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What we can learn from the Scandanavian experience
by James Hitchcock
February 5, 2004
Those who seek to justify homosexual "marriage" use the argument that it will in no way harm traditional marriage and in fact might strengthen it, by affirming that human relationships should involve official long-term commitment. Those who resist such arrangements are then accused of blind prejudice.
But the Scandinavian countries are well "ahead" of the rest of the world in their openness to social change, and a recent survey of the state of marriage there reveals that allowing homosexuals to marry does not bring the promised good results but the opposite.
Writing in The Weekly Standard (which I regard as the best political magazine in the country), Stanley Kurtz surveys the situation in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, where such relationships have been sanctioned for at least a decade and which are often pointed to as places where the experiment has been tested. If so, it is a failure.
The legalization of homosexual marriage in Scandinavia was apparently followed by an increase in the heterosexual marriage rate and a decline in the divorce rate, but Kurtz shows that this is a manipulation of statistics. The reason the Scandinavian divorce rate is getting lower is that relatively few marriages have been taking place, and Kurtz points out the obvious, "You can't get divorced unless you first get married." In Denmark, the most "advanced" of the three countries, the proportion of cohabiting couples with children increased by 25 per cent during the decade when the institution of marriage was supposedly getting stronger.
The claim that the rate of heterosexual marriage increased also proves to be misleading, mainly because the marriage rate is so low that a small increase can create a statistical bump. In Denmark it appears that the increase in marriage is not due to young people's embracing that institution but to the fact that people who have lived together for a long time, and who have children, at some point may finally decide to go through the formalities.
As Kurtz observes, the divorce rate is relatively insignificant where the marriage rate is low. The important statistic is the rate of "family breakup," which includes people living together but not married. In places where careful studies have been made, cohabiting couples with children are more than twice as likely to separate than are married people. (What, after all, is the purpose of cohabitation, if not to allow an easy escape from the relationship?) During the period that Scandinavia has allowed homosexual marriage, the rate of out-of-wedlock births has also increased sharply. In Denmark sixty per cent of first-born children have unmarried parents.
Kurtz shows that the forces which led Scandinavia to accept homosexual marriages are the same as those which have led to the rapid decline of marriage itself. Scandinavia has definitively separated marriage from parenthood, so that people can be "married" if they think they are and can produce children without reference to marital status. The same "experts" who extol homosexual marriage also celebrate the fact that Scandinavians have moved "beyond" traditional marriage.
Relatively few homosexuals chose to "marry" once it became possible to do so, and some homosexual leaders now admit that they are in principle opposed to the idea of marriage and supported it only as another means of gaining respectability. Homosexual marriage, instead of serving as an example of a committed relationship, is merely another instance of turning such relationships into an expression of mere personal preference.
Religious believers are often accused of imposing their dogmas on a world which does not accept those dogmas. But, here as elsewhere, experience itself shows that traditional moral teachings are deeply rooted in the realities of human experience itself. Everyone in society, no matter what their sexual orientation, has a stake in supporting stable and permanent relationships as the nurturing ground of children.
James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press. His two-volume book on religion and the Supreme Court has just been published by Princeton University Press. E-Mail: Dr. James Hitchcock
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