A Bayesian approach to legal gay marriage

by on April 9, 2009 at 7:14 am in Law | Permalink

Ezra had this good bit:

Due to D.C.'s strange system of governance, the District's laws are
subject to approval by Congress. If D.C. passes a gay marriage
ordinance, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and
the subcommittee that handles District matters will have to either
reject D.C.'s decision or accept it. If they reject it, the outrage
from gay donors and activist groups will be overwhelming. If they
approve it, even on federalist grounds, the Right will argue that
Congress has literally approved gay marriage.

The interesting question is why there is so much opposition to legal gay marriage (which I favor).  You can cite various evil opponents and their evil motives, but there are many good people who aren't all that enthusiastic about the idea.

Jennifer Roback Morse offers the argument that gay marriage requires ongoing statist intervention (as does the notion of a corporation) and will drive the Mennonites from Quebec.

I have a simple hypothesis about the cross-sectional econometrics.  If you take the heterosexual couples who engage in the practice which is sometimes "associated" with male gay marriage, I predict those couples will favor legal gay marriage to an astonishingly high degree.  Their marriage is already "affiliated" with that practice, and so the notion of legally married gay men (and the practices which go along with that) does not constitute an extra and unwanted affiliation for their marriage ideal.

Now, if you are a rational heterosexual Bayesian and neither engage in that associated practice nor favor legal gay marriage, and then you learn about these cross-sectional econometrics, what should you infer about the correctness of your point of view?

If you're still not sure, reread Gulliver's Travels and get back to me.

Addendum: Comment 51 is apparently from Roissy.

1 MostlyAPragamatist April 9, 2009 at 7:30 am

Your delicacy makes you far to vague an analyst for me to comment usefully.

2 Hmmmm April 9, 2009 at 7:43 am

Should “practice” be plural–“practices”?

3 Andrew April 9, 2009 at 8:05 am

What’s the strangest place you’ve made love?

You went there. But did you go there?

It’s all about the children and the insurance. I could care less what the government allows people to do because of their personal choices. I have big problems with what government grants them for those choices.

We don’t even have to call it marriage to make humane choices.

4 Jody April 9, 2009 at 8:09 am

If you take the opposition’s argument at face value (“It’ll weaken marriage”), it provides at least a testable proposition – how do the various parties feel about extramarital sex? Presumably there’s agreement that extramarital sex weakens the bond of marriage.

The Audacious Epigone looked at the question in this post. Quoting key parts:

Table from GSS survey of “4,146 on their support for same sex marriage and level of moral acceptance of extramarital sex
Homosexuals should marry …..Xmarital sex always wrong
Strongly agree ………70.7%
Agree ………………75.1%
Neutral …………….79.2%
Disagree ……………83.3%
Strongly disagree ……91.1%

In 2008, the GSS included a direct query on sexual orientation for the first time. At only 33, the sample size for gays and bisexuals who responded to the question on extramarital sex is small. But it does little to assuage the concerns of those who are worried about the weakening of marriage bonds. Only 47.4% (16 of 33) of gays and bisexuals deem extramarital sex as always wrong. In contrast, 84.8% (966 of 1,139) of heterosexuals see it that way.

So this would be consistent with an argument that assigning more value to marriage as the traditional institution leads to a less favorable response to gay marriage (and vice versa).

5 David E April 9, 2009 at 8:25 am

Should polygamy also be legal? After all it has more of a historical and religious basis and thus could be said to represent less of a risk to unintended consequences.

6 srm April 9, 2009 at 8:40 am

if you are straight and have buttsex/ blowjobs you tend to have less
of a problem with gay marriage bc the only thing different from you
and the gays is one of the partner’s genders. If you travel to new
world and suddenly experience the pleasures of buttsex and blowjobs
you might not have as much of a problem with gay marriage. I think
this is what he is saying, but i could be wrong.

7 Timothy April 9, 2009 at 8:44 am

I’m having a hard time imagining Swift favouring gay marriage.

Why should the State regulate any kind of marriage, or indeed, any type of family or personal relationship? If I wish to designate someone as my next of kin for the purposes of pension entitlements, income splitting, child rearing and the like, what business is it of the government whether that person is my wife, my sexual partner, my sibling, or my plationic friend?

8 Chris April 9, 2009 at 8:51 am

“If you take the heterosexual couples who engage in the practice which is sometimes ‘associated’ with male gay marriage, I predict those couples will favor legal gay marriage to an astonishingly high degree.”

I agree, those who do not go to Cher concerts are probably less likely to favor legal gay marriage. 😉

9 Aaron K April 9, 2009 at 9:01 am

Professor Cowen –

I want to add to the chorus of your readers who would like you to clarify if you are talking about ANAL SEX.

10 anon April 9, 2009 at 9:16 am

Totally talking about butt sex. I’ve got a question about the comment from srm though: who doesn’t have blow jobs? How do you keep a marriage going without blow jobs? Are blow jobs related to gays?

11 Brock April 9, 2009 at 9:34 am

If Tyler was trying to avoid making MR turn up on Google when “certain search terms” are used, he has failed miserably. He should have just defined “code words” in the OP to be used in comments, rather than try to be so delicate.

Michael Foody, you are probably correct with respect to some (most?) – but that’s Tyler’s point too. Heterosexual couples which “engage in certain practices” probably aren’t as grossed out when considering homosexuals doing the same thing.

12 floccina April 9, 2009 at 10:25 am

Question:
If gay marriage passes will organization be forced to provide survivor benefits to surviving partners?

13 Blackadder April 9, 2009 at 10:33 am

Why does the state need to be involved in *any* marriage, gay or straight?

Aye, there’s the rub.

14 Blackadder April 9, 2009 at 10:44 am

By the way, it’s not clear to me that Jennifer Morse’s argument can be dismissed so quickly. You take the Massachusetts adoption case, for example. Catholic Charities in Massachusetts specialized in placing hard to adopt kids (siblings, kids with disabilities, older kids, etc.) In many cases they were the only organization in Massachusetts doing so (there were plenty of other agencies doing same sex adoptions, but no one else was doing adoptions, gay or straight, for these sorts of hard cases). So the result is that lots of gets don’t get adopted at all, because the State refused to make an exception to its anti-discrimination laws.

15 Matt April 9, 2009 at 11:24 am

I love Tyler Cowen; this post is so funny. I want to “go to a musical” with you, Tyler.

I’d like to see how high the correlation is between favoring gay marriage and hetero anal sex. My guess is the the older the favorable hetero couple, the less they engage in it, and the younger the couple who does engage in it, the less likely they are to favor gay marriage.

16 Jacob Christensen April 9, 2009 at 11:33 am

I am not sure I have understood anything of the original post except that we should now look forward to The Pogues releasing an album named Rum, Economics and the Lash.

Okay, seriously: How do lesbians fit in the equation? After all, quite a few homosexuals aren’t men.

17 Mikko April 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Tyler, how about those politicians who openly persecute gays, but then get caught in homosexual raids themselves?

18 BK April 9, 2009 at 12:44 pm

If you take the opposition’s argument at face value (“It’ll weaken marriage”), it provides at least a testable proposition – how do the various parties feel about extramarital sex? Presumably there’s agreement that extramarital sex weakens the bond of marriage.

the rest of the argument fails with the initial presumption. extramarital sex only weakens marriage bonds if it is done without the consent of the other married party, i.e. an affair. if it is instead an open marriage or a threesome (or some other multiple) involving both marital partners then there is no weakening of the marriage bonds. all the survey shows is that homosexual marriages are more similar to the swingers of the 70s than the sexual prudes of today. it says nothing about the strength of their marriages.

19 Travis April 9, 2009 at 1:30 pm

This is the funniest post I’ve ever read on here. I’m literally laughing out loud in class. “Musicals”, hahahaha.

20 Psychohistorian April 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

One of the principle objections to homosexuality is that gay sex is purely hedonistic, and it’s not OK for sex to be hedonistic. People who are more likely to engage in sodomy are more likely to approve of hedonistic sex, and less likely to possess the large package (*chuckle*) of beliefs that comes with disapproving hedonistic sex. This should make them less likely to disapprove of homosexuality. If you could control for this factor (don’t ask me how), I doubt there would be much of an effect. The tendency for heterosexuals who engage in sodomy to approve of gay marriage seems like it would be caused by this and not some abstract concern over what practices their marriages will be associated with.

Curiously, if Tyler actually meant “going to musicals,” the correlation would probably be pretty strong as well, simply because people who go to musicals seem significantly morel likely to 1. Live in urban areas and 2. Be liberal, which will increase the likelihood they approve of gay marriage. This is almost certainly not because they’re more OK with the association of married couples going to musicals.

21 athEIst April 9, 2009 at 2:11 pm

???”During the Roman Empire when Christianity arose, there were two men for every women”????
Really? I learn a new historical fact every day

22 douchebaguette April 9, 2009 at 2:55 pm

My girlfriend enjoys it in the ass. Is that evil?

23 dersk April 9, 2009 at 3:16 pm

You’re absolutely right! My wife and I are all about practicing that main facet of male gay marriage – living a committed relationship in public. Is this whole thing just that some of you guys find anal sex icky?

And, in fairness, Swift seemed to have a thing for horses, you know?

PS – you are a jackass.

24 gbz April 9, 2009 at 3:29 pm

i might be the only person to say this openly on this blog, but i strongly oppose gay marriage.

The real issue here is not of ‘marriage’ per se, but the essential acceptability of homosexual behavior. Allowing gay marriage is only providing further sanction and acceptability to it. The real issue underlying all aspects of ‘gay rights’ is whether homosexuality is ‘socially’ acceptable. And the primary arguments all supporters make is that not giving them the ‘rights’ is discrimination. But the question is whether it is discrimination against a certain people or certain behavior?

This comes down to the issue of whether people are Born gay or choose to become gay. As far as i know, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea that people are born gay. The supporters of gay rights have done an incredible job in convincing everyone that gay people are just born that way and so we should accept them. This just not true. Yes, people may have stronger or weaker pre-disposition towards homosexuality, but its simply not binary. Any ‘straight’ person can engage in gay sex if they want. And lets face it, every straight man or woman fantasizes about it anyway .. and much worse and more disgusting things. Does that make everyone gay?? The argument that i ‘think’ tyler is making, links to the same issue. Just because people might fantazise or even sometimes engage in certain kind of sexual behavior it doesn’t imply Society should endorse and sanction it.

The essence of any civilized society is the application of self-restraint. Its the ability of us members of society to restrain our carnal, irrational, barbaric instincts and impose control on ourselves. Thats the difference between uncivilized and civilized people. And all rules of morality emerge from the need for people in civilized society to apply self-restraint.

As Hume said, “the rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason’. They have evolved into existence because our ancestors learned from trial and error what worked and what didn’t. There have been societies historically that not only allowed but even encouraged ritual homosexuality. They all perished, maybe not primarily because of weak social rules, but surely also because of them. The fact that almost every culture and civilization that progressed and has survived to this day, strongly opposes homosexual behavior, should be reason enough for us to be extremely careful before we overthrow this rule.

Some people here have also made the argument that people oppose gay rights because they find them disgusting, and therefore they are stupid. Well, i find it disgusting and i don’t think that’s stupid. Our sense of whats disgusting and whats not has again evolved into existence because of our experience as a species. For all the ‘burn the creationists’ types, isn’t our innate evolved biological disgust of homosexuality a very strong signal thats its not good for us??

Some people would argue back that even then, in a free society, people should be allowed behavior of their choice. That’s just not true. Free societies don’t allow everything, and the difference between successful and unsuccessful societies and civilizations is their ability to draw the line at the right place. We don’t know where it should be drawn, that’s why we experiment, but when the experiments have already been done for us, and we have the results, why try again?

Eventually, the real issue is whether we should accept and sanction homosexual behavior or
not. It is simply not of discriminating against a certain people. Some supporters have gone to the extent of claiming that opposition to gay rights implies you would also support racial discrimination, thats just another way of spreading the lie that people are born gay. They are not. The rising number of people choosing same sex partners just proves in itself that people choose to be gay. Lindsay rohan anyone?

Its a behavior, not a state of being. There are enough instances of biological twins where one ‘turns out’ straight and another gay. What happened? don’t they have essentially the same genes? Maybe they chose? And if they chose, society is fully within its rights to disapprove and even legislate to curtail such behavior. The same way it disallows animal sex and what not.

25 Mark April 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm

I think he’s talking about meth. Or maybe poppers. And then BB anal. I’m sure any straight person who hits that s- would probably be in favor of a lot of things.

26 Raj Saxena April 9, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Buttsecks, people.

He’s talking about buttsecks.

27 Srslynow April 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

How about removing the state recognition of marriage entirely? Religions can call it whatever they like, and have whatever rules they like wrt to the participants gender, race, religious affiliation, shoe size, choice in movies.

And the state can simply recognize a civil union, nothing else.

28 jim April 9, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Funny thread. I don’t give a damn about gay marriage one way or the other. At the same time, I find anal sex extremely gross. I dated a girl who offered that to me (she was trying to keep her “real sex” partner # below double digits before marriage). Prior to her offer I found her very attractive, afterwards … not so much.

29 Douglas Knight April 9, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Jennifer Roback Morse’s argument is specious. She uses New Mexico as an example, which does not have gay marriage!

30 Alan Wynnewood April 9, 2009 at 9:42 pm

“Gay Marriage” has no direct effect on the nature of procreative marriages or monogamy. The problem lies entirely with benefits. At first the shift will be to “benefits for every type of domestication.” Eventually the shift will be to reduce costs, and benefits will be given only to direct employees, or those with children. At that point will we not see a fundamental change in the stress (already great) on marriages? Polygamy? Over-the-top stress:”You’re good, honey, but Billy Bob’s got three hot chicks at home, plus I want Susie covered by my Blue Cross, too.” Anal sex is a health hazard for everyone who takes part, given the nature of the rectum and sigmoid colon. Ask your local gastro-enterologist. Ask Africa. Great Blog.

31 outback April 10, 2009 at 9:07 am

If you take the heterosexual couples who engage in the practice which is sometimes “associated” with male gay marriage

Would that be tastefully decorated living rooms?

32 prov octeur April 11, 2009 at 12:57 am

instead of marriage, people should just incorporate as partnerships. no limit to the genders or numbers involved. as full liability partnerships, the numbers would be naturally limited.

we could design an F partnership (F for family, full liability, or your favorite four level word) to more closely match the tax, inheritance, adoption, liability, etc, properties of a marriage.

then people can separate their status in a legal union, an F partnership, from whatever symbolic/fetish name they wish to give it (marriage, cohabitation, roommates, harem, partners, sex slave, fornication nation, whatever makes them high). and the state should not care what fetish name they choose to label themselves.

this would have the beneficial side effect of permitting polygamy as well. why only generalize the concept of marriage to arbitrary genders, but not arbitrary numbers? i’m almost tempted to call gay marriage proponents hypocrites, if they happen to oppose polygamy. but i don’t want to be provocative, yet.

33 Robert Scarth April 11, 2009 at 4:51 pm

I’m not sure that Tyler is saying anything very interesting, but I’m not sure I fully understand exactly what he is saying.

What I understand him to mean is that if you are a heterosexual who engages in anal sex then you are more likely to favour gay marriage. He then goes on to say that this is because homosexual couples also engage in anal sex (“Their marriage is already “affiliated” with that practice, and so [gay marriage] does not constitute an extra and unwanted affiliation for their marriage ideal.”)

I’m not sure that this explanation is correct. Consider that if you support (oppose) two men getting married you are almost certain to support (oppose) two women getting married. There should also therefore be a link between hetro-anal and pro lesbian marriage – what explains that? A greater propensity to cunnilingus? hmmmm…

I think its more about openness to ideas. I guess that individuals who are more open to ideas are more likely to favour gay marriage, and also more likely to be interested in and try out anal sex. I’m pretty sure that number of books owned also correlates with being in favour of gay marriage *and* anal sex. Like wise with music taste, films watched and propensity to visit art galleries.

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