Protecting Heterosexual Marriage… Because Of “Unplanned” Offspring?

Lawyers defending the Defense of Marriage Act have chosen an unusual argument to make: only heterosexual couples can ”produce unplanned and unintended offspring,” and thus they need the sacrament of marriage to… I don’t know… protect them from… okay, I give up, they’ve lost me. That argument makes no sense whatsoever.

On the plus side, conservative lawyers aren’t condemning or criticizing the “immoral” lifestyle of gays and lesbians in this argument. They probably know that they would’ve lost by a long shot, since more and more Americans are coming to realize that non-heterosexual folks aren’t that scary or different from them (despite the best attempts of Christian fundamentalists to paint a depraved image of gay people).

When Washington attorney Charles J. Cooper put forth his defense of California’s Proposition 8 (which bans gay marriage), it almost sounded like he was making a case to outlaw heterosexual marriage, saying that non-heterosexual couples don’t need marriage because they “don’t present a threat of irresponsible procreation.” Wow, sounds like we’d better watch out for those irresponsible procreators! They could be dangerous!

Cooper also said: 

“It is plainly reasonable for California to maintain a unique institution [referring to marriage] to address the unique challenges posed by the unique procreative potential of sexual relationships between men and women.” Which, apparently, refers to the ability to accidentally get pregnant. As a side note, since I’m in a heterosexual marriage I’m rather offended by the implication that I’m too stupid or irresponsible to figure out birth control. But that’s all I’m gonna say on that matter, since I’m coming from a world of privilege because I can get legally married in the first place.

Another lawyer on the case, Republican Paul D. Clement, backs up Cooper by saying that when non-heterosexual couples want to have kids, “substantial advance planning is required.” Well, guess what? Some heterosexual couples also engage in substantial advance planning before having children! Sometimes this is because they want to get out of debt before having children. Sometimes it’s because getting pregnant takes longer than expected. Sometimes fertility treatments are required. Sometimes they decide to adopt.

Clement further says: “Unintended children produced by opposite-sex relationships and raised out-of-wedlock would pose a burden on society.” So wait… heterosexual couples who aren’t hitched but are raising kids put an extra burden on society, and that’s why we need marriage? Because getting a marriage license somehow makes all the obstacles involved in raising children magically vanish?

The truly offensive thing about these arguments is that they assume that the purpose of marriage is to produce children. Newsflash: it’s not. No more than the “purpose” of a woman is to produce children. She can if she chooses. There’s nothing more to it than that. You wanna tell an infertile couple that their marriage is invalid because they can’t have children? I sure as hell don’t.

If these lawmakers are truly worried about irresponsible procreation, they’d be supporting sex education initiatives and access to contraception. If having unplanned children is such a burden to society, let’s encourage family planning! Let’s encourage more people to adopt the children who need homes – and yes, that would mean encouraging gay and lesbian families to do the same. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re falling back on a more subtle version of the “gays are immoral” argument, and you should just bone up and admit it.

I hope that the judges in these court cases are able to see through the prejudiced and offensive arguments being presented here. I’m getting really sick of the “all women = babymakers” implication of people defending heterosexual (read: baby-making) marriages. And I’m also frustrated by the homophobia permeating these people’s arguments. Separate is not equal… haven’t we learned that already?!

About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.