The Republic of T.

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

Gay Marriage & Gametes

Note: Today is Blogging for LGBT Families Day, the purpose of which is “to indicate that not all families fit the traditional model of one mother and one father.” A good number of my posts today will be in keeping with that theme. So, stay tuned for more here. You can head over to Dana’s for regular updates, and a full listing of participants, blog posts, etc.

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.”

But after the second comment, askign for a response, I decided to invesigate further, and visited the website linked to the commenter’s name. There’s a blog too.

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?

[Photos sources: ntr23 @ Flickr and clix @ stock.exchng]


  1. There are always people who are against equality. Marriage is a basic civil right that should be attainable by all Americans if they choose. For those who are uncomfortable with gay marriage check out our short produced to educate & defuse the controversy. It has a way of opening closed minds & provides some sanity on the issue:

  2. Pingback: Mombian » Blog Archive » Blogging for LGBT Families Day: Contributed Posts

  3. Thanks for responding Terrance, and quoting so much from my site. Makes it kinda redundant to reply, since the argument is already there (with neat pictures!), but there are some things to correct, and some things to complain about:

    First the complaint: what’s with raising all the straw men at the end? Those are totally seperate things you are objecting to. And while I suppose it’s true that CU’s could be changed after the compromise is adopted, so could marriage, so could NH CU’s, etc. Nothing is certain to last forever. But actually the compromise would protect against diluting CU’s after the fact, because Congress would stipulate that it would give federal recognition to state CU’s that were defined as being exactly like marriage except the couple was not allowed to conceive children together using their own genes. That would force states to adopt the strongest, most equal CU’s possible (without conception rights) and leave them that way. They couldn’t strip out anything else from them without giving up the federal recognition, and that would just be political suicide for whoever tried to do that. And Congress isn’t going to change CU’s after they enact the compromise, because it would be too ungentlemanly to alter the deal. The deal is just so neat and orderly and makes so much sense, it will be permanent.

    And this is way wrong: “The author is advocating that congress legislate who can and cannot reproduce.”

    No no no no, I’m saying that people should only be allowed to use their unmodified gametes. Everyone should be allowed to use their unmodified gametes. But that means no one should be allowed to reproduce WITH someone of their same sex. It does not mean that anyone is kept from reproducing. That is indeed my main concern – that people will be kept from reproducing, that doctors will suggest or even force people to use better gametes, whether GE’d or just from healthier people. the only way to avoid that is to prohibit the use of GE’d gametes (and yeah, I believe we should prohibit donor gametes too, but that is a separate crusade, unrelated to the egg and sperm compromise, and far less important. plus, that wouldn’t pass anyhow.)

    Yes, same-sex conception would take place in the lab, not the bedroom. But out on the streets, in public, in the public records of city hall, we can know that this couple is allowed to conceive together, and this couple isn’t, because we know their sexes. (Just like we know their relatedness and age and marital status in the public records).

    Stopping same-sex marriage won’t stop same-sex conception. (I believe that as long as same-sex conception is allowed, same-sex marriage should be allowed, in contrast to many frauds that say they oppose SSM but secretly believe same-sex conception should be legal). But if we stop same-sex conception (along with all use of modified gametes) we have to stop same-sex marriage in order to preserve marriage.

    It comes down to: you should have a right to conceive with a woman, but not with a man. And all marriages shoudl be allowed to conceive. This distinction shoudl be the distinction between CU’s and marriage, and this distinction would enable us to break the impasse and actually achieve national CU’s for same sex couples. It would be a breakthrough, giving same-sex couples equal protections much much faster and more securely than any other plan I’ve seen. And it would help us prioritize our medical research money better. There is no reason to reject this plan except to insist on being allowed to try same-sex conception, which is totally ridiculous and frivolous and stupid. Please talk it over with your pals and make the concession on marriage.

  4. Donating egg and sperm is risky because in the instances of cystic fibrosis and blood disorders the two biological parents must be on hand.

    I know how much this donating of egg and sperm means so I write this with much regret.

    But it needs to be mentioned also that the donor-conceived are unhappy and so the have their own support group called Tangled Webs and an on-line debating forum called DonorMisconception.

    I am a counselllor who has seen the uncontrollable tears of those away from their roots: as little ones, most any child is compliant but the donateds have their problems which develop as they grow up and think for themselves. Truly, if you could see what they go through I can’t help thinking that nobody would reading this would be happy at being away from their roots by means of being donated.

    Twenty years after IVF went mainstream the donor-conceived are speaking out as the young adults that they now are, cystic fibrosis and blood disorder risks notwithstanding.

  5. Thanks for linking to this from your PamsHouseBlend post about McCain’s statement regarding adoption. The first thing to note is that (as you quoted above) this has nothing to do with adoption, and respects adoption.

    Did you do any more thinking about the wisdom of insisting on same-sex conception rights? Above you seemed to equate them under the rubric of “lab rights”, implying that if a man has a right to use IVF with a woman, then he should have the same right to use whatever lab techniques it takes to have a child with another man, too. But that ignores the biological sexual imprinting of every person’s genes. There is a fundamental right that we all should have with someone of the other sex that we shouldn’t have with someone of the same sex: the right to conceive children together.

    Give up! Support the Egg and Sperm Civil Union Compromise to achieve equal protections for same-sex couples immediately, and preserve natural conception rights. don’t push us into a eugenic nightmare where couples do not have a right to conceive with their own genes, don’t imply that a hetero couple’s conception rights are equal to a same-sex couple’s.

  6. We are tinkering with mother nature a lot, surrogate motherhood, same sex gametes, and all of these things are really unfair to children, in my view. Babies should not be for sale, nor should we think its okay to produce children in the laboratory. I have heard all kinds of crazy stories, like that there are women who don’t want to ruin their bodies or interrupt their careers with pregnancy who hire others to do the work for them. Gays want equal protection under the marriage laws for the relationship, but I think there is more to this. It’s called Eugenics or being unfair if we say, NO, you do not have the right to create same sex gamete children in the laboratory. This has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with children, whose voices we should remind you, are not heard. I am disgusted that these practices are going on under our noses and internationally when the goals can be met with less legal problems and less money in the Third World. Women in India are renting their wombs at an alarming rate, and more surrogates here are looking to gay couples (because of jealousy issues by couples who can’t conceive). This does not sound like the decisions are based on ethics, but convenience and selfishness. None have anything to do with equality. While I understand that gays long for equality in their relationships, they do not seem to understand that marriage for procreation between man and woman is a real and important tenet of marriage. Special rights and equal rights really are different things. I am sad that so few people understand that. Civil Unions, perhaps, marriage and same sex procreation twist genetics, morality, and the rights of children on its head.

  7. I feel compelled to make another comment: Someone on here said it is the practice of eugenics to not allow same sex procreation. What about the shop arounds who look for the “perfect” sperm donor. Isn’t there the possibility that these people will also try to create the “perfect” gamete for the petri dish. Please stop being selfish about your innate desires. At a certain point, you are acting as if you are “entitled” to these biological possibilities, when in fact, it is the child’s rights that come before yours.