So last time I talked about how gay marriage might help the church. But I'm still politically against gay marriage because I think it will likely hurt the state. Now if the possible good outcome for the church I talked a out last time happens at all it won't happen all at once when the law changes but will develop gradually in response to the new conditions. I think the bad results for the state will be even slower and more gradual. But I think this makes the problem worse not better. If the negative effects were seen immediately there might be some chance to back peddle. However I think these effects will only become apparent after they are widespread and irreversible.
In this post Sarah Hoyt makes a clear logical argument as to why gays would want “marriage” not just a civil union. She makes a point that there is a weight of tradition, that the word encourages stability and enforces a public commitment. She points out the problem of hetero couples using civil unions for less serious commitments.
But right now the state does not strongly enforce the permanency of marriage. And we are seeing a high divorce rate with as many as 50% of all marriages ending in divorce. We have celebrities who throw big weddings and are getting divorced before you have time to turn around. People tisk and speculate how committed they really were in the first place. But there is no hint that there is or even should be any actual enforceable consequences to making a frivolous marriage.
It is in America's best interest, however, to be able to promote serious commitment with policy. It's also good to know when someone doesn't have a committed partner they can lean on and might need more help in hard times. But there's no way for a bureaucracy to look into the heart and detect a serious commitment. So we have built a large accumulation of policy based on using a legal marriage as a proxy for commitment.
There are two reasons this has worked as a proxy for commitment. The first is that the state used to enforce the commitment by making it very difficult to get out of and by treating the commitment as legally binding. This is increasingly no longer the case. The second is that churches and other religious organizations presented it as a grave commitment to God, who could not only say you need to stay married but could look into hears and would know if you weren't really doing your best to love, honor and cherish the other person. This formed the basis for a shared social consensus for the serious of marriage and a shared expectation of the gravity of beginning or ending one.
Even if most formally withdraw from civil marriages in general there will be significant churches at least some civil marriages won't be recognized as religiously valid. It will often be those churches most interested in doing moral enforcement of marriage norms were what they mean by marriage and what the state now means be marriage are obviously not the same. This will mean they have the effect of eroding rather than encouraging shared general consensus. We're already losing shared social consensus on a lot of things. While it will take time for this erosion to take place we will be headed in the direction of legal marriage being just a bundle of tax and benefit implication that should taken up and put down when convenient.We will no longer be able to use marriage policy to effectively promote stable family formation or determine who needs support. I can think of ways to try to force marriage to still equal serious romantic commitment but I can also see serious problems with all of them. I think the only realistic possibility is political marriage policy becoming set of vestigial loopholes that are clinically exploited. And this would be bad for America.