Is marriage intrinsically connected to bearing and raising children? Advocates
of same-sex marriage often argue peremptorily that it is not .
"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?
Now a group of same-sex marriage supporters in Washington state has taken that
argument to what even they describe as an "absurd" length.
Archly calling themselves the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance, the
activists are promoting Initiative 957, a ballot measure that would restrict
marriage rights to men and women capable of bearing children.
Couples would be required to have a child within three years of getting
married, or their marriage would be annulled. Non procreating couples could
stay together if they wished, but their union would be classified as
"unrecognized," and they would be legally ineligible for marital benefits.
To be sure, the activists behind this proposal don't expect it to become law.
Even if voters were to approve something so outlandish, the Washington Supreme
Court would strike it down. Alliance organizer Gregory Gadow says the
initiative is offered "in the spirit of political street theater." On the
group's website, however, his tone takes on a harder edge. "At the very least,
it should be good fun to see the social conservatives who have long screamed
that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation be forced to choke on
their own rhetoric."
But Gadow and his fellow activists are assaulting a straw man. 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.
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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
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