Copyright © by Len Holman, 1/2/13
Next spring, the Supreme Court is going to hear oral arguments in United States v. Windsor, which is a case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). One argument sure to be used by the lawyers defending DOMA is one with the whimsical title of “responsible procreation.” This is a code phrase for indicating the utter contempt for LGBT couples who want to (gulp!) get married. It is code for anyone who dares to love outside society’s norms, outside God’s mandate, as mandated mostly by a church whose history is replete with irresponsible fornication. It is syllogistically interpreted as meaning that—since gay people have sex but not babies, and the state has a vested interest in protecting and encouraging the birth of babies, and discouraging the lack of said babies, then the state has a vested interest in keeping non-procreative people from marrying.
In 2012, the U.S. 2nd Court of Appeals found DOMA unconstitutional, but there was one dissenting opinion, by Judge Chester Straub, who used the responsible procreation argument as the reason that DOMA should be upheld (this next may make your eyeballs bulge, but it is what it is). He wrote that Congress and the President had legitimately decided to grant certain privileges to heterosexual marriages because it is the only kind of relationship “inherently capable of producing another generation of humanity.” Ok, that’s plain…gay couples don’t really deserve the bennies of straight marriage because they won’t produce another generation of good Christian folk? Another generation of anyone? Of course, that is total nonsense, as a reason to keep DOMA around. This argument assumes too much, doesn’t align with the facts, and is woefully ignorant (did this guy go to college or ever read a newspaper? And why is a biologically-related child so important to these people and not to people like Madonna or Angelina Jolie or the many people waiting to adopt from China or Russia or Africa?).
Under DOMA, there are over one thousand federal marital rights for which gay couples are disqualified, among which are that they cannot file joint federal tax returns, are not eligible for family or medical leave to care for an ailing spouse, and—in the event of the death of a spouse—cannot collect spousal Social Security benefits, and are not exempt from federal inheritance taxes. In one case I personally know of, a gay man was not allowed in the ambulance when his partner was badly hurt, and was refused visitation rights in the hospital by his partner’s outraged family (outraged that a gay man would even THINK he had a right to do that).
I wonder what the statistics are concerning “responsible” procreation by straight people. How responsible is any of it? Marriage is held to be (by the holy, the self-righteous, and the misled), a God-given institution, greater than the mighty edifices of Egypt or Babylonia, stronger than steel, and less degradable than those late, lamented Twinkies (at least, I lament them). The rest of us know that marriage is, well, marriage: good, bad, indifferent, and not so much the “in” thing among the younger set. If strictly enforced, the spirit of the responsible procreation argument would have to apply to anyone who doesn’t--or won’t—procreate, including granddad and grandma, couples who decide NOT to have children at all, and those who can’t have children for physical reasons. What happens to adopted children or step kids as far as benefits are concerned?
From 1939, at the inception of the Social Security Act, congress recognized that adopted and step children—two groups not biologically related to their parents—as potential beneficiaries, that such children would be vulnerable if their parents were hurt or died. Federal benefits also belong to non-biological children of military couples. So what’s all this REALLY about? Isn’t this about the Old Guard (and the Old Guard doesn’t necessarily have to be all old people) seeing the landscape melting away, seeing their paranoid fears of a rotting society coming to fruition? Isn’t this another version of the slippery slope argument? You know, if we let “them” marry, what’s next? Group marriage? Animal marriage? No marriage at all?
Amelia Earhart’s letter to her husband, George Putnam, found among her papers at Purdue University, is a model of customization. It basically asks for occasional freedom from “the confinement of even an attractive cage” (marriage), and gives him the same freedom. Not exactly a pre-nup, but a gloss on marriage many people in this mighty nation know all too well, and have known for a very long time. Isn’t gay marriage just one facet of the jewel which is partnered life? Do we need to spend ANY energy on keeping gay people out of this one piece of American life? Don’t we, as a nation, have more important things to worry about? Gay people DO have kids, one way or another, and to me, that’s responsible.
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