Challenge: Is Marriage Really Connected to Children?

Posted: May 29, 2012 by Amy Hall in Do the Right Thing, Weekly Challenge

For this week’s challenge, here’s an objection that comes up in discussions about same-sex marriage:

If, as you say, the purpose of marriage is to stabilize the relationships that produce children, then by your logic, heterosexuals who can’t (or don’t want to) have children should be prevented from marrying.

Does this objection prove that marriage isn’t really connected to children, or is there an answer to it? How do you respond? We’ll hear from Alan with his answer on Thursday.

  1. Guillao says:

    I’m going to take a shot at this simply to try and see if I can express this in a clear way. Sometimes it helps me if I am forced to get my ideas out on the table and vocalize or type them. I am just now finishing up an article by Robert George called “What is Marriage?” that has been incredibly helpful to me in gaining a deeper understanding of these kinds of issues. So I am basically borrowing from his work. Many things could be said I guess, but I will stick with just one thing. Here it is: It does not follow that simply because some heterosexual couples are infertile that therefore they should not be able to marry, or that theirs is not a genuine marriage. Why? How are we able to retain the infertile heterosexual marriage, while maintainging that same-sex relations are not marriage? Because one of the key components of marriage is its comprehensiveness. It is a comprehensive union, in which two people bring to together and share ALL (not just some) of the relevant emotions, goods, etc. But one of the important key elements of our make-up as human beings is our BODY. So in order to be comprehensive, the people in question must bring together their bodies in organic (sexual) bodily union. But a union is not entirely comprehensive until all of parts of the system are working toward an end inherent to the system. For example, digestion and all other bodily functions acting comprehensively, work toward the end inherent to the system, that is, to keep the person alive. Notice this though. What happens if a piece of food (that chicken you didn’t chew quite well enough) slips by and does not get digested? Do we thus say that digestion is not going on simply because of the fact that in this instance it was not able to perform its inherent end? By no means. Digestion is STILL taking place EVEN IF the desired result is not produced. Another example might be that of a baseball team, acting comprehensively, as a unit, to win games. But what if (like the Bad News Bears) they have a couple of setbacks and fail to win games. Do we thus say that baseball is not taking place? Or that there is no team, simply because the desired result is not being produced? By no means. Baseball is STILL occuring and there is STILL a team, acting as a comprehensive unit, toward an inherent end of winning games, even if they are not able to do so. Similarly, in infertile marriages, the two people involved are acting (by way of coitus, a specific sort of action) in a comprehensive fashion inherent to the relationship. But unlike the examples of digestion, or winning games, the inherent end for the comprehensive, organic bodily union here is that of reproduction. When all of the parts of the system of marriage work properly, and comprehensively, they by nature produce offspring. But what if the people (or team, if you will) is acting comprehensive, desiring to fulfill the inherent end of the system, but are not able to do so. Do we thus say that marriage is not taking place? By no means. Marriage is STILL going on EVEN IF the inherent, natural end of reproduction is not produced. On the other hand, this cannot be said for same-sex relations because the comprehensive organic bodily union in these relationships is not (cannot) be aimed at the inherent function of the entire system (reproduction), for the act of reproduction is specific to the act of coitus, which does not take place in these relationships. In short, infertile couples are really married because they are acting like, intending to (whether they in fact are ABLE to or not) performing the essential, natural function of real marriages, while same-sex couples cannot, in fact act in this way, even if they so desired, because their bodily union does not, even in principle, act toward this natural end. Wow. I feel like I used the same words a billion times. Sorry about that. I probably butchered Robert George’s argument but this was my attempt.

  2. Albert says:

    Well lets see… The government gives married people certain privileges. Privileges to accumulate wealth that can be past-on to the next generation. Tax breaks for each child they raise. Health Insurance that is shared even if only one of the couple is working. These types of privileges all aid, and encourage, one parent staying home and caring for children.

    The government does not expect or dictate that one parent has to stay home or that they have to have children at all. They provide these privileges as incentives to procreate and continue the growth of society for the greater good of the community. They don’t do this for single mothers, though they do get some of the tax breaks.

    The goal of government is not to dictate how people want to live but to define what is an ideal and hope that the community will want to live within that ideal.

    I have heard several times that there are studies have shown that children prosper (mentally and health wise) better when they are raised by both parents (If anyone has great resources for this I would appreciate them). Though children can be raised by same-sex couples, single parents and even in foster care, these are not the ideal. And because of that, the government holds no responsibility to provide privileges to those couplings or lack there of.

    So yes, I would say that marriage is tied to children. Because without children being the key component, there is no reason to provide the privileges and the couple would not need to be married.

  3. It would be an undue burden on the government to try to determine which heterosexual couples were willing and able to produce children. And if the government did try to take on that burden, it would onerous and overly invasive. Big Brother invasive and onerous. We don’t want that, do we?

    • Sam Harper says:

      Mike, is it really just a matter of practicality that you think the government should allow sterile heterosexuals to get married? What if it were as easy as doing a thumb print when you got your marriage license, and they could tell if you were sterile or not. Should the government deny a marriage license to couple who are incapable of reproducing?

      It seems like it could be as easy as checking a box when you apply for a marriage license:

      ____ Have you had a hysterectomy?
      ____ Have you had a vasectomy?

      If you say “yes,” then they could deny a marriage license. That wouldn’t be any great burden on the government.

  4. Kids appreciate and benefit from the difference between Grandma & Grandpa, Aunt & Uncle in addition to Mom & Dad. Even childless couples in the neighborhood play a role in instructing children about respective roles gender plays in human relationships.

    Any relationship in which it is ambiguous which partner bent on one knee to propose to the other is clearly of a different nature. At a real wedding it is not necessary to flip a coin to determine who will toss the bouquet. Pretending that there is no difference between male and female or that same-gender relationships will ever be the equivalent of marriage is nonsense.

  5. Well, Sam… My brief (reinterpret that as “simplistic” if you’d like) comments are a bit incomplete, as you have shown. Thanks for making me think a bit harder on this.

    So I will say that a heterosexual union is the type of relationship that can produce children; a homosexual one is not. Even though not every heterosexual marriage will produce children, the heterosexual union is the pattern by which children are produced. And, as Gary writes in his comment above, even childless marriages serve as examples for children of other marriages concerning gender roles that do, in the aggregate, help stabilize families and thus society.

    And so, the state does have an interest in sanctioning even childless heterosexual unions, because even they help to stabilize child-bearing families.

  6. Adrian Urias says:

    It’s a misunderstanding of the argument. The argument is based on the nature of human beings. Men and women, by nature, are capable of having children. Same-sex couples cannot. It is not based on the capability or desire. The objection is posed against function, not nature. Marriage has a nature, men and women have a nature. You can have contrary desires or not have the abilities to carry out your nature, and still be that thing according to that nature. For example, as a human, I am an ethical being. I am supposed to be moral. Now, even if I don’t desire to be moral, or even act immorally, it doesn’t follow that I do not have the nature of being moral. I may act contrary to my nature, by I am still naturally a moral agent. In the same way, even if I have contrary desires for my marriage (like not having children), or don’t have the ability to have children because of infertility, I am still, in my nature, supposed to have children in a marriage, and having those disabilities does not negate the marriage just like acting immoral does not make me an amoral creature.

  7. Shaun Wilson says:

    While it is true that not every male – female sexual relationship can produce children, it IS true that every child is the product of a male – female sexual relationship. This is not about exceptions, it’s about the rule.