Gay Marriage and Procreation: Do They Work at Cross Purposes?
I have been asked to comment on the thoughtful observations of Paul A. Rahe who asks quite simply why it is in my normative defense of gay marriage, I have not addressed that critical question of the public interest that every society has in its own perpetuation through procreation. It would be idle to insist that this long-term view of social preservation does rate as a strong public interest, even for those, like myself, who take libertarian positions on matters of marriage. Of course the next generation matters. The hard question is to figure out the relationship that gay marriage has to this undeniable social interest.
The first point to note is that gay couples cannot reproduce. But that is true whether they enter into civil unions or into gay marriages. Either way they can only have children through adoption or various techniques like surrogacy or artificial insemination, which while vital in individual cases are not likely to push the overall birth rates upward by any measurable degree. So on this point, at least, the only strategies that could work are those which seek to either induce, or worse, coerce gay individuals to enter into ordinary heterosexual marriages, which raises far more problems than it solves.
Mr. Rahe does not, however, draw this inference, but concludes that the need for procreation means that the state should offer legal reinforcement of marriage by “subsidization” of the traditional marriage. But on this point, two observations come immediately to mind. First, the subsidy in question could be extended to all couples gay or straight. Second, there is the far harder question of whether the subsidy should be extended to those women who bear children out of wedlock, which has become an ever larger fraction of the population. There is an equally great problem of children raised in homes broken by divorce, which bodes ill for the children of these marriages.
To my mind, these huge problems should be tackled head on. The first line of social offense is to try to persuade young men and women that a durable marriage really improves the prospects of their offspring. This huge social problem bears little relationship to the gay marriage issue. And if there were a connection, my guess is that it could run equally well in the opposite direction. If gay couples can commit to marriage and take on the burden of raising children, which they do with real success, then surely you can do so as well. The obstacles to having children for a heterosexual couple are a lot lower than those for gay and lesbian couples.
So of course the state has a legitimate interest in marriage because of offspring. But nothing about the legalization of gay marriage changes those issues, so long as we insist that all the rules on abuse and neglect apply to all couples as they do. In terms of the overall social concern, the fragile status of the nuclear family is a pressing issue. We should all be better off if that were the focus on our inquiry, which will only happen when gay marriage becomes legal, which could easily happen in New York this coming week.