Does the legalization of gay marriage really contribute to the decline of heterosexual marriage? A good number of our fair republic's cultural conservatives seem to believe that it does, which is to say that it probably doesn't. But perhaps we should check anyway.
"[I]n the Netherlands and places where they have tried to define marriage [to include gay couples], what happens is that people just don't get married," evangelical kingpin James Dobson told a typically credulous Larry King in November of 2006. "It's not that the homosexuals are marrying in greater numbers," he continued, although obviously homosexuals are indeed marrying in greater numbers since that number used to be zero and is now something higher than zero, "it's that when you confuse what marriage is, young people just don't get married."
If what James Dobson says is true, several of the states which have been have been moving towards equal rights for gays are going to be in huge trouble, and Massachusetts, which legalized gay marriage in 2004, must already be. Of course, James Dobson is wrong. But where is the degenerate old fascist getting his disinformation from this time?
The culprit in this case may be Stanley Kurtz, a regular contributor to the perpetually terrible Weekly Standard, the consistently amusing National Review, and the description-defying Commentary. A few years ago, Kurtz wrote a highly influential essay which set out to refute the work of William N. Eskridge, Jr., the John A. Garver professor of jurisprudence at Yale University, and Darren Spedale, a New York investment banker, who together had recently written a book called Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse? What We've Learned From the Evidence. The authors discussed their preliminary findings in a Wall Street Journal op-ed before their work was more formally published (in fact, Kurtz weirdly dismisses it as "unpublished" several times in his article, as if it were somehow unseemly for a paper to exist between the time it is written and the time it is published).
Denmark, the authors noted, began allowing for gay civil unions in 1989. Ten years later, the heterosexual marriage rate had increased by 10.7 percent. Norway did the same in 1993. Ten years later, the heterosexual marriage rate had increased by 12.7 percent. Sweden followed suite in 1995. Ten years later, the heterosexual marriage rate had increased by 28.7 percent. And these marriages were actually lasting; during the same time frame, the divorce rate dropped by 13.9 percent in Denmark, 6 percent in Norway, and 13.7 percent in Sweden.
Confronted with statistics indicating that marriage in Scandinavia is in fine shape, Kurtz instead proclaimed that "Scandinavian marriage is now so weak that statistics on marriage and divorce no longer mean what they used to."
Brushing aside numbers showing that Danish marriage was up ten percent from 1990 to 1996, our paper puritan countered that "just-released marriage rates for 2001 show declines in Sweden and Denmark." He didn't bother to note that marriage rates they were down in 2001 for quite a few places, including the United States, which of course had no civil unions anywhere in 2001; presumably this was left out due to space constraints. In all seriousness, though, I'm not accusing Kurtz of being dishonest; it's evident that he is simply unable to anticipate very obvious objections to his muddled, demonstrably incorrect analysis even despite having spent some years at Harvard obtaining a degree in social anthropology, a degree which is apparently worthless.
I will defend Kurtz further. Having not yet had access to the figures, he couldn't have known that both American and Scandinavian marriage rates had gone back up in 2002, a year after the dip he deemed to be apocalyptic in gay-friendly Scandinavia while completely ignoring it in gay-adverse America. As for Norway, he says, the higher marriage rate "has more to do with the institution's decline than with any renaissance. Much of the increase in Norway's marriage rate is driven by older couples 'catching up.'" It's unclear exactly how old these "older couples" may be, but Kurtz thinks their marriages simply don't count, and in fact constitute a sign of "the institution's decline." And of course, it's clear from his phrasing that only a portion of the increase is attributable to these older citizens. So Kurtz's position is that Norwegian marriage is in decline because not only are younger people getting married at a higher rate, but older people are as well. I don't know what Kurtz makes per word, but I'm sure it would piss me off to find out.
Kurtz also wanted us to take divorce. "Take divorce," Kurtz wrote. "It's true that in Denmark, as elsewhere in Scandinavia, divorce numbers looked better in the nineties. But that's because the pool of married people has been shrinking for some time. You can't divorce without first getting married." This is true. It's also true that Denmark has a much lower divorce rate than the United States as a percentage of married couples, a method of calculation that makes the size of the married people pool irrelevant. Denmark's percentage is 44.5, while the United States is at 54.8. Incidentally, those numbers come from the Heritage Foundation, which also sponsors reports on the danger that gay marriage poses to the heterosexual marriage rate.
Still, Kurtz is upset that many Scandinavian children are born out of wedlock. "About 60 percent of first-born children in Denmark now have unmarried parents," he says. He doesn't give us the percentage of second-born children who have unmarried parents, because that percentage is lower and would thus indicate that Scandinavian parents often marry after having their first child, as Kurtz himself later notes in the course of predicting that this will no longer be the case as gay civil unions continue to take their non-existent toll on Scandinavian marriage.
Since the rate by which Scandinavian couples have a child or two before getting married has been rising for decades, it's hard to see what this has to do with gay marriage - unless, of course, you happen to be Stanley Kurtz. "Scandinavia's out-of-wedlock birthrates may have risen more rapidly in the seventies, when marriage began its slide. But the push of that rate past the 50 percent mark during the nineties was in many ways more disturbing." More disturbing indeed; by the mid-'90s, the Scandinavian republics had all instituted civil unions, and thus even the clear, long-established trajectory of such a trend as premature baby-bearing can be laid at the feet of the homos simply by establishing some arbitrary numerical benchmark that was obviously going to be reached anyway, calling this milestone "in many ways more disturbing," and hinting that all of this is somehow the fault of the gays. By the same token, I can prove that the establishment of the Weekly Standard in 1995 has contributed to rampant world population growth. Sure, population growth has been increasing steadily for decades, but the push of that number past the 6 billion mark in 2000 was "in many ways more disturbing" to me for some weird reason that I can't quite pin down because I'm all Kurtzing out over here. Of course, I'm being a little disingenuous - by virtue of its unparalleled support for the invasion of Iraq, the Weekly Standard has actually done more than its part to keep world population down.
Why is Kurtz so disturbed about out-of-wedlock rates? Personally, I think it would be preferable for a couple to have a child and then get married, as is more often the case in Scandinavia, rather than for a couple to have a child and then get divorced, as is more often the case in the United States. Kurtz doesn't seem to feel this way, though, as it isn't convenient for him to feel this way at this particular time. Here are all of these couples, he tells us, having babies without first filling out the proper baby-making paperwork with the proper bureaucratic agencies. What will become of the babies? Perhaps they'll all die. Or perhaps they'll continue to outperform their American counterparts in math and science, as they've been doing for quite a while.