Monday, July 26, 2010

Red state, blue state, and same sex marriage

There's a new book out called Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture. How is it that states with the most liberal viewpoints (same sex marriage, major Obama supporters) do better in "family values" (low divorce rates, low rates of teen childbirth) than states with more "traditional" views?

The book argues that traditional family life was built on early marriages, and the ability of low-skilled men to get jobs with little education. Children, sex, and marriage were all tangled up together, divorce was hard to get, and thus people married young. But the global economy changed the game, by demanding high levels of skill and education, and the sexual revolution decoupled sex from children. Women entered the workforce and could postpone child bearing; liberalization of divorce laws made it easier to break up a marriage and gave women options and independence. Thus people take their time, marry later, and have fewer children, if at all. In this paradigm, The Red Families think Bristol Palin getting pregnant too soon is okay if she marries the boy; The Blue Families are horrified that she's having a child before finishing her education.

Jonathan Rauch has written about this several times and points out
In the Blue and Red paradigms, same-sex marriage has entirely different meanings.

In Blue World, same-sex marriage is wholly consonant with the ethic of responsibility and autonomy as the pillars of family formation. In this world:
  • Mature adults form families to express and nurture commitment to each other and their children, and to share human capital which both partners have already amassed.
  • Sex comes before marriage, and marriage comes before children, and indeed children need never come at all
....In fact, in Blue World, marriage is incomplete if it excludes gay couples! Excluding them sends all the wrong signals about family and responsibility. It would make a hypocritical nonsense of what it is that marriage is supposed to be all about.

In Red World, things look very different. The Red project is to maintain the linkage between sex, marriage, and procreation. In Red World, de-linkage has wrought all kinds of social problems.

Same-sex marriage, in this view, is in some sense the ultimate symbolic assault on what is left of the unity of sex, marriage, and procreation.....After gay marriage, in the Red view of things, how can sex, marriage, and procreation ever be put back together again?
In this regard, he suggests that the opponents are fighting for a world view and a society that is long gone.
I believe that, slowly but surely, family values are renormalizing and will continue to renormalize around later family formation and an ethic which stresses responsible childbearing over abstinence from sex—if only because economic and cultural forces are pulling so hard in that direction. ...I don’t think excluding gay couples from marriage will do anything to strengthen or restore the old sex/marriage/procreation unity, and I think trying to hold homosexual couples to the old norm while heterosexuals live by the new one will be counterproductive as well as unfair.
I think it's very interesting to suggest that the opposition to marriage equality is based in this resistance to changing norms. It's convenient to blame the gays since this seems a change that is So Big, but in reality, the changes have already taken place, and this is quite incremental. It describes a polarization in worldview that is really profound.

And that leads into a broader question of how we can bring along people for whom advanced degrees and educational opportunities are not available solutions. How do we rescue the kids in mill towns and rural America and poor working families to benefit from these changes? Something I blogged about elsewhere.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Thank you for posting this. It raises some very important issues we have to deal with as a society.