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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, October 08, 2006

McIlheran Watch: Is it OCD?

Or does Julaine Appling have compromising pictures?

There must be something to Patrick McIlheran's need to devote three Sunday columns in a row to the anti-gay-marriage-and-civil-unions-and-any-other-substantially-similar-legal-arrangement amendment. (Reminder: please vote no.)

Today's column is full of ridiculousness, but includes a paragraph or three on something I actually know something about, and I can tell you he's full of it. He writes,
We even have an example of gay marriage. Journalist Stanley Kurtz has written extensively on the Netherlands, blessed as recently as the mid-1990s with a low rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing. Then came a successful campaign for gay marriage. Unmarried childbearing, already rising a bit, did a hockey-stick bend upward. For eight years, it's outpaced the rest of western Europe.

This is mainly among opposite-sex couples, which shows how including gay couples changes the meaning for everyone. The change repurposed marriage away from bonding mothers, fathers and children, making it instead about a couple's love.

In which case, says Kurtz, why bother with the confining hassle of marrying? The law no longer prefers it. In fact, he says, more unmarried Dutch now say they're having children "as a test of their couplehood" - yet fewer ever marry. This inverts the purpose of marriage, making children an instrument to serve adults' emotional satisfactions.
Stanley Kurtz is a favorite among anti-gay-marriage people, as I learned during my very first "battle" as Iron Blogger Democrat (start at the bottom and read up), a battle I won handily on the subject of constitutionally prohibiting gay marriage. As it turns out, Kurtz's research on Scandanavian gay marriage--assuming he's not putting his partisan thumb on the scale--simply does not project at all onto the US. Here's one little bit that I wrote then:
His "study" of Scandinavian marriage was published in The Weekly Standard, not a peer-reviewed journal. He held anti-gay prejudices, based not in "science" but his own standards of morality (really, read some of his earlier writings), before he started. And there is no easy way to map the Scandinavian results onto this country, as the study shows that the easy availability of hetero- and homosexual civil unions undercut marriage; we do not have a history here of civil unions!
Indeed, I found opinion pieces of Kurtz's going back years before his "study" of Scandanavian gay marriage was undertaken. And I also found a piece from M.V. Lee Badgett at Slate about exactly this issue. Economist Badgett eviscerates the primary point McIlheran borrows from journalist Kurtz for his column. Here's just a taste:
The main evidence Kurtz points to is the increase in cohabitation rates among unmarried heterosexual couples and the increase in births to unmarried mothers. Roughly half of all children in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are now born to unmarried parents. In Denmark, the number of cohabiting couples with children rose by 25 percent in the 1990s. From these statistics Kurtz concludes that " … married parenthood has become a minority phenomenon," and—surprise—he blames gay marriage.

But Kurtz's interpretation of the statistics is incorrect. Parenthood within marriage is still the norm—most cohabitating couples marry after they start having children. In Sweden, for instance, 70 percent of cohabiters wed after their first child is born. Indeed, in Scandinavia the majority of families with children are headed by married parents. In Denmark and Norway, roughly four out of five couples with children were married in 2003. In the Netherlands, a bit south of Scandinavia, 90 percent of heterosexual couples with kids are married. [. . .]

No matter how you slice the demographic data, rates of nonmarital births and cohabitation do not increase as a result of the passage of laws that give same-sex partners the right to registered partnership. To put it simply: Giving gay couples rights does not inexplicably cause heterosexuals to flee marriage, as Kurtz would have us believe. Looking at the long-term statistical trends, it seems clear that the changes in heterosexuals' marriage and parenting decisions would have occurred anyway, even in the absence of gay marriage.
Read, as they say, the whole thing; you can also read Badgett's discussion paper (.pdf) on the subject, which even makes his points in convenient chart form.

The title of McIlheran's column today is "The amendment's cruel? Alternatives are crueler." This implies that allowing gay marriage (which defeating the amendment itself would not do) would be "cruel." To support that, he turns to a partisan who can't even read demographic tables right. Therefore we must, McIlheran says, write discrimination into the constitution.

Seems to me, if we're going to go mucking up the constitution of this state, we need something stronger than that.

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