Jacoby Is Right-On-The-Money........

John A. Quayle blueoval at SGI.NET
Mon Jul 7 05:35:40 MDT 2003

By Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe

July 6, 2003


Second of two columns

         One way to approach the same-sex marriage debate is to think about
something else entirely. So let's talk about welfare.

         In the 1960s, welfare spending soared. New welfare programs were
created, while existing programs like food stamps and Aid to Families with
Dependent Children swelled. Tens of billions of dollars were spent to
provide the poor with cash aid, social services, food, and
housing.  Eligibility rules varied, but in general the bar was low: Welfare
recipients did not have to be employed or married to qualify for the dole.
They only had to be very low-income, with children to take care of.

         All this was urged on the grounds of justice and compassion -- as
a way to help the least affluent members of society, a disproportionate
number of whom were black and female. But it isn't hard to imagine the
objections a discerning critic might have raised.

         Handing out money to unmarried mothers without jobs -- in effect,
paying for non-marriage and non-work -- would prove disastrous, our critic
could have argued. It will erode the recipients' work ethic and lead to
massive illegitimacy. By replacing working husbands with government checks,
welfare will fuel widespread family breakdown among the poor, and lock in
multi-generational dependency on government largesse. You are paving the
way for a crime-ridden underclass, this Cassandra might have warned. Your
intentions are good, but the consequences will be dreadful.

         To which the advocates would have replied with derision.

         "Alarmist nonsense! How is extending a helping hand to the needy
going to threaten anybody's work ethic? Do you really think any woman will
avoid marriage or bear out-of-wedlock children just to get a few dollars
from the government? Nobody wants to be on welfare, and nobody will stay on
it any longer than they have to. Your critique is insulting, Cassandra.
You're opposed to welfare because you're a racist and a snob."

         Cassandra would have lost that debate -- but she would have been
proved right in the end. The rise of the welfare state *was* a disaster. It
caused wholesale disintegration among low-income families, and sent the
rate of black illegitimacy and fatherlessness skyrocketing. An underclass
did indeed emerge, one plagued by violence, crime, educational failure, and

         It didn't happen overnight, but the War on Poverty ended up doing
great harm. By toppling the social values that had governed life in poor
urban neighborhoods, it eventually undermined those neighborhoods and
damaged the people who lived in them.

         The adoption of same-sex marriage would likewise topple a long
standing system of shared values. It would change assumptions and
expectations by which society has long operated -- that men and women are
not interchangeable, for example, and that the central reason for marriage
is to provide children with mothers and fathers in a safe and loving

         Society's ideal is for boys and girls to grow up, choose a life
partner of the opposite sex, and form a new family. Of course there are
people who find it impossible or intolerable to live up to that ideal, and
contemporary American culture provides them with many other options. The
big tent we live under now has room for lifelong singles, gay and lesbian
partnerships, cohabiting heterosexuals, and second, third, and fourth
marriages. All those options can include children -- while yet another
option is to stay childless by choice.

         But the *ideal* arrangement remains the permanent and fruitful
union of a loving husband and wife. That is the relationship in which
society has its strongest survival stake, and our legal system privileges
traditional marriage in order to send the message that it is still, despite
all the other choices out there, the ideal.

         Legalizing same-sex marriage would change that message. It would
signal that we no longer attach unique importance to the union of married
opposite-sex couples. It would affirm that same-sex unions are as valuable
*in every way* as conventional marriage. And its most dramatic impact would
be not on the gays and lesbians who would joyfully embrace the right to wed
today, but on the children who would grow up in a world of normative
homosexual marriage tomorrow.

         The truest answer to the question "How will same-sex marriage hurt
conventional marriage?" -- like the answer to "How will welfare erode the
work ethic or family life of the urban poor?" -- is, in essence: Wait a
generation and see. Social behavior changes when society's expectations and
values change. Teach children by example -- as welfare did -- that money
can be had without work, and many of them grow up unwilling to work. Teach
children by example that traditional marriage is nothing special, and many
of them will grow up unwilling to marry -- or hopeless confused about what
marriage is for.

         My foreboding is that a generation after same-sex marriage is
legalized, families will be even less stable than they are today, the
divorce rate will be even higher, and children will be even less safe.

         To express such a dire warning is to be labeled an alarmist, a
reactionary, a bigot, and worse. Similar slurs rained down on those, like
the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who warned in the 1960s of the disaster
that was coming.

         But it is not bigotry to try to learn from history, or to point
out that some institutions have stood the test of time because they are the
only ones that *can* stand the test of time. A lot of things in American
life badly need fixing. The ageless definition of marriage isn't one of them.

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)

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