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Procreation Is Not the Purpose of Marriage

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Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling halting enforcement of California’s gay marriage ban made a strong case for being upheld by higher courts, according to legal analysts like Bloomberg’s Ann Woolner. But same-sex marriage opponents’ biggest argument was empty from the get-go: the idea that the primary purpose of marriage is for procreation, hence gay marriage is wrong.

I’m far from the first and I won’t be the last to point this out, but it bears repeating: by that logic, heterosexual couples who don’t or can’t reproduce shouldn’t be allowed to marry either. Yet we don’t forbid the sterile, the elderly, or the childless by choice to marry. Why? Pure sentimentality? No—it’s because we as a society consider marrying to be a fundamental right. (Not to mention the fact that doing so would lead to all sorts of absurdities.) Children are beside the point.

The cultural phenomenon of marriage may be rooted in evolutionary processes that helped protect children. But we are not living in the stone age. Marriage in our civilization has long been an essential right afforded to all heterosexual couples. Extending that right (“the chance to be equally miserable,” as rapper Eminem put it) to same-sex couples is the logical and obvious next step in the advancing visibility and acceptance of gays.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • Baronius

    Jon, I brought this up on a thread in the Politics Section, that I can’t find anything in the Western tradition that treats marriage as a right. Not Greek, Roman, medieval, or Enlightenment. The first mention I found was in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in which the right of “men and women” to marry is recognized). While I personally oppose gay marriage, we don’t have to argue that question. I’m just looking for an answer to the question of marriage as a right. Do you know anything about it?

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Actually, no, I don’t, judicially speaking. What I mean, and what my point relies on, is that it’s a de facto right. Have you heard of any straight couple being denied a marriage license for any reason? The only circumstance I can think of would be if they thought you were planning immigration fraud or something like that. And there must have been health issues in the past, because they used to require blood tests.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    How about the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? That applies.

    If a same-sex couple in an emotionally committed relationship want to publicly, legally [and let’s face it, financially] declare that commitment, but are prevented by the state from doing so, primarily because of a religious taboo, they are being denied the pursuit of happiness.

    As Eminem amusingly pointed out, they may or may not actually find happiness, but that’s a different matter.

  • John Lake

    The Catholics, God love them, do tend to be a tad strict. The referenced article is from “OurCatholicFaith.org. The idea that God will like us better if we refuse the gifts he gives has never appealed to me.
    Humans have an inborn love of companionship, and this develops into a desire to be together all the live long day, and all the live long night. This is good. There is more to any marriage then simple pro-creation.

  • Baronius

    Speaking as a Catholic, that Our Catholic Faith article isn’t very good.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Very good point, Jon, a point as a matter of fact made by one of the Federal judges presiding over the matter. The circumstances escape me, but her opinion weighed very heavily insofar as my understanding of the issues is concerned.

    Since you’ve done some research on this topic, you would be in a better position to reference the subject opinion. It’s worthy of citation.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Baronius, as a Libertarian, how in god’s name can you possibly consider marriage to not be a right?

    What a convenient set of beliefs you have.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    “I’m a Libertarian, when it concurs with my biases. But if I don’t agree with a particular freedom then it’s not a right.”

    ????

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Personally, I oppose people who oppose gay marriage. I think they should be put on a fast ship to live together on an island somewhere.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Pretty much surmises Baronius’ position on any host of issues.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    How about this Baronius,

    200 years ago the western tradition didn’t consider all people to have the right not to be enslaved,

    …what would you have said about slavery 200 years ago?

    How, by your logic, does one ever change anything unless it includes doing something that was not done before? How could anything ever be acceptable that didn’t already exist?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Cindy,

    I don’t know whether you’re aware, but I posted my initial reaction to your thoughts on “normalcy.” It’s on the “Bye-bye . . .” thread, no doubt Baronius’ favorite.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Ah, I didn’t realize that. Thanks, Roger.

  • Baronius

    Cindy, I’m not a libertarian, although I’m sympathetic to them. Also, I’m not saying that our understanding of rights can’t change over time, just that I’m having trouble finding the origin of the idea of marriage as a right.

    Roger, if you want to talk to me about ideas, raise an issue and we can talk about it. If you want to express your personal feelings about me, I just don’t want to go down that road again.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    No one disputes that heterosexual couples have a ‘right’ to marry. The fact that the state has set up a mechanism for it makes it, de facto, a right. There doesn’t have to be some ancient principle handed down from Greece and Rome.

    Likewise, denying the use of this established mechanism to gay couples makes them a separate legal class in practice.

    And that’s the crux of the argument.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Oh, IC Baronius,

    I thought you had said you were a Libertarian. Pardon me.

  • Baronius

    I don’t know that anyone has the right to marry. If marriage is viewed as a civil institution, it would only be a civil right, not a human right, and therefore up to the state to decide. If marriage is viewed as a human right, it has a lot of restrictions on it: for example, anti-bigamy laws. I don’t know how to classify it. Maybe it falls under the right to enter into contracts?

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Okay let’s look at it this way, is telling people they don’t have the right to marry a right?

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    While Baronius is right to point out the ambiguity of saying marriage is a “right,” are there any arguments to counter my argument that it’s a de facto right we grant to heterosexual couples more or less without restriction, and therefore denying it to same-sex couples is unacceptably discriminatory? If so, no one’s offered one.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Whether marrying is a right or not, it’s certainly treated as such by those who oppose same-sex unions.

    Good luck, though, trying to convince them to the contrary.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Come to think of it, it’s an easier problem to resolve than one involving the right to life versus pro-choice controversy. The courts should take a lead from the idea of marriage as a civil institution which has descended from the idea of marriage as a sacrament.

    Perhaps I should write a short brief on the subject, applying my well-known Wittgensteinian logic.

  • Baronius

    There are restrictions on heterosexual marriage: age of consent and anti-bigamy laws, as well as laws against marrying blood relatives. Probably others; I haven’t though about it much.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Well, they weren’t enforced for the royalty during the feudal times, except by Rome. And Henry VII made the break.

    No matter how one looks at it, the institution of marriage must descend from the Roman Church. To Catholics, it’s a sacrament. To all others, it was a case of the Church asserting its privilege.

  • Baronius

    I don’t know what that means, Roger. My last comment was to the article.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    The Wikipedia article on Marriage is full of interesting, amusing and shocking tidbits, such as

    “In Ancient Greece, no specific civil ceremony was required for the creation of a marriage – only mutual agreement…Men usually married when they were in their 20s or 30s and expected their wives to be in their early teens.”