A lot of conservatives are circulating this New York Times opinion thing arguing that social conservatism is vindicated by the spread of gay marriage. The larger point of this man’s argument is that conservatives have been correct in all of their predictions about how social permissiveness leads to family breakdown which leads to bad social outcomes, and that liberals are now catching on, since when it comes to gay marriage liberals can’t stop talking about the crucial social benefits of marriage.
The first point to note is that liberals are being dishonest when they use the supposed benefits of marriage as an argument for gay marriage. In reality, they don’t care. If the evidence showed marriage produced bad outcomes, they would distort it, because they just believe gay people should get married for equality reasons. All of the invocation of sensible policy reasons is conducted in complete bad faith, deployed only because it could be effective in achieving the spread of gay marriage. Liberals believe in gay marriage largely for equality reasons rather than empirical benefit reasons.*
But what about the social conservatives’ vindication? Does all the evidence now show that they were right all along? Well, there are a large number of issues. Let me choose one of them that looms fairly large and is kind of the central one for the debate: the “breakdown of family structure and traditional marriage.” Here is a quote from the gentleman:
“The fairly-ancient conservative premise that social permissiveness is better for the rich than for the poor persistently bemuses the left; it also persistently describes reality.”
This contention is supported by a hyperlink to the description of a book, which argues the following:
“While for decades feminists and academics toyed with the myth of the strong single black mother supported by kinship networks, black men drifted into fatherhood without being husbands, without even becoming part of a family,** while black children were left behind. When Americans began their family revolution, they forgot to consider what American marriage was designed to do: it ordered lives by giving the young a meaningful life script. It supported middle-class foresight, planning, and self-sufficiency.”
With this, we can be a little clearer on what the gentleman is trying to argue, which is (as he says) an old conservative talking point: as marriage became more permissive, poor black people were hurt, because black families with single mothers have bad social outcomes that hurt children. The “better for the rich” part refers to the fact that in rich families, nontraditional family structures are not associated with these bad effects. Thus: if you have widespread single motherhood among rich people, it doesn’t matter very much for social outcomes. If you have it for poor people, there are a lot of bad social outcomes.
Here’s why the conservatives are all heartless bastards: they see this as an indictment of single motherhood, rather than an indictment of poverty. Every single time. The reason poor single mothers do worse than rich single mothers is obvious: because it’s incredibly difficult to raise a child well as a poor single mother! But instead of seeing this as a resource problem, they see it as a family structure one. Of course, their answer is that the resource problem would be solved if we foisted unwanted husbands on these women to earn money. But that’s precisely what makes the right such heartless bastards. Instead of believing that every mother should be able to raise a child decently whether she chooses to get married or not, they want her to face a choice between suffering through impoverished motherhood and suffering through a marriage they wouldn’t have chosen were it not for economic necessity and the pressure created by a marriage-incentivizing norm. Of course, I see the bad social outcomes of being a single mother as being associated with poverty (since it is; once you make people wealthy, being a single mother doesn’t end up with kids who are neglected and impoverished) rather than single motherhood. But these evil shits want to solve the problem by cajoling the poor into loveless marriages instead of redistributing wealth.
Of course it’s true that single motherhood is associated with bad outcomes for poor children. That doesn’t indict the breakdown of the marriage norm; that breakdown itself is liberating and should be preserved. What it indicts is the failure to provide adequate resources for a woman to raise a child on her own. This miserly country ensures that a woman trying to raise a child on her own is doomed to a nearly impossible struggle for subsistence!
However: yes, the gentleman is right that conservative pessimism about single motherhood for poor people is more accurate than liberal rosiness. Unfortunately, the correctness of the prediction does absolutely nothing to advance the social conservative argument. It does, however, make a compelling case for combining nontraditional family structures with socialism!
* The empirical benefit reasons may strengthen their resolve, but the key question is whether liberals would still support gay marriage if the studies showed children in these marriages had worse outcomes, instead of showing that they don’t. I think they would, and I think that’s fine (although I do not myself support gay marriage, for esoteric but obvious reasons.)
**By the way, I have a hypothesis as to where some of these absentee black dads went, but let’s not get into that at present.