My dear friend and intellectual collaborator Dan Kelly argues today that “marriage is dead.” I respect Dan as a man who says what he thinks without fear or favor; that’s why I value both his friendship and his co-labor. He’s not going to start pretending liberalized divorce is a good idea just because he sees its continued dominance as inevitable. But I feel a need to register my dissent from his forensic diagnosis.
As I have written in this space before, I think marriage is gravely threatened but the battle to save it is winnable. That hasn’t always come through to some people, because I’ve challenged the marriage movement’s strategy and language on some issues. But I do think marriage can be saved. Without the time to go into a lengthy discourse, here are my reasons for dissenting from my good friend and intellectual comrade.
Firstly, I agree with Dan that homosexuality is a distraction; the root cause of our problem is liberalized divorce laws. Liberalized divorce establishes fully and indisputably that marriage is a meaningless piece of paper. (This was the transformative insight I got from Maggie Gallagher’s The Abolition of Marriage, of which I’ve written before.) In my opinion, it is only because liberalized divorce has established that marriage is a meaningless piece of paper that gay marriage makes deep intuitive sense to people, while opposition to gay marriage seems like it could have no cause but irrational hatred. I take it from his comments Dan would more or less agree. Kevin Williamson’s famous comments about gay marriage from earlier this year include some mistaken thinking and conclusions, but he was right to argue that liberalized divorce is the only issue that ultimately matters:
I might be more interested in the politics of [gay] marriage if the legal standing of the institution were not already degraded to the point of triviality. Here is an experiment: Imagine that you have a marriage that you wish to escape and $50,000 of credit-card debt that you do not wish to pay — which claim do you imagine will prove more enduring? Or try unilaterally canceling a contract with an employee, without showing any fault on his part, simply because he no longer suits your taste. Your contract with your cell-phone provider is legally enforceable, and your marriage vows — “forsaking all others until death do us part” and all that — are not. Our present-day defenders of the sanctity of marriage aren’t exactly Thomas More standing up to Henry VIII; they are huddled around the husk of an institution long debased.