Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Targeting Procreation

In an attempt to "think outside the box" in combating Gay Marriage, Allan Carlson of the Family Research Council is proposing the possibility of restricting marriage benefits to couples who actually have children:

Are there other political acts that would reconnect procreation and marriage? Perhaps, if we are prepared to think "outside the box." For example, we could turn one of our opponents' key arguments back on them. Perhaps we should restrict some of the legal and welfare benefits of civil marriage solely to those married during their time of natural, procreative potential: for women, below the age of 45 or so (for men, in the Age of Viagra, the line would admittedly be harder to draw). The idea is not without recent political precedence. Back in 1969, Representative Wilbur Mills--the then-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee--wanted to respond to complaints by unmarried adults that existing tax law unfairly favored the married. It was true that the existing practice of "income splitting" by married couples on their joint tax returns, in the context of high marginal tax rates, did give a strong tax benefit to marriage. Importantly, though, Mills stated that he wanted to preserve this "marriage bonus" for the young and fertile, while still helping those whom he labeled (in now-archaic language) as "spinsters." Accordingly, he proposed maintaining the benefits of income splitting only for married persons under the age of 35. (This approach, I note in passing, went nowhere. The Nixon administration and Congress chose instead to reduce the benefits of income splitting for all married persons; and they so unwittingly created the "marriage penalty" with which we still grapple today.)

Another, and perhaps more realistic way to rebind marriage and procreation would be, counter-intuitively, to take some of the benefits currently attached to marriage and reroute them instead through children. Allow me one practical example here. Whatever the future, it is likely that most households with two or more children will continue to be married-couple, natural-parent homes. These are still, and always will be, the places most open to what we once called "a full quiver." We could encourage them by tying retirement benefits to family size: that is, the more children that a couple brought into the world, the higher their later monthly Social Security benefit. Or, we could create a new tax credit against payroll taxes:rebating, say, 20 percent of the current 15.3 percent tax facing parents for each child born. Again, these ideas would indirectly favor child-rich homes; and most of these, in the American context, would predictably contain a married couple.
Andrew Sullivan, somewhat mystifyingly but perhaps ironically, applauds this as an honest admission that procreation and marriage have been inescapably severed:
Can we still defend the purpose of marriage as procreation? No, not in the current constitutional climate. It is now clear that the "right of privacy," conceived by the Supreme Court nearly four decades ago, is the enemy of both marriage and procreation separately, and is especially hostile when they are united. It is also clear that we lost the key battles in defense of this union decades ago, long before anyone even imagined same-sex marriage. And we lost these battles over questions that--to be honest--relatively few of us are really prepared to reopen. How many are ready to argue for the recriminalization of contraception? How many want to argue for a strict legal and cultural imposition of the word illegitimate on certain little children?

I acknowledge that this admission is somewhat more astute than I had expected of the FRC, but it seems to highlight exactly why conservatives ought to drop the whole issue. As I argued in July 2003 on the Ranter's Guild:
Having said all that, I think conservatives have already lost the argument over homosexual marriage. When we supported no-fault divorce in the 70s, we lost all credibility for political arguments based on protecting the sanctity of marriage. The only ground left would be to argue that the fortunes of a nation depend on obedience to God, which currently will not get a consensus even among religious conservatives.
Carlson's autocratic thinking outside the box has even less chance of actually occurring, but amply demonstrates the tortured lengths some will go to impose their vision on society. If there is to be any progress on this issue, it must come from within society, by means of changed hearts and minds, not be forced upon it in such heavy-handed proposals. Remember that, however we may seem to be in control at the moment, there may yet come a Pharaoh who knows not Joseph. And he who lives by the State can just as easily perish by it.

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