The question came up over in the comments at Mark Smith’s blog post on this subject about whether people are arguing that rearing children is the ONLY reason for marriage. Here is one argument that, in fact, argues that position. Maggie Gallager wrote this article “What Marriage is For” for the Weekly Standard (August 4-11, 2003). An excerpt:
Again, what is marriage for? Marriage is a virtually universal human institution….Not all of these marriage systems look like our own, which is rooted in a fusion of Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian Culture. Yet everywhere, in isolated mountain valleys, parched deserts, jungle thickets, and broad plains, people have come up with some version of this thing called marriage. Why?
Because sex between men and women makes babies, thats why…
The problem with endorsing gay marriage is not that it would allow a handful of people to choose alternative family forms, but that it would require society at large to gut marriage of its central presumptions about family in order to accommodate a few adults’ desires.
The debate over same-sex marriage, then, is not some sideline discussion. It is the marriage debate. Either we win–or we lose the central meaning of marriage. The great threat unisex marriage poses to marriage as a social institution is not some distant or nearby slippery slope, it is an abyss at our feet. If we cannot explain why unisex marriage is, in itself, a disaster, we have already lost the marriage ideal.
Same-sex marriage would enshrine in law a public judgment that the desire of adults for families of choice outweighs the need of children for mothers and fathers. It would give sanction and approval to the creation of motherless or fatherless family as a deliberately chosen “good.” It would mean the law was neutral as to whether children had mothers and fathers. Motherless and fatherless families would be deemed just fine.
Same-sex marriage advocates are startlingly clear on this point. Marriage law, they repeatedly claim, has nothing to do with babies or procreation or getting mothers and fathers for children. In forcing the state legislature to create civil unions for gay couples, the high court of Vermont explicitly ruled that marriage in the state of Vermont has nothing to do with procreation. Evan Wolfson made the same point in Marriage and Same Sex Unions: “[I]sn’t having the law pretend there is only one family model that works (let alone exists) a lie?” He goes on to say that in law, “marriage is not just about procreation–indeed it is not necessarily about procreation at all.”
Wolfson is right that in the course of the sexual revolution the Supreme Court struck down many legal features designed to reinforce the connection of marriage to babies. The animus of elites (including legal elites) against the marriage idea is not brand new. It stretches back at least thirty years. That is part of the problem we face, part of the reason 40 percent of our children are growing up without their fathers.
It is also true, as gay-marriage advocates note, that we impose no fertility tests for marriage: Infertile and older couples marry, and not every fertile couple chooses procreation. But every marriage between a man and a woman is capable of giving any child they create or adopt a mother and a father. Every marriage between a man and a woman discourages either from creating fatherless children outside the marriage vow. In this sense, neither older married couples nor childless husbands and wives publicly challenge or dilute the core meaning of marriage. Even when a man marries an older woman and they do not adopt, his marriage helps protect children. How? His marriage means, if he keeps his vows, that he will not produce out-of-wedlock children.
Does marriage discriminate against gays and Lesbians? Formally speaking, no. There is no sexual-orientation tests for marriage; many gays and lesbians do choose to marry members of the opposite sex, and some of these unions succeed. Our laws do not require a person to marry the individual to whom he or she is erotically attracted, so long as he or she is willing to promise sexual fidelity, mutual caretaking, and shared parenting of any children of their marriage.
But marriage is unsuited to the wants and desires of many gays and lesbians, precisely because it is designed to bridge the male-female divide and sustain the idea that children need mothers and fathers. To make a marriage, what you need is a husband and a wife. Redefining marriage so that it suits gays and lesbians would require fundamentally changing our legal, public, and social conception of what marriage is in ways that threaten its core public purposes. …
She really doesn’t explain how expanding marriage to gays and lesbians so threatens her understanding of “its core public purposes,” but here Gallagher argues that the reason we have marriage is parenting. The threat, it seems, is to either argue for some other singular purpose for marriage or to argue for multiple purposes of marriage. The concerns she raises above do the former, arguing that marriage is really about something else. And she argues that, when you do that, you say implicitly that raising kids can happen anywhere.
She really doesn’t take up the position that Marriage is, both historically and theoretically conceived, on the one hand, and in practice today, on the other, a more complex institution than merely one for procreation
marriage. She’d get closer if she modified this statement in way that doesn’t define it with the genders involved:
“Marriage is our attempt to reconcile and harmonize the erotic, social, and financial needs of [an individual] with the needs of their partner and their children.…”
As I’ve posted elsewhere, Augustine included the rearing of children as a good of marriage, along side the reigning in of sexual passions and the flourishing of the deepest of intimate friendship. I’d argue two things: people get married to have help in raising children, if they intend to have children. But also, people get married to fulfill their deepest desires for communion with another, and to experience the fullness of life that dedicating oneself to a single other offers. That transcends gender. That is why people get married, and the state has an interest in supporting that too. (In other words, the data supports not only that children do better in stable families, a bit better in traditional nuclear families but pretty good in other stable, committed family structures as well, and at the same time the data shows marriage has tangible benefits for the married individuals themselves
while it also supports that marriage is better for the individuals that are married to each other; and the state has an interest in supporting both).
Gallagher argues that we allow men and women who can’t or won’t have children to marry because, well, if they *do* have children they’ll care for them in the social institution suited for it, and it discourages them from having children outside of that social institution. In some sense, any male-female marriage supports the idea of marriage as the place to rear children, even if the particular case doesn’t apply. Her concern is “motherless” and “fatherless” children. Missing is an argument about how unisex (her term) marriages-that-don’t-have-children negatively impact that problem. How does the fact that Fred and John are married and don’t plan to raise children impact, theoretically or practically, regardless of your feeling about it, the argument that children should be raised in so-called “nuclear” families? It really doesn’t. And I’m sorry, but her arguments for why the current status quo isn’t discriminatory don’t wash with me: they continue a trope that orientation is chosen and that denying your sexual orientation is necessary for both societal and individual well being. That doesn’t work. Just look at Ted Haggard as an example (the bogus fact that he was declared “completely heterosexual” recently aside).
In short, Gallagher also is arguing for an ideal of marriage that permits exceptions. That’s fine, but the other exceptions we’re talking about don’t diminish that ideal. The problem is with straight folk and their families: blessing gay folk’s unions won’t weaken straight folk, and in fact might strengthen the institution of marriage.
As for unisex couples that do want children and plan to raise them, I’m not so sure that that’s a bad thing for the children or the family. Either any children they also create would so be supported within their marriage vow, or they wouldn’t have children. Its functionally equivalent to her argument. We are saying “marriage is the best place to raise children” straight or gay. Often, its far better than the foster system. Lots of data available out there, and that’s perhaps a subject for another day’s post.