Margaret Talbot writes about the Prop 8 trial:
This week, the anti-gay marriage side is stressing a different mechanism of harm. It came up yesterday afternoon, while the defense’s lead lawyer, Charles Cooper, was questioning the plaintiffs’ witness M.V. Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. According to Lisa Leff of the AP, “Cooper spent several hours with Badgett trying to demonstrate that traditional male-female marriages suffered after same-sex marriages became legal in the Netherlands in 2001. He introduced a number of charts showing divorce and single parenthood rates increased while marriage rates fell in that country.”
Ah, music to my empirically inclined lefty ears. Answers like these bring a glow to my little black heart. We shameless family-destroying coastal perverts keep demanding, “But, when you say letting same-sex couples marry will destroy heterosexual marriage…what exactly do you mean is going to happen?” and, finally, the enforcers of tradition give us a concrete answer expressed in statistics. They show us: divorce rates! Unmarried parents! Declining marriage rates! In countries that have legalized marriage equality! Yeah!
Except that correlation does not imply causation. Heterosexual marriage was on the decline in the Western world for decades before any country legalized same-sex marriage, and in some countries with marriage equality, the trends have begun to travel in the other direction. What the statistics reflect is that some countries simply have different cultures of marriage from others. In these cultures, marriage is an optional lifestyle, not a requirement for adulthood. Marriage is something that people in loving relationships can choose, or not. Some of these countries have legalized same-sex marriage, and the strongest correlation is arguably that cultures with more relaxed attitudes about marriage are the most likely to extend the institution to same-sex couples.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that marital status is an imperfect indicator, at best, of a family’s cohesion and a child’s quality of life. These statistics on marriage rates, divorce rates, and out-of-wedlock births conspicuously do not include rates of single-parent families. Parents can and, depending on the country, frequently do live together and raise their children together without the security of legally binding marriage. A culture of declining marriage is not the same as a culture of broken families. (Though I suppose it’s easier to sound the alarm over rising divorce rates than over rising numbers of children growing up with cohabiting unmarried parents.) The downfall of civilization, this isn’t.
Finally, even if we accept that marriage equality causes heterosexual marriage to decline, the causal mechanism behind this relationship remains an open question. In other words: But, how does same-sex marriage make heterosexuals more likely to divorce? The connection between Point A and Point F is unclear. If the causal relationship is that heterosexuals will no longer be interested in marriage if they have to share the institution with those dirty queers, then as I’ve said before, heterosexual marriage is in a sorry state indeed and a solid blow to the head can only improve its condition. I thought marriage was about bringing people together. If it’s just a club designed to exclude, then it deserves to be destroyed.