On marriage

Joel Mathis is upset with the National Review. The conservative journal responds to last week’s ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, an act that blocks legal recognition of legal marriages between same-sex couples, by arguing:

If heterosexual coupling did not regularly produce children there would be no reason for the institution of marriage to exist, let alone for governments to recognize it.

As Joel notes, this is a pretty silly basis for opposing gay marriage.

What a depressingly — implausibly — narrow view of marriage.

No doubt, children are a common byproduct of heterosexual marriage. [But] …People, as a general rule, want company. They want sex, they want economic partnerships, they want somebody to hang out with. …

The conservative case against same-sex marriage reduces the “institution” to simple biology. It’s a point of view that reduces humanity to the level of beasts, with a bureaucracy.

Indeed, this was ultimately what the anti-gay attorneys in the Prop. 8 trial were reduced to. Having had many of their witnesses withdraw, and others discredit themselves by acknowledging their motivation by animus against homosexuality (an unconstitutionally discriminatory basis for legislative action), the lawyers fell back to insisting that marriage is about childbirth, and since same-sex union can only produce offspring through medical interventions, they shouldn’t count legally.

This is dumb.

For a simple explanation, consider two stories. First, consider a couple of professors I had in grad school. Both had been married for many years, and both of them had made the decision not to have children. Their marriage was valid and meaningful to them, but did not involve children. If conservatives have no basis for appreciating why those folks, and many other intentionally childless couples, get married, … well I’m glad I’m not marrying a conservative.

Second, let’s talk about my grandmother. Her husband died in his fifties, before I was born. Quite some time later, well after menopause, she remarried, and the man she married was the only grandfather on that side of the family that I ever knew. Both had adult children from previous marriages, and some of their grandchildren attended the wedding. They knew they wouldn’t have children of their own, but that didn’t change their desire to marry. Again, if conservatives cannot understand why senior citizens choose to marry and stay married past menopause… well, I’m still glad I’m not marrying a conservative.

When people make this argument that marriage is about procreation, it insults the memory of my grandmother and grandfather, people who could not have legally married if this standard were applied consistently. It insults people who are infertile for any reason, including voluntary sterilization, congenital conditions, or side effects of other medical treatments. And it insults anyone who takes marriage seriously – as an institution focused on bringing together loving couples and recognizing the special ties that they’ve formed.

Comments

  1. #1 Martin
    July 14, 2010

    I usually offer a similar argument (substituting my own friends and relatives) when someone trots out the “marriage = childbearing” argument. Usually they either have nothing to say or they sputter something to the effect that childless heterosexual couples are some kind of special case (the exception that “proves the rule”) that can be conveniently ignored.

    I’ve had a few people argue that childless heterosexual couples – even octogenarians – should be considered reproductive pairs, because G-d could make them bear children if He really wanted to.

    I’ve never gotten an answer to my question about how G-d feels about the marriages of women who have lost their reproductive equipment.

  2. #2 lslerner
    July 14, 2010

    Having had a happy childfree marriage for more than 50 years, my wife and I find it hard to understand the obsession with procreation, a process we share with all other animals and which doesn’t seem to require the sanction of marriage for them.
    Marriage, a state available only to humans, has many important aspects; whelping is not at the top of the list.

  3. #3 mercurianferret
    July 14, 2010

    The argument that marriage==procreation, then this would mean that either lesbian marriage should be allowable since lesbians can give birth using donor sperm (which is something that is done by many heterosexual couples in which the husband is infertile) OR that post-menopausal women (especially if the woman has birthed no children) to remain married (let alone GET married) be made illegal, since these women cannot procreate (or require that post-menopausal women go on fertility treatments until they divorce/die).

    Of course, this is a very extreme position, but it follows the letter of the argument, and in a direction that is not liked by fundamentalists.

    The statement of “G-d” could “give the woman a child” if “G-d” wanted to do it, then I would say that “G-d” would be setting “himself” up for a rape case, and be required to pay for childcare. (I mean why should “G-d” be allowed to impregnate women that “he” isn’t married to?)

  4. #4 SimonC
    July 14, 2010

    Just paraphrasing you from the previous article, Josh.
    “My favorite part of the report above on “God in Science?” is when the Christian comments that the “God” he believed in was “real and relevant.” The reason is pretty simple. It was a comforting delusion. It fitted what the Christian wanted. I think the term for a Christian who believes in an interventionist deity is “all hat and no cattle.”
    Reporter Grant Stinchfield has just as little right to retain his job title. He concludes the report by insisting: “No one knows for sure if the mysterious creator is the God of the Bible or not.” Of course we do. Gods don’t exist, and the beliefs in question here are obviously imaginary (or deceptive). If he talked to anyone who knows anything about reality or about science – a scientist, a truthful observer, a mammalogist, a member of North Texas Skeptics – he could have actually informed viewers, rather than just making himself look like a buffoon.”

    My question is: Do you have a seperate set of rules for Christians or is my tone in the above an acceptable form of dealing with religion?

    Small groups of delusional people are easy to ridicule, yes, and large groups are not. But does that mean that we stop treating idiots like idiots just ‘cos there’s a lot of them?

  5. #5 SimonC
    July 14, 2010

    Just paraphrasing you from the previous article, Josh.
    “My favorite part of the report above on “God in Science?” is when the Christian comments that the “God” he believed in was “real and relevant.” The reason is pretty simple. It was a comforting delusion. It fitted what the Christian wanted. I think the term for a Christian who believes in an interventionist deity is “all hat and no cattle.”
    Reporter Grant Stinchfield has just as little right to retain his job title. He concludes the report by insisting: “No one knows for sure if the mysterious creator is the God of the Bible or not.” Of course we do. Gods don’t exist, and the beliefs in question here are obviously imaginary (or deceptive). If he talked to anyone who knows anything about reality or about science – a scientist, a truthful observer, a mammalogist, a member of North Texas Skeptics – he could have actually informed viewers, rather than just making himself look like a buffoon.”

    My question is: Do you have a seperate set of rules for Christians or is my tone in the above an acceptable form of dealing with religion?

    Small groups of delusional people are easy to ridicule, yes, and large groups are not. But does that mean that we stop treating idiots like idiots just ‘cos there’s a lot of them?

  6. #6 SimonC
    July 14, 2010

    Blah… ignore the last two posts. Wrong thread and a ton of submission errors.

  7. #7 Carl
    July 15, 2010

    Joshua, let me add one more reductio ad absurdam of the “marriage = procreation” position. Consider a couple who marry and try for 20 years for children, with no success. They try every medical intervention including IVR. Nothing works. At what point do conservatives declare them officially childless? And when they do so, do the conservatives then forcibly dissolve the marriage, or do they retroactively void the whole thing? And do the couple have to return the wedding gifts?

  8. #8 Carl
    July 15, 2010

    The argument that “God could give a woman a child, even post-menopause” is also absurd. By the same argument he could give a man a child if he chose to.

    Of course, he’d have to first give him a uterus (in the immortal words of Life of Brian, “Where’s the fetus going to gestate? In a cardboard box?”), but that’s no problem for an all-powerful God who made everything from Jesus’ Y chromosome to the entire universe, right?

  9. #9 Ravi
    July 15, 2010

    The marriage evolved because it served several important purposes: financial support of females, support of children and enforcement of monogamy to limit STD transmission and promote communal stability.

    Support of children is by far the most important purpose nowadays.

    That is the practical purpose, there is also an emotional side to it but it cannot be meaningfully generalized, some see marriage as the holy act of union administered by god, others as a form of slavery, yet others hold views lying somewhere in between.

  10. #10 Deepak Shetty
    July 15, 2010

    Not that Im endorsing the position, but the religious argument has always been that procreation is possible (whether you choose not to or if you are medically unable to). That by nature(hence the artificial techniques dont count), a male female union allows procreation whereas any other doesn’t. Their argument is not that a marriage must have children for it to be a valid one. Therefore your examples are still valid marriages per conservatives (I would have said religious).

  11. #11 Mark Schaal
    July 16, 2010

    This argument is weird. If you accept it then how is saying marriage is about “loving” any better? By the same logic, that would insult people who get married due to: arranged marriage, child rearing, sex, companionship, economics…

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