Kennedy’s Majority Opinion In The Same-Sex Marriage Case Is Conservative, Outdated And A Bit Offensive

Ken AshfordGay Marriage, Sex/Morality/Family ValuesLeave a Comment

Check out this argument, which I agree with, and which is making the rounds in one form or another:

The immediate consequence — the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples in all 50 states — is a civil rights victory and a step toward the betterment of our people. But Kennedy’s argument, which is no elegant piece of law, reinforces misconceptions about nontraditional families. And with respect to marriage, he is as conservative as his dissenting colleagues. All that divides them is who gets to say “I do.”

Kennedy’s descriptions of marriage as “a keystone of the nation’s social order” and “essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations” are flatulent exercises of cultural atavism. At a time when divorce is routine and fewer people marry or wait longer to do so because marriage is necessary neither for love nor family, sex nor companionship, his claims on behalf a “two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals” are more fitting of a $2.99 Hallmark card than of Supreme Court jurisprudence.

These “mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages,” as Justice Antonin Scalia calls them, are not the extent of Kennedy’s conservatism. He also affirms the devaluation of unmarried people, particularly those with children. “Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers … children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” he writes. “They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life.”

But this is not a brief on behalf of extending marriage rights and benefits to same-sex couples. It is, rather, an argument for providing benefits to all families, even those that lack a married couple of any sexual orientation. That means single-parent families, couples who choose for whatever reason not to marry, families comprising parents and adult children who live with them, other blood relatives who live together and every other conceivable arrangement of people whose economic and emotional ties make them families in the substantive, if not juridical, sense.

Shorter version: Kennedy imagines that marriage is the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to sex, raising children, companionship, and love.  He is wrong on all those counts.  Marriage is merely an option that should be available to all who want it.