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.