Saturday, September 5, 2009

Gay Marriage and Infertility

An objection often made to gay marriage is that such a marriage could not produce any children. The counter-response is that this would mean that heterosexual couples who are infertile or who simply do not want to have children should also be excluded from marriage. I addressed this claim in this post, but Keith Burgess-Jackson has a much simpler and shorter refutation.

I wrote the other day that "marriage is about children." It might be objected that if this were the case, then childless or infertile heterosexual couples would not be allowed to marry. Here is the objection:

1. If marriage were about children, then neither infertile nor fertile-but-childless heterosexual couples would be allowed to marry.

2. Infertile and fertile-but-childless heterosexual couples are allowed to marry.


3. Marriage is not about children.

This argument is valid, but the first premise is false, which makes the argument unsound. Compare the following argument, which has the same form as the first:

1a. If drinking alcohol were about maturity, then immature individuals who are at or above the legal drinking age would not be allowed to drink alcohol.

2a. Immature individuals who are at or above the legal drinking age are allowed to drink alcohol.


3a. Drinking alcohol is not about maturity.

The first premise of this second argument is false, as even proponents of homosexual "marriage" will concede. There are many reasons of a practical nature, and some of a moral nature, for not disallowing the immature to drink. The drinking age is a bright-line rule that obviates the need for agents of the state to inquire into maturity. Perhaps in an ideal world the law would say that all and only mature individuals may drink alcohol, but our world is far from ideal.

Read the whole thing.


Unknown said...

But that's not the argument at all: The argument is this. If you say that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry, and the reason is that they cannot produce children, then by logical extension you ought also to say that infertile hetereosexual couples ought not to be allowed to marry, because they cannot produce children. But you would not (and should not) say that. Therefore, you do not (and should not) truly believe that no one should be allowed to marry who cannot produce children. So, this is not a good argument against homosexual marriage.

Jim S. said...

Your conclusion is the first premise of KBJ's argument: that if homosexuals can't marry each other because they can't produce children, then neither should infertile heterosexual couples. His claim is that this premise (and thus your conclusion) is false. In the same way that age stands in for maturity with regards to drinking, heterosexuality stands in for the ability to produce offspring.

The reason for such a "standing in" is twofold. 1) To require proof that a given couple is fertile would be to violate their rights to privacy. 2) It would be absurdly impractical. Married couples often can't have children at first, but after several tries they are. One in five first pregnancies end in miscarriage. So if a couple try to have a baby and miscarry the first time does that mean that they are infertile? Of course not. What if it takes several tries? At what point do you draw the line? I think the obvious answer is that you can't.

Neither of these cases apply to homosexual couples. There would be no "tests" to determine whether they could produce children on their own, so their rights to privacy would not be violated. And it's not impractical to say that homosexual sex cannot produce children. So the first premise of KBJ's syllogism is false.

Unknown said...

No. My conclusion was that the presenter of the argument doesn't actually believe that people who cannot produce children should not marry (and I add - neither should he believe it, but that is my opinion and not the conclusion of the argument). If he truly believed it, then he would be willing to carry it through to its logical extension and say that any couple who could not produce children ought not to be allowed to marry. The fact that (I both hope and assume) he would not be willing to say that proves that he doesn't actually believe it. He would, I assume, say infertile couples ought to be allowed to marry (and yes some are told they are infertile but are later able to conceive -- but there are others cases where that would take nothing less than a hard miracle -- what about people who can't even have sex for medical reasons?), and this shows he thinks reproduction is not the sole purpose of marriage (and I certainly hope he thinks that), although his argument does not acknowledge this is the case. I then assume he has another motivation for saying homosexual marriage ought not to be allowed, one that is not covered by the argument.

There may be some plausible arguments against homosexual marriage, but as far as I can see this is just not one of them. Who in their right mind would say that reproduction is the sole, or even the main, purpose of marriage? And you really do have to maintain that in order to be able to maintain this argument. As soon as you admit that love, companionship, mutual encouragement or parenting (because homosexual couples can adopt and/or bring children from a pre-existent relationship into a marriage) play roles you have to explain why hetereosexual couples ought to be allowed to enjoy these in a marriage relationship but homosexual couples should not.

It seems to me this argument attempts to say that homosexual marriage is unnatural by arguing based an unnaturally low view of marriage in general.

Jim S. said...

To say that disallowing homosexual marriage should be carried to its logical extension to infertile couples only holds all things being equal. But the whole point being made here is that all things are not equal:

1) In order to determine whether a couple is infertile their right to privacy would have to be violated. So which takes priority, their right to privacy or requiring that they be able to demonstrate that they can produce children? I think it's obvious that their right to privacy takes priority. Homosexual couples would not have to have their right to privacy violated in order to determine that they cannot produce children (with each other). Therefore there is nothing overruling their inability to produce children. So homosexual couples and infertile heterosexual couples are simply not parallel in this regard.

2) Infertility is not absolute, it's a matter of degree. It just means it's very unlikely that someone would be able to produce a child. There are heterosexuals who would require something like a miracle to be able to produce children. Yet men with vasectomes have sired children and women with hysterectomes have become pregnant. Two men producing a child through homosexual sex, however, would be a miracle of an entirely different kind. In the former case there is a re-establishment of normalcy; this is obviously not true of the second case. So, again, infertility is not parallel to homosexuality.

3) I argued in my earlier post (linked to above) that marriage is about a) producing new people b) in a small close-knit community, i.e. the family. Homosexual marriage excludes the first of these essentially. Infertile heterosexuals would only exclude it accidentally. So I could simply say, "Marriage is between those who are capable of producing children in principle, not (necessarily) in actuality." There is nothing ad hoc about such a definition, because it's unethical and absurdly impractical to require that couples are actually capable of producing children before they are allowed to marry. Of course the nurturing part can be done by homosexual couples, but marriage is about both aspects. To exclude one in principle is not only to redefine marriage from how it's been defined throughout history, but it is to separate these two aspects into different compartments. But then why should the people who sired and bore a child have the right to raise it? Why should the child have the right to be nurtured by those most likely to be most concerned for its well-being? Homosexual marriage would obviate those rights, and this is not a path we want to take.

musdave said...

I think we need to take a step back to society's stake in marriage an children in the argument to refute the argument that the government shouldn't be involved in defining marriage.

Argument 1

P1) In order to perpetuate itself, a society must have children.

P2) Rearing children requires a great deal of societal resources.

P3) Marriage is an institutation in which the sexual reproduction required to create children can occur in a framework that redirects additional resources from the producers in society to mother/child.

C1) Therefore, societal institutions have a stake in decisions regarding the nature and function of marriage.

Argument 2
P1) Societal institutions privilege marriage because of its relationship to creating children and the stable allocation of resources to those children.

P2) A framework seeking societal privileges must at the least perform the functions of marriage discussed in P1.

C2) Therefore, couples who meet both criteria should be priveleged in society.