Thursday, November 09, 2006

Give 'Em An Inch...

by Tom Bozzo

Flush with their victory on the same-sex marriage and civil unions ban, the next segment of that bridge to the 19th century for the ban's proponents is to modify Wisconsin's no-fault divorce law. So Group A can't get married even if they want to, and Group B has to stay married even if they don't (*). Greeeeaaat.

Meanwhile, Ald. Brenda Konkel reports receipt of an e-mail from an ungracious taxpayer demanding that the city and county terminate domestic-partner benefits pursuant to the amendment ASAP. To restate a point I'd made in the comments earlier, it would take a pretty stupid judge to be fooled by the argument that offering certain similar employment fringe benefits to married and single people alike constitutes an institution substantially similar to marriage. Then again, I think of some of our theoretically top-tier lawyer-pundits and am alarmed at the possibilities.

For one thing, if marriage amendment proponents are inclined to argue that employment benefits are substantially all there is to marriage, then it isn't committed same-sex couples who are devaluing the institution. Indeed, rationales for the ban like Bishop Morlino's suggestion that there's "no right to redefine marriage" create something of a catch-22: by that standard, you sure as hell can't redefine marriage as a set of economic arrangements. Even assuming arguendo that economic aspects are what will determine what's substantially identical to marriage, then it would seem that at a minimum the tax preferences and joint property rights/responsibilities would have to be part of the deal.

Of course, it's possible that Konkel's e-mailer was just out to save a buck. Regarding that, an insight of Gary Becker's that I won't snark about is that discrimination is costly — to the discriminator. We'd pay for that in lower-quality employees and/or in alternate forms of compensation that fly under amendment supporters' radar.

In a way, I could care less about the "marriage" part of the amendment. As for the civil unions ban part, I can imagine that someone will try to push an "advantage" against the single so that portion of the amendment will be repealed before my children have a chance to be snared in it. Here's hoping.


(*) As the child of divorced parents, I speak from personal experience in suggesting that as tough as divorce is, trying to force people who can no longer stand each other to stay together is worse.
Minor quibble: By coincidence, I spent the car ride on the way home this morning reading Becker's 1992 Laureate-but-Not-Nobel speech:

"When the majority is very large compared to the minority—in the United States whites are nine times as numerous and have much more human and physical capital per capita than blacks—market discrimination by the majority hardly lowers their income, but may greatly reduce the incomes of the minority."

9:1 is roughly the straight-gay ratio as well—though I'll readily concede that the capital questions are not so divided. This may be a case of "what hurts my neighbor more makes me stronger."
Univ of Wisconsin is already losing top-notch faculty because of its lousy same-sex partner benefits. Much to the glee of those of us who benefit from Wisconsin's fleeing talent, of course.

One wonders, though, whether the people who are complaining about same-sex benefits really care all that much about the quality of the Wisconsin faculty.
Kim: The short answer to your question is no. Though the balance of power in the state legislature has shifted such that UW bashing will probably be much less prominent once the Kevin Barrett flap fades away.

Ken: That is a useful clarification, though the nature of this beast is that it would be hard not to simultaneously cut the value of benefits for the substantial population of single straight people (though that would be attenuated by the option to marry).
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