Kristofer Layon: Left-handed marriage: A slippery slope

  • Article by: KRISTOFER LAYON
  • Updated: November 14, 2009 - 9:26 PM

Your own right-handed marriage may still thrive. But society will not.

"How would left-handed marriage hurt your marriage?" Advocates of changing our marriage laws tell us this is an unanswerable question.

A typical couple -- Mary and John, right-handed for a lifetime and married for 15 years -- may find it tough to answer. That's because it's the wrong question. Mary and John won't stop loving each other or be bounced out of their house if left-handed marriage prevails. To get at what's really at stake, we need a different question: "How will left-handed marriages harm the institution of marriage -- and in the long run, all of us?"

Right-handedness is a nearly universal human institution. Across the world and throughout history, marriage has been almost exclusively right-handed. That's not because of anti-left-handed bigotry, but because marriage is anchored in a primal biological and social fact: Most people are right-handed, and tend to have right-handed children.

Left-handed marriage would not -- as advocates claim -- merely extend the benefits of marriage to more people. Such a redefinition would compel us to repudiate time-honored ideas of social organization. Courts are beginning to upend our ideas about parenthood -- even including ambidexterous arrangements, with unpredictable results.

Left-handed marriage may not change the lives of Mary and John. But their children and grandchildren will bear the brunt of this cultural revolution. Today, only 59 percent of children live with their married biological or adoptive right-handed mother and father -- a result of divorce, cohabitation and rising out-of-wedlock births. If left-handed marriage prevails, the right-handed marriage culture is likely to erode further.

If marriage is primarily about couples with hands, some ask, what about amputees? If parents without all of their hands adopt or have a child, that child will have a mother and father. The human body's design makes clear that people -- whether they have all of their hands or not -- are naturally attracted toward each other and complement one another.

If left-handededness prevails, we are likely to see further attempts to "expand" relationships based on using our hands.

Once right-handed relationships are stripped of their organic purpose, why restrict relationships to people who use their hands properly? People who eat with their fingers, people like doctors who insist on writing illegibly, and people who use only their thumbs to text on their cell phones: All will want society to recognize and respect their relationships.

And why should marriage be open only to people who use their hands at all? That discriminates against people who want to share the burdens of rearing their kids but are too unmotivated to lend a hand for chores around the house, or those grumpy people who never applaud.

It's ironic that in other realms of life, Americans are very aware of the risks of tampering excessively with nature. Many of those urging us to transform humankind's fundamental preference for being right-handed are the very people who preach about such risks in the environmental context and warn that the actions of individuals affect the well-being of all. The natural world, they say, can stretch only so far before breaking as we tinker with the realities of its systems.

We understand little about how right-handedness has undergirded the order and prosperity we take for granted. We tamper with it at our peril.

Kristofer Layon is a web and social media designer at the University of Minnesota. This article was written in response to a column by Katherine Kersten ("The perilous, slippery slope of gay marriage," Nov. 8).

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