Romney on the Value of Marriage

At Saturday night’s debate, the Republican candidates were what they would say to a homosexual couple who wanted to “form [a] loving, committed, long-term relationship.” The logic of Mitt Romney’s answer suggested a surprisingly low valuation of “marriage”:

Well, the answer is, is that’s a wonderful thing to do, and that there’s every right for people in this country to form long- term committed relationships with one another. That doesn’t mean that they have to call it marriage or they have to receive the — the approval of the state and a marriage license and so forth for that to occur.

There can be domestic partnership benefits or — or a contractual relationship between two people, which would include, as — as Speaker Gingrich indicated, hospital visitation rights and the like. We can decide what kinds of benefits we might associate with people who form those kind of relationships, state by state.

But — but to say that — that marriage is something other than the relationship between a man — a man and a woman, I think, is a mistake. And the reason for that is not that we want to discriminate against people or to suggest that — that gay couples are not just as loving and can’t also raise children well.

But it’s instead a recognition that, for society as a whole, that the nation presumably will — would be better off if — if children are raised in a setting where there’s a male and a female. And there are many cases where there’s not possible: divorce, death, single parents, gay parents, and so forth.

But — but for a society to say we want to encourage, through the benefits that we associate with marriage, people to form partnerships between men and women and then raise children, which we think will — that will be the ideal setting for them to be raised.

(full transcript here)

I find Romney’s logic a bit baffling. He began by describing committed homosexual relationships as “wonderful,” so apparently he’s not opposed to homosexuality itself. He expressed support for extending to homosexual relationships all the rights and privileges enjoyed by married couples. He emphasized that he is opposed to discrimination based on sexual orientation. He concedes both that homosexuals can be good parents and that there are lots of other exceptions to his ideal father-mother-child family structure. Ultimately, the only argument he made against same-sex marriage was to propose a social interest in promoting heterosexual marriage.*

But if all the rights and privileges of marriage are extended to homosexual couples, what is left (of substance) that society is conferring on heterosexual couples? If marriage comes with no special rights reserved for the institution, Romney would seem to be left defending the emptiest kind of honorary title. In that case, why bother?



*To be fair, Romney did later make a negative argument: that allowing same-sex marriage creates “problems” for families, law, education, and religion. But this is an argument for the status quo that could be applied to any proposed change, not anything specific to same-sex marriage. And those “problems” stem from a collision between state-imposed equality and desires to withhold certain rights for heterosexual couples. Romney’s logic suggests that the individual cases of these “problems” should be decided in favor of equal rights for homosexuals.

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