The Right Coast

March 04, 2004
Gay marriage in Scandanavia
By Tom Smith

This article suggests gay marriage doesn't promote marriage, at least in Scandinavia.

Here's an excerpt from the conclusion, but the whole thing bears reading:

Developments in the last half-century have surely weakened the links between American marriage and parenthood. Yet to a remarkable degree, Americans still take it for granted that parents should marry. Scandinavia shocks us. Still, who can deny that gay marriage will accustom us to a more Scandinavian-style separation of marriage and parenthood? And with our underclass, the social pathologies this produces in America are bound to be more severe than they already are in wealthy and socially homogeneous Scandinavia.

All of these considerations suggest that the gay marriage debate in America is too important to duck. Kiernan maintains that as societies progressively detach marriage from parenthood, stage reversal is impossible. That makes sense. The association between marriage and parenthood is partly a mystique. Disenchanted mystiques cannot be restored on demand.

What about a patchwork in which some American states have gay marriage while others do not? A state-by-state patchwork would practically guarantee a shift toward the Nordic family system. Movies and television, which do not respect state borders, would embrace gay marriage. The cultural effects would be national.

What about Vermont-style civil unions? Would that be a workable compromise? Clearly not. Scandinavian registered partnerships are Vermont-style civil unions. They are not called marriage, yet resemble marriage in almost every other respect. The key differences are that registered partnerships do not permit adoption or artificial insemination, and cannot be celebrated in state-affiliated churches. These limitations are gradually being repealed. The lesson of the Scandinavian experience is that even de facto same-sex marriage undermines marriage.

The Scandinavian example also proves that gay marriage is not interracial marriage in a new guise. The miscegenation analogy was never convincing. There are plenty of reasons to think that, in contrast to race, sexual orientation will have profound effects on marriage. But with Scandinavia, we are well beyond the realm of even educated speculation. The post-gay marriage changes in the Scandinavian family are significant. This is not like the fantasy about interracial birth defects. There is a serious scholarly debate about the spread of the Nordic family pattern. Since gay marriage is a part of that pattern, it needs to be part of that debate.

Conservative advocates of gay marriage want to test it in a few states. The implication is that, should the experiment go bad, we can call it off. Yet the effects, even in a few American states, will be neither containable nor revocable. It took about 15 years after the change hit Sweden and Denmark for Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate to begin to move from "European" to "Nordic" levels. It took another 15 years (and the advent of gay marriage) for Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate to shoot past even Denmark's. By the time we see the effects of gay marriage in America, it will be too late to do anything about it. Yet we needn't wait that long. In effect, Scandinavia has run our experiment for us. The results are in.

I must say, this is exactly what I am afraid of.