Daily Archives: November 28, 2005

Same-sex marriage in the Netherlands: parsing the stats

On Friday, Andrew Sullivan posted this brief item on his blog:

There’s a big jump in the number of same-sex married couples in Holland, as the reform begins to change gay culture and social expectations.

Here’s what the linked article, at the Dutch English-language website Expatica, actually says:

The number of gay couples in the Netherlands has risen sharply in recent years.

There were 53,000 gay and lesbian couples living together in the Netherlands at the beginning of 2005, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Ten years ago there were less than 39,000 gay or lesbian cohabiting couples.

Almost a quarter of the gay or lesbian couples are married or in a registered partnership. Of these, 12 percent are married and 10 percent are in a registered partnership.

The CBS said there are 29,000 all-male couples and 24,000 lesbian couples. Despite the significant increase in the number of gay and lesbian couples, the group is equal to just over 1 percent of the total number of cohabiting couples in the Netherlands.

Clearly the article talks about all same-sex couples living toether, not just married ones.

It’s hard to tell what the rise in same-sex couples in the Dutch census really represents. It could be, in part, due to the fact that more same-sex couples are identifying themselves as such to the census-takers. A change in gay culture — a shift toward “settling down” — has undoubtedly taken place as well, just as it has in the United States. But it’s hard to make the case that legalized same-sex marriage has a lot to do with this, considering that only 12% of same-sex couples living together in the Netherlands are married.

As this CBS statistical table shows, same-sex marriages peaked in 2001 when they were first legalized; that year, there were 1,339 male-male marriage and 1,035 female-female ones. (Male-female marriages that year numbered 79,677.) The figures have dropped in every subsequent year, to 579 male-male marriages and 631 female-female marriages in 2004. In the same year, there were 261 civil partnerships registered between two men, and 322 between two women; these figures have held relatively steady over the past four years. (Registered partnerhips first became available in 1998.)

In 1996, Jonathan Rauch wrote that if same-sex marriage is to succeed, it must become the general norm in the gay community, not just another lifestyle option. At least so far, that does not seem to be happening in Holland.

Also in the past 10 years, the overall marriage rate has dropped, from 5.4 per 1,000 inhabitants in 1994 to 4.5 per 1,000 in 2004. More heterosexual men and women are entering into civil partnerships — which are much more easily dissolved — instead of marriage; in 2004, about 7% of new male-female legal unions were civil partnerships. This does not prove, as Stanley Kurtz has argued, that same-sex marriage undermines heterosexual marriage; the drop in marriage rates is undoubtedly due to many complex factors. However, one can plausibly argue that the changing attitudes toward marriage that make same-sex marriage possible may also be related to overall lower marriage rates. (Whether that’s a bad thing is another matter.) And the Dutch experience does seem to refute Rauch’s argument that legalizing same-sex marriage will improve the status of marriage in the larger society.

Why am I pointing this out? Because, while I fully support legal rights for same-sex partners, I think both sides in the marriage debate have been prone to unwarranted and exaggerated claims about the social impact of same-sex marriage. The legalization of same-sex marriage has not, as some have claimed, led to polygamy in the Netherlands. But at least so far, it has not created a “marriage culture” among gays and has not boosted marriage among heterosexuals. As we continue our own discussion of same-sex marriage, we need to have all the facts on the table.

(By the way, my best wishes to Andrew in his recovery from the flu.)


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Retribution, morality, and the soul

One of my favorite left-of-center bloggers, Mark Kleiman, has an excellent post on one of my favorite topics: the value of retribution as an aspect of punishment, and the fact that “retribution not be dismissed as somehow “primitive” and unworthy of serious consideration.” The occasion is the arrest of 90-year-old former dictator Augusto Pinochet on tax fraud charges. Writes Kleiman:

Note, however, that if putting Pinochet away is justified, it must be on some basis other than deterrence or incapacitation. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the place of retribution as a legitimate goal of criminal justice policy. Making what remains of Pinochet’s life as miserable as possible is something owed to his victims. It proclaims that what he did was wrong, that the victims did not deserve their victimization, and that they were important enough to be worth revenging.

Why should it be so hard to see that, and to apply it to more ordinary cases?

(Kleiman then corrects himself to note that he mant “miserable to the appropriate extent.”)

Kleiman’s co-blogger Steven Teles agrees.

One common argument against the death penalty is that it represents “state-sanctioned retribution.” I think there are other good arguments against the death penalty — most important, the danger of executing an innocent man. But retribution is present in other forms of punishment as well. As I wrote in a column earlier this year:

Former Nazi concentration camp guards and other war criminals leading ordinary lives in our midst arguably pose no threat; yet we still want them brought to justice. Conservative defenders of the death penalty, such as political scholar Walter Berns, have a point when they argue that one goal of punishment is to restore the moral balance violated by the crime.

One liberal dissenter from the standard antiretribution rhetoric is writer Susan Jacoby, whose thought-provoking 1983 book, “Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge,” remains relevant today. Jacoby argues that while the death penalty is beneath a civilized society, retribution the desire to make offenders “pay” for their crimes, to express our moral outrage at their acts is an important purpose of the justice system. The death penalty is not the only way, and perhaps not even the best way, to achieve this goal.

Jacoby treats revenge and retribution as synonymous, but there is a subtle difference. Vengeance is primarily concerned with the avenger’s grievance: It may target a wrongdoer’s loved ones, or a person who has caused an accidental death but is faultless or at worst negligent.

Retribution, on the other hand, addresses moral culpability (one reason the execution of people with diminished mental capacity is generally seen as especially barbaric).

See also this 2001 Reason column on issues of revenge, retribution, and morality.

Of course, one issue that often comes up in discussions of retribution is to what extent the person is responsible for his or her actions, particularly in light of discoveries in neuroscience. In June, the American Enterprise Institute had a fascinating conference on this topic, which I wrote up in another Reason column. One of the speakers, Princeton philosopher and neuroscientist Joshua Greene, proposed focusing on deterrence only and giving up on the idea that punishment is not only effective but morally just:

“What we’re saying,” he said, “is no one’s really guilty in their souls because, secret: No one has a soul.”

Greene also wryly noted that Americans aren’t ready for this idea yet. No kidding. In fact, both Greene and keynote speaker Stephen Pinker acknowledged that the idea of punishment as “just deserts” and a restoration of moral balance may be inherent in human nature — which means that a legal system that does not satisfy this need may never command enough respect to be effective. Greene noted that in a host of studies, people evaluating hypothetical crimes assess punishment based on their notions of just deserts, not deterrence.

Greene was strongly challenged by Stephen Morse, a professor of law and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Even while declaring himself a thoroughgoing materialist, Morse insisted that “responsibility is about persons, not brains” (precisely the kind of distinction Greene had earlier mocked as dualistic) and defended the old-fashioned approach to justice. “We give people what they deserve,” he said, “not because it produces good consequences, but because it’s right.” … That there is no immaterial soul, he argued, doesn’t mean that “we are not the kind of creatures we think we are—conscious, rational, intentional beings”; science or no science, the physicalist model must be resisted for the sake of human dignity and “the good life we can live together.”

I’m with Morse (and with Kleiman). Far from being primitive, barbaric, or degrading, the belief in retribution is, in fact, inextricably linked to our belief in human dignity and agency.


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Darwin and religion

Ever since I wrote in my Boston Globe column, “Fact and Fiction on Evolution,” that (contrary to assertions that Darwinism is a vehicle for atheism and materialism) Charles Darwin himself was a Christian, a number of people have written to me to point out that while Darwin started out as a Christian and even trained to be a clergyman, his faith eventually waned and he was an agnostic by the end of his life. One correspondent wrote to me:

On Darwin being a Christian, see the PBS site where James Moore (Darwin’s biographer) talks about the slow death of Darwin’s faith. Darwin clearly had “issues” with the Christian God and worked them out via his theory.

What the page says is that in his later years, Darwin struggled with issues of religious faith. To some extent, this had to with the fact that his theory of natural selection refuted the view, popular among the Christian naturalists of his time, that the complex and sophisticated structure of creation showed that “divine design” had to be at work. But in fact, when Darwin set out on his famous voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, he was himself a believer in “divine design”; he had even studied with one of that theory’s leading proponents, the Rev. Adam Sedgwick (a geologist), in preparation for his trip. His observations on the trip caused him to question and ultimately reject “divine design,” but he remained a strong proponent of Orthodox Christian morality. The real crisis of faith that turned Darwin away from Christianity was caused by the death of his 10-year-old daughter Annie in 1851. (This article in Newsweek also offers some interesting information on Darwin’s scientific and religious beliefs.)

My statement that “Darwin was a Christian” oversimplified the complex reality of Darwin’s views, and should have been more nuanced. However, the notion that Darwin developed his ‘theory of natural selection as a way to “work out his issues with God” is preposterous, if only because he developed his theory more than a decade before he developed his “issues.” It also says a great deal about the mindset of ID proponents, who treats scientific inquiry as essentially driven by ideology.

Incidentally, that is what makes ID a fundamentally non-scientific enterprise: not that it is driven by religion, but that it is driven by ideology. That is, its proponents question evolutionary theory not because they are dissatisfied with the scientific/factual evidence for it, but because they don’t like its conclusions. To be sure, they look for and claim to find scientific and factual holes in the theory, but the main (or only) reason they start looking is that they don’t want it to be true. It makes no difference whether a critique of Darwinian theory is motivated by defense of religion or, say, by concern that biological Darwinism easily lends itself to apologetics for social inequality. In both cases, the motivation is ideological, not scientific.

Are there people who champion Darwinian evolution because they dislike Christianity and religion in general? Yes, I’m sure there are. But there is simply no evidence that most scientists or most supproters of science are so motivated, and there are plenty who consider themselves religious.

More: See also this post for a funny, yet insightful, 1872 poem (originally in Russian, translated into English by yours truly) on the conflict — or lack thereof — between Darwinian theory and religion.


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