August 20, 2009

Taking Predictions (Updated)

Over at, another example of a thoughtful writer manifesting sanity and principle in the face of the shriller, more headline-generating style of what gets called "conservative" in political debate these days. In essence, Steve Chapman points out that five states -- Iowa and four of the six New England states -- have same-sex marriage. Some of the other 44 have civil unions or domestic partnerships, and the rest have no recognition of same-sex marriage. So Chapman asks: what do you predict will happen differently in those states than the others?

Specifically, he's aiming his comments at people like Maggie Gallagher and Stanley Kurtz, who have been eating out for several years by trotting out a parade of horribles to scare SSM opponents into political and social action. Some of these predictions have included declining heterosexual marriage rates and/or higher heterosexual divorce rates, declining birth rates, legalized polygamy and incest, and perhaps worst of all, rising homosexuality rates. Even otherwise-sane friends have advanced the idea that "judicially-induced loss of faith in dictionaries" was a good reason to vote in favor of Proposition 8 despite claiming to support SSM. Which in my mind just goes to show you how crazy this issue makes some people.

Well, the Maggie Gallaghers and Stanley Kurtzes of the world have refused to offer any predictions at all.

I am unafraid, however. My prediction will be pretty easy for you to anticipate: Comparing overall rates of self-identified homosexuals to self-identified heterosexuals in the SSM states versus the non-SSM states, we will find no statistically significant difference. Comparing overall heterosexual marriage rates between the SSM states versus the non-SSM states, we will find no statistically significant difference. Comparing birth rates, divorce rates, or any other sort of vital statistic you care to think of, we will see no statistically significant difference between SSM states and non-SSM states. This prediction may be evaluated at any interval you pick, although I would suggest one year, two years, and five years.

If you think I'm wrong, let's hear your predictions for New England and Iowa.Stumble Upon Toolbar

UPDATE: Maggie Gallagher responds by making predictions! She says:
    1. In gay-marriage states, a large minority [of] people committed to traditional notions of marriage will feel afraid to speak up for their views, lest they be punished in some way.
    2. Public schools will teach about gay marriage.
    3. Parents in public schools who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will be told with increasing public firmness that they don't belong in public schools and their views will not be accomodated in any way.
    4. Religous institutions will face new legal threats (especially soft litigation threats) that will cause some to close, or modify their missions, to avoid clashing with the government's official views of marriage (which will include the view that opponents are akin to racists for failing to see same-sex couples as married).
    5. Support for the idea "the ideal for a child is a married mother and father"will decline.
Leaving aside the fact that nothing she predicts is quantifiable in a meaningful way, here's what I say on a qualitative basis to those predictions:
    1. If someone becomes afraid to speak out against SSM, that will be because they are afraid of being thought of as bigots -- the punishment will be social reprisal, not legal punishment. The First Amendment isn't going to go away. Unlike a generation ago, people now hesitate to use racial slurs -- not so much because they fear legal liability for violating anti-discrimination laws, but rather primarily because that kind of speech has become socially unacceptable. If that happens about SSM or homosexuals, I applaud that.
    2. If public schools teach about SSM in an age-appropriate fashion, that's something I approve of. Gallagher hints without saying that kindergarten teachers are going to be passing around Blue Boy magazines (my link goes to the Wikipedia description, which has no pictures), which of course anyone would condemn. But kids should be taught that bigotry is bad, and that's something appropriate to teach from a very young age.
    3. This is nothing that doesn't already exist. Parents who object to their kids being taught evolution in the public schools (evolution, sex ed, etc.) are already told "too bad." Social conservatives applauded when the Supreme Court upheld legislatively-mandated speech by public employees which conservatives approved of, so having created the legal principle that the state can take sides in a social debate, they have to live with the results.
    4. This may come true. As I've written previously, a church that does not want to have an SSM performed within its property is entirely able to make sure that doesn't happen, by not offering its facilities to the general public or accepting public funds to build or maintain them. I see nothing unreasonable in this. So I can foresee some churches having to choose between restricting the use of their facilities to parishioners only or allowing an SSM to take place there. Yes, this may have a financial impact on those churches. But for the most part, I would expect that a couple wouldn't want to get married in a church that condemned them in the first place.
    5. Too late, Ms. Gallagher; and don't blame SSM for this one. First, the social ideal of the 2000's is necessarily going to be different than the social ideal of the 1950's or that of the 1900's or that of the 1850's or that of the 1800's. Second, straight people have already made a hash of "traditional marriage" and "traditional families" on their own, often with the collaboration of allegedly conservative social and religious leaders -- how many Christian pastors, with children, are divorced in violation of Jesus' injunction against divorce, yet drawing no objections from their congregations for this sort of contra-Biblical family arrangement? The correct answer is "so many it's not considered remarkable anymore." It's facile to blame gay people wanting to form families for the decline in "traditional family structures" that straight people have already accomplished all on their own.
While she breaks it down into things she can intone about darkly, Ms. Gallagher is ultimately predicting that "People will generally come to accept SSM as a normal, unremarkable part of everyday life." If that is her real prediction, then I agree with it -- and I will applaud its eventual occurrence.

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