Friday, March 9, 2012

Could Gay Marriage be Good for Straight Couples?

I'm sure you're familiar with the stock arguments about how similar-gender marriage will hurt heterosexuals: allowing gays to marry will weaken the institution of marriage, make kids confused about their parents, make parents confused about their sex-specific roles, and result in more kids figuring out that they're queer. You've probably even heard that similar gender marriage will lead to the downfall of Western Civilization.
Never mind that most of that is pure conjecture, and what little evidence there is for the rest of it is pretty unconvincing.

Then, there are the familiar arguments about how similar gender marriage helps queer people: we'll be happier, more likely to get health insurance, custody of children, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and so on. And, it normalizes queerdom, making it palatable to relatives, co-workers, and friends who have struggled with understanding us. Hey, it might even result in more kids figuring out that they're queer.
Alas, there's not much evidence for these claims either, and what there is is pretty unconvincing.

And then there are arguments about how societal recognition of similar gender marriage might be harmful to queers, especially the queerest among us. One of those arguments is that by normalizing queerdom, there will be less space for the funkiest, freakiest, most inventive and transgressive people and ideas in our communities. That the open space we create in society for the misfits and wierdos, the queerest of the queer will close up a bit, that the forces of conformity will win out, thus threatening the very best of Western Civilization. Indeed, many have claimed that this process is well underway.
At the risk of repeating myself, the empirical evidence is underwhelming.

But there's a fourth box in this 2x2 table that has been pretty much overlooked: how might societal recognition of similar gender marriage benefit heterosexuals?
I don't know, but I'd like to posit some ideas, and hear yours.
In my last post, I talked about how homophobia is only one of the motivations for the social conservatives' anxieties, there's also a good deal of anxiety about upsetting gender roles in marriage, that marriage might some day be redefined as the union of one woman and one man.
I think it's pretty likely that societal recognition of similar-gender marriage does encourage people to question their gendered assumptions, but I think that's a good thing. What benefits might one expect to flow from that?
For openers, women in relationships with men might well be on a more egalitarian footing. Might that reduce the incidence of domestic violence? Encourage more women to seek and achieve fulfilling careers outside the home? Bring men's anxieties about being in charge down a notch?
There's some pretty compelling evidence that greater equality between the sexes results in better health for women, and often men do even better in a context of gender equity.

So maybe it's not so far-fetched to think heterosexuals have as much to gain from similar-gender marriage as we do. What do you think?