Marriage, children, and tradition

ThinkProgress reports on an interview with Jennifer Roback Morse of the National Organization for Marriage [sic].  The explain:

Jennifer Roback Morse of the National Organization for Marriage’s Ruth Institute has been particularly vocal over the past few months, promoting ex-gay therapy and suggesting that young people not have gay friends. In an interview published in Salvo Magazine in September, she was quite candid about the archaic stereotypes about same-sex couples that inform her anti-gay positions:

Morse tells Salvo:

MORSE: If you look at same-sex couples, both at what they say and their behavior, neither permanence nor sexual exclusivity plays the same significant role. In other words, if you’re in a union that’s intrinsically not procreative, sexual exclusivity is not as important. Once you start thinking like that, you’ll see that everything people offer as reasons why same-sex couples should be “allowed” to get married—all of the reasons are private purposes. Sometimes it’s nothing more than how it will make them feel. It’s not the business of law to make people feel a certain way. When you see that redefining marriage is going to, in fact, redefine the meaning of parenthood, removing biology as the basis for parenthood and replacing it with legal constructions—then you see that there is quite a lot at stake in getting the definition of marriage right.

Set aside this gross mischaracterization of the monogamous capabilities of same-sex couples, and her naive claim that marriages are now or ever were, as a practical matter, sexually exclusive. It should be noted that, despite Morse’s protestations, what she’s proposing is actually a dramatic redefinition of marriage, not a defense of marriage as it has been practiced in living memory.  

Consider: My grandmother was widowed after all her children were grown, and she remarried before I and some of my cousins were born, and well after her reproductive years were over.  Her second husband had his own children and grandchildren from a previous marriage, and in time those families merged fairly completely.

By Ms. Morse’s account, Grandpa Herb wasn’t really my grandfather.  She’s arguing that I’ve redefined marriage by calling him my grandfather, and that I’ve redefined grandparenthood and parenthood, too.  She’s arguing that because my grandparents’ relationship was “intrinsically not procreative,” they were probably not sexually exclusive, and that my grandparents should not have been “allowed” (her scare quotes) to get married.  Their marriage was just about “how it will make them feel,” not about popping out babies, so it was somehow not worth it.  I don’t agree.

Similarly, she seems to hold that the marriages of friends of mine who are intentionally childless are worthless, as are marriages where one or more partner is physically incapable of conceiving a child.

This justification, which is incredibly common from the marriage segregation camp, simply doesn’t hold together.  It is not a defense of any modern marriage tradition.  It vaguely resembles Henry VIII’s view on marriage, but to find a version of marriage that really matches what Morse describes, you may have to go back to Genesis, and the story of Abraham and Sarah.  God promises Abraham that he’ll have a son, but the years drag on and his wife offers a suggestion:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, ‘You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived for ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived.

The baby is named Ishmael, and Hagar – the slave who Abraham’s first wife gave him as a second wife (traditional marriage!) – gets all uppity.  So Sarah, the first wife, gets angry and tries to kill her slave/co-wife (traditional marriage!), but God intervenes and Sarah relents. Then Sodom and Gomorrah get destroyed (in a passage much beloved by NOM), and Abraham and Sarah get even older, and Abraham lets King Abimelech steal Sarah away after claiming she’s his wife, not his sister but God warns Abimelech not to mess with her and Abraham points out that she’s his wife, but also his half-sister (traditional marriage!). They go on a while longer before, lo and behold!, she gets pregnant and gives birth to Isaac and starts hating on Ishmael all over again:

Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’

Abraham starts to object, but God tells him it’s OK to go along with it because it’ll all work out. Then, to quote Dylan, “God said to Abraham, ‘kill me a son.’ Abe said, ‘man, you must be putting me on.’ God said, ‘no.’ Abe said, ‘what?’ God said, ‘you can do what you want, Abe, but the next time you see me coming, you better run.’ Abe said, ‘where you want this killing done?’ and God said,” well not actually “Highway 61,” but you get the gist.  Tradition!

If we hold up Abraham as a model of traditional marriage, which seems to be what NOM wants, then we have to grant that procreation seems to be essential to the enterprise, but we have to acknowledge the tradition of plural marriage, arranged marriage, and incestuous marriage, and we have to forcibly annul a bunch of loving, heterosexual marriages which cannot produce offspring.

All this from a group which claims to be “for marriage.”

Comments

  1. #1 John Pieret
    http://dododreams.blogspot.com/
    December 8, 2012

    If you look at same-sex couples, both at what they say and their behavior, neither permanence nor sexual exclusivity plays the same significant role.

    Yeah, right! Look here for the first couple to get a same-sex mairrage license in King County Washington:

    http://dododreams.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-faces-of-evil.html

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