I'm sad. Ten years ago when Prop 22 hit California, I remember a lot of eager dialogue. I was one of the undecided ones.
My first thought was, why not? Let everyone do what they want? Not my business. Those are my favorite words, not my business. I'll live my life, have my marriage, and let everyone else do the same.
Now that we're ten years past Prop 22, and 2 years past Prop 8, I wish we could talk peaceably again.
My modern ears resonate with the call for fairness. It was my starting point when the debate became heated in 2000. So, in an attempt to bridge the gap between the equality-in-marriage crowd and the 1 man/1 woman crowd, I want to talk about another interest of mine--the tropical rainforest.
I have a bit of earth--just a few acres. It's a rainforest, the "Jewel of the Earth," in the equatorial region of South America. It's precious to me and beautiful--rich and varied, teeming with life and potential. It harbors plants and animals that can't grow anywhere else. I want it to remain a rainforest.
Seventy-meter-tall trees of the emergent layer provide strength and structure that supports the thick canopy. The canopy provides protection from the heat and wind for the sprawling life in both the canopy and the understory; it also holds (by some counts) more than half of all plant species on the planet.
The plants and animals of the rainforest rely on each other, and they need their whole ecosystem to exist and thrive. Again, I want it to remain a rainforest.
So, here's my problem: my neighbor wants to clear his land and plant cash crops: bananas and rice. It's a different use of the land, but not so different from mine really, is it? And it is his land.
So, he clears his acre: cuts down the trees, burns the understory. The neighbor next to him does the same. They see their slash and burn approach to the rainforest as a perfectly valid--albeit alternative--relationship with the land, and supremely fair by virtue of their land ownership. I have my acre, they have theirs. We all get to do our own thing.
But the soil is too fragile to maintain productivity with this use, and after just a few years (three to five), these farmers have to move on to burn new forest. And when large sections of rainforest trees are gone, the top soil cannot withstand the heavy rains. It washes away.
How long does it take for the barren land to reclaim its forest with thick shade and open floor? Centuries. And while those years tick by, where does the life go that depends on the thick foliage of the canopy? It goes into extinction.
Every parcel of cleared rainforest weakens the parcels around it--compromising the whole. The eco-system of rainforest simply can't exist without an aggregate--an organic whole--as the earth gave it to us. And when a whole rainforest collapses, how does it impact our global environment? At what point, in an effort to protect the "Jewel of the Earth," do I have some claim on how other land owners use their land?
MY OTHER RAINFOREST
I have another rainforest--my own acre in the rainforest of our human ecosystem--my marriage. I've been living in my parcel for many years now, but my marriage is just a blink in the history of marriage as a social construction. And, like it's natural-world counterpart, it cannot survive if the surrounding acres invest in alternatives.
For all its richness, marriage is fragile, and when it disintegrates, the healthiest, best environment for raising the next generation--for passing on civilization--dies with it. (More on this later.)
Does that help you understand why I feel obligated to preserve it in spite of my personal response to your plea for fairness--why I can't just say, go ahead, you have your acre, I have mine, not my business?
One of the unwritten, yet immutable laws of any ecosystem (particularly our social ecosystem) is the law of unintended consequences: "actions of people--and especially of government--always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it."
When you legislate a thing, you change the nature of the thing legislated. This idea relative to marriage has been fleshed out in striking detail by Libertarian Jane Galt.
JG offers compelling examples of how laws have had a colossal, unintended impact on social institutions. I'll quote two here (one marriage-related, the other completely independent): welfare reform and the inception of income tax.
Briefly, . . .
"When the income tax was initially being debated, there was a suggestion to put in a mandatory cap [10%]. . . Don't be ridiculous, the Senator's colleagues told him. Americans would never allow an income tax rate as high as ten percent. They would revolt! It is an outrage to even suggest it! The American people, they asserted, could be well counted on to keep income taxes in the range of a few percentage points. Oops. . . . the existence of the income tax allowed for a slow creep that eroded the American resistance to income taxation."
Legislation permanently alters the thing legislated and will always have unintended consequences.
"[Welfare] emerged in the nineteenth century as 'widows and orphans pensions', . . . never available to unwed mothers. In the late fifties, a debate began over whether to extend benefits to the unmarried. It was unfair to stigmatize unwed mothers. . . But if you give unmarried mothers money, said the critics, you will get more unmarried mothers.
"Ridiculous, said the proponents of the change. Being an unmarried mother is a brutal, thankless task. What kind of idiot would have a baby out of wedlock just because the state was willing to give her paltry welfare benefits? . . . People do all sorts of idiotic things, said the critics. If you pay for something, you usually get more of it. C'mon, said the activists. That's just silly. I just can't imagine anyone deciding to get pregnant out of wedlock simply because there are welfare benefits available.
"Oooops. Of course, change didn't happen overnight. But the marginal cases did have children out of wedlock, which made it more acceptable for the next marginal case to do so. Meanwhile, women who wanted to get married essentially found themselves in competition for young men with women who were willing to have sex, and bear children, without forcing the men to take any responsibility. This is a pretty attractive proposition for most young men. So despite the fact that the sixties brought us the biggest advance in birth control ever, illegitimacy exploded. . . . in the inner city, marriage had been destroyed. It had literally ceased to exist in any meaningful way.
"Marriage matters. It is better for the kids; it is better for the adults raising those kids; and it is better for the childless people in the communities where those kids and adults live. Marriage reduces poverty, improves kids' outcomes in all measurable ways, makes men live longer and both spouses happier. Marriage, it turns out, is an incredibly important institution.
"It also turns out to be a lot more fragile than we thought back then. It looked, to those extremely smart and well-meaning welfare reformers, practically unshakeable; the idea that it could be undone by something as simple as enabling women to have children without husbands, seemed ludicrous. Its cultural underpinnings were far too firm. . . .
"To this day, I find the reformist side much more persuasive than the conservative side, except for one thing, which is that the conservatives turned out to be right. In fact, they turned out to be even more right than they suspected; they were predicting upticks in illegitimacy that were much more modest than what actually occurred--they expected marriage rates to suffer, not collapse."
(Incidentally, if you haven't read the original, this looks like a long quote; if you have, you'll think I've grossly under-represented JG and should have quoted more.)
These are JG's arguments, but we could have used others.
Rent control laws that incite housing shortages and stifle new construction (e.g., after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake), make housing LESS accessible to low income tenants.
Steel tariffs favoring the steel industry, hurt the auto industry.
Auto tariffs of the 1970s brought us the Ford Fairmont and the K-car after ten years without enough competition. Seriously! (As one of a shrinking cohort who have actually ridden in a Fairmont, I'm going on the record as saying those ten years did not help the American auto industry.)
On a less economic note, Father Mathew's temperance campaign, in which thousands of people vowed never to drink alcohol again, inspired new ether consumption, a far worse intoxicant.
Unfortunately, we don't have data on what happens to the institution of marriage when it is re-defined to include same-sex couples. But, one thing we know absolutely is that changing the legislation will have unintended consequences. And, please remember, when we're talking about altering the institutions that comprise the underpinning of our civilization, the burden of proof lies with those asking for the change. The reformists must prove that their change will result in positive outcomes, including foresight into unintended consequences.
Concession: I recognize that the rainforest analogy could sound condemnatory to same-sex couples, but please understand, I'm not condemning either the farmers or the couples. My point here is just to show how someone's perception of their claim to rights might be reasonably disagreed with by others in the community, based on the potential for long-term negative outcomes. Those farmers are surviving as best they can, but as far as I can understand, their use of the land will have a negative impact on the environment that will affect generations to come, and that is exactly how I see the expanded definitions of marriage.
When marriage disintegrates, poverty, illiteracy, and emotional stress soar. We've seen what happens when marriage is made avoidable to the men in a society.
As fragile as we know it to be, marriage cannot survive as the fundamental unit of society--the best environment for rearing the next generation--where any two consenting adults can marry. There must be an advantage thrown to the biological parents of the next generation. It is in the interest of governments and societies to encourage this advantage, as they have throughout recorded history.
Although, my heart wants to extend marriage rights to everyone, I yield to my head on behalf of the next generation. We can't experiment any more with an already fragile and weakened pillar of civilization.
With love to all of you,
Please, keep talking . . . “Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.”
(John Milton, Paradise Lost)