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March 09, 2004

Aegis & Causality

MK at Parablemania argues that gay marriage is indeed a cause of the decline and failure of marriage as we now know it. Citing the kind of bastardy stats usually hurled at our own Negro population attacks Andrew Sullivan's dismissal of causality of the decline of Nordic society.

Marriage in Nordland is in severe decline. In 2002, an extraordinary 82.27 percent of first-born children in Nordland were born out-of-wedlock. A "mere" 67.29 percent of all children born in Nordland in 2002 were born out-of-wedlock. As I explained in "The End of Marriage in Scandinavia," many of these births are to unmarried, but cohabiting, couples. Yet cohabiting couples in Scandinavia break up at two to three times the rate of married couples. Since the Norwegian tendency to marry after the second child is gradually giving way, it is likely that the 67-percent figure for all out-of-wedlock births will someday catch up to the 82-percent figure for first-born out-of-wedlock births. At that point, marriage in Nordland will be effectively dead.
Now consider the county of Nord-Troendelag, which is bordered by NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology). NTNU is where Kari Moxnes and Kari Melby teach � two radical pro-gay marriage social scientists. Nord-Troendelag is like Massachusetts � a socially liberal state influenced by left-leaning institutions of higher learning. In Nord-Troendelag in 2002, the out-of-wedlock birthrate for first-born children was 83.27 percent. The out-of-wedlock birthrate for all children was 66.85 percent. These rates are far higher than the rates for Norway as a whole.

When we look at Nordland and Nord-Troendelag � the Vermont and Massachusetts of Norway � we are peering as far as we can into the future of marriage in a world where gay marriage is almost totally accepted. What we see is a place where marriage itself has almost totally disappeared.

I've never quite taken this argument seriously, but now I am having a second look.

I ask of MK what is the likelihood that the blessing of gay domestic partnerships by the Nordic Church results in a changing of the liturgy? That is to say, what is the effect on the sect of one liberal priest blessing a gay union in their own parish. His analysis seems to omit something that I am curious to know which is whether the nordic churches have re-written sacraments or if they are simply accepting a defacto 'marriage lite' in their laity just to be liberally trendy. Are these reformers or rebels?

The dictionary may change, the law may change but is the Church changing? If the Church is the guardian of Holy Matrimony, that is fine. The Church is limited in its ability to police marriage - what say did they have in the enactment of no-fault divorce? The state may have arrogated the authority of blessing marriage, which ever direction that common-law form takes, but the very fact of the sacraments existence demonstrates people choose to observe it. People still do go to churches to get married, not just city hall.

As my wife and I approach our 10th anniversary, we are considering a re-dedication ceremony. It seems to me that if this 'second marriage' could be seen as 'marriage plus' then the church has an opportunity to make clear its commitment to the values inherent in Holy Matrimony.

If Holy Matrimony becomes something rare then I believe we have to accept that. That is because the Church is, despite however many thousand points of light there may be getting government funds, not capable of assuring the welfare of children in or out of wedlock. Their existence is not the Church's responsibility no matter how correct the moral logic in the principles and ideals of Matrimony. The aegis of the authority of the Church is limited in a secular society, as it should be. The law of the land is not Church law, indeed what the Chruch can do is limited by the law of the land.

The upshot is that the state really has no business blessing but only regulating all 'unholy' unions. It cannot recognize Matrimony and therefore cannot take credit for it. Likewise Christians cannot take credit for the fidelity or infidelity of Jewish marriages. What can any Church do but stick to its guns? If that which the state recognizes as marriage is failing, the only recourse is for the Church to prove those unions it blesses are superior. There are ways to do so.

I think it unwise to use children born in wedlock as the single benchmark for marriage vs matrimony especially if the rationale is merely to advocate against gay marriage. But it is still worth surveying couples' commitment and divorce rate of those of church weddings and those without. Despite the financial aspects of 'rights' activists for the gay cause are attempting to claim, many of them relate to responsibilities in sickness and in health. A truer moral calculus will compare such commitments across the board. People need to acknowledge that gay unions can measure up. That doesn't mean the Church necessarily blesses them; surely, muslims can be righteous. So can gays, and so can their unions.

There is something, on the other hand inherent, in the choices of the heirs of Stonewall which won't bear up under this kind of comparative scrutiny. After all, there is a quality of lifestyle that is imiplicit in the difference between 'gay' or 'queer' and merely 'homosexual'.

It is not sufficient to suggest that a community that shares conflicting values over sexual preferences will collapse. When the question is marriage then the topic needs to focus on those things people do, or do not do, in the context of their vows. The Church and the State both will need to determine what they mean by it and how well they maintain the quality of lives sustained by the values they publicly bless. It is my expectation that the state will lower the bar and that less is to be expected. But drawing a conservative line at the current denotations and connotations of Holy Matrimony will not be such an easy case to prove. The Church needs to be prepared to prove some things, if only to the faithful. After all, if the dysfunction of nordic marriages is self-evident, who is claiming them to be truly married? The Church?

Posted by mbowen at March 9, 2004 02:43 PM

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what's his N? that is, how many people live in this county? how many are married? we know percentages but we don't know raw numbers.

why is he choosing a county in norway? what does this case actually tell us? the problem with case studies is the problem of generalization. here you don't even have three cases to make sure you have at least SOME independent variables covered (could be that the divorce rate is because of a liberal social net. could be that the divorce rate is because there are so many women compared to men. you get the picture).

it'd be like going to some podunk county in mississippi during jim crow, finding that 50% of its black population could vote and then saying this proves that low black turnout in the south during jim crow is because blacks lack citizenship values.

Posted by: Lester Spence at March 9, 2004 03:38 PM

Just to clarify, this was someone commenting on a post at Parablemania. The post wasn't endorsed by Parablemania.

My sense of the argument is that only a few countries have tried to legalize gay marriage, so we should look to them to see what the consequences are. My sense of what's wrong with the argument is that everything it says is consistent with a whole bunch of problems being caused by the same thing that leads to loosening of views on homosexuality, thereby also leading to legalizing gay marriage. So there's no way we can know that these are consequences of gay marriage rather than simply effects of the same thing that caused gay marriage.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at March 9, 2004 03:50 PM