Gay people no threat to a robust institution
Opinion: The idea that marriage is under threat is crucial to the mindset of those opposing gay marriage
Will you be my prince? “The horrible truth is that ... an awful lot of heterosexual couples still rather like the idea of being married.” Photograph: PA
Those opposed to gay marriage tell us that their problem is not with the “gay” but with the “marriage”. They love, honour and respect homosexual people. But they fear that allowing them to marry each other will undermine marriage itself.
And since marriage as they understand it is the foundation of social order, society, even civilisation, will fall apart. Some will express this point of view in rather alarmist terms, but most are more measured and try to argue from some kind of evidence. So let’s try to be calm and ask what the evidence really suggests.
On September 30th last the Iona Institute issued a press release in reaction to the release by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) of figures showing that the marriage rate in Ireland had fallen from 4.5 per thousand in 2010 to 4.3 per thousand in 2011. Commenting on the figures, David Quinn of the institute said: “Irish people need to abandon the idea that the institution of marriage in this country is in good health. It isn’t. Marriage is in sharp decline by every measure.”
This is a rather large claim: the actual decrease in the number of marriages between 2010 and 2011 was 715 – not exactly seismic. But let’s be generous and say that at least there was evidence of a decline on which to base the prognostications of doom.
But last month, the CSO gave us updated figures for the marriage rate in 2012. Guess what? It rose from 4.3 to 4.6. So of course the Iona Institute issued a press release saying “Irish people need to abandon the idea that the institution of marriage in this country is in poor health. It isn’t. Marriage is sharply rising by every measure.” Well, no it didn’t; in fact it said nothing. The increase in marriage didn’t fit its doom-mongering narrative. It retreated into sullen silence.
The claim that “Marriage is in sharp decline by every measure” is crucial to the mindset of those who see gay marriage as a threat to the social order. They have to see heterosexual marriage – the good old mammy, daddy and kids institution – as an endangered species, a creature so weak that it can be blown asunder by the idea of two men taking formal marriage vows. But this claim is, frankly, garbage. The true story is the utterly remarkable survival of marriage. It has proven to be far more robust than either conservatives or radicals ever imagined.