December 16, 2011 Print
Friday 5: Helen Alvaré

Friday 5: Helen Alvaré

by Karla Dial

“How does my same-sex marriage hurt your marriage?” It’s a question that’s often heard in the policy debate. George Mason Associate Professor Helen Alvaré has written a pair of articles for The Public Discourse, explaining how 200 years of family law has underscored the state’s interest in marriage as being the best place to raise children — and how 50 years of believing it’s only about adults’ romantic feelings for each other (or lack thereof) is harming everyone.

What led you to write these two articles?

My perch is family law. I’ve been a lawyer for 27 years now. It’s very tempting to engage in this debate from the perspective of sociology, because it informs the law. There are people out there making that argument well from the side of marriage, and poorly on the side of dismantling marriage, but no lawyers in the public square. So it occurred to me that someone ought to say that over the course of a couple of centuries, the courts have made it clear that the state’s interest in marriage is pretty limited. Kids in their teens and 20s are often shocked to find that romance, which is the biggest thing in their head, is of no interest to the state—except that marriage is very unique in the way it allows a child to be raised. There are things (people) will do right, responsibilities they will assume, that the law doesn’t have to demand or enforce. These come from their understanding of what it is to be a responsible person in a community and the family forms that. Now sociology is coming out that says children with the attachments and stability that come from having their married biological parents with them are the ones who will best carry on society.

Same-sex marriage activists argue that this is all about “equality” and “civil rights. What’s your perspective?

Same-sex marriage proponents like to align themselves with victims. But Loving v Virginia didn’t give marriage to an interracial couple because they were victims—it gave it to them because they were a man and a woman who’d been denied marriage on the ridiculous grounds of race. Every time same-sex marriage proponents tell people that marriage is utterly unrelated to children but strictly about a feeling, they are destroying the poor, the uneducated, and the formation of their family lives. Don’t tell me you’re in solidarity with them when your argument is destroying their lives.

I made that argument at the Aspen Institute, which is a very liberal institution. There was a stunned reaction from an audience that is 99 percent in favor of same-sex marriage. A couple of people said, “I wish you’d go away, because I haven’t seen this before and I don’t like it.” That’s when I knew I had to write it.

What are you basing that argument on?

The people who are suffering with the worst ability to get jobs right now are the ones suffering when we don’t help them link their children to their parents and their men to their women, etc. But same-sex marriage proponents are saying none of this matters. All that matters is this romantic feeling between two people, ignoring two centuries of family law.

I’m really hopeful that when this comes before the Supreme Court, it will look to its history. I will absolutely write an amicus brief. When you get down to brass tacks, we have to keep adult men and women together. We do not need to overthrow marriage and babies and the male-female relationship in order to address discrimination against people with same-sex attractions.

“How does my gay marriage hurt you?” Every single argument you had to make in order to make your gay marriage legitimate in the eyes of the law is one that had to discount the importance of the male-female relationship, ignore completely the good of children, and is at the heart of poverty, high rates of imprisonment, educational failure and intergenerational cohabitation among our most vulnerable communities. That’s how it hurts other people. Children and communities on the edge.

Sometimes when I see the most vulnerable people divorcing or not marrying, I want to say, “Don’t you realize the strength that you could draw from having one another to lean on to raise these children? What could possibly be more attractive to you than building up a community of love? These other things won’t give it to you.” Suggesting that brief casual sexual encounters, or one relationship after another, or raising kids alone — how is this stuff selling?

If the courts affirmed for 200 years that the state’s only interest in marriage is giving children the best environment they can have to become responsible human beings, how did we get to this point?

Despite all our cogent arguments, valid data and ringing truth, we have 50 years of deconstructing marriage, so same-sex marriage now appears like just another tiny marginal move in the wrong direction vs. the earthquake that it really is. No-fault divorce, cohabitation, abortion, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, new reproductive technology — now this seems like just another tiny thing.

With all the attacks on marriage this year from our own government, it seems inevitable that the U.S. Supreme Court will, sooner or later, be defining marriage for everyone. Is there a reason to hope the justices will affirm history?

There is some good news. Now, instead of just asserting that marriage and children go together, we have more data than we’ve ever had before. And we’re going to get more: There’s a study being done right now down in Texas by people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate that is going to include a representative sample of kids raised by same-sex parents. Even as it stands, we already have data of a wide variety that indicates when you separate children from a stable marriage including both (biological) parents that we really don’t build strong children or communities, and the parents don’t really end up happy either.

I have some hope that there is an intelligent remnant — scholars are coming around. It’s not a question of how fast does the pig fly, but that the pig is flying at all. So there is some hope. They just can’t hide the public policy failure of separating sex from its connection to creating human life. We are all trying to dive into that little avenue of hope.

I have some hope because we have an increasing amount of data showing the good of children related to their opposite-sex parents. After they gave us Roe v. Wade and then watched as the damage spread — the endless polarization, utterly political vetting of judges — the Court refused to make the same mistake in the area of assisted suicide. They said, “We’re not doing here what we did with Roe and sitting as a mini-legislature.” I just hope that they would make the same judgment call on the issue of same-sex marriage and leave it to the states, where we are very confident most people won’t go for it. (Homosexual activists) have a powerful movement, and they are able very effectively to use the victim card to analogize themselves to race. They couldn’t ask for a more favorable media environment, but they’re still losing with the people.

Read “Traditional Family Law: Connecting Marriage with Children,” by Helen Alvaré.

Read “Contemporary Family Law: Divorcing Marriage from Children,” by Helen Alvaré.