This week, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on two cases regarding marriage equality. The constitutionality of both the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), United States v Windsor, and California’s Proposition 8, Hollingsworth v Perry, will be considered.
In both cases, a serious argument against same-sex marriage is that, unlike two members of the opposite sex, two members of the same sex cannot produce unintended offspring. Yes, you read that right, unintended offspring.
The argument reads as if marriage, by definition, should remain only an option for heterosexual couples so that the financial and social benefits afforded to wedded couples would encourage the parents of unplanned children to marry.
As if a real threat in allowing marriage benefits to same-sex couples is in taking away the “carrot” for opposite-sex couples to marry. (Oddly, I don’t recall that men stopped voting once women gained the right.)
Earlier this month, I spoke to why I don’t feel the Biblical call to go forth and multiply is even applicable in defining marriage. But, in light of these pending cases, and of the “accidental” offspring argument being heard, let’s examine this supposedly inherent connection between marriage and procreation a little more closely.
While DOMA and Prop 8 supporters will use the aforementioned “accidental conception” argument in the court, it is typically the more traditional “natural conception” argument we hear over and over again in society and in the church. That is, by God’s design, only a man and a woman can “naturally” conceive (whether planned or accidental) and therefore only they should be granted marriage rights.
Let us consider the following currently legal marriages between couples who also would not likely produce “accidental” or “natural” offspring:
- A widow in her 70’s and/or a widower in his 70’s.
- A woman and man who find first love in their 50’s.
- A woman with ovarian cancer who is unable to conceive due to treatments or surgeries and/or a male testicular cancer survivor with impaired fertility.
- An infertile woman and/or an infertile man.
Now, although I am a legally married, heterosexual woman, here is where this argument speaks to me on a personal level. (As if it needs to be more personal than the fact that injustice for one is injustice for all.) I am infertile.
Following this logic, the legality of my own marriage could also be in question. There is no way my husband and I could have “accidentally” produced offspring; we do not even procreate “naturally” (whatever that means) despite our best efforts. So, just like these couples listed above (who can legally marry) and same-sex couples (many of whom cannot yet legally marry), our chances of having had to marry for the sake of any “accidental” children were slim to none. So, why get married if we could not have children (or if we did not already have children)? What is the point?
Surely, despite a literal understanding of marriage in biblical times as being primarily for procreation, the institution of marriage as we celebrate it today is more than merely a convenient arrangement for the child-rearing benefits. Surely there is something to do with love and commitment, fulfillment and companionship. Surely marriage is more than a best-case scenario for parents of accidental offspring.
And, finally, a word or two about the non-traditional, very non-accidental ways many same-sex and opposite-sex couples willingly bring a child into the world. I feel strongly that we must be careful when we talk of “natural” conception so that we do not infer that a child adopted, conceived with the assistance of medical intervention, or carried via a surrogate is any less one of God’s miracles. Ask any parent who has prayed for years to hold a child in their arms if theirs is not a miracle from God. Ask any parent if biology matters the moment they first hold their adopted child.
Like many of these parents, when I look at my own children, I don’t see the doctors, sterile rooms, or shots. I see blessings from God. I see the prayers, the tears, the joy, and the pure wonder of how God brought them, finally, into my life.
I imagine this feeling is universal for parents regardless of whether their children came into their lives via 15 minutes of knowing one another in the biblical sense, 5 years of medical procedures, or an adoption from the other side of the world. There are many paths parents and children take to find one another…and isn’t God present in each unique one? Doesn’t each marriage union, and with it each parent-child union, deserve equal protection under the law?
So, all this to say the argument in the courts and in the church that our right to marry the person we love is somehow connected to our body’s abilities (or inabilities) to procreate doesn’t work for me either. Straight, gay, fertile, or infertile, marriage is first and foremost about the love and commitment between two people who choose one another. For what God has brought together, let no one keep separate, regardless of whether or not (or how) we have children.