Wolfson/Gallagher ‘Economist’ debate concludes with lopsided win for marriage equality
January 10, 2011
Posted by Roger McShane on economist.com:
"The moderator's closing remarks:
"As we come to the conclusion of this debate, I'm afraid we have found little common ground. Even the motion itself continues to come under fire. For example, commenter Andrew W. Norfolk proposes that we instead focus on whether committed homosexual couples should receive the same legal and financial benefits from the state as heterosexual pairings. Indeed, that might elucidate the motivations behind each side in this debate, but what is the upshot of such equality? If it does not result in gay marriage, then it means doing away with state-sanctioned marriage or giving gay couples a separate but equal designation. Could Evan Wolfson and Maggie Gallagher support either of those options? Or would the debate simply continue on different terms?
"Regardless, the debate over marriage equality moves on and I am pleased to report that we finally have some evidence with which to assess the competing claims. Our guest commenter, M.V. Lee Badgett, has provided her own data-based analysis showing that heterosexual marriage, divorce and non-marital birth rates have stuck to prior trends in societies where the freedom to marry has been made legal. She also says marriage has been good for same-sex couples. That gives a boost to the argument of Mr Wolfson, who himself quotes the American Academy of Pediatrics to support his claim that children who grow up with gay parents turn out just fine. Ms Gallagher, on the other hand, provides no support for her assertions that children need different-sex parents, or that marriage equality negatively affects society. She claims that proponents of marriage for same-sex couples are ignoring social-science evidence, but this debate suggests the reverse is true.
"How important is this? Commenter TheIgtheist, who supports the motion, rightly warns of the danger of giving research studies too much weight. '[G]enuine societal improvement comes from accepting shared human values as an a priori fact, and...sociological studies as they are commonly used in these issues easily pervert the discussion away from this,' he says. Indeed, well-supported utilitarian arguments could be made to change (or maintain) society in ways that most of us would find loathsome. Such arguments must be balanced with concerns over civil rights and shared values.
"Speaking of which, Ms Gallagher says, 'To me, and to millions of other good people, a 'husband' means a man who has taken sexual responsibility for a woman and any children they make together with their bodies.' To me, that sounds cold and odd, but, alas, I am not married—perhaps I am too romantic! So I would like to ask our espoused commenters if this is what a husband means to them. Moreover, do you believe your marriage is grounded in procreative sexual acts, as Ms Gallagher argues, as opposed to mutual love and caretaking, which she describes as a 'competing conception'? To believe the former seems to exclude more than homosexual couples from the institution of marriage. Sterile couples, senior citizens and those who simply do not want children will have also contributed to the fragmentation of sex, reproduction and marriage, which is Ms Gallagher's main concern. These types of couplings far outnumber potential gay unions. Should they also be targeted?
"Unfortunately, that question will remain unanswered, as the final statements are in and the debate is wrapping up. Over two-thirds of you continue to support the motion that the freedom to marry should be legal. For those of you who have not yet had your say, speak now or forever hold your peace."
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