Marriage and Societal Benefit

Yesterday I had a conversation with an old friend about same-sex marriage. He posted a link to the following page, which he had compiled:

Leftist LUNC of the Week: Equality and Civil Rights–Same-Sex Marriage–Intro

In our subsequent conversation, he made a few statements I found interesting, so I’ll quote them here:

To clarify, let me reiterate that my blog posts weren’t intended as an argument against gay marriage, but rather as an explication of the negative results of legalizing gay marriage.

Having said that, I also indicated at the bottom of the page in question: “This thought is made all the worse when realizing that for all the public and private money to be divvied out to gay marriages, there will be little if any social benefited in return.”

The point in bringing this up is to suggest that costs (social and economic), while very important, aren’t all that should be factored into the equation. It is helpful to balanced the cost against the benefits. If the benefits exceed the costs, then the costs make sense. Otherwise, they don’t.

And, if for heterosexual marriages the benefits outweigh the cost, whereas for homosexual marriages the costs outweigh the benefits, then, discriminating in favor of the one and against the other makes good social and economic sense. Treating them equally would be social and economic nonsense. Right?

And here’s part of our interaction:

Runtu wrote:
I’m not sure how giving people the same benefits that others are entitled to is a negative result.

Wade wrote:
So, if adults are entitled to drive cars, you don’t see the negative result of giving toddlers that same benefit?

Runtu wrote:
I’m not sure we can know at this point what benefits, if any, there will be, because except in a few places, the effect of legalized same-sex marriage is hypothetical.

Wade wrote:
We may not be able to establish all the benefits to an absolute certainty, but as with economic forecasts and environmental impact statements, we can offer useful, educated guesstimates.

Runtu wrote:
Hmmm. I worry about people who think freedoms and civil liberties should be dispensed by the government based on a cost-benefit analysis.

Wade wrote:
As explained previously, in this case the government isn’t dispensing freedom, per se. Rather, it is dispensing government sanctions–i.e. the states seal of approval and incentives (benefits).

And, presumably, the government doesn’t dispense its sanctions for no reason. Typically, as with other regulatory and licensing acts (like with doctors and lawyers and businesses and teachers and auto drivers), there is a rational basis (cost-benefit) for the dispensing.

For example, regarding state sanctions for driving cars, there is good reason that the government sanctions people who have lived beyond a certain age and who have demonstrated adequate driving competency. On balance, the benefits to society exceeds the costs. However, the government doesn’t dispense this sanction to toddlers because the financial and health and safety costs would far exceed the benefit to society.

The same, in principle, holds true for the state sanctioning of marriage. Governments got into the business of sanctioning traditional marriage, in part, because they rationally surmised that the social cost of illicit heterosexual relationships would be higher than the benefits of promoting licit heterosexual relationships, and so it was in the state’s interest to incentivize and regulate traditional marriage.

Inspired by Wade’s logic, I have realized the error of my ways and have decided that marriage is not a right but is a privilege granted by the state, much like a driver’s license or a concealed-weapons permit. As with these privileges, state sanction of marriage should be granted only to those who would realize a net benefit from marriage, based on cost-benefit analysis and, when necessary, scientific guesstimates.

One group that has persistently shown itself to do significant social and economic harm is the uneducated, specifically high-school dropouts. Therefore, it would be irresponsible and counterproductive to allow high-school dropouts (HSDs) to marry and perpetuate and spread these societal ills.

According to a study from Northeastern University, male HSDs are 63 times more likely to end up in jail or juvenile detention than are their peers who have high-school diplomas (less-slothful citizens, or LSCs). The situation is especially bleak among black HSDs, 25% of whom are incarcerated at any given time. On average, HSDs cost society $209,000 per person for incarceration, making them a significant burden on society.

HSDs are also likely to be chronically unemployed. The Northeastern study showed that 54% of HSDs aged 16-24 were unemployed, compared to 32% among LSCs and only 13% of those with college degrees (educationally responsible citizens, or ERCs). According to the Wall Street Journal (published by ERCs, of course, so it can’t be biased), over half of all HSDs over the age of 25 were chronically unemployed in 2010.

HSDs are also much more likely to live in poverty. According to the US Department of Education, 30.8% of HSDs age 16-24 live in poverty, compared to 24% for LSCs and 14% for ERCs. On average, incomes for all adult HSDs are more than $10,000 less per year than their LSC counterparts and $36,000 less per year than ERCs.

HSDs also contribute to the birth of children to unwed mothers, which can have catastrophic social and economic effects. According to the New York Times, “Young female dropouts were nine times more likely to have become single mothers than young women who went on to earn college degrees, the report said, citing census data for 2006 and 2007. The number of unmarried young women having children has increased sharply in some communities in part, [researchers] said, because large numbers of young men have dropped out of school and are jobless year round. As a result, young women do not view them as having the wherewithal to support a family.”

The costs, then, are staggering. According to the Northeastern University study, compared to LSCs, the average HSD costs taxpayers $292,000 in lost taxes, higher costs in cash and in-kind benefits, and incarceration costs. If society gives its seal of approval to marriages between such socially destructive individuals, things can only get worse. There is nothing fair or just about giving people an incentive to cause the net loss of nearly $600,000 per couple. Everyone loses.

Clearly, the uneducated have not demonstrated adequate competency to be entrusted with the responsibilities of marriage, and the risks associated with their “lifestyle” are significant and well-known. And, if for LSC marriages the benefits outweigh the cost, whereas for HSD marriages the costs outweigh the benefits, then, discriminating in favor of the one and against the other makes good social and economic sense. Treating them equally would be social and economic nonsense. Right?


13 Responses to Marriage and Societal Benefit

  1. Andrew S says:


    not sure if this is quite comparable.

    You’d probably want to show instead how the marginal benefits of HSDs who marry are negligible or less than the marginal costs, rather than simply talking about the base costs/benefits associated with the HSD class. (In other words, Wade doesn’t appear to be saying that kids shouldn’t be allowed to drive cars because *kids* suck. Rather, kids shouldn’t be allowed to drive cars because the marginal effect of kids *being allowed to drive cars* would be costly, rather than beneficial.)

    And this *is* a typical conservative talking point — people do seriously argue that poverty is exacerbated by “broken homes” and a deteriorated marriage culture, and that there is great marginal benefit for HSDs to marry. In fact, that marriage makes more sense for economically unprivileged populations than it does for those with more privilege, and yet it’s the wealthier folks who seem to be getting married.

    The conservative talking point then would go and say that this marginal benefit works if marriage is seen as exclusive and particular — an obligation/expectation of heterosexual men and women who have the very expensive possibility of having children through their sexual relationships, rather than a voluntary association of adults who love each other. Thus, gay marriage is not simply neutral to this equation, but it perpetuates social harm by contributing to a socially incompatible view of marriage that is disconnected with responsibility toward procreation and the rearing of children.

    • runtu says:

      You’re giving him too much credit. My “argument,” tongue in cheek as it is, is the same as Wade’s: all the social and economic ills associated with homosexuals or dropouts are exacerbated, not ameliorated, by giving them legal sanction. He’s not arguing that exclusivity of marriage makes marriage valuable and socially beneficial; he’s arguing that projections and “guesstimates” show that gays will not benefit from marriage because their lifestyle is harmful, married or not.

      I understand the conservative arguments against same-sex marriage, but Wade is trying a novel approach with his “cost-benefit analysis” of same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, his approach is just as nonsensical as my post.

      • Andrew S says:

        eh, I guess I don’t know enough of the history to see that here…i don’t see the cost-benefit analysis as novel, just as an attempt to “objectivize” or “rationalize” conservative arguments against same-sex marriage.

      • runtu says:

        You’re probably right. Wade’s novelty is in saying both that gay people aren’t “competent” enough to get married and that, ultimately, it will backfire on gay people who marry.

  2. Janice Long says:

    runtu, where do you find these people? His analogy doesn’t hold water any way you look at it. I think you did a great job of demonstrating that, but seriously! Is this the best they can come up with besides, “God said!”?

  3. Wade Englund says:

    I am pleased to see that my comments have spurred further discussion, but disappointed that they were so remarkably misunderstood–for which I accept partial responsibility.

    To clarify, as I later indicated to Runtu, I was not suggesting that “competency” be a factor of consideration in same-sex marriage [or marriage in general, though some marital laws, such as with age and mentally handicap restrictions, do wisely factor that into consideration]

    Rather, all I was really saying is that laws in general, such as marital laws, tend not to be mindlessly enacted. There is usually a rational basis for the enactments–typically, public interest, which is often calculated using cost-benefit analysis of various relevant social as well as economic factors

    As one example of many that could have been used, drivers license laws were rationally enacted so as to minimize the number of harmful and fatal accidents. The administrative cost of licensing and the physical and emotional costs of auto accidents, were weighed against the benefits of public safety and transportation.

    Marital laws were enacted, in part, to encourage stable and committed relationship for raising children and to minimize social harms like STD’s and poverty and crime resulting from promiscuity and out-of-wedlock births. The cost of licensing and adjudicating and regulating, and the social cost of unstable families, were weighed against the social benefit of stable families. Makes sense?

    And, by virtue of the rational basis, discrimination unavoidable, though sensibly, occurs. Drivers license laws rationally discriminate based on age and competency. Whereas, marital laws, on the other hand, also discriminate based on age, and in some cases on competency, but also in terms of closeness in blood relation (incest). Makes sense?

    However, regarding same-sex marriage, I pointed out in my blog that advocates of gay marriage had recognized the rational basis for marital laws, and had argued that, in part, SSM “would encourage stable, longterm committed relationships among homosexual couples, thereby having a positive effect on social health and welfare–just as presumably with legal marriage for heterosexuals.”

    I considered this goal commendable, but went on to note that, “after legalizing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and other states, instead of decreasing certain sex-related social problems as intended (like homosexual promiscuity and infidelity and intimate/domestic partner violence and suicides and AIDs and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections), the previous downward trends were reversed and saw an increase at an alarming rate for each of these social ills.”

    The point being, instead of same-sex marriage fulfilling the rational basis of marital law as argued and intended, the opposite occurred.

    And, as I go on to point out in other posts on my blog (including the one in which the quote prompting the discussion was found), with the legalization of gay marriage, not only did society not reap the intended social benefit of increased health and welfare, but society has incurred significant social costs, and may very well incur sizable economic costs, without any other discernible benefits to show for it.

    Is that more clear?

    To reiterate, I am not arguing against gay marriage, but instead simply pointing out the unintended negative consequences of legalizing gay marriage.

    • runtu says:

      As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Wade, a lot of the statistics you cited are dubious. Some of the FRC’s stuff, for example, is–how do I put this politely?–dishonest.

    • Zack Tacorin says:


      You claim you are “not arguing against gay marriage,” yet you have put before us your understanding of the “negative consequences of legalizing gay marriage.” To some of us common folk, pointing out only what you perceive to be negative consequences of something seems an awful lot like an argument against that thing. Is that more clear?

      Even if the stats you cite are accurate (Runtu suggests otherwise), you have not demonstrated any causality between gay marriage and these alleged negative consequences. These alleged negative consequences could be a natural variation in societal behavior over a short period of time, so measurements of these behaviors over a large period of time would be helpful. It would also be helpful to understand these behavioral changes in context of the region, nation, and world. For example, if similar changes in behavior occurred in a larger geographical area, even in places where no gay marriage laws changed, then maybe the change you cited has nothing to do with the new laws. It may not be the case, but from what you’ve put forward, your information seems an awful lot like cherry picking.

      The LDS Church still says, “We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally” ( It seems the LDS Church believes there is some cost to interracial marriage generally. I sure hope the appropriate cost/benefit analyses was done before we did away with the anti-miscegenation laws. I mean heaven forbid we do something that costs a lot just because it’s the right thing to do.

      Best regards,

      • Wade Englund says:

        Hi Zack,

        I enjoyed your comments. The reason I say that it isn’t an argument is because I arued for years against gay marriage without any decernable impact. And, I have resigned myself to the prospect that gay marriage will likely spread nation wide. So, there isn’t much point in me arguing it further. Instead, I am simply noting the consequence of that liberal trend, along with numerous other leftist unintended negative consequence, with the intent of leaving the reader to decide whether liberalism in general is the best approach in directing our future. If people draw the conclusion that same-sex marriage was one of the more assinine legal actions in American history, and that liberalism is horrible for the country, then I am okay with that, though I won’t hold my breath. I fully expect that the best I will get from my liberal readers is a chorus of scoffs–and I am okay with that as well.

        You are right that I haven’t necesarily established a causal link, nor was that my intent. And, I agree that there may be a variety of factors contributing to the rise in homosexual social ills. In fact, I admit as much several times in my posts and even point out several plausible explanations. What I had hoped to do, beyond what I stated in the previous paragraph, was to raise public consciousness about the disturbing escalating problem, and encouraage further investigation, figuring that in the end we will find that there is more than mere coincidence between the increase in homosexual acceptance/legalization of gay marriiage and the rise in homosexual social problems.

        Since the Church’s statement on inter-racial marriage isn’t relevant to what I posted, I won’t addrfess that part of your comment.

      • runtu says:

        Wade, my problem with your posts from the beginning has been that you aren’t showing a disturbing, escalating problem. Your statistics don’t show that, and you are citing people whose “remedies” have been shown repeatedly in actual data to increase the problems you say you want to avoid. This is not meant to be a personal criticism but my honest opinion about your use of data, which I have shown repeatedly to be misapplied. Why they have been misapplied and by whom is less important than how they have been misapplied.

        Even if they hadn’t been misapplied, I don’t see them as being used to solve any problems, but rather they are there to make a point, which is, again, why same-sex marriage is a bad idea. Statistics don’t exist in a vacuum, and to really help, we have to understand the causes and possible solutions to the social ills. For example, one study you cited explained quite well why the statistics look the way they do. When I mentioned those reasons and suggested that the data make sense in light of them, you explicitly said you weren’t interested in the reasons “why.” To me, Wade, that sounds like you’re trying to make a point instead of suggest ways to improve people’s lives and avoid social problems among gay teens and couples.

        So, I have to agree with Zack: your approach, although not explicitly against gay marriage, is quite clearly meant to argue against gay marriage. If it weren’t, there would be no reason to point out the “unintended negative consequences” and then, when the data are shown to be wrong, say that you meant something else, even though that something else isn’t materially different from the original claim.

        But I’ll admit one thing, Wade: I am not an expert in statistics, so I may well be wrong that Dr. Schumm’s criticism of the Hatzenbuehler study isn’t particularly compelling. My son-in-law does statistics for a living. I can ask him.

      • Wade Englund says:

        Hi Runtu. As I said to Zack, I am leaving it to the reader to decide for themselves whether the sources back up my statistics, and whether the statistic suggests a disturbing trend or not. To you, they don’t. To me, they do. I suspect that liberals will likely agree with you, and conservatives will likely agree with me. And, I am okay with that To each their own.

      • runtu says:

        I’m pretty conservative, Wade, just so you know. (Heck, I voted for Romney, which I’m sure some of my friends would find appalling.) Apparently, to you, I must be a liberal if I believe that restricting marriage to heterosexuals violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution and has contributed to negative outcomes for gay men and women. And as a conservative, I find it chilling that the government would restrict a person’s ability to enter into a legal contract based on the person’s gender.

        But it’s silly to say that your statistics are convincing to conservatives and not to liberals. You made certain claims, and you cited statistics that you believed supported your claims. You’ve had ample opportunity to support your claims with actual data and have not done so. You’ve been shown repeatedly how your sources misused the data they had. Heck, I’ve even explained clearly what data you would need to support your claims, and you haven’t been able to provide it. In short, when shown that your sources don’t actually support your claims, you tell me it’s just my “liberal” bias preventing me from reading the data properly. That is no answer, Wade.

        Let me give you an analogy. I oppose a single-payer, nationalized health insurance program for various reasons. That said, I acknowledge that healthcare outcomes are in several areas better in Canada and in Western European countries, where they have national health services, than they are in the United States. That is a fact backed by solid data. Does this mean that my other objections to national health insurance are wrong? No, but it does mean that nationalized health care can provide good outcomes in certain areas.

        See how that works? Acknowledging what the data shows does not require us to change our positions on issues. It just means we cannot support our position with data that doesn’t actually support our position.

      • Wade Englund says:

        HI Runtu.

        I trust that you realize that people can be generally conservative, but liberal on a particular issue, and that you self-identifying as a conservative doesn’t mean that liberals wont be more likely than conservatives to agree with your position on this particular issue.

        The point being, those who disagree with me on legalizing SSM, will be less likely to agree with me about the LUNCs resulting from SSM than those who do agree with me. This doesn’t seem to me to be all that controversial a statement, but I can respect if you disagree with that as well.

        That having been acknowledged, you are entitled to your opinion that I haven’t supported my claims with data. And, whether conservative may or may not share that same opinion, in point of fact I don’t. I believe I have provided more than ample data to INFORMALLY make my point. Again, I am happy to leave the readers to decide for themselves. To each their own.

        And, without wishing to argue (on constitutional grounds or otherwise) whether SSM should be legalized, given your interest in assuring that the data supports the facts, and in regards to your hypothesis that the admitted rise in certain homosexual social ills, and suicide in particular, is due to exceptional local increases in adverse attitudes towards homosexuals and homosexuality, and this against the general rule towards favorable attitudes, then to substantiate this hypothesis would require not only demonstrating, in statistically significant ways, that the social ills (including suicide), were clustering in the exceptional local areas, but that the increase in dis-favorable attitudes in those exceptional locales was sufficient to off-set the general increase in favorable attitudes. I look forward to your rigorous explication of the data in support thereof. For my part, I would be satisfied with an INFORMAL approach (whether I agree with your findings or not), but I respect that you may have different expectations.

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