Shorter Ross Douthat

Since monogamous heterosexual marriage is a deeply unnatural institution, representing an ideal that contemporary straight Americans can’t, or don’t want to, live up to, let’s keep making life hard for gays to reflect our regret about that fact.

“Since monogamous heterosexual marriage is a deeply unnatural institution, representing an ideal that contemporary straight Americans can’t, or don’t want to, live up to, we should express our regret about that failing by keeping gays from getting married at all.”

Hypocrisy, it is said, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Douthat seems to have figured out a way to make someone else pay that tribute on his behalf. Nice work, if you can get it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

15 thoughts on “Shorter Ross Douthat”

  1. I think you're being unfair to Douthat – his argument is kind of the opposite of the way you've shortened it. He more or less says we should, in fact, have gay marriage. It's more like "Since Americans can't, or don't want to, live up to the ideal I posit, it's practically a moral necessity that we let gays get married (even though it'd be preferable to uphold that ideal)." I read him to say that we should prevent gays from marrying only under the condition that we uphold his monogamous lifelong hetero marriage ideal, and since, as he concedes, we can't even seem to imagine meeting that condition, we need to let gays marry.

  2. I thought Douthat was making a point that I wish certain fundamentalists could accept, viz. that it's OK to believe conventional marriage is very special, even ideal, while acknowledging that there are many good reasons that same sex marriage can take place too.

  3. I wish I could read Douthat as Matt and The Navigator do, but I don't think that's what he says:


    If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

    But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

  4. Douthat complains that marriage between straights is "only tangentially connected to procreation," and that gay relationships are inferior in "their potential fruit." So maybe he wants to ban marriage between people, gay or straight, who cannot procreate. Actually, what he believes is incomprehensible and not worth our concern. If everyone ignores him, then perhaps the Times will stop thinking that "balance" requires it to hire people like Kristol and his successor Douthat.

  5. Ha ha, Ross said "fruit." Okay, he said "potential fruit," which is probably code for "latent fruit" but almost certainly not for "low-hanging fruit."

    Meanwhile, I'm with Henry: sorry, Mark, but this time you're devoting too much attention to a writer whose main accomplishment is having mastered the sort of meaningless inscrutability that the Times (for some meaninglessly inscrutable purpose) treasures in its Token Neanderthal columnist.

  6. My reading was the same as Mark's. Further, Douthat's ending was wholly expected. It seems to me that he specializes in this sort of last paragraph reversal, on mystical grounds, of all the sensible things he has said before.

  7. It was worth posting so Mark could say the hypocrisy thing, & Alex could say the ha ha fruit thing. aside from that, I agree with Henry.

  8. I call bullsh*t. Even if all of Douthat's preconditions in this article were fulfilled, he could point to the fact that some same-sex married couples have gotten divorced, and that yet others weren't virgins (ahem) when they married, so they're really not superior to the serial-monogamist (and philandering) straights after all. Oops, sorry about that football, Charlie Brown.

  9. I wonder how Mr. Douthat would react if a state prohibited the issuance of a marriage license to any couple whose combined annual income is less than $30,000. After all, we don't want to encourage those who cannot afford to provide children a minimal standard of living to marry and bear children, do we?

  10. The "marital ideal" Douthat describes is a confabulation, retroactively interpolating a load of post hoc, homophobic bunkum about the procreative essence supposedly at the root of the institution of marriage. It's hard to believe this sort of thing can be intended by any educated speaker in good faith, given the conspicuous silence of traditional marriage vows on children or child-rearing.

  11. I think what Ross is trying to say is we've used marriage laws as a way to enforce and promote the heterosexual marriage ideal. At the heart of the argument is that when a married couple create life, its in every one's best interest that that couple stay committed both to each other and to the children they both brought into this world. A marriage commitment increases the likelihood of this lifetime commitment. But the very fact of lifelong monogamy in the face of raising children to maturity is an incredibly difficult thing to do and should be protected and promoted in any way possible.

    I think if you focus too much time on the exceptions to the rule, his argument makes less sense. But if you focus on the rule, that many (most?) heterosexual couples who marry eventually reproduce and that its the ideal if the same two people who created the life stay committed both to each other and to their children for the rest of their lives, I think Douthat's point is obvious. And I feel this viscerally, in my gut, since I'm raising children of my own and it would be a massive tragedy in my eyes if my wife and I didn't stick it out. It would affect our children's lives profoundly.

    Now, how, as a society, do we build up institutions and laws to make this ideal more frequent? That's at the heart of Douthat's discussion. But how do we do that and still allow for the growing number of exceptions to the ideal – including gay couples? That's a much harder problem to solve, but I think accepting both parts of the problem – promoting the ideal while allowing for the exceptions are both important problems to solve.

  12. Yeah, this isn't quite an accurate shorter Douthat. I'd go with:

    Given how much we have already degraded marriage, we might as well let gays marry. That's a shame, because traditional marriage is good, and we can't have a conversation about civil unions vs. heterosexual marriage vs. gay marriage in this country right now.

  13. If we want to honor "lifelong heterosexual monogomy", we can make a statue for it or a museum. We can give it a holiday. I'm not sure denying equal protection under the law confers much honor upon the institution.

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