Dale Carpenter has a post at Volokh responding to this article from MIchael Blankenhorn, which makes a relatively moderate argument against gay marriage. What’s interesting to me is how much ground the most literate and reasonable gay marriage opponents have ceded to our side. Carpenter writes:
The article is interesting in part because he eschews the argument made by Stanley Kurtz that data from Europe demonstrates a correlation between gay marriage and a decline in marriage and other social ills. From this (flawed) correlation data, Kurtz argues that gay marriage must have caused the problems. Says Blankenhorn: “Neither Kurtz nor anyone else can scientifically prove that allowing gay marriage causes the institution of marriage to get weaker.” He suggests “giving up the search for causation.” Maggie Gallagher, too, has avoided relying on Kurtz. Robert George of Princeton has seemed agnostic about Kurtz’s claims. Now Blankenhorn rejects the Kurtz thesis. It is becoming difficult to find even opponents of same-sex marriage who think Kurtz is right.
I think this is a very good thing, but it’s clear that we have two different groups of gay marriage opponents – those who make the kinds of ridiculous and unsupported arguments that Kurtz does, and those who try and come up with non-empirical arguments for their position. Blankenhorn tries to make a correlation argument that denies direct causation, which Carpenter deftly handles. For instance, Blankenhorn argues that acceptance of same-sex marriage correlates in other countries with acceptance of other attitudes that he regards as anti-marriage:
Blankenhorn has a new twist on some survey data, however, that he believes does undermine the “conservative case” for gay marriage. Blankenhorn writes that a 2002 survey of attitudes about families and marriage from 35 countries around the world shows that the presence of gay marriage or civil unions in a country correlates strongly with a series of beliefs that he describes as, roughly speaking, anti-marriage. For example, people in countries with gay marriage or civil unions are more likely to agree with statements like, “One parent can bring up a child as well as two parents together,” or “It is allright for a couple to live together without intending to get married.” Conversely, people in countries with no recognition of gay relationships are more likely to agree with statements like, “Married people are generally happier than unmarried people,” or “The main purpose of marriage these days is to have children.”
Carpenter replies, in part:
To say that these beliefs are “mutually reinforing,” as Blankenhorn does, is just another way of saying that one bears a causal relationship to the other. But as Blankenhorn correctly notes, “Correlation does not imply causation. The relation between two correlated phenomena may be causal, or it may be random, or it may reflect some deeper cause producing both.”
Second, as Blankenhorn’s analogy to teen smoking and drinking reveals, his conclusion that SSM is a bad thing is embedded in his argument. Yes, teens who smoke are more likely to drink and both produce individual and social ills. But we know they produce social ills not because these activities are correlated, but because there is a demonstrated and distinctive harm that each produces. Smoking causes cancer. Drinking causes drunk driving. Similarly, having children out-of-wedlock demonstrably increases risks to them; SSM may or may not produce social ills, but this conclusion is not reached by noting a correlation with practices that do cause harm.
Think of it this way: Suppose I could show that people who attend church regularly are more apt to hold very traditionalist views about the role of women (e.g., that a woman should be a homemaker, not a professional, and should defer to her husband’s authority) or are more likely to be racist (e.g., they oppose interracial dating or marriage), and in fact, suppose the survey data further showed that the more often people attend church the more likely they are to harbor racist and sexist beliefs. Would I have shown that attending church is a bad thing?
Bringing this back to marriage, I’d bet that there was a correlation in 1900 between support for ending the marital rape exemption, support for equalizing women’s role within marriage, granting women the right to vote, and support for ending marriage altogether. This correlation, if it existed, would tell us nothing about whether ending the marital rape exemption or promoting women’s equality or enfranchising women were good ideas.
Quite right, Dale.