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.
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)