I read in Newsday that Jordon’s new parliment has rejected a couple of women’s rights laws – they turned down women’s right to get a divorce, and also came out against harsh penalties for “honor killings” of women. Why? Because the laws would “encouraged family disintegration.”
Oddly enough, that’s pretty much the exact same reason Maggie Gallagher and her fellow-travelers oppose gay marriage. And by Maggie’s logic, the anti-woman Jordanians are correct (I’m not even certain that Maggie disagrees with Islamic fundamentalists who oppose what Maggie calls “unilateral divorce”). Maggie’s argument comes down to a kind of social “precautionary principle” – unless we can say for certain that the overall effects of a change to any important social institution will not be negative, we should not change that institution. It is not that Maggie has anything against gay people; rather, she thinks the risk to society if gays have equal rights is too great:
But if we accept Maggie’s logic, we must conclude that no change to marriage, historically, has ever been justified. Giving women the right to divorce could, in theory, lead to higher divorce rates (and probably will in practice, if Jordon’s women ever get equal rights). Discouraging honor killings of women could, in theory, lead to greater promiscuity and adultery. Allowing blacks and whites to marry could, in theory, have discouraged racists from marrying and thus degraded marriage – just as Maggie argues allowing gay marriage will discourage homophobes from marrying today. Outlawing rape within marriage could have degraded marriage by giving women new grounds for divorce. Etc, etc.
In each of these cases – in the United States, at least – it was eventually decided that social justice is too important to put off indefinitely because of purely theoretical future harms to marriage. And, in retrospect, most of us feel that’s a good thing; we prefer non-racist marriage laws, we prefer women to have equal rights, and – in the near future, I believe – we will prefer gays to have equal rights, too.