No Non-biological Parents Need Apply

Marriage is about procreation.

That’s what advocates of Proposition 8 said before the Supreme Court to support their case against gay marriage. And that’s what Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to be saying in the questioning at the Supreme Court yesterday. As The New York Times reported: “Chief Justice Roberts said history was on the side of traditional marriage. ‘The institution developed,’ he said, ‘to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn’t include homosexual couples.'”

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan pointed out that sterile opposite-sex couples get married and couples beyond child-bearing years get married (the always-tasteful Justice Antonin Scalia joked about Strom Thurmond, who fathered a child in his 70s, but Scalia and Thurmond are exceptions in way too many ways). The questions and answers became quite tortured — not surprising on an issue so emotional and so reflective of people’s values and beliefs.

I have respect for people who feel earnestly on either side of this issue. My own thoughts have changed on gay issues in the past decades.

But two forces cry out here — history, and babies.

Dismissing history as a reason not to allow gay marriage is easy for me. History was on the side of slavery. History was on the side of denying equality to women — history is still there, as we see in the rapes in Egypt, where traditional religious leaders are blaming rapes on women becoming involved in the world outside their homes. History was on the side of Jim Crow and is still on the side of racial, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination.

History is a brute. We shouldn’t be ruled by it. Escaping history is a high calling of leaders and legislatures and courts.
Babymom
Now, babies. Everybody loves babies. But making babies is not the only reason for committing to a relationship, and asserting that making babies is the only or the most-important reason for marrying is ludicrous and harmful, seems to me.

The presumption that women will create babies can eclipse women’s rights and aspirations and potential. Society has traditionally denied women equal standing in most of human endeavor — governing; running or even participating in the institutions of commercial, civic and social life; working outside the home; being taken seriously — so that women can bear and raise children.

Creating and raising children is holy and admirable. But it is not the only reason women exist.

And — seven billion isn’t enough?

Liberals often complain that conservatives are pro-life until the baby is born. Many of us liberals feel that conservative policies are harmful to children now, and harmful to the future, therefore harmful to our children’s children. (I know, conservatives believe this about our mounting debt, and they are right; we disagree on what to do about it.) But it does seem hypocritical to me to be so selectively concerned about children. Let’s stop debating marriage equality and address instead the devastating and growing income disparity in the U.S. and the world. That’s far more harmful to humanity old and young.

Seven billion isn’t enough? Do we need more kids? I don’t want to sound like Jonathan Swift here, but a modest proposal would say let’s not make growing the world’s population a central goal of our policies.

People get married for many reasons, not just for adding the seven-billion-and-first child to this groaning planet. They get married, mostly, to show love and commitment.

I’ve been married three times. That will disqualify what I say here in some people’s eyes. I get that. But here I go anyway. My first wife and I were too young to be ready for kids, and I wasn’t sure the marriage would last. Good thing we didn’t have kids. My second wife already had children, and I was privileged to be part of their raising. We didn’t need “our own.” My current and last wife, like me, has never felt that having biological children was central to her life. We’ve had the privilege to be involved in raising a niece — not the same as growing a kid from the ground up, but rewarding and challenging and wild.

I’ve entered into each of these marriages with joy and hope and commitment. The first two marriages eroded, and the commitment didn’t last. The divorces were sad and painful. In none of my marriages was the main purpose to create children and raise them to adults. Perhaps that’s why the first two didn’t last, one could argue. But that’s a narrow view of the purpose of marriage, which is my point. Marriage is about two people saying they want to live and grow together, and believing, even if wrongly, that they will do so forever. Marriage strengthens the couple, and strengthens society. And having parents who are in a strong marriage helps kids, no doubt about it. Gay or straight.

But marriage’s sole purpose, even its most important purpose, is not to grow children, seems to me.

And that’s just one of many reasons that gays should be allowed to marry. Period. End of story.

— Bruce Benidt

(Image from babycentre.co.uk)

26 thoughts on “No Non-biological Parents Need Apply

  1. Jeremy Powers says:

    My father-in-law married my step-mother-in-law when he was 88 and she was 90. She’s more Catholic than the pope, still complaining that Vatican II allowed people to pray in English rather than Latin (especially after she had to go to all the trouble to learn Latin.) So why would two people well beyond their childbearing years want to get married? Well, according to my step-mother-in-law, it was to affirm their relationship to one another in the eyes of the Church – one of those churches that keeps opposing gay marriage and does so regularly using the procreation argument. Nobody thinks that’s weird?

    I like the concept that all church weddings are automatically annulled as soon as either the women reaches menopause or the man can no longer get an erection. Either way, procreation is over. And both of those aspects are just as personally invasive as medical records for pregnancy or abortion, which never seems to bother the Church.

    And we allow any two fertile, different-sex people – not even adults; hell some are 13 years old – to become parents because of the “miracle” of procreation. But you need a license to fish.

    There is absolutely no logic to religion that I have ever found. Even most churches define faith as believing things for which there is no logic or proof. I would like to think that our court system relied on a higher standard, after all what people take as faith differs greatly. But apparently that is not looking like the case.

  2. Minnesotan says:

    I honestly have no idea what those against Gay marriage believe they will accomplish at this point. Gay people are currently living together, buying property together, raising families together. Banning Gay marriage isn’t going to reverse any of that – that ship has already sailed. Banning gay marriage only prevents them from having the same legal rights and personal freedoms as other adults.

    Now, people certainly have a right to not approval of gay activity. But that doesn’t give them a right to enact laws simply because they think it’s “icky” or goes against the teachings of their particular religion.

    My only critique of this article is the broad use of “conservative” as broadly against gay marriage. The term has been corrupted by the moral and religious conservatives that seem to rule the roost today.

    There are many who identify themselves as “conservatives” because they strongly believe in individual rights and freedoms.

    I was pleasantly surprised when Wheelock Whitney spoke out against the marriage ban when it was being debated in MN. He said,”This is more government, and it’s not promoting individual liberty. It’s taking it away. It offends me as a Republican.”

    1. Minnesotan, good challenge on the too-broad use of the word conservative. Ted Olson shows that terms like this, and the assumption of what positions people will take based on labels, are too often inaccurate. I don’t like being put in a box, so I agree with your challenge. Joe’s citing of numbers of Republicans supporting gay marriage ban shows where most — but not all — Republicans stand on the issue.True conservatives want less government interference, as you suggest. Moral conservatives want only the government that agrees with their positions.

    2. Mike Kennedy says:

      Just curious about what personal freedoms gay people are denied right now. Benefits provided by employers are not “personal freedoms.” True, they do not have legal rights, but I think it’s a stretch to define benefits as freedoms. Furthermore, most of the above posters are conflating marriage laws with laws of the church. If you don’t like a particular religion’s stand on gay marriage….don’t go to that church. But religion IS a personal freedom. Each religion and its participants have a right to have their personal beliefs. Lastly, I personally think marriage laws are better left to states, and it appears most of the justices, both liberal and conservative, agree. If I don’t like a state’s laws on marriage, I can move to another or institute change in my state.

      1. Sounds like the “leave it to the states” approach will carry the day at the court. Trouble is, leaving voting or housing or the ability to sit where you want to on a bus to the states worked out only for some. As a person who for years lived with Lisa before she was my wife, the fact that she couldn’t be covered by COBRA or automatically be with me in a serious hospitalization wasn’t a theoretical “benefit” or “freedom” to me, but a way our fate was in someone else’s hands. I’d like to be in charge of my own life without getting permission from others, and I think that’s a conservative position.

      2. Jeremy Powers says:

        Gay people are denied the right to marry who they want. Pursuit of happiness and all that; a right enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. When you have a gay daughter – like I do – more of this comes into focus.

        Marriage is a legal contract. I suppose it wasn’t always, but it is now. It is the simplest legal contract you can enter into. You need no lawyer; just someone who has some sort of certificate as a minister, which you can get for $25 on the Internet. Actually if it was a fully written contract, with all the fine print, I doubt many lawyers would recommend you enter into it.

        Things change and evolve. Women couldn’t enter into contracts in the 19th Century (and before). Gay people have to come up with complex legal documents, at quite a cost, to try to replicate some of those same rights – to care for each other, for instance, or to have joint legal rights as parents – where as any two heterosexuals can enter into it for about the cost of dinner at Applebees with about as much contract law knowledge as a snail.

        If I had my way, I would get the state out of the “marriage” business. Make all marriage licenses simple civil contracts. Let the churches marry people. You could get “married” without a license, but without the legal rights. Or you could get a civil contract and not be married. Or you could do both. Neither my parents nor my wife’s parents were married in a church. Both couples were married by judges in the judges’ chambers.with a pair of witnesses. Neither couple divorced. All children are productive members of society, raised their own children, etc.

        I have a gay sister-in-law. She had same sex benefits from her employer. But when her partner died, because there was no marriage license, the life insurance company required five documents to “prove” they were a couple. They had to have a joint checking account, a mortgage or lease in both of their names, etc. If they had the legal contract of a marriage license, none of that would be needed. It isn’t the “benefit” that’s the right. It’s legal standing to not have to prove who you are and what you are. It’s the same reason the voter ID amendment failed. Old people didn’t want to have to prove their existence to some civil servant.

        And the whole concept of “moving to another state” is the same extremely flawed concept of “if you don’t like your job where you’re treated like crap, go get another job.” Lots of people – and I really mean most people – don’t have that as an option. And, if you’ve ever moved to another state – and I have a couple of times – the legal wrangling of the world of commerce – banking, insurance, etc. – is a pain.

        1. flyirish says:

          We agree that states and particularly the federal government should be out of the marriage business. I also agree that there shouldn’t be a any legal entitlement to property based on marriage…in many cases there isn’t. Life insurance contracts do not exercise preferential treatment based on marriage. I am divorced and can leave my money to whomever I want. Same if I’m married. I could leave it all to my neighbor and my wife wouldn’t have much recourse. If you are married and you die intestate or without a will, your spouse does get a percentage of your estate (life insurance and other contracts that specify beneficiaries are not included in this) and so do your kids so in this regard your spouse can’t be disinherited. But gay couples can leave everything to each other married or not….owning everything in “joint tenancy with rights of survivorship” doesn’t take any time to set up at all. Yes, some employers base some benefits on spouses but many are changing of their own accord and would be forced to if we dropped the “legal” aspects of marriage which I’m all for. I had a gay brother die 13 years ago at 37. Whether he married the person he loved or not was never a factor….just as it isn’t for many single people who live together. Marriage should be a religious or spiritual commitment not a legal business contract but I suspect that as long as property is involved it always will be.

      3. Re: “What personal freedoms are gay people denied right now?”

        The General Accounting Office (GAO) says the government provides 1,138 benefits to married couples that are not available to others. Tax benefits. Immigration rights. Medical decision-making advantages. Death benefits rights. It’s a long list of legal distinctions that impact finances and quality-of-life.

        But the equality difference between marriage and civil unions goes much deeper than the 1,138 benefits.

        If the government told my wife and me today that it had stripped us of our marriage status, our first concern wouldn’t be about the loss of those benefits. Our more heartfelt concern would be that we were being stripped of society’s sacred recognition of our commitment and love.

        Marriage is honored and cherished in our society in a way that is absolutely unique. It is put on a pedestal. The stigma that would come if my wife and I were banned from claiming that special relationship status is what would most make us feel most unequal and stigmatized. That’s what gay couples face.

        Marriages bestow more legal and social benefits than civil unions. In a nation built on the notion that all are created equal, it’s just not okay to have such inequality baked into one of our society’s most revered institutions.

        1. flyirish says:

          Again those are benefits and those are not rights or personal freedoms and the GAO apparently forgot about the marriage tax penalty and some of the other disadvantages of being married…I won’t even touch the divorce laws which opens a whole other can of worms. No where does marriage become a binding legal and business contract than in a divorce. And with the divorce rate as high as it is….be careful what you ask for.

          1. Okay, so you’re down if government declares divorced Irish heteros are banned from’t marrying? All of the legal protections gone. All of the social status stripped. No equal protection of the laws problem there?

            1. Nobody is saying gay couples can’t marry. “All legal protections” are not gone from gay couples who marry. We are disagreeing over rights vs. benefits. Personally, I don’t think government should be dictating anyone’s benefits….health care included, but then that, again, will open up another can of worms. Economically, I’d be better off if the government would have banned me from marrying….oh, stop. It’s a joke.

            2. Joe: It is NOT discriminatory because mixed race couples meet the test of male and female. Same sex couples do not. Our society has definitions one must meet to get a “license,” whether it’s a license to drive, to fly, to cut hair etc. In that sense, the laws, as they currently are structured, are perfectly legal. There is no discrimination and the Court is likely to find any.

              It seems to me that what is open to debate is whether government has any business in “licensing” marriages. If so, then there has to be a definition. How about separating marriages and civil unions….so anyone who wants to be a couple can join together in a civil union…yet government is still the arbiter of this? How about getting the state out of marriages all together as Ron Paul advocated?

              More likely, I think the Court will kick it back to states to decide. When I earlier suggested people either work at the state level to change the marriage laws or leave, I totally recoginze that leaving is not an option for many people.

              I happen to think Minnesota is on the verge of becoming CA if all Gov. Goofy’s tax proposals go through. Should I move? Not using the logic of earlier posters…..most of my business and clients are here. So I either live with it or work to change it. On that, it seems we can agree.

            1. Marriage is indeed, in part, a legal piece of paper. It’s called a Marriage Certificate, and it’s your ticket to all kinds of legally bestowed benefits.

              Social security “benefits,” tax “benefits,” survivors “benefits,” these are things governed by law, not private companies, and the government legally requires you to have a marriage certificate, which the government will not give to same sex couples.

              If mixed race couples were denied these types of government benefits, do you think that’s discrimination? If so, how is this different?

  3. bertram jr. says:

    So, um Bruce, it’s about the…… babies?

    Good. Let’s start with the millions slaughtered by Roe Vs. Wade, another liberal travesty.

    My god, do you people have any sense of irony, let alone the blatant hypocrisy? Or is the mental illness / cognitive dissonance the issue?

    1. Bertram, I didn’t say it’s about the … babies. Prop 8 supporters said it. And yes, as morally vexing as gay issues are for many people, abortion issues are even moreso. But I don’t see the logical link between Roe and gay marriage.

  4. bertram jr. says:

    Marriage is not a “right”. That is the fundamental truth from which no amount of continued rending of garments and earnest handwringing can escape.

    1. Jeremy Powers says:

      What color is the sky in your world? Fundamental truth! And “no amount of rending of…” is complete and utter nonsense.

      Of course marriage is a right. You try telling certain people they can’t, even those that shouldn’t, and see how fast you get your butt sued and lose big-time. Just try it. Announce to your employees today that as a condition of their employment they cannot be married. If they don’t all quit wholesale, laughing at you like a pathetic clown, they’ll rightly sue you.

      The right to the pursuit of happiness. In this country, the right to be normal. The right to raise children jointly – whether you “begat” them yourself or not – without having to spend an hour every year in the principal’s office signing documents about who can get the kids out of class. The right to be the automatic spokesperson and make personal decisions about your partner when your partner can’t make them for himself/herself.

      You strict constitutionalists should pay particular attention to the Ninth Amendment – at least twice as much as you do to the Tenth.,

      “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

      What that means is just because we didn’t put something in the US Constitution doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. There are all sorts of unenumerated rights. The only reason these strict constitutionalists started questioning the idea of specific rights was the obvious right to privacy because it was quoted as part of the reason to allow abortions under Roe v. Wade. Therefore, the anti-abortionists believed, these unenumerated rights must be bad and we’re only going to believe in the ones that are clearly laid out.

      This country – once the model for all democracies in the world and a bastion of freedom and decency – has become one of the most xenophobic, hateful collection of nincompoops in the world today. Argentina has gay marriage, but we don’t. A larger percentage of Mexican gays can get married that Americans. South Africa, where two decades ago black people couldn’t buy houses, now allows gay marriage. Unfortunately this country, founded on religious freedom, is now held back from its rightful place as a beacon of justice by the most ignorant religious bigots in the world today.

  5. Good post, Bruce. The procreation argument is the goofiest of them all. Are we going to ban marriage for childless hetero couples?

    Re: Is it fair to say conservatives are far-and-away opposed to legalizing gay marriage?

    From the latest Star Tribune Minnesota Poll: Republicans oppose legalizing gay marriage by more than a 4-to-1 margin, and only 17% of Republicans support legalization. So, not universal for sure, but its still a Republican staple. And this Pew poll shows that “conservative Republicans” are the by far the most opposed group.

  6. Minnesotan says:

    Nice link(s) Joe. I still wish the term conservative wasn’t so corrupted by some of the social conservatives. Libertarian it is, I guess…

    I was surprised, when looking at the Pew Poll, that 16% of those who consider themselves Liberal Democrats (seemingly the most far left) oppose Gay Marriage.

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