Marriage Is Not a Zero Sum Game

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Last night I tweeted this:

Willing to bet Ross had to spend hours painfully crafting paragraphs 6 & 7 of this column. http://ow.ly/2mLhS Obviously tortured over this.

And just what are paragraphs six and seven of Ross Douthat’s column today? They’re an explanation of the “sexual ideal” he believes we’re holding up when we ban gay unions and allow only traditional marriage:

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

I think you can sometimes tell if someone really believes something by how easily the arguments come, and these paragraphs pretty obviously didn’t come easily. Why are hetero marriages “uniquely admirable”? Why is the hetero version of domestic life superior? Why is lifelong heterosexual monogamy a microcosm of civilization? These questions aren’t answered because, really, they can’t be answered. Ross obviously wants to construct a secular argument here, and he doesn’t want to pretend that gays are evil, or destructive, or unable to create good families. So what’s left? A tortured attempt to pick and choose words that seem to say something but really don’t.

We can recognize and honor same-sex marriages without changing even slightly the recognition and honor we give to hetero marriages. This is not a zero sum game. We all end up better off when we allow everyone to form stable, lifelong marriages that are honored and cherished. This is, quite simply, a very, very positive sum game on a whole bunch of different levels. Conservatives have no trouble understanding this when the human system under discussion is the free market. So why so much trouble when the human system under discussion is the structure of family life?

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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