The Subprime Marriage Crisis – An Analogy Between Same-Sex Marriage and the Credit Crisis

In this post I intend to draw a controversial analogy between the subprime mortgage and credit crisis and the resulting economic upheaval and the potential societal upheaval that could result from the redefinition of marriage.

To set things up, let me share my personal experience with the economic crisis.


In January 2009 I found myself sitting in a conference room of the company I had worked for during the last four years listening to the chairman of the board of directors explain that the company was running out of money and that they were replacing the company founder and president with a new, hand-picked CEO.

Only six months earlier the company had been on top of the world: honored with prestigious awards and accolades and a three-year sales growth of 620 percent.

As if the mood wasn’t somber enough, the chairman then went on to explain that the economy was in a very bad way, and that it wasn’t just a cyclical recession, but it was going to be a depression.  He expected that many, many companies would fail but that those companies that survived the depression would be wildly successful afterward.

Now, from any board chairman this kind of talk would be alarming, but from our chairman, Mark H. Willes, it was downright horrifying.  You see, Willes had been president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1977 to 1980.  He had been President and CEO of of General Mills, Inc., President and CEO of The Times Mirror Company, director of Black and Decker, and a somewhat controversial publisher of the L.A. Times.

In other words, he was very, very well connected to insiders across a large number of industries. He had been involved with recessions from various angles for nearly four decades.  He said that neither he nor his associates had never seen anything like what was happening in the economy in their lives.

Within a month or two of our meeting, Mark was named as the new President and CEO of the Deseret Management Corporation by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Deseret Management Corporation oversees all of the church’s for-profit commercial enterprises.

Within three months of the depressing company meeting with Willes, my award winning company had dwindled from layoffs and resignations.  I was fortunate to find employment with a more stable company.

Now, experts will certainly argue with Willes about whether the current economic crisis actually constitutes a depression.  In fact, a good number believe that the economy is already well on its way to recovery from a severe recession. Others disagree and are predicting that the supposed recovery is superficial and will not last.

I have no idea who is right.  Though, as I watch increasing numbers of friends lose their jobs, I am not very optimistic.  But regardless of whether this is an actual depression, everyone seems to agree that it is among the worst economic crises we’ve had in a very long time.

The Causes of the Economic Crisis

In order to draw my analogy, it is important to first look at how this economic crisis came about.  As usual, even experts disagree about some of the roots of the crisis, and like the Great Depression, I am sure that they will be arguing about them for decades to come.  However, most of the explanations I have seen point to the Housing Market Bubble , Subprime Mortgages and Mortgage Backed Securities as the crux of the crisis.

Perhaps the most layman-accessible explanation I have seen is an 12 minute video entitled “The Crisis of Credit Visualized” by Jonathan Jarvis.

I encourage you to watch the video.

Now, one thing that I should point out is that the video puts the blame for subprime mortgages squarely on the lenders and investors without mentioning that government programs intended to promote home ownership among lower income, minority families as a form of social engineering created artificial incentives for lenders to lend to subprime applicants.

It also neglects the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act passed by the Republican controlled 106th Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1999 which repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which had prohibited individual institutions from acting as both an investment bank and commercial bank, or as both a bank and an insurer; prohibitions that had been enacted specifically to prevent the kind of circumstance they believed led to the Great Depression.

The key point here is that the the credit crisis was incubating for a long time before it actually hit.  Laws and policies enacted nearly a decade ago, if not more, did not bear fruit until this last year.

A decade ago  I was newly married and worried more about school, work, and family problems than obscure shifts in banking law and social initiatives being made by the Clinton administration and my Republican representatives in Congress.  I would have never believed that the bad subprime lending practices of lenders and the greed of investment bankers far away from my simple, honest attempt to make a living could damage my own job and threaten the value of my home.

And that is why the subprime credit crisis provides a good analogy for the potential dangers of redefining marriage.

An Analogy

Over and over again I hear supporters of same-sex marriage ask derisively how a same-sex marriage could possibly destroy anyone else’s marriage.  More recently they point to Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal since May 2004, and declare triumphantly that the societal meltdown prophesied by opponents has not materialized.

But as the subprime mortgage crisis demonstrates, in complex systems seemingly small policy changes, and millions of individual decisions, can over a longer time-scale cause disastrous results for even those who were not involved in the bad decisions, even if things look peachy in the interim.  Five years ago we might have asked derisivly “How can my neighbor’s subprime mortgage hurt my mortagage?”  And now we know how.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples is analogous to redefining lending guidelines to offer mortgages to applicants who under previous definitions would not qualify.  We are creating subprime marriages.

The motivation for changing the definition is also similar.  Home ownership is a stabilizing institution.  Government programs sought to lower the standards for mortgage qualifications in order to encourage the stabilizing influence of home ownership among lower-income families and minorities.  Plus everyone wants the benefits of home ownership, and the government and businesses wanted the increased revenue by lending and taxing people who were previously not eligible.

But by lowering the standards they set up a system that in the long term destabilized the entire housing market.

Likewise, marriage is a stabilizing institution.  Some same-sex marriage proponents argue that by allowing homosexuals to marry they will stabilize relationships that are at the present notoriously unstable.  They want the benefits of marriage. Who doesn’t?  But just like home ownership, but even more so, marriage is a long term investment.  It is an investment in the next generation of citizens consisting of the children raised by marriages, and by proxy an investment in society.  By redefining marriage, we potentially destabilize the entire system in the long term, even if things look peachy in the interim.

Of course, same-sex marriage is only one type of subprime marriage.  For decades now we have been investing in other forms of subprime marriages as we grow increasingly tollerant of pornography, infidelity, abuse, and divorce.  In many ways same-sex marriage is as much a result of these existing subprime marriages.

To look at five years of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and declare triumphantly that there are no deleterious consequences is like declaring in 2005, at the height of the housing bubble, that extending homeownership to people who were previously inelligibe and breaking down the barriers to banking, the whole country has benefitted across the board.  It’s short term thinking.

The possible effects of subprime marriage may not be felt for decades, or even two or three generations.

While I empathize a great deal with same-sex couples and their desire to redefine marriage and claim its benefits, like subprime mortgages, in the long run investing in subprime marriage is a bad investment with the potential to be amplified through the complexity of society with disasterous long-term results that affect everyone.

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6 Responses to The Subprime Marriage Crisis – An Analogy Between Same-Sex Marriage and the Credit Crisis

  1. An interesting analogy, Jon.

    On another note, I am pleased that you were able to find more stable employment.

  2. I have to give you points for cleverness in your late analogy to demonize same sex marriage. However the analogy fails on many levels. The biggest issue is that you fail to show an outcome in the effect same sex marriage would have on our civilization. You postulate at best that something terrible will happen and we just don’t know, just the same way we supposedly didn’t know the effect subprime mortgages would have had on our economy 10 years down the road. It is unfortunately not true. The reality is the subprime crisis was predicted as early as 1999 in the New York Times by Steven Holmes with the precise outcome that if this “thrift” mortgage business would fail, the government would have to step up and bail out the banks. By 2004 there were several predictions from diverse economists and financial gurus (Chris Wood, George Magnus, Ron Paul…) warning us of a monumental recession – a precise outcome.

    You also imply that there has not been enough time for us to see the effect of gay marriage considering that it’s only been 5 years in Massachussets and it would take several generations to see the repercussions. Well I have news for you, Denmark has had civil union (with full rights) since 1989 and France since 1999 (full rights).
    So we are talking two decades in Denmark and one decade in France with absolutely no dire societal changes. It did not create more gays and straight folks are still procreating at a normal rate.

    You say of heterosexual marriage: “It is an investment in the next generation of citizens consisting of the children raised by marriages, and by proxy an investment in society.”

    Are we to understand then that heterosexual couples who marry with no intention nor desire of procreating are menaces to society? Should we also strip these people from their rights to get married then?

    Thus being said there are many gay/lesbian couples who have and raise wonderful children for the future of our society. You can debate all you want on the righteousness of that kind of parenting but then I don’t think Mormons should throw the first stone. Are you aware that Utah is the online Porn capital of America? Really? What’s the problem there?
    Oh and as an aside are you also aware that: More Utahns take Prozac-style drugs than in any other state, according to a study conducted in June of 2001 by Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management firm. The Beehive State is included in the region with the highest suicide rate in the nation. Source: Daily Universe / BYU NewsNet
    (It seems to me that the Church has bigger fish to fry at home than gay marriage outside)
    You took time to explain the financial crisis and did a very good job as a matter of fact. So humor me for a minute and let me explain the origin of the word marriage which brings up so much contention. Marriage, the word itself doesn’t come from the Hebrew, nor the Arameic and not even the Greek language. It is a French word (mariage) derived from a latin root “mas”, “maris” which means male. The verb “maritare” appears during the Roman empire. It is a legal term used to describe the passage of property/authority from the father to the husband. Nothing romantic or religious there. At any rate, the word “marriage” appears in the English language with the invasion of William the Conqueror along with a plethora of French words. In the old testament the Hebrew word “laqach” (to take) is used and translated as marriage. In the new testament the greek word “gamos” (wedding celebration, feast) is used and translated as marriage.

    So it would seem that the word marriage in its origin is not biblical, semantically speaking, but a French word derived from a Latin root to describe a legal contract. As an aside it is not until the XIIth century that the Catholic church turns marriage into a sacrament.

    But never mind the semantics and let’s pretend for a minute that marriage is a Judeo-Christian covenant, a religious sacrament. What are Buddhists, Indus, Muslims, atheists and other non Judeo-Christian couples to do when it comes to legalize their union in this country? Seriously Christians should be revolted that they would dare using the word marriage, such a lovely Judeo-Christian institution. I would like to also point out that in Mormonism “civil” marriages performed outside of the temple are null and void in the eyes of God as only Temple marriages are valid.
    And truly if the word marriage then represents a religious practice, should we not remove the term all together from civil legal documents , after all the constitution requires the separation of church and state.

    Personally I could not care less about the word marriage, all I care about is to have the same protective rights as any other heterosexual couple who willfully commit their lives together. I would be plenty happy with civil union on a federal and state level. Can you empathize with that? But food for thought, if you say your ok with civil union with full rights, you then agree to gay marriage, just with a different name. Hypocritical isn’t it?

    In conclusion, the word “marriage” semantically does not find its origin in a religious practice but was a legal term crafted in France from an original Latin word also used for a legal act.
    There is no evidence to this day, that granting marriage or civil union with full rights to gay people will affect our society nor its population. (Two decades of experience already).
    If we consider marriage to be a religious word then it needs to be removed from federal and state documents as it breeches our constitutional contract of separation of church and state.
    And finally if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was the ultimate example for happiness and righteousness through their gospel model why on earth is Utah the number one consumer of Prozac and Porn and has the highest incidence of suicides than any other states?

  3. Thanks for Sharing your thoughts Jean-luc. All analogies break down at some point, that does not mean that they are not a valuable way of helping people understand complex ideas by comparing them with things that are more familiar. I will try to address your criticisms in the little time I have. I will respond to your points in the order that you made them.

    You say that I fail to show an outcome in the effect same sex marriage would have on our civilization.

    If either side of the debate could convincingly demonstrate what the long-term outcome of institutionalized same-sex marriage would be then the debate would be over very quickly. However, in complex systems it is very difficult to trace cause and effect because they are neither linear nor proportional. A small change can be amplified through coupled feedback loops to have unexpectedly large consequences, and sometime large changes can be dampened through negative feedback and have virtually no long term effects.

    All I can do is look at what we do know, and try to deduce the potential outcome. But I am not postulating in a vacuum, as you imply. We know that changes to the structure of the family very often have long-term negative effects on child development that correlate with increased societal problems. Communities that have fewer traditional father-mother households have greater amounts of crime, poverty, and violence. Many of these effects are not fully manifest for several generations.

    Additionally, new studies in cognitive and brain sciences are demonstrating that brain development is highly affected by socialization. Our familial and social interactions trigger hormones that are also neurotransmitters (Oxitocin in females and Vasopressin in males) that play important roles in the development of neural pathways that affect social recognition, bonding, anxiety, trust, and parental behaviors. We have no idea what affect changing the traditional/biological male-female parental structure will have on developing brains of children. But the very fact that the neurotransmitters that affect the brain’s bonding pathways are different for men and women contradicts the notion that there is no material difference between the two, and that should give us pause when contemplating purposefully contradicting the biological nature of family by redefining marriage.

    As you point out, there were a number of people who predicted the disaster that would result from the subprime mortgage practices. But they were ignored and marginalized. Ron Paul, for instance, is widely considered a fringe conspiracy nut, not a financial guru. And yet, he now appears to have been right on this point. At the time, their predictions were contradicted by other so-called experts. But we only know who was correct in hindsight.

    You point to Denmark and France’s civil unions as examples of 10 and 20 year experiments with gay-marriage that have not had the kinds of results I predict, saying that they have not created more homosexuals and straights are still reproducing at the normal rate.

    But your contention here is a straw-man argument for multiple reasons. First of all, while I do have concerns about civil unions, they do not represent the kind of redefinition of marriage that was attempted in California, which also already had civil unions with full rights. You know well that Same-Sex Marriage is illegal in France. Secondly, I have not argued that same-sex marriage would lead to more homosexuals or less population growth. I am concerned about the affect counter-biological family arrangements will have on child development and also the long term societal effects in terms of crime, violence, poverty, and loss of liberty, including religious liberty.

    You wonder whether I think that heterosexual couples who marry without any desire or intention to bear children are a menace to society and should likewise be stripped of their right to marry. I admit that I think they are making a serious mistake, but I do not think that they should be forbidden marriage. How do I justify this difference? Because there is a fundamental difference between a decidedly childless biological couple and a homosexual couple: the childless couple can accidentally have a child; a homosexual couple can never become accidentally pregnant. Additionally, the childless biological couple still exhibits and develops bonding and parental brain patterns based on the sex-specific neurotransmitters involved in their relationship.

    I am sure that many of the children raised by homosexual couples are wonderful individuals. But that does not mean that there is not good cause to be concerned about the long-term aggregate influence same-sex marriage will have on society.

    I should point out that while I do believe that there are religious reasons for opposing same-sex marriage, this post was not arguing from a religious point of view. Your jabs at the LDS church concerning pornography use and depression drug prescriptions are a form of ad-hominem argument that are irrelevant to the this debate. However, even if they were relevant, your conclusions are not necessarily supported by the statistics you cite. Utah and LDS are not synonymous. LDS and active, faithful LDS are not always the same. 37.5% of the Utah population is not LDS. A number of LDS are also less active. These studies do not show what proportion of their statistics are LDS and additionally what proportion is active, faithful LDS. And they ignore cultural and societal influences that may be influencing the numbers. In the case of the pornography stats, the data came from a single company and was probably not a statistically valid sample. But they make great headlines with which to distract from the real issue don’t they? They are irrelevant to whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed and what the long-term effects of the change will be.

    You larger point about the church seems to be to try to make the church’s stand against same-sex marriage look bigoted. You are saying “If the church were really worried about problems in society, why is it concentrating on the relatively innocuous homosexuals when it could be doing something about the real societal problems, like depression, suicide, abuse and pornography in its own home state?” But your point falls flat. The fact is that the church HAS spent far more resources on these other problems than it has on same-sex marriage. The church sponsors its own 12-step addiction recover program for pornography, drug, alcohol, and other addictions. It has its own social services for family and marriage therapy and counseling. The church’s welfare program alleviates poverty and enables self reliance. To employ your own words, the church has many big fish to fry, and it is doing an admirable job of frying them all. The church is very concerned about infidelity and divorce, as well as same-sex marriage. The church’s opposition to same-sex marriage is part of a tapestry of concern over the break-down of the traditional family. The church spends considerable resources on all of these things. It is consistent and balanced.

    Your etymological foray into the Norman-Franco-Latin roots of the word “marriage” is interesting. You seem so intent on demonstrating that it is not either religious or romantic in origin. Again, my post was not a religious argument, nor was it a romantic argument. So your railing against religious/romantic marriage is irrelevant.

    Unfortunately, your etymological argument does more to contradict same-sex marriage than support it. Even if we accept your etymology, What you demonstrate is that marriage was a legal contract, involved in the transfer of property from a father to a husband. But you conspicuously neglected to mention the property being transferred: the daughter. Maritare is actually Latin meaning “to give a husband to.” Maritus means a “married man, husband.” The contract being enacted was ALWAYS to create a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of establishing inheritance and paternity (the blood relationship of children and the implied rights and responsibilities therefor implied). If we expand the linguistic argument further, there has never existed in the history of the world a language in which the words for each of the parents were not gender-specific. There has always been one word for the female parent or mother, and a separate word for the male parent or father. This further demonstrates that male-female marriage is not just deeply ingrained in our biology through neurotransmitters, but that it is deeply buried in our collective linguistic consciousness. You point out that marriage is not etymologically a romantic relationship. And I agree. It is the same-sex-marriage movement that is claiming that their sexual/romantic/emotional/commitment relationship should qualify them for marriage– a position that by your own analysis is ahistorical. It has always been about biological male-female relationship for the purpose of producing children.

    Your idea that the opposition to same-sex marriage is because we wrongly believe that it is a “Judeo-Christian” institution is yet another straw-man argument. You spend a lot of time fighting these scarecrow arguments that are easier than addressing what is actually being said. Judeo-Christian Marriage vs Muslims, Buddhists, etc and LDS civil marriages vs Temple Marriages are really irrelevant to my argument as well. In all of these various marriage traditions, it has always been about procreation between a man and a woman.

    Now, let me return to the argument you have actually made against what I have said here. In your first paragraph you say that I have failed to demonstrate how same-sex marriage will cause the kind of upheaval I predict. That is true. In such a complex system it is hard to demonstrate cause and effect. But bringing this whole essay together here is what I can respond:

    Given that

    1. we know that changes to family structure, such as widespread divorce, have demonstrated long-term generation problems in society,

    and given that

    2. we know that sex-specific neurotransmitters affect brain development in relationship to bonding, parenting, and social interaction that have long term implications for society,

    and given that

    3. across all cultures, marriage has always been a contract between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation and not primarily concerned with emotional or romantic commitment,

    and that

    4. Across all languages, linguistically marriage has always created a male parent and a female parent,

    it falls upon those who wish to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples to demonstrate that going against biology, brain chemistry, cross cultural history, cross language linguistics, and tradition will not have negative social effects that we fear. If you cannot explain why traditional, biological marriage is important to our society then I am certainly not going to let you change it.

    I have demonstrated that the redefinition is unprecedented and has the potential for serious negative consequences, even if I cannot show the specific path. My analogy was to help people understand that potential by draw comparisons to something that they have experienced.

    Now, there is room here for compromise. I do empathize. I mentioned that I have serious concerns about Civil Unions. As you say with candidness that is rare in same-sex marriage supporters, Civil Unions with full rights are just marriage with a different name. in other words, once you get the Civil Unions, it is just a matter of changing terminology.

    I think that the solution is to establish something like civil unions, but without the implications of a romantic/sexual relationship. This is known as the Salt Lake City plan and it has recently been enacted by the state of Colorado. The idea is to establish domestic partnerships between people that grant rights, like hospital visitations, insurance, as well as obligations, like bill collection payment etc, for any two people who are willing to enter into a domestic partnership agreement.

    For instance, two widowed sisters who live together would be able to enter into a domestic partnership that would allow them hospital visitations and the ability to be included on employment insurance as a dependent, as well as other rights and protections. Under this system, homosexual couples would be able to get the kinds of benefits and rights they need, by entering into a domestic partnership just like the widowed sisters, but their homosexuality would be irrelevant.

    Once we remove the sexuality and romantic involvement of the applicants from the equation, I believe few people would oppose such a system because they would no longer fear that it would institutionalize behavior that they believe is bad for society.

    So, Jean-Luc, what do you think of this idea for Sexuality-Agnostic Domestic Partnerships? The Salt lake City Plan. Is that a reasonable compromise? If not, why not?

  4. Facebook User

    Jon – thank you for your well-written post above. Thank you also for the follow up comment. You boiled it down further into something that is so clear now. I’ve read about the SLC plan – it seems like a good one. I think it is important to be sexually agnostic.

    I’m proud to be your friend. I’m grateful for you ability to explain things so clearly, and with compassion.

  5. I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but I felt I had to speak up when I read what Jean-Luc wrote about the Church’s view of civil marriages. His statement that “in Mormonism “civil” marriages performed outside of the temple are null and void in the eyes of God as only Temple marriages are valid” is very misleading. Civil marriages are most certainly recognized by the Church and by God as being valid marriages here on Earth. It is only AFTER this mortal life that God does not recognize marriages performed by any person who does not possess the requisite priesthood authority to seal couples (and families) together forever. Such authority only exists in the most holy of places–the temple.

  6. Kyle you are right in your correction that the Church recognizes civil mariages as contracts that allow two individuals to live together according to the laws of the land but non abiding in eternity:

    “To compare a civil mariage to that of the Lord’s way is like comparing a big flashlight to the sun. A civil mariage has two basic ingredients: The bride and groom make certain promises to each other; The bride and groom can legally live together according to the laws of the land.
    (…)But not matter how it is packaged, that’s all a civil marriage will ever be. The addition of words from scriptures, so often incorporated into civil ceremonies, such as “What therefore has God joined together, let not man put asunder” Matthew 19:6, does not change that fact. Just as the baptisms conducted without authority in the meridian of time (see Act 19:2-5) were eternally powerless, so too is a civil marriage powerless to do anything but qualify the man and the woman to live together under the laws of the land. Adorning the ceremony with a minister or even an LDS bishop, a beautiful church or other building, tuxexos, limousines, music, and all of the other trappings will not change that. An empty box is not given substance by the most beautiful gift wrapping. So it is with civil marriage. It is not the Lord’s way and no amount of rationalizing will ever change that enchangeable fact.”
    Elder Kree L. Kofford of the Seventy, Ensign, June 1998, 7.
    What happens to the poor souls victims of these (sub-prime) marriage after death? The answer is not Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-17 They become servants to those who have celestial marriage.
    Another quote this time by Joseph Fielding Smith from Doctrine of Salvations 2:67 “They [husband and wife] are not bound by any law of the gospel. It has no claim upon them[the family]; when they are dead, their contract, their obligations, and bonds come to an end; they have no claim upon each other, and no claim upon their children. Their children are left without parents, only as they themselves through their own faithfulness maybe adopted into some other man’s family.”
    I will drive the nail even further by taking the example of Brigham Young who married (celestial marriage)six women who were still married to their living first husband(as in not divorced). Three of them to non-mormons Mary Ann Clark Powers, Mary Elizabeth Rolling Lightner, and Anna Tapfield King.
    I therefore contend that in Mormon theology a civil mariage is a non binding contract in the eyes of God (after death) and inconsequential for eternal matters and salvation (clearly you loose everything even your children). After all, one can only enter the presence of God if he/she is married in the Temple.
    So I don’t think I was VERY misleading, if misleading at all. Any good standing Mormon would not consider a civil marriage as a valid marriage for their salvation. In so much, that in countries like France, where civil mariage is an obligation and has to precede a religious wedding, young women will abstain from intercourse until their “real” temple marriage which can take place one to two days later as they have to travel to Germany, England or Switzerland to have access to a temple. It is of course not required by the Church but often time talked about in Young Women and Relief Society…
    So for a people who has such disdain towards civil marriage, it is quite peculiar that Mormons would spend so much money and time in protecting an “empty box”.

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