Confession. Every so often, when I’m in the middle of reading and/or responding to some blog post or editorial by a marriage equality opponent, if my husband’s around I yell to him, “Honey, you gotta hear this.” He listens patiently as I read the latest to filter through my RSS reader, and usually agrees with me about the insanity therein. Occasionally, he adds something about my own sanity for engaging some of these folks, given the likelihood of a reasonable discussion.
He’s right, of course. I think it’s because there are two subjects that are always guaranteed to separate some Americans from their rational minds: race and sex. As a black gay man, I guess I can’t avoid either. And marriage equality touches on at least one of those (perhaps both, but I’ll try to get to that later). Believe it or not, I try to ignore a lot of it. But sometimes It’s just impossible.
I tried to ignore this one, but I couldn’t. I did manage forget about it for a while, though.
In the past week, I thought I’d heard it all. I’d heard that marriage is really about gender diversity, and that gays and lesbians discriminate on the basis of gender in their choice of partners, as an argument against marriage equality. (So supporting for same-sex marriage is support for discrimination.) I’d heard that it’s not really marriage until the penis enters the vagina. I’d heard that the Supreme Court was wrong when it said marriage is a civil right. I’d heard that the sky is falling and that the world is going to end, because of the California Supreme Court.
And in dealing with all that, I forgot one more concern some folks have about the hubby and I being able to legally marry each other. It’s that the hubby and I might someday desire to — wait for it — make a baby. With each other. I’d forgotten about that one until I got this comment on a old blog post about the procreative imperative.
Hey Terrence, it’s been a year since I posted my comment above – have you responded anywhere, in another post perhaps? What are your views regarding same-sex conception, do you insist on a right to try, or would you agree that people should only be allowed to conceive with someone of the other sex? By accepting that limit, we could achieve a consensus on how to resolve the marriage debate so that same-sex couples get federal recognition and equal protections in all other areas except conception rights. Looking forward to hearing your views.
This is the comment he wanted me to respond to.
It’s a procreation *right*, not imperative. Marriage makes it legal to conceive children together. It gets official consent from both parties and the state and announces and welcomes the concept of this couple having children.
Of course it doesn’t require it! It allows it. It also obligates the parties to each other, even if they don’t have children.
But people should only be allowed to conceive with another person of the other sex. We shouldn’t allow cloning (or marrying yourself) or same-sex conception (or marrying someone of the same sex). Same-sex conception would require genetic engineering and would be too risky, we should only allow natural conception of a man and a woman.
Marriage must continue to guarantee the right to conceive children together, using the marriage’s own gametes. It would be dangerous to allow any marriages of people who are not allowed to attempt to conceive together, since this could spill over into heterosexual marriages and forced eugenics.
At the time I didn’t respond because I didn’t think it required a response. I thought, “You’re kidding me, right?” And I quote “We shouldn’t allow cloning (marrying yourself) or same-sex conception (or marrying someone of the same sex).” Never mind the “marriage equals penis-into-vagina.” We’re now all the way back to “marriage equals sperm into egg.” And where does one begin with this bit of bizarre reductionism: Marriage must continue to be the right to conceive children together, using the marriage’s own gametes.)
Just that bit unreason was enough. I didn’t need to stroll down the garden path of “some-people-shouldn’t-be-allowed-to-reproduce.”
I was immediately impressed with a shift in the author’s position. Inside of a year he went from writing “We shouldn’t allow cloning (marrying yourself) or same-sex conception (or marrying someone of the same sex.)” and “Marriage must continue to guarantee the right to conceive children together, using the marriage’s own gametes,” to offering a kind of compromise on same-sex marriage.
The Egg and Sperm – Civil Union Compromise
“Equal protections, but no genetically engineered conceptions.” In other words, we would federally recognize same-sex civil unions that do not grant conception rights, and prohibit all forms of conception that do not join a man and a woman’s sperm and egg. Both sides of the marriage debate would achieve their stated goals, with one side preserving marriage, and the other side gaining federal equal protections. Together, we call on Congress to:
1) Stop genetic engineering by limiting conception of children to the union of a man and a woman’s sperm and egg.
2) Federally recognize state civil unions that are exactly like marriages but do not grant conception rights.
3) Affirm in federal law the right of all marriages to conceive children together using their own gametes.
Let’s let that soak in for a minute. The author is advocating that congress legislate who can and cannot reproduce. Now consider that the author is asking congress to legislate who can and cannot reproduce in order to avoid “forced eugenics.” My guess is that it’s lost on the author that legislating who can and cannot reproduce is “forced eugenics.” Indeed, the practice of compulsory sterilization of those deemed unworthy of the “right” to reproduce has a long, dark history in this country. Not to mention a few others. (Check out the online exhibit of the American eugenics movement for more.)
In fact, this was part of the motivation behind marriage laws that barred people of different races from marrying each other. Not to mention sterilization laws, designed in part to keep “superior” races from being overrun by more fertile (and therefore more base, etc.) “inferior” races. It’s interesting to consider, in that context, that part of the conservative hysteria over same-sex marriage is that too many of the “wrong” people are reproducing already, and not enough of the “right” people. Same-sex marriage might cause even fewer of the “right” people to procreate, and even cause people to stop making babies altogether, leading to the extinction of the human race.
What will happen to American civilization then? Marriage is a universal human institution. We do not know of any culture that has survived without a reasonably functional marriage system. Perhaps stray reproduction by single moms plus immigration can sustain America over the long haul. A look at Europe, however, does not make one sanguine. The attempt to substitute the state for the family leads not only to gargantuan government, but to miniscule families: If marriage and children are just one of many private lifestyle choices, people stop getting married and they stop having children in numbers large enough to replace the population. (One child is enough to make you a mother. When marriage is unreliable, just how foolhardy do you expect women to be?). The U.N. is now issuing urgent warnings about European depopulation.
The future belongs to people who do the hard things necessary to reproduce not only themselves, but their civilization. Marriage is not an option, it is a precondition for social survival. Not everyone lives up to the marriage ideal in this or any civilization. But when a society abandons the marriage idea altogether as a shared public norm, do not expect private individuals to be able to sustain marriage.
Winning the gay-marriage debate may be hard, but to those of us who witnessed the fall of Communism, despair is inexcusable and irresponsible. Losing this battle means losing the idea that children need mothers and fathers. It means losing the marriage debate. It means losing limited government. It means losing American civilization. It means losing, period.
In other words, it’s the end of the world.
But, back to the question at hand.
What are your views regarding same-sex conception, do you insist on a right to try, or would you agree that people should only be allowed to conceive with someone of the other sex? By accepting that limit, we could achieve a consensus on how to resolve the marriage debate so that same-sex couples get federal recognition and equal protections in all other areas except conception rights. Looking forward to hearing your views.
My views on same-sex conception? Right now, I’m not sure I have any. I know that, as with every other technological or scientific advance, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle any more than you an un-ring a bell. People pursue knowledge and understanding. Almost nothing has been able to stop that process in all of human history. Once people gain knowledge of how to do something they will do it, whether we think they should or not.
Every scientific or technological advance has had its good and negative consequences. I support stem cell research because of its potential to end the suffering of many people. I support the right people who want to have children, but have fertility or other issues to access available technologies and techniques to help them become parents. I support the right of people who don’t want to have children to have access to safe and effective birth control. I support reproductive choice, in short. If it’s possible to produce health offspring from two sperm or two ova, someone will do it. Whether I think they should will depend on whether I am convinced that the negatives outweigh the positives.
However, when it comes to same-sex marriage, it’s really neither here nor there.
What about same-sex marriage?
If we prohibit labs from attempting to create children that are not the union of a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm, then same-sex marriages will not have a right to conceive children together, which would fundamentally change marriage and put all of our conception rights in jeopardy. To protect our right to have children, we need to preserve marriage’s right to conceive children together. Civil unions could be created that have all of the other rights of marriage, but not the right to conceive children together. With this distinction between marriage and civil unions, which would match the distinction between the rights of same-sex and both-sex couples, it will probably be much easier to get federal recognition for same-sex civil unions, as well as get civil unions enacted in all 50 states. This would benefit same-sex couples much more than having a right to conceive children together using genetic engineering. We should push for this compromise solution.
In all that I’ve read, I’ve found nothing in U.S. law defining reproduction as a “privilege.” I’ve found much suggesting that the government should not interfere with individual choices regarding sex and reproduction, or interfere as little as possible. Our courts have outlawed forcible sterilization, struck down laws prohibiting distribution of contraceptives to married couples, overturned laws making it illegal to give contraceptives to unmarried persons, struck down laws prohibiting abortion, overturned laws against same-sex activity.struck down laws against extramarital sodomy, and declared unconstitutional laws prohibiting sex between unmarried persons. The precent seem to be that the government stays out of the bedroom.
As for the laboratory, the answer seems to lie in the author’s own words.
If we prohibit labs from attempting to create children that are not the union of a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm, then same-sex marriages will not have a right to conceive children together
Far be it from me to help the author make his case, but if “same-sex conception” is ever possible it will — out of necessity — take place in the laboratory. Not the bedroom. No matter how many same-sex couples marry, none of us will ever reproduce with one another without the aid of science. Therefore, if one wants to prohibit “same-sex conception” it’s not necessary to prevent same-sex marriage. One merely has to prohibit the necessary laboratory procedures. It works in much the same way as, say, in-vitro fertilization, etc. If one wanted to limit pro-creation only to opposite sex couples capable of unassisted procreation with one another, you would simply have to prohobit in-vitro fertilization and other proceures. You would not have to prohibit them from marry one another.
The writer of the comments and compromise above appears to have moved from prohibiting same-sex marriage — which he seems to equate with conception — to a “compromise” that affords same-sex couples all the rights of marriage except the “right” to reproduce with one another.
Great. We’ve made progress. However the “compromise” has the same problems I mentioned earlier. Any newly established legal status is vulnerable to revision and revocation in a way that marriage is not. The author has already shaved off one perceive “right,” or “privilege” as he defined it in his first comment. As we’ve seen in states like Michigan and Hawaii, an alternative legal status is easily revised to include fewer benefits and protections. Under the author’s compromise, same-sex couples would be no more secure in their remaining rights under that compromise. They would certainly be less secure in their rights than their married heterosexual neighbors. The could wake up the next day, or a year more later, and find themselves with fewer rights than they had before.
Like the right to adopt. To the author’s credit, he seems to support same-sex couple’s being able to adopt and raise children.
What about adoption and other ways that same-sex couples have children?
Adoption is great, and is one of the reasons to oppose research into creating people through these risky experiments: there are too many children that need loving homes. Same-sex couples could continue to have children every way they do now after we prevent genetic engineering. The only thing that needs to be prevented is conception by any means other than joining an egg and a sperm. All forms of conception performed in fertility clinics today still join a woman’s natural egg and a man’s natural sperm.
But, as Maggie Galleger’s comment above illustrates (click on the link and read the bits I didn’t quote), it’s not a far leap from the author’s assertion that “same-sex procreation” endangers children than from Gallager’s assertion that it will also do because “[m]arriage will no longer be a carrier of the message that children need mothers and fathers.” It’s not a far leap from opposition to gay marriage to opposition to gay parenting, or vice versa.
Nor, I imagine, would it be a far leap from opposition to “gay procreation” to opposition to gay parenting. After all, if the primary purpose of marriage is procreation, then couples who cannot procreate shouldn’t be allowed to marry. And if couples aren’t allowed to marry because they can’t have children, shouldn’t it follow that couples who can’t have children probably shouldn’t raise them either? If having same-sex parents violates a child’s “right to a mother and a father,” shouldn’t we prevent that as long as we’re also guaranteeing that every child is the result of a penis going into a vagina and a sperm going into an egg? And might we even prohibit the use of insemination and other fertility technology by same-sex couples, even if they want to use them to combine a sperm and an egg? (After all, shouldn’t couples who wan to have children be able to produce their own sperm and egg?)
People who can’t procreate probably shouldn’t marry. Three different state Supreme Courts have said so, in one way or another. So, should they parent?
I’ll have more to say about that later. (Big surprise.)
I do wonder, though, just where the insanity will end?