Defending Marriage Equality: “It’s About Children”

While civil unions are an almost marriage-like compromise, they are not marriage, and one of the key ways in which Destiny Church has been somewhat placated is that civil unions do not give gay couples the same adoption rights as straight couples. (there are a few legal loopholes and runarounds that can be tried, however, in cases where one of the gay partners is the parent of the child, however some of these are the type of thing you only want to try for one child, thus making the whole “having a family” side of things even harder)

One of the more insidious arguments against marriage equality, that’s implicitly fueled by this omission, is that marriage is about having children, which makes marriage special and unique to straight couples. Because gay and lesbian couples can’t have children on their own, people looking to attack marriage equality love to trot out the argument that people defending marriage equality are “redefining marriage” to not be about children as a strawman.

If that were true, however, detractors against gay marriage should be fighting just as hard to ban marriage between infertile men and women, and have such existing marriages annulled. This has broad and rather undesirable consequences- essentially all straight marriage would end when women started menopause, and/or when the kids moved out. It means marriage devalues chaste partnership between people of child-bearing age, which is actually something social conservatives like to argue for.1

Now, what if our friends who dislike marriage equality so much point out that while infertile couples may not be able to have children, we should presume any straight couple can when we let them marry? I say their proclamation that marriage is about having children allows for an even stronger argument that rules out that defense: that we should ban and annul any marriage in which the partners were not actively seeking to conceive or already raising children. If marriage were really just about having children, then there would be no problem at all in doing this.

Taken to this ridiculous extreme, we see that even if marriage really is about children, it has every reason to include couples that cannot or will not naturally conceive who are willing to take the alternatives – such as insemination, fertility treatments, and adoption.

Another thing people seem to forget is that formal, ceremonial marriage is actually a relatively new development,2 and thus ought to be considered as open to further change and reconception. Back in the old days, marriage was essentially just telling the community your intention to start an official relationship with someone, and in some cases marriage was considered officially binding as soon as the couple said to each other they were married. As a lot of arguments against marriage equality are arguments from tradition, you would think its detractors would actually know something about the history of marriage.

So, what I want to know is: are anti-gay activists willing to pay the price of their arguments being taken to their logical and consistent conclusion? Do we have to enshrine every idea that’s a few hundred years old as inescapable tradition? Should we discriminate against the infertile? Or should we accept that marriage as an institution isn’t set in stone, and is open to egalitarian reform?

1As long as it’s not due to any undue pressure, two people who love each other deciding not to have sex is perfectly fine by me.
2Marriage as a state-recognised contract performed as a ceremony in a church is about 250 years old. By comparison, some of the “recent” language changes people like to complain about are at least 400 years old, democracy is about 200 years old, and the idea of capitalism is about 270 years old. Marriage is as exciting and new as anything else in our society, and if it deserves to be a cornerstone of society, then that is because of its merits, not its traditions.

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6 Responses

  1. This has broad and rather undesirable consequences- essentially all straight marriage would end when women started menopause, and/or when the kids moved out.

    Okay you just defeated your own argument, if the “kids have moved out” then THEY HAD KIDS!!!! Therefore they have fulfilled the purpose of marriage-duh!! As for the infertile couple, all infertility is not permanent. Many infertile couples have gone on to conceive children. Sometimes all it takes is for the man to switch underwear and boom they are pregnant! People like to throw the elderly into this for some reason. Should they marry if they can’t have children? Well I don’t know ask Tony Randall who had a child at 70! Not only that most elderly couples are on marriage number two and have already had children and have grandchildren. Therefore, when their children come to visit and bring the grandchildren, the family as nature ordained it to be is still represent by a woman and a man. Now instead of mother she is a grandmother. Instead of father he is a grandfather. This consistency helps children to understand marriage is not about any two people but two specific people, one man and one woman. A girl child in such a house will be represented by her mother, a boy by his father but what happens to the girl being raised by two men? Or the boy being raised by two women? They learn that their gender is somehow not valued in a marriage. That their gender is in fact, unwanted and unnecessary. If children learn abuse from their parents then what are they learning when the half of their parentage is stripped from them deliberately and there is no replacement in the family structure? It is unthinkable.

    And just because marriage licenses are a rather new invention it doesn’t mean that marriage itself is. Never in history has there been gay marriage. There has been polygamy. But never gay marriage and without any benefits given to society by gay couples, they don’t deserve the same protection or recognition as those who will have children.

    <I edited in quote tags for the section of my post you quoted. -Ari.>

  2. Okay you just defeated your own argument, if the “kids have moved out” then THEY HAD KIDS!!!! Therefore they have fulfilled the purpose of marriage-duh!!

    That was exactly the thrust of my arguement. Many of the marriages held up as well-functioning ideals are ones that have continued even after having kids together or working together are gone and done with. These are things incompatible with a procreation-based view of marriage, and rightly so- because good marriages are based on more than childbirth and child-rearing.

    What I’m essentially saying is that even if you accept all the arguments about marriage being about children (and thus people who can’t reliably or easily have children) on face value, that position is still not consistent with marriage in the real world.

    Well I don’t know ask Tony Randall who had a child at 70!

    So he’s the rule-follower who permits the exception? Why can’t this arguement apply to gay couples who want to have kids?

    What about a lesbian couple and a gay couple, who send off sperm and adopt around kids that the lesbians have carried to term? How are they different from Tony Randall?

    The point here is that there is that the two most common arguments- that “traditional marriage” should be upheld as-is, and that heterosexual fertility is the basis of marriage, are fundamentally incompatible. Marriage as it is encompasses the infertile. Hell, until recently it encompassed many closeted gay men and lesbians.

    Therefore, when their children come to visit and bring the grandchildren, the family as nature ordained it to be is still represent by a woman and a man. Now instead of mother she is a grandmother. Instead of father he is a grandfather. This consistency helps children to understand marriage is not about any two people but two specific people, one man and one woman

    This is a different and good argument to address the issue that fertility does not play a direct role in marriage. However, it’s also my argument 😉 That is, fertility doesn’t matter. It’s the social roles of mother or father (and by extension, grandmother or grandfather) that matter. Sometimes it’s just the mother. In even rarer cases, sometimes it’s just the father. A lot of the time it’s both. Sometimes there are stepparents thrown into the mix. Sometimes it’s even aunt or uncle. Hell, sometimes the parent figure is the eldest brother or sister.

    How are two women or two men who love each other different from any of those other parental figures? How are they less? And can they be less in a way that doesn’t resort to bigotry? I remain unconvinced that there is a position that denies the equality of homosexual relationships without resorting to some sort of irrelevant discrimination.

    They learn that their gender is somehow not valued in a marriage. That their gender is in fact, unwanted and unnecessary.

    Or they learn that their gender is valued and powerful and independent enough that some families can be all-male or all-female. It’s happened before with single parents who raise a child or children of the same sex.

    I should point out also that while there are individuals in the homosexual community who would give out the impression you mention, most gay men and lesbians have very healthy relationships- of the platonic kind- with members of the opposite sex. Much like straight men have with each other. Much like straight women have with each other, too. Furthermore, I haven’t heard of any of the separatist types wanting children.

    If you’re looking for people with radical views who could potentially harm a child and are planning to remove their right to marry, there would be better places to start than with the homosexual community. I’d imagine most people would direct you to prisons- yet many criminals are in quite permanent relationships.

    And just because marriage licenses are a rather new invention it doesn’t mean that marriage itself is.

    I didn’t argue that marriage is new, I argued that marriage, as a ceremony and as a “phase of life” instead of as a mere formality in announcing a sexual relationship, is new. Back in the day two people who had those sorts of feelings for each other would stand up in church and announce they were going to live together, say they were committed, and then they were married. That’s very different to the contractual, rights-enforcing, extra-stage-of-relationship marriage we have today.

    Never in history has there been gay marriage.

    You know, off the top of my head, there’s only been one society in history in which homosexuality has been accepted in any meaningful fashion- and in that society, it never really got time to develop to the point that people actually got past the idea of being able to have sex with each other openly. In short, we’ve only just had a chance.

    And I should point out that our society right now is also part of history, and there are real, legal gay marriages- not entirely equal ones, but still legal ones- going on in the United States in and other parts of the world.

    But never gay marriage and without any benefits given to society by gay couples, they don’t deserve the same protection or recognition as those who will have children.

    So now marriage is a contract between two people and society? Not between two people who love each other and want to express that as a future commitment?

    Even if children are a responsibility of a marriage- we’ll ignore the question of whether that responsibility is to your partner or to society- why can’t gay couples merely raise a child? Raising is a large part of the work, remember. And what about lesbian couples who are willing to become pregnant through artificial insemination? (whether aided by doctors or otherwise?) What about single women who want to become mothers without a partner?

    How are any of these families that are less worthy of respect and equality than a heterosexual couple and the child they conceive and birth without reproductive aids?

  3. Don’t dare throw my single parenthood in this argument. I am so sick of people using my circumstance as why gay marriage is okay! I am a single parent by circumstance not choice that is the difference. I am not deliberately trying to keep my son’s father out his life like with gay couples. In fact, my son’s father is gay which proves GAY MEN CAN HAVE CHILDREN WITH WOMEN! And I can tell you first hand single women who want to become mothers without a partner are frickin’ morons! I know because I was one of those women. I cared only for my desire to have a child and not the pain that my child would endure not having a father. My son is always asking me to get married because he wants a Dad and brothers and sisters. He goes around pushing on my stomach saying, “The baby is coming out.” Does this sound like a child perfectly content with being a child of a single mother! As far as my family being less worthy of respect, it is not about that! It is about promoting the ideal family and when that doesn’t happen pitching in to help out that family. I yearn to have a husband I can rely on. I yearn to have a husband to share the child rearing duties with. I yearn to be a wife, not a partner, not Party A or Party B, but a bride

    So now marriage is a contract between two people and society? Yep!

    Not between two people who love each other and want to express that as a future commitment?

    Nope never has been! Society has a stake in marriage. Without marriage which studies have proven produce much more well adjusted people-then less workers get produced. You only have to look at the welfare system today to see what I mean. People on welfare are penalized for getting married and penalized for trying to work. Sure you can get married, if you want to risk losing your benefits. Sure you can work if you want to risk losing your health insurance. People on welfare are far more “oppressed” than gay couples. Gay couples have far more disposable income especially since most of them are not raising children. They have far more political clout, far more education-so you want to tell me how they are discriminated against? It is the poor in this country that suffers far greater discrimination than gays. And even though they have proven they can fulfill the marriage tenets, they are prevented from doing so!

    Or they learn that their gender is valued and powerful and independent enough that some families can be all-male or all-female.

    Wrong!!! I have seen firsthand the confusion it causes a child. I have many gay people in my family and yes they are good parents. But that isn’t always enough. I have seen a child talk about their “father” when in reality they were referring to the lesbian partner. And it broke my heart.

    My adopted parents were great parents but I still longed for my biological mother and father. As a child I wondered why did she give me up? Didn’t she love me? How come she didn’t want me? And why couldn’t I at least look like my adopted parents? Why did I have to be Black when they were White? If I looked like them I could at least pretend they were my biological parents. I was torn, did loving my biological parents mean I loved my adopted parents less-or would they think I did if I told them how I felt? At first, I asked all kinds of question but after awhile I felt like they thought they weren’t good enough, so I stopped. I just kept my wonderings to myself. Even so, I was given a mother and a father, something I didn’t have at birth. I was given to people who loved me. So before you go and spout this proves biology is not at all important if I loved my adopted parents-it most certainly does not! It proves no matter how we try to deny it, biology has a pull on us. And it also proves both mothers and fathers are necessary to raise a child. Just because single mothers do it, doesn’t make it an optimum choice, it makes a tragic occurrence that we help to rectify.

  4. Don’t dare throw my single parenthood in this argument. I am so sick of people using my circumstance as why gay marriage is okay! I am a single parent by circumstance not choice that is the difference.

    Are you implying that people are gay or lesbian by choice? While people can choose not to act gay or lesbian, they are still homosexual. It’s a hardwired part of a person’s sexuality. They can choose to deny that and live a life that’s not very happy for them. But that’s a terrible choice to suggest someone else should make.

    I cared only for my desire to have a child and not the pain that my child would endure not having a father. My son is always asking me to get married because he wants a Dad and brothers and sisters. He goes around pushing on my stomach saying, “The baby is coming out.” Does this sound like a child perfectly content with being a child of a single mother!

    It sounds to me like your son is a perfectly normal only child in a society where many families are much larger.It sounds like he’s picked up on fathers and brothers and sisters as “normal”, and wants his family to fit in. I could be totally off base there of course, as I don’t have your experience of the matter, but nothing about what you’ve said so far suggests to me that your son is painfully distressed at the idea of not having a father.

    Nope (marriage as a contract between two people in love) never has been! Society has a stake in marriage. Without marriage which studies have proven produce much more well adjusted people-then less workers get produced.

    Which studies, by who? Are they partisan or unbiased studies? Are they done to a rigorous scientific standard? Can you link them online? *shrug* While I’m perfectly open to good evidence, the equivilent of what you’ve done here is said “I have evidence!” and then not bothered to show it to me. 🙂

    Society may be interested in marriage, but I’d argue it has no business interfering with consenting adults, especially those who are sound of mind and haven’t done anything wrong. It can stop giving special protection to married couples or parents as a group, but I don’t think it should draw any lines along who can or cannot marry or have kids. That path leads slowly to social darwinism, I feel.

    I should also point out that there are issues of consistency here- your line of argument is a good one, but for instance, it also justifies wider interference with family life by the government. For instance, most people who want to reinstate S59 of the crimes act justify this with the fact that they feel it was undue interference in their parenting lives.

    Wrong!!! I have seen firsthand the confusion it causes a child. I have many gay people in my family and yes they are good parents. But that isn’t always enough. I have seen a child talk about their “father” when in reality they were referring to the lesbian partner. And it broke my heart.

    Sounds like the kid is well-adjusted, if confused. And personally speaking, I’d blame that confusion on gender stereotypes more than the parents. Why should the person closer to masculine stereotypes be the ‘father’? It’s just a gender-loaded word for parent anyway.

    A question- have you talked much with your family about this? I think the people you’ve just mentioned might have a few things to say in return, assuming it wouldn’t just be a source of bloody rows.

    My adopted parents were great parents but I still longed for my biological mother and father. As a child I wondered why did she give me up? Didn’t she love me? How come she didn’t want me? And why couldn’t I at least look like my adopted parents? Why did I have to be Black when they were White? If I looked like them I could at least pretend they were my biological parents.

    Sadly, adoption doesn’t come free. I have every bit of sympathy for those feelings. It must be tough on adoptive parents trying to figure out how to explain and deal with that, too- but at least they have a chance.

    So before you go and spout this proves biology is not at all important if I loved my adopted parents-it most certainly does not! It proves no matter how we try to deny it, biology has a pull on us. And it also proves both mothers and fathers are necessary to raise a child. Just because single mothers do it, doesn’t make it an optimum choice, it makes a tragic occurrence that we help to rectify.

    Oh, I think it matters- I just don’t think it matters as to who the parents are. It’s still an important part of “where you came from” for the child, and there should still be some level of contact there. But that doesn’t mean that two straight biological parents should raise every child, does it? 😉

  5. But that doesn’t mean that two straight biological parents should raise every child, does it?

    Yep, it does. Or at the very least, two married heterosexual people. Anything else is contrary to the child’s best interest. (And yes, I realize the irony of a single mother saying that so if i am defending marriage so voraciously it means it is not some personal agenda of mine because I have no personal stake in it, so my belief has to be based on truth, not personal opinion)

    As far as the “well-adjusted” thing goes, we are human beings we can “adjust” to the most dire of circumstances. There is a book called “A Boy Called It” he “adjusted ” to being caged, he “adjusted” to not being called by his name. He “adjusted” to getting beat within an inch of his life everyday. He “adjusted” to being fed human excrement. The man is a very kind, compassionate human being but does that mean to create such a human being we should cage people, we should beat them, we should not call them by their name or fed them fecal matter? Just because Steven eventually escaped that horror do we inflict that horror on others and sit back and say, “Hey it worked for him!” He is “well-adjusted” despite his hellish background, not because of it. So just because people come out “well adjusted” in gay households does not by any means mean it is something we strive for. It means they beat the odds. You don’t base public policy and regulations on the exceptions but on the rules.

    As far as the studies go, I would be glad to hunt them down but if I do you have to read what I send otherwise I don’t see the point of doing it. And yes these are unbiased studies, not the ones written by pro-gay people looking to conclude their lifestyle is okay with children and so dump anything that goes against that out.

  6. Yep, it does. Or at the very least, two married heterosexual people. Anything else is contrary to the child’s best interest. (And yes, I realize the irony of a single mother saying that so if i am defending marriage so voraciously it means it is not some personal agenda of mine because I have no personal stake in it, so my belief has to be based on truth, not personal opinion)

    Well, it means your belief is genuine, however you came about it. I usually don’t assume anyone’s isn’t without them demonstrating that themselves. Finding an objective “truth” on this sort of thing is hard. I can only say I’m inclined to believe the opposite thing as you, and ironically, I had a mother and father who were married, and three siblings, as my family. (the “normalcy” probably ends around there)

    As far as the studies go, I would be glad to hunt them down but if I do you have to read what I send otherwise I don’t see the point of doing it. And yes these are unbiased studies, not the ones written by pro-gay people looking to conclude their lifestyle is okay with children and so dump anything that goes against that out.

    Of course. I wouldn’t ask you to link me something to read if I wasn’t commiting to read it with an open mind. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore any potential criticisms of the study I might have.

    I should also point out that there are definitely “anti-gay” authors out there, too. Bias isn’t just one way.

    As far as the “well-adjusted” thing goes, we are human beings we can “adjust” to the most dire of circumstances.

    I was referring to the fact that the kid could choose their own definition of what a father is and not have to rely on an external one. That’s a controversial choice that takes a lot of courage, right or wrong.

    There is a book called “A Boy Called It” he “adjusted ” to being caged, he “adjusted” to not being called by his name. He “adjusted” to getting beat within an inch of his life everyday. He “adjusted” to being fed human excrement. The man is a very kind, compassionate human being but does that mean to create such a human being we should cage people, we should beat them, we should not call them by their name or fed them fecal matter?

    Indeed not, but you’ve yet to point out a good reason why daring to look after kids when you’re not considered “normal” is equivilent to that kind of violence or abuse.

    He is “well-adjusted” despite his hellish background,

    Indeed. But the kid you’re talking of may be well-adjusted despite the way people treat their parents, rather than despite having atypical parents. Where is the source of the harm? It’s something that’s worth figuring out. Until then our ideology is going to colour the argument.

    So just because people come out “well adjusted” in gay households does not by any means mean it is something we strive for. It means they beat the odds. You don’t base public policy and regulations on the exceptions but on the rules.

    Did they beat the odds or did they just have good parents, and some other children of lesbian/gay couples have bad parents? Drawing a line around one demographic based on statistics without normalising for the different characteristics of each demographic is one type of mistake that many studies with an agenda to push fall into- deliberately or not. Now, if all things equal, children turn out better with straight people in an environment that is functionally a marriage, then yes, that might be a somewhat convincing argument for prioritising straight marriage. But it’s still not a smoking gun against gay marriage, either.

    As for the basis of public policy- I disagree. In large political environments, both rules and exceptions are important. We should presume people are innocent in our justice system, until we can prove them reasonably likely to be guilty. That’s one such exception, and a very important one, I’d say.

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