The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Procreative Imperative Not Imperiled

Just before the Holiday, Mike Huckabee’s thoughts on homosexuality inspired me to explicate what some of us call the procreative imperative, which seems to be inherent in some brands of conservative political Christianity.

The most astounding assumption is that everyone should have children. This despite the abundant evidence that there an untold numbers of people who’ve already had children probably shouldn’t be parents, if the results of their parenting thus far is any indication. There are undoubtedly more who realize they may not be parent material and thus avoid becoming parents. Would the author have them become parents too, and subject children yet unborn to living with parents who may not want the, or who may even be neglectful or abusive?

That’s the unspoken but fundamental point in his argument, as well as many on the same side. The assumption is that people who marry and have children should do so within the context of the faith that he practices. Because, if they do so and do it right, there won’t be any abuse or neglect. Just like if all women surrendered to their husbands, there wouldn’t be any domestic abuse so long as they’ve married “godly men.”

It’s an ideal that has nothing to do with reality, because there will never be a time when everyone practices the author’s idealized brand of Christianity. But it seems so obvious to him how wonderful it would be if everyone would, that he can remain oblivious to the unhappiness that is bound to result from attempting to force everyone into a one-size-fits-all family unit.

After all happiness, the human variety at least, isn’t the point.

One after the other conservatives from Huckabee right down to the Maryland Court of Appeals will apply the procreative imperative as a supremely logical (in their eyes) reason to deny marriage equality to same-sex couples: if gays are accepted and not discriminated against, and same-sex couples allowed to marry and be treated like any other family, human beings will stop having babies altogether, and civilization will crumble.

Problem is, it’s just not so.

Not that any of these people have much use for any science that contradicts, say, Genesis, but a recent scientific study shows that the U.S. fertility rate is on the upswing, and more progressive policies might help increase it even further.

The fertility rate among Americans has climbed to its highest level since 1971, setting the country apart from most industrialized nations that are struggling with low birthrates and aging populations.

The fertility rate hit 2.1 in 2006, according to preliminary estimates released by the National Center for Health Statistics. It’s a milestone: the first time since shortly after the baby boom ended that the nation has reached the rate of births needed for a generation to replace itself, an average 2.1 per woman.

“What matters is that the U.S. is probably one of very few industrialized countries that have a fertility rate close to or at replacement level,” says José Antonio Ortega, head of the fertility section at the United Nations’ Population Division.

…”What is paradoxical is that the U.S. doesn’t have those (family friendly) policies and it has higher fertility,” Ortega says.

Fertility experts say that economic prosperity, immigration and better job security for working mothers contribute to more births.

“We do know that birthrates ticked up quite a bit among the most affluent,” says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families. “Kids are luxury goods, and some of this uptick may be stay-at-home moms.”

It also has become easier for women to negotiate leaves from work to stay home with their children. “Women now feel much more entitled and much more confident, especially as they’re getting more education,” Coontz says.

Did you get that? “[T]he nation has reached the rate of births needed for a generation to replace itself.” Thus, we’ve reached “replacement level” reproduction. And not only is this happening after same-sex marriage became a reality in Massachusetts, and after the advent of civil unions in other states, but also at the the same time that some of those states are signaling movement towards marriage.

In Vermont commission tasked with considering the state’s civil union law and whether it should be amended to include same-sex marriage wrapped up its work in a decidedly different atmosphere than the state experienced seven years ago.

The Commission on Family Recognition and Protection this week held hearings in Montpelier and was told that while the state’s civil union law – the first of its kind in the nation – was a step forward same-sex couples still are not equal.

It was the first time the traveling commission heard deputations in the state’s capital city and the session was a far cry from hearings that were conducted seven years ago when the state was considering the civil unions bill.

Then, dozens of people from conservative groups opposed to the bill denounced the measure and protestors carried signs outside.
This time there were no voices of dissent.

“Separate but equal did not work as a compromise in the civil rights movement and it doesn’t work here,” Elaine Parker told the commission.

And if opposition is silent in Vermont, perhaps thinking that opposing marriage equality there might be a lost cause, they’re setting up shop in New Jersey because there’s a good chance the legislature will vote for same-sex marriage in the near future.

New Jersey’s well organized gay rights advocates are finding their adversaries are also getting prepared for a coming legislative debate over gay marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage, established earlier this year in Princeton, made itself known over the past few weeks with radio advertisements urging people to call their lawmakers to tell them that allowing gay couples to marry would undermine the institution.

The group set up in left-leaning New Jersey because it is one of a few states where there’s a realistic chance in the next few years that lawmakers will vote to allow gay marriage. That makes it a battleground for the issues nationally.

With civil unions turning at least a few years old in some places, we’re reaching a point at which it’s apparent that in states like New Jersey civil unions are not equal, and offer few real protections for same-sex couples. And, if the news above is any indication, it’s looking like the religious right’s most dire predictions have not and are not coming true.

It’s not the “procreative imperative” or the “traditional family” that’s imperiled. People haven’t stopped having babies, and aren’t going to stop. Though there’s more than a little racism and xenophobia just below the surface of that concern, because when the right starts speaking of procreation and culture in paranoid terms—the USA Today notes immigration as a positive in approaching “replacement level reproduction”—it becomes clear that their real concern is that not enough white people are reproducing.

What’s imperiled is the narrow world they live in and want to force the rest of us to live in, or penalize us for refusing to live in it.

What they’re afraid of is that more of us see for ourselves that the sky isn’t falling, the mountains aren’t crumbling, the oceans aren’t boiling, and the human race is far from being on the endangered list…

Well. We won’t let them.

[Hat tip to Jonathan Rauch at Independent Gay Forum.

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