unflinchingly at the world as it really is, not just as you would like it to be. In this case, the reality that needs to be faced is that traditionalists, over the past two decades, have lost an important battle.
To avoid repeating past mistakes, they must understand why they lost. To do that they must remember something Napoleon once said, that battles are often decided before they are even fought. By this he meant that a key factor in victory is the terrain. If all things are equal, the general with the keenest eye for the battlefield landscape will prevail. At Gettysburg, Meade chose good ground and Lee chose bad ground. When the proponents of gay marriage came up with their political strategy in the late 1980’s, they chose good ground. In other words, the traditionalists lost the Battle for Gay Marriage because they were forced to fight uphill.
To turn things around they need to quit launching Pickett’s charges against entrenched positions and, instead, find good ground. In specific terms this means: forget the gay marriage debate and face the fact that gay marriage is here… at least for the time being. Learn the lessons of the gay marriage battle and reframe the terms of the marriage debate in ways that favour traditional marriage.
My first clue to what this reframe might look like came about around 5 years ago after a gay marriage proposition in Oregon (I believe it was Oregon) was defeated in a referendum. Venting their anger after their loss, some gay rights activists proclaimed that perhaps all heterosexual marriages should be annulled after five years if the couple fails to produce children. While this was clearly an attack on traditional marriage, I thought: hmmm. It is an interesting proposition, clearly meant to turn the pro-traditional marriage argument - that heterosexual marriage is important because it produces children - against itself: if a heterosexual couple doesn’t reproduce, why should the state provide legally support their marriage?
While perhaps too radical, I think they are inadvertently on to something. From now on, traditional marriage supporters should advocate that all government marriage benefits should flow towards married couples with children, and that this cornucopia should be paid for by subtracting such benefits from childless couples.
This approach has a number of advantages:
First, it is an easy position to intellectually justify in secular terms. The production and raising of children is, in the language of economics, an external good, but one that is privately undertaken and funded. It has been estimated that it costs $250K to raise one child from birth to age 18. As the future of our society will one day be in the hands of this cohort, everybody benefits when these responsible adults enter the workforce. Even the childless gay activist benefits from fecund heterosexual families, such as when he is in the retirement home being tended by the grown-up children of these families.
In parallel fashion, everybody suffers when a sociopath or a parasite has been sired. So it is in everybody’s interest that good childrearing be supported as much as possible.
This reframe has many policy implications which I will explore in future articles.
Second, it turns the anti-traditional morality argument, that “the government has no business in the bedroom” on its head. If the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation then why should it mandate that pension funds and corporations provide benefits to spouses of employees or retirees? This made sense in an era when most women didn’t work outside the home – and when most women were busy raising children. In an era where most women work, shouldn’t it be reasonable to expect each spouse to arrange his own benefits? Unless, of course, one spouse stayed at home to raise the kids. In which case, the government does have a compelling reason to make sure that the spouse - who forgoes money and career prospects to perform one of the most important social functions (raising children) - is provided for.
And what business does the government have in regulating how assets can and cannot be dispersed in a divorce? Laws that favour one party (generally the wife) and courts that sometimes override contractual arrangements, like prenuptial agreements, only end up favouring gold-diggers. For this reason, matrimonial law should be converted into contract law as much as possible, with the exception, again, of those statutes that protect the interests of stay-at-home, child-rearing parents.
And in the latter case, shouldn’t the party in a divorce proceeding who happens to be guilty of gross irresponsibility (i.e. infidelity) be punished financially to encourage others to stay married “for the children”?
Third, by diminishing the advantages of marriage for non-childbearing couples, it removes the significance of gay marriage as a political issue and an ideological prize. Instead of defeating gay marriage, the issue simply shrivels up as the legal significance of childless marriage as a whole disappears.
With the overall decline in the total fertility rate in the developed world, perhaps a renewed focus on the production of respectable children is long overdue.