Sunday, May 14, 2006

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Stanley Kurtz
National Review
February 28, 2006

No Nordic Bliss
There’s no refuting the claim that same-sex partnerships harm marriage.

Now that we've learned about the Swedish drive to abolish marriage and recognize polyamory (see "Fanatical Swedish Feminists"), and about the demise of marriage in the Netherlands (see "Standing Out"), let's take a look at an important attempt to refute my arguments on Scandinavian marriage. In 2004, Yale Law Professor William Eskridge, Attorney Darren Spedale, and Sweden's Ombudsman for Sexual Orientation Discrimination, Hans Ytterberg, published "Nordic Bliss? Scandinavian Registered Partnerships and the Same-Sex Marriage Debate." (For brevity, I'll refer only to first-author Eskridge.) Understanding Eskridge's criticisms will tell us much about the meaning of same-sex marriage.

Against Marriage
The most revealing thing about Eskridge's paper is that it goes beyond a mere defense of registered partnerships to offer a full-throated endorsement of Swedish parental cohabitation. Having a Swedish government official as a coauthor emphasizes the point.

But Eskridge goes further and criticizes me for treating Sweden's 56-percent out-of-wedlock birthrate as a problem. "[Kurtz] uses the term 'out-of-wedlock births' in a consistently disparaging manner," complains Eskridge. This, says Eskridge, means "fetishizing one institution" (i.e. marriage), at the expense of the perfectly legitimate Swedish practice of parental cohabitation. Is there anything wrong with the fact that so many Swedish children are raised by unmarried couples? "Of course not," says Eskridge.

Eskridge defends Swedish parental cohabitation by pointing to a study that found Swedish children suffering when raised by a lone parent, but doing better when raised by either married or cohabiting parents. Eskridge neglects to mention that this equivalence between married and cohabiting parents applies only as long as the couples stay together. But cohabiting parents break up at two to three times the rate of married parents, which in the long run means more kids raised by lone parents. This problem of family instability is my main complaint about parental cohabitation. Yet Eskridge doesn't refute the point; he ignores it.

So while Eskridge offers a passing good word for marriage, he is actually deeply hostile to the idea of marriage as the preferred setting for parenthood. Eskridge endorses a Swedish system that has effaced virtually every legal distinction between marriage and cohabitation. Sweden is actually the model for America's most radical anti-marriage activists. So the "conservative case" for gay marriage is looking awfully dead right now.

Having ignored my critique of parental cohabitation, Eskridge goes on to egregiously misrepresent my causal framework. Eskridge claims that I consider Sweden the best and clearest example of the negative effect of same-sex marriage. False. Norway is the clearest Scandinavian example of the negative effects of same-sex partnerships (as I've repeatedly noted), and the Netherlands is the most important European example.

Eskridge goes into high dudgeon over my supposed inability to acknowledge that many factors contributed to martial decline in Sweden, well before registered partnerships were introduced in 1994. Yet I've repeatedly noted the importance of multiple causal factors and pre-existing marital decline. That's exactly why I concentrate on Norway and the Netherlands rather than Sweden and Denmark. Gay marriage had more effect on Norway and the Netherlands because there was "more marriage" left to undermine when gay marriage came around than in either Sweden or Denmark. There's no way Eskridge can even claim to refute me without looking at Norway and the Netherlands. Yet he spends all his time on the two countries where marriage had declined the furthest even before gay marriage was introduced (while pretending I don't understand that point).

Does this mean same-sex partnerships did nothing to contribute to Swedish marital decline? Not on your life. In "The Marriage Mentality" I showed how same-sex partnerships are pushing Sweden toward recognition of triple and quadruple parenting. And in "Fanatical Swedish Feminists," I showed how Sweden's same-sex partnerships have opened the way for a drive to abolish marriage and recognize polyamory. Eskridge talks about "nordic bliss." Read "Fanatical Swedish Feminists" and you'll see a nordic nightmare. When it comes to "slippery slope" issues, the impact of same-sex partnerships on Sweden is quite strong.

But that's not all. The Swedish out-of-wedlock birthrate continued to rise after passage of registered partnerships in 1994, and there's good reason to view registered partnerships as a contributing factor in that rise. As we saw in "Fanatical Swedish Feminists," Swedish legislation removing the final remaining differences between registered partnerships and marriage (e.g., the right to state-funded artificial insemination), made a point of treating marriage, registered partnerships, and mere cohabitation alike. So instead of highlighting marriage's privileged status as a site for parenthood, partnership legislation is communicating the message that marriage is no different from cohabitation.

Read on here.

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