Marriage: Gay & Straight
Is marriage intrinsically connected to bearing and raising children? Advocates of same-sex marriage often argue peremptorily that it is not .Jacoby omits another important reason to extend the right to marry to opposite sex couples who may not in fact bear children.
“In today’s society,” Yale law professor William Eskridge asserts in The Case for Same-Sex Marriage, “the importance of marriage is relational and not procreational.” The privileged status of marriage in modern society, in other words, has to do with the love and commitment of the spouses, not with the needs of any children those spouses may produce. In its 2003 Goodridge decision mandating same-sex marriage, the Massachusestts Supreme Judicial Court was even more emphatic. To the argument that the state’s interest in marriage is connected to procreation, the SJC replied categorically: “This is incorrect.”
As evidence that marriage and childrearing are not fundamentally related, same-sex marriage proponents frequently point out that married couples aren’t required to have children. No law prevents infertile couples from marrying or orders childless marriages dissolved. If procreation is so important to marriage, they say, why should elderly couples, or couples determined not to have children, be permitted to wed?
[. . . ] No mainstream opponent of same-sex marriage claims that having children is the sole purpose of wedlock. Marriages can serve any number of purposes, as diverse as the people entering into them -- cementing the bond between devoted partners, guaranteeing financial security, having a legitimate sexual outlet, ensuring companionship, and so on. People get married for various reasons; the desire to raise a family is only one of them.
What makes marriage a public institution, however -- the reason it is regulated by law and given an elevated legal status -- is that it provides something no healthy society can do without: a stable environment in which men and women can create and bring up the next generation, and in which children can enter the world with mothers and fathers committed to their well-being.
Because sex between men and women makes children, and because children tend to do best when raised by their mothers and fathers, society has a vested interest in encouraging long-term, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. True, not all married couples reproduce. But every opposite-sex marriage has the ability to give a father and a mother to any child the couple creates or adopts. That is something no same-sex couple can provide, which is one reason homosexual marriage has never become a social institution.
Of course procreation is not the only reason to marry, but to insist that marriage is not closely related to having children is like arguing, to use an analogy offered by marriage scholar David Blankenhorn, that cars are not intrinsically connected to driving.
“When you acquire ownership of a car,” Blankenhorn writes in his forthcoming book, The Future of Marriage, “society does not impose upon you a binding obligation to drive it. If you buy a car but fail to drive it, the state does not for that reason revoke your driver’s license. . . . Cars can be about many things, including pleasure, aesthetics, economic gain, and social status.” But whether any particular car is driven or not, cars and driving are intrinsically linked.
Similarly, whatever the circumstances of any married couple, marriage and procreation are intrinsically connected. Men and women make babies; babies need mothers and fathers. That is why there has always been a public stake in the marriage of husbands and wives. And why no such stake exists in the union of same-sex couples.
For government to determine who will and who won’t likely have children would be excessively intrusive.
Demanding that couples seeking a marriage license prove they are fertile, and demanding they swear that they intend to bear children simply isn’t acceptable. And even if it were, how would we enforce the promise?
Of course, we could deny the right to marry to couples until the child is born. But society has an interest in children being conceived, born and raised by married biological parents. We’ve long fudged on the “conceived” part, and more recently fudged massively on the “born” and “raised” part, but that doesn’t change the fact that society has such an interest. Indeed, the social cost of the fudging is now huge and obvious.
Liberals are always lecturing people about how one should not “impose ones moral views” on other people. They are most likely to do this when they are themselves trying to impose their moral views on others.
The simple fact, however, is that letting anybody get the special treatment that comes with marriage is an “imposition.” Society’s interests in the welfare of children may justify this imposition where heterosexual couples are concerned, but nothing can justify it where homosexual couples are concerned.
If one does not buy this argument, it makes more sense to privatize marriage entirely than to extend it to same sex couples.
We think of homosexuals demanding the right to marry as akin to pacifists demanding admission to West Point. One has a right to be a pacifist. We think that position is flatly wrong, but you have a right to it.
But social institutions have a purpose. When you freely opt out of the purpose behind the institution, you have opted out of the institution.