Tag Archives: Dennis Byrne

To all the h8trs

Some puzzling words in favor of "traditional" marriage:

It was not for nothing that societies for millenniums recognized marriage for its civilizing properties and stepped in to regulate them secularly. That's because marriage, among other things, seeks to protect the lives and rights of women and children in a historically patriarchal society.

This from the mouth of the Chicago Tribune's get-off-my-lawn conservative guy, Dennis Byrne.  This is in an argument against gay marriage–or rather, to use his words, in support of "traditional marriage."  Of course, for Byrne, "traditional marriage" is one-man-one-woman  leave-it-to-beaver marriage: not the real traditional marriage of the kind where the wife had very much unequal status.  That particular argument from tradition would appeal to very few. 

Anyway, so Byrne maintains that marriage civilizes.  But it civilzes only when it's one-man and a series perhaps of individual women (or vice versa: one woman and a series of individual men).  There seems to be no actual evidence for that claim, other than the fact that some form of contractual union has existed for a long time.  In the absence of such evidence, one must naturally rely on the slope:

The formulated response to this point is that marriage can continue to go on protecting those lives and rights whether or not gays and lesbians are legally included in the marriage contract.

But that's too simplistic. Cultural institutions like marriage can be fragile structures, bending to the crosswinds of changing public attitudes. Tamper with them too much, and they become diluted and ineffective in their purpose.

I believe people have rights to legally designate in contract law who can visit them in hospitals, who can be named as insurance beneficiaries and the raft of other considerations sought for gay and lesbian couples. Call the arrangement civil unions if you wish.

But that's not the same as defining any union a marriage.

My fear — based on secular, more than religious precepts — is that watering down marriage could eventually rob society of the stabilizing and other beneficial effects of an institution now relentlessly under attack. Perhaps this argument is too ethereal to be grasped or accepted in an age of radical individualism. But it's an argument that is understood by plenty of Americans willing to state it, although it puts them in danger of being painted as haters.

This argument achieves new heights of terribleness.  Byrne believes people have contractual rights except when they don't.  Marriage, one might recall, as far as the law is concerned is a type of civil contract (that's why Sea Captains can perform marriages).  People have a right to this with its responsibilities and benefits or they don't.  If they don't, some aspect of contract is closed to them.  Why don't they have those rights, according to Byrne?  The slippery slope.

Recall that Byrne has already argued that marriage has stabilizing, er civilizing effects.  Nowadays, more people want access to those effects (people who would not have accessed it before).  So this means, somehow in Byrne's world, that marriage is under attack.  And of coruse, the very fact that more people want to realize the benefits of civilization means the very end of civilization.  I mean, you can't get a good drink around here anymore.