Cover Story

The Nordic track

COVER STORY: State approval of homosexual marriage in Scandinavia contributed to the virtual disappearance of real marriage

Issue: "Remaking the family," March 6, 2004

No matter what happens in the homosexual-marriage/civil-union controversies, marriage as an institution isn't going away, is it?

Yes, it is. Marriage has already all but disappeared in Scandinavia. Other Europeans are heading down that Nordic track. And, if gay marriage is legalized, so will we.

That is the conclusion of Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, whose article "The End of Marriage in Scandinavia" was published in The Weekly Standard.

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Sweden was the first country in Europe to legalize homosexual unions in 1989, and Denmark and Norway followed soon thereafter. Today, a majority of children in those countries are born out of wedlock. Although some older couples are getting married after having more than one child, younger couples are dispensing with marriage altogether. Southern Seminary president Al Mohler reports that in Sweden, the few young couples who do get married often do not like to admit it, since what they have done is so far out of the norm that they feel embarrassed.

Couples just live together for awhile. If the woman has a baby, the father-unlike in the United States-will typically stay around until the baby reaches a certain age. Until recently, if they had a second child together, they would typically get married, but this has changed for the new generation. Once the children are grown, the parents typically go their separate ways.

What role has gay marriage played in the disappearance of marriage in Scandinavia? "Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated," says Mr. Kurtz, "and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable."

More direct causes Mr. Kurtz cites include the Scandinavian welfare state, which means that the family unit is no longer necessary for economic support. Plus, to support that welfare state, taxes are so high that both parents have to work. A vast state day-care system has taken over many of the child-care duties that once were the job of families. Also, the universities are even more radical than they are in the United States, with socialists, feminists, and other social revolutionaries-including those who denounce marriage as being intrinsically oppressive-having a huge influence in public policy.

Homosexual marriage has contributed to the dissolution of marriage as a significant institution in Scandinavian culture primarily by contributing to the notion that marriage need have nothing to do with having children.

Most instructive for Americans is what happened with Norway, traditionally the most conservative of the Scandinavian states. Sweden and Denmark have always been far more liberal, and in those nations the public wanted gay marriage. In Norway, though, the general public had gay marriage foisted upon it from above, by elite judges and lawmakers. The state Lutheran church opposed not only gay marriage but the growing trend of cohabitation and having children out of wedlock. The church also fought an internal battle over the ordination of those in homosexual unions.

The media covered the church's debates over these issues, taking every opportunity to attack and ridicule Christian teachings about sexuality and marriage. As a result, the church's traditionally strong influence on Norwegian society declined. When the dust settled, the liberal pro-gay and cohabitation theologians, who were once in a minority, took over the leadership of the church.

Another important finding about the Scandinavian experience with what Mr. Kurtz describes as "de facto" gay marriage-actually, they are "civil unions"-is how few homosexuals actually enter into them. A study published by Yale's William Eskridge in 2000 showed that after nine years, only 2,372 homosexual couples took advantage of the Danish law allowing gay unions. After four years, only 749 gay Swedes and only 674 gay Norwegians bothered to "get married."

Today's gay activists in Scandinavia, having gotten everything they wanted, now admit that their case for homosexual marriage-particularly that allowing gays to marry will encourage a monogamous lifestyle-was only a tactical argument. The goal, says Mr. Kurtz, citing two prominent gay thinkers, "was not marriage but social approval for homosexuality."

They achieved that goal, but now there is little social approval for marriage.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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