The interplay of fertility, reproductive impulses and gender differences in heterosexual relationships is, for want of a better word, “thick.” All straight relationships are intimately affected by this interplay in ways that gay relationships are not. (And I do mean all straight relationships. Because they’ve grown up and fallen in love as heterosexuals, the infertile straight couple will experience their inability to have children very differently than a same-sex couple does. Similarly, even two eighty-nine-year-old straights, falling in love in the nursing home, will be following relational patterns — and carrying baggage, no doubt, after eighty-nine years of heterosexual life! — laid down by the male-female reproductive difference.) This interplay’s existence is what makes it possible to generalize about the particular challenges of heterosexual relationships, and their particular promise as well. And the fact that this interplay determines how and when and whether the vast majority of new human beings come into the world is what makes it possible to argue — not necessarily convincingly, but at least plausibly! — that both state and society have a stronger interest in the mating rituals of heterosexuals than in those of gays and lesbians.
There are so many obvious logical holes in this argument it’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, the most salient: in what possible way would granting marriage rights to homosexual couples affect, even in the slightest, how the marriage institution impacts heterosexuals, our “mating” behavior, the way in which we decide or don’t decide to reproduce, etc.? I cannot see, in any sense, how gay men and lesbians marrying would have even in the slightest affected my own decisions regarding sex, marriage, and having children. Can Douthat be seriously suggesting that his own marriage and/or sexual or reproductive choices would have been influenced by the fact that gay men or lesbians were getting married as well? All he seems to be saying is that the existence of marriage as an institution has an effect on reproductive habits (which is obviously true), and that this only applies to heterosexual couples (which is obviously false - see below - but even if it true, would be irrelevant), but regardless, it is still obvious that extending marriage rights to homosexuals could not possibly, in any way, affect the behavior of heterosexuals. So where’s the compelling state interest here?
Of course it also falls flat because homosexual couples can choose to reproduce as well, and/or adopt. They might do so via any number of means, including surrogate mothers/fathers, sperm donation, egg donation, etc. A gay couple might get a sister or brother to donate an egg or sperm. Furthermore, extensive research indicates that children of homosexual parents grow up to be perfectly healthy. So the argument falls flat here as well (though again, it wouldn’t matter even if it didn’t).
Finally, Douthat ignores the fact that marriage confers many state benefits which have nothing to do with children, but have everything to do with recognizing the fact that a loving couple has created a long-term bond. Marriage provides tax benefits both at the state and Federal level; it affects probate/inheritance rights, visitation rights, workers’ compensation, medical benefits, legal testimony issues, property ownership, etc., all of which are linked to the notion of a long-term, committed relationship, and have no obvious relation to Douthat’s irrational argument with respect to procreation. There’s clearly no compelling state interest to discriminate, whatsoever, and many strong reasons to believe this discrimination subjects a group of citizens to second-class status based solely on irrational grounds.permalink |