Different Things “An open letter to Elizabeth Marquardt and Maggie Gallagher”

Dear Elizabeth and Maggie,

What should be done with intentionally childless marriages? Your arguments to protect the cultural institution of marriage as a child rearing institution don’t address this question. You advocate for an exclusive cultural understanding of what marriage “is”, defined by the “specialness” of procreative sex and the “rights of children”. There are, however, couples who choose “different things” as Alexa Chiang’s letter in the December 4, Washington Post explains.

“I take raising children seriously. Because I have no interest in the lifestyle of motherhood and I do not want to place my child above my other interests such as traveling, theaters, and social events, I will never commit to becoming a mother…We want different things out of life than people who choose parenthood.”

Should our government sanction their marriage and grant it a legal status? Is Ms. Chiang’s statement “I take raising children seriously” sufficient to believe that she will pay taxes for schools and services, and maybe donate time and money to make this a better world for children? Will their childless “marriage” help them faithfully work as a team that contributes more good than two unmarried individuals? Will marriage bring them happiness? Is the value to society of two people committing to take care of each other for life adequate reason to grant them special status?

Looking at the question a different way, should intentionally childless couples be stripped of their legal status until they satisfy the guardians of the institution that they don’t threaten your foundational assumptions that 1) marriage and child-rearing are inseparably linked; and 2) that children have a “right” to both a mother and a father?

Couples choose to marry and stay married for many different reasons. If marriage is available to intentionally childless heterosexual couples, isn’t it terribly unfair to deny that legal status to intentionally childless same-sex couples? If you both care about not being labeled anti-gay, you’ll grant that this contradiction is an injustice and an unintended consequence of your advocacy.

Jonathan Weintraub

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4 Responses to Different Things “An open letter to Elizabeth Marquardt and Maggie Gallagher”

  1. Dear Jonathan:

    This is not of course a new argument and I’ve answered it many times. The short version: Every man and woman who marry are able to give any child they creates a mother and a father. Moreover every man and woman who marry and live up to their promises will not be creating fatherless children across multiple households. In this sense every union of opposite sexes serves and none contradict the public purposes of marriage.

    Throughout all of our history, not every marriage produced children, and yet courts understood that marriage as a public act was profoundly about managing procreation: the twin, urgently necessary task of ensuring that the next generation is created and that these children are known and loved by their fathers as well as theri mothers.

    Gay marriage is based on a profoundly opposite premise: there is no relevant difference between same sex and opposite sex couples and anyone who thinks otherwise is “like a bigot.” It is a public repudiation of the formerly clear public purposes of marriage.


    Maggie (Gallagher)

  2. Jonathan says:

    Dear Maggie,

    We seem to be talking about different things. Not all intentionally childless couples may marry. Straight couples may, and gay couples may not. That’s unfair, so a pro-gay position advocates for change, and an anti-gay position, against. Anti-gay is a political position not to be conflated with “anyone who thinks otherwise is “like a bigot.”

    Not to get off track, but do you find that to be a useful rhetorical technique? Assigning to your opponent the meaning and words you would like, and then addressing the argument that you want them to make, not the argument they are making? You’d answer this question fewer times if you did not evade it. I went back to the launch of your blog and found very interesting related discussions between you, Dale Carpenter, Mark Miller, Jonathan Rauch, and Norah Vincent. I don’t think you addressed Norah’s argument:

    Would allowing gays to join wreck the marriage club, and if so, would gays accept a separate-but-equal arrangement?

    Surely the answer to both questions is no. Religious heterosexuals will be forced to realize that abandoning civil marriage is untenable “they need and want the public legal stronghold as much as the rest of us.”

    Instead, you used the same rhetorical technique:

    What bothers me about many homosexual marriage advocates (not Norah) is that in a state of high moral passion they do not seem to have any awareness that there is anything at risk, here. Mostly they simply dismiss the idea of any threat to marriage as a social institution. as pretext for homophobia.

    Consider this just one prudential (or consequential) case against ramming same-sex marriage through the courts. Imposing a civil marriage regime that includes same sex marriage will ask the rather big chunk of Americans so backwards as to think that homosexual acts are morally unacceptable (52 percent in the latest poll I could find), to participate in supporting and sustaining a legal and cultural institution that endorses behavior they think is deeply wrong.

    “Even if you know gay marriage is morally right theoretically, you ought to pause before deciding that pursuing theoretical morality, regardless of who gets hurts, is the only thing that matters (Is not that what Puritan zealots allegedly do?). At least if you believe, as I do, that marriage is not just a bag of legal goodies dispensed by the state, or a really nice ritual, but one of the key social institutions that none of us–gay or straight–who care about America can afford to lose.”

    Aside from “pursuing a theoretical morality” yourself, in dismissing the premise of my question, you’re admitting that intentionally childless heterosexual couples who receive “a bag of legal goodies” but don’t produce the next generation, do receive “special rights” compared to gay couples. But, you claim, that’s all right, because their marriage doesn’t call into question the “so backwards” thinking of a big chunk of Americans.

    It’s fair to label your advocacy for the point of view of the “so backwards” anti-gay, isn’t it?


  3. Jonathan says:

    Dear Maggie,

    Sorry to pile on. Reading the Washington Post’s Conservatives Attack Use of Koran for Oath, there is a strange similarity between the AFA’s argument against Keith Ellison’s use of the Koran during his swearing in ceremony and your argument against allowing marriage to include a progressive interpretation of the Bible.

    Swearing in officeholders on Islam’s holy book “represents a change in our society, our culture, if we hold up the Koran as equivalent to the Holy Bible,” said association president Tim Wildmon. “If calling the Bible superior to the Koran in American tradition and culture is intolerant, then I’m guilty.”


  4. Jonathan says:

    Interesting take on Maggie Gallagher’s journalistic integrity in the Economist. It’s good to know that not knowing whether or not she’s anti-gay isn’t the only thing Maggie doesn’t know.

    ‘Similarly, Maggie Gallagher, another conservative columnist, was paid to promote the Bush administration’s “healthy marriage” programme. When challenged, she asked, Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing [the contract]? I don’t know. You tell me.’

    Maybe her moral compass could use some calibration.