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The Stakes: Why we need marriage

Maggie Gallagher

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Maggie Gallagher: "Gay marriage is not some sideline issue. It is the debate."

Ramesh Ponnuru (writing in the July 28, 2003 issue of National Review) is right about several things: We are poised to lose the gay-marriage battle badly. Arguments about a slippery slope to polygamy are not untrue, but ineffectual, signs of a profound weakness in our culture of marriage. Polygamy is not worse than gay marriage, it is better. At least polygamy, for all its ugly defects, is an attempt to secure stable mother-father families for children.

What is missing from this and many other analyses on this issue is a declaration of the stakes. Gay marriage is not some sideline issue, it is the marriage debate. Losing it (as John O'Sullivan makes abundantly clear) means losing marriage as a social institution, a shared public norm. Marriage will become (as it is in Sweden) a religious rite, with little public or social significance. As a legal institution, marriage will lose its coherence. By embracing gay marriage the legal establishment will have declared that the public purposes of marriage no longer include anything to do with making babies, or giving children mothers and fathers. Legitimating same-sex marriage amounts to an official declaration that, as Evan Wolfson put it in a debate with me in a just-released book Marriage and Same-Sex Unions: A Debate: "What counts is not family structure, but the quality of dedication, commitment, self-sacrifice, and love in the household." Family structure does not count. Marriage in this view is merely expressive personal conduct, a declaration of love between two adults. As such there is no reason for the state to be involved in preferring marriage as a family form.

Maggie Gallagher is the editor of MarriageDebate.com which debuts July 21, 2003.

Read this entire article on the National Review Online website.



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