Posted by: The Amoeba | April 12, 2009

Of Amoeba’s Rule And Love In The Time Of Civil Unions

In this season of rebirth and renewal …

Well, except for those of you in the southern hemisphere, where spring was six months ago …

Or those of you in the tropics, where “spring” is whenever the rainy season shows up, could be November for all I know …

Where was I? Oh. Yeah. In this season of rebirth and renewal (for some of you, anyway), a mind is likely to turn to thoughts of love. Maybe even partnership of the “I do” persuasion. Which is fine. Assuming that the object of your affections is agreeable.

Along with the laws of your government. And here in these Untied States, the governments of We the People have plenty to say about whether the object of your affections can legally be agreeable. Especially if that object has (ahem) the same haircut that you do.

If you’ve been following the news about efforts to legalize nontraditional marriage arrangements (gay marriage, plural marriage, etc. etc.), you know that this is a neverending squabble that gives the evolution-creation “debate” a run for its money. And each side claims that it is the moral one. One argues that granting nontraditional marriages is immoral, because Scripture bans them. The other argues that not granting nontraditional marriages is immoral, because the consequences of banning them (promiscuity and other risky behaviors) are worse.

I promised Doug Pascover that I would write on this topic in a way that illustrates Amoeba’s Rule:

If an argument goes on forever, it’s because the participants are arguing over the wrong thing.

So, wise guy blob, if the argument’s not really over the morals of marriage, what is it about? I think it’s … wait for it …


Specifically, the money that comes from tax and other benefits granted to married couples.

And why do these benefits exist? Because, in the world in which they were created, marriage was a contract between two people, one male, one female, one of whom (usually the woman) would leave the ranks of money-makers in order to raise children. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, is an expensive proposition – and that’s after just the first visit to the obstetrician’s office. Think about this a minute. You have two young people, both of whom are at the beginning of their working lives, and hence are making dirt masquerading as wages. Then you give them a full-time job baby and take away one of the wages. Who ordained this arrangement, and what were they thinking?

For these people, significant marriage benefits make sense. Hell, it’s the least a society with any sense of society can do. Everyone else? Nice try, Max. Point your accountant somewhere else for your tax breaks.

So, as far as this Amoeba is concerned, the franchise of marriage should be available to anyone who wishes it. It does serve a critical social function, to promote fidelity among the partners. This, too, has nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with (yes, again) money.

Specifically, money spent on health care, or else. For a pathogenic virus, bacterium, or fungus, sex is the Golden Gate Bridge to new opportunities. Aldous Huxley’s world of free and meaningless sex has zero chance of coming to pass, for the germs would soon wipe it out. If you don’t believe me, I recommend a trip to AIDS-ravaged Africa. Cutting that bridge might be seen by some as “social engineering” or “legislating morality”, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than dealing with pandemics of incurable diseases. Which is how come so many of the Laws of Moses prescribe death as the punishment for unsafe sex. Better two than the whole tribe.

I might therefore accept a modest marriage benefit for childless partnerships, to recognize their contribution to public health. But any significant money goes to partnerships where there are children, and a demonstrated sacrifice of wages that is directly linked to the care of the children.

To me, a system of open marriage availability but restriction of (most) marriage benefits to partnerships with children (as they were originally intended to be) addresses the real issues underlying the debate in as fair and reasonable a manner as I can imagine.

And, I reckon, a sun king just might be able to enact it.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.



  1. Here’s a post I ran into a while back (and to be honest, there’s a chance I ran into it via a link from YOUR blog). It touches on some of the same issues as this post.

    Throughout my marriage, my husband nagged at me to get a full-time job outside of the home. I answered, “I have a full-time job. I have several full-time jobs. But when I am making barely over minimum wage because I never finished my degree and have been out of the workforce for years, who do you think will be the one that must take off work to pick them up when they get sick? My time is not “worth” as much, therefore it will always be me, and I won’t have a job for very long. Who is in charge of getting up early to get them ready for school? There are too many reasons why I shouldn’t.” After our split, when we divided up the finances, I got exactly the support and motivation I needed for all those years, just not in a way that I anticipated.

    • Lisa, I didn’t link directly to this post, but I did reference Adam Smith on more than one occasion, and a websearch or a “Possibly related post” link generated by WordPress may have led you to it. I’ve also been convinced that technology is the reason why we live in a world with (in some places, anyway) expanded life options for women. I think, however, that previous two-income household models presupposed the existence of full-time caregivers (relatives, governesses) for any children present – an aspect somehow forgotten in the recent two-income nuclear family paradigm, except for the perennial complaints about how expensive child-care centers are. I wonder what would happen if society were to train us (with appropriate carrots and sticks) to treat child-rearing as a capital investment rather than as a “right”.

  2. Hard to say. I’d love to say that it would be amazing, because it would allow us to focus on doing what is actually best for the child. But if that becomes the primary focus of child-rearing, then you run into a huge problem with kids who have talents that aren’t easy to assess. What about kids like my daughter. She’d be tremendously skilled as either an artist or a public servant because she’s very creative and good with people. But those aren’t skills that are likely to bring great wealth. And as a scientist who’s written about it consistently, I’m sure you know how it’s easy to write off careers that are necessary and important without being lucrative. Those who are not gifted in whatever careers are considered successful will be relegated to a second-class status.

    It’s an interesting idea, but more factors need to play into it. I don’t feel it can be boiled down to simply one thing that will solve all the child-rearing woes.

  3. I could also cite the case of Charles Darwin, who failed at all the “capital investment” jobs (physician, clergyman, etc.) that would have satisfied his father, and became merely the world’s most famous biologist.

    You are correct, there is no “one size fits all”. And I didn’t pursue my idea as far as to specify the nature of the return expected on the investment – though there are plenty of families and cultures in today’s world that do precisely that (“doctor or lawyer or you’ve failed us, young man”). However, I’m inclined to support any notion that impels people to do a hard-number “can we afford this” calculation, as opposed to the uncalculated baby-producing that happens, I think, too often.

  4. Of course it’s uncalculated. Nobody would ever reproduce again if they had to wait until they could afford it! 🙂

  5. Lisa — you have just discovered OC’s segue into the next phase of this lecture discussion — another benefit to monetary qualifications for parenthood is that it has the quick and effective side-effect of reducing over-population.

  6. Not everybody, Lisa … but (since Quilly’s already raised the point) perhaps somewhat fewer.

    It might be effective, Q, but it wouldn’t be quick. “Quick” is China deciding what to do with 38 million more men than women. Probably hand them all guns and send them to the borders …

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