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» Becker-Posner on Gay Marriage from A Stitch in Haste
This week's Becker-Posner exchange is about same-sex marriage, specifically the econo-legal questions of marriage qua contract rather than marriage qua legal status. I performed a similar analysis in [Read More]

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» Becker and Posner Take on Gay Marriage from EdBlog
Gary Becker and Richard Posner have posted (Becker post; Posner post) on gay marriage; they each basically argue for marriages (both heterosexual and homosexual) treated on contracts. As Posner puts it, "The... fundamental economic question is why marr... [Read More]

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Jack Talbot

"I think it is downright ugly when two worthy causes start competing over who was most victimized."

That is exactly why gays should stop pretending their "cause" is analogous to that of blacks'. But you don't get that because you've been corrupted by the gay agenda.


Jane, you are maliciously mischaracterizing my words. Anyone can see what I wrote and know this is the case. I will not respond to scatological homophobia. I'm sorry you feel that way.

Not Corey

"I will not respond to scatological homophobia."

So anyone who disagrees with you substantively had a mental disorder? Gee, talk about fairness. You don't even know what equality of respect is.


"Since gays get rational-basis, the burden is on gays. You are a warped barrel brimming with falsehoods."

OK, so think really hard and try to figure out if I think gays SHOULD get rational-basis or if that isn't exactly the problem from a legal sense.

I'm done on this topic, its not this hard. Have a nice day.


"...the effects on children raised by gay couples will usually be quite negative."

Your reasons to support this statement can only indicate that children raised by homosexuals are bound to have a different upbringing than those raise by heterosexuals, which says nothing about whether it would be a better or a worse one.
Each case is different. We all know that having a father and a mother is not a sufficient condition for an emotionally healthy upbringing.


I have a few economic arguments that have not been addressed or sufficiently addressed:

1. transactions costs: I believe the single best argument against privatizing marriage is that the transactions costs of the parties entering into a contract that specifies all of the default rules that come with marriage would be prohibitively high. Lots of default rules govern children, divorce, custody, and financial relations between spouses. Even if there are a range of boilerplate contracts from which to choose, the massive costs of couples looking through all of those distasteful scenarios and picking the contract best for them would be a major deterrent to going through with marriage. They can, of course, contract around the default rules with a pre-nup, but the distaste that people get from dealing with pre-nups is a walk in the park compared to true privatization in all matters.

2. externalities: There are two main externalities that SSM creates: (1) on other young people growing up in an environment of SSM, and (2) on the more children that would almost inevitably be raised in SSM households. As to (1), the contention is that universal SSM would send a very strong message to the country, and young children, that homosexuality and heterosexuality are the same. To the extent that people think that the two are characterized by very different patterns and behaviors and effects (including me), it is an externality that is justifiably part of the discussion. As to (2), a major argument against SSM raising a lot more kids is that, first, SSM would encourage a lot more people to choose to pursue homosexuality. See, for example, Greece and Rome, where casual/occasional homosexuality was quite common, as opposed to, say, modern Africa, the US, or India. Doing so then means that more boys are raised in environments that do not really foster or develop their natural masculinity in ways that have generally proven themselves. Girls, likewise, may not learn the things that are very important for them to learn in order to be healthy in the dating game. Personally, I have seen boys raised by lesbians, for example, and they have been the picture of what one would expectñshy, clingy, not good at sports or athletic, fearful of competitiveness, and a bit fragile. Many, including me, contend that this is a troubling externality issue.

3. benefit versus burden: Extending marriage to gays/lesbians confers a benefit they do not now have, many benefits of which amount to subsidies by the government. The government is not denying people ìrightsî by not adding SSM to the statute books. People may still live together and have formal ceremonies if they like. SSM adds a subsidy to the mix, by and large.



Good points all. I have a few elaborations, which are related to your post and my post above.

Costs: Literally understood, gay marriage is marriage by same-sex homosexual couples. This type of marriage will *never* be adopted into law because the cost of verifying homosexuality (an orientation that cannot be directly observed from physical attributes) is prohibitively high. SSM, as opposed to gay marriage, has been adopted into law in Mass. and probably will adopted by other states, in part, because verification costs are non-existent.

People in this blog have ignored this point, probably because they see it as a trivial theoretical point with uncertain consequences. But, actually, allowing for SSM marriage (along with opposite sex marriage) would allow two adults of any sexual orientation to marry. That is, it would allow two same-sex heterosexual adults to marry, two same-sex homosexual adults to marry, two same-sex bisexual adults to marry, two hermaphrodite adults to marry. . . Well, I could go on, but you get the idea.

One consequence of this is that the definition of marriage would be expanded to include any two consenting adults regardless of their sexual orientation. Marriage would, as a consequence, lose all of its current opposite-sex exclusivity. Losing its exclusivity may not be a bad thing, but others have argued (based on real-world scenarios) that when marriage loses its exclusivity opposite-sex couples with and without children marry at lower rates. In support of this position, Stanley Kurtz and others have observed from the Scandinavian experiment that when SSM was legalized there marriages rates among opposite-sex couples declined sharply and, most troubling, single-parenthood increased sharply. (Almost no social scientist believes that at the macro level, single-parenthood is good for children.)

So, if SSM marriage causes marriage to lose its exclusivity, and this in turn reduces marriage rates among opposite-sex couples and increases single-parenthood, the results could produce one of several externalities (e.g., single parents are more likely to seek and need government assistance than two parent families).

That?s my two cents. Good post.


Ciarand Denlane

RWS writes: "benefit versus burden: Extending marriage to gays/lesbians confers a benefit they do not now have, many benefits of which amount to subsidies by the government. The government is not denying [people's] rights by not adding SSM to the statute books. People may still live together and have formal ceremonies if they like. SSM adds a subsidy to the mix, by and large."

I'm not sure which way this does, or was intended, to cut. For any X that is a subsidy to marriage -- as opposed to a subsidy to activities like childrearing that are somwhat, but not perfectly, correlated with marriage -- I can think of several possibilities: (1) it makes no sense to have the subsidy in the first place, in which case we should get rid of it (as a heterosexual single, I would probably populate this category more heavily than most other people); (2) the rationale for the subsidy is really better keyed to some other characteristic (childrearing perhaps, to revert to the prior example), in which case we ought to target the subsidy more directly to that characteristic rather than to marriage; (3) it's not really a "subsidy" to begin with, or at least not an avoidable one, but a byproduct of the difficulty in some areas of making rules that are marriage-neutral across-the-board (for example, income taxes in a progressive system, though I don't know whether the rates are now skewed far enough that there is now a real subsidy here); or (4) we really do as a society want to reward or encourage people to enter into one-on-one [that's shorthand, I'm not intending here to express a view on polygamy] committed and at-least-intended-to-be-permanent relationships and so we subsidize those relationships. For any "subsidies" of the first three types, there are better questions to ask than whether or not same sex couples should also get them. It is only one's view of subsidies of the fourth type that, it seems to me, ought to bear some weight in considering one's view of same sex marriage (and vice versa).


I am not persuaded by the attempt to decouple marriage with child rearing. The argument goes that we should directly subsidize child rearing and not marriage, as they do not perfectly coorelate.

This argument neglects, of course, that children are the natural and usual consequence of heterosexual unions. Birth control, and changing social norms have altered this scenario a bit, but not so signifcantly that a great alteration is required.

Moreover, it is completely reasonable that the state support/subsidize the marriage while a couple is trying to have a baby. Sometimes this takes years. Sometimes it takes a few years for a couple to be on the right financial and emotional footing to be ready for children. The process of child rearing begins before the actual child enters the world, while a couple builds their relationship and prepares for the financial and emotional challenges bringing a child into this world entails.


I apologize for adding this comment here when it's unrelated to the topic, but I must thank you Sirs for the NY Times article titled "Bad News."

I am a TV news reporter in a small market in Washington state, and as I look to my future in broadcast news, I'm concerend about the hyper-sensitivty among news outlets to appear balanced. Objectivity and balance ought to be two different things, you gave the great example of the so-called evolution versus intelligent design "debate."

Asking "what's the other side of the issue" is a question that should guide reporters, but a fearlessness must accompany that inquiry. If using my best judgement, I discover there is no other side unless I create one, it's my duty to report the story as is, and let the chips fall where they may.


No discussion of the economic consequences of homosexual marriage is complete without pondering the effect on heterosexual roommates. How many million of them will fraudulently register as married homosexuals in order to pick up free health insurance or other benefits? Since a large number of them are impudent college students, I think this represents a significant claim on the property of others, perhaps a great hemorrhage compared to the trickle which will flow from legitimately homosexual couples. Until it's tried, we cannot know, but it will be instructive to watch Canada.


I disagree, Larry. All we need do is turn to the Bible, which instructs us that gay marriage leads to sudden lightning igniting the natural gas deposits beneath our most treasured cities.

Laugh if you must. But harm will follow from gay marriage's acceptance throughout this land, in part because of the radical mutilation of our constitutional structure and political process it took to get there. When you move too fast, you warp. Why would we want to warp our Constitution?

Please join me in supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment.


How many million of them will fraudulently register as married homosexuals in order to pick up free health insurance or other benefits?Considering the millions who fraudulently register as married heterosexuals, it is obvious that the only solution is to ban marriage entirely.


The argument goes that we should directly subsidize child rearing and not marriage, as they do not perfectly coorelate.That a society tries to provide a minimum standard of living for children does not mean that the society thinks that having children is a good thing. For example, society tries to provide a minimum standard of living for disabled people but that does not mean that society thinks that being disabled is a good thing.It's actually OK to be caring and compassionate even when it's not specifically part of a broader agenda to impose a particular set of moral beliefs on society.


"Please join me in supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment."

OK, so once again someone has decided to post pretending to be me. Not a very convincing impersonation though. Please stop doing that, it is very inconsiderate and further dumbs down the debate here. Forging posts is easy to do, but if it happens much it will become impossible for _anyone_ to maintain credibility.

But as for Larry's point, why are you characterizing efforts to obtain health insurance as a drain on society. Perhaps you should ask yourself why young college students (soon to be working, tax paying professionals) should need to lie or marry someone in order to be able to afford health insurance or whatever other benefit you wish to keep from them. If you've got Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of stale bread, you might want to ask, why is such an able-bodied person starving.


If you've got Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of stale bread, you might want to ask, why is such an able-bodied person starving.

Why presume he is starving? Perhaps he is just a thief.

Frank Riely

The anxiety about the use of the word "marriage" when talking about homosexual relationships is, I think, rooted in our understanding of the religious implications of the act of marriage. The confusion is in assigning religious meaning to state-sanctioned marriages.

Many on the right increasingly see government as an extension of the Church, with a corresponding religious significance to state actions. This distorted view allows many to view strictly civil marriages as having some religious meaning (which they do not). It also allows more extreme individuals to erroneously assign religious meaning to the current war in Iraq: that the President is doing "God's work" there.

If the constitutionality of state involvement in church weddings were ever successfully challenged (if it could be), that might hasten the age of contract unions. Those who choose could still have church weddings, but the legal implications would be separate.


Mr. Becker, may I ask you to consider a different question? What would be the economic and social benefits of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry?

I wonder whether some of the assumptions you raise (e.g., that gays have more fragile relationships) would collapse if and when the rights and social responsibilites associated with marriage were granted to these disenfranchised groups. Do you expect this would be the case?

Regarding your unfortunate statement: "I believe, although there is little evidence yet, that the effects on children raised by gay couples will usually be quite negative." This merely distracts your readers from the real question at hand of gay marriage and from your otherwise well-articulated position on marriage contracts. Surely an economist of your standing could invest some time (or the time of a graduate student) into seriously evaluating this question before making this sort of statement. (Certainly, your colleagues at Chicago would not let you wriggle away from such a comment without some studies to back you up.)

To this point, essentially what do the success / failure rates of children (ignoring the question of how one might measure this) from married, heterosexual, two-parent homes have to do with the parents right to marry in the first place? It is a poorly reasoned argument to make civil freedoms contingent on certain unforseen outcomes.

Note to Corey: You wrote "The fact that the median income for gays is $20,000 higher than for straights in this country might help them in that endeavor." This is a widely held economic myth. See MV Lee Badgett's book "Myths, Money and Change: The Economic Lives of Gays and Lesbians"
for a more thorough discussion.


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