Saturday, August 14, 2010

"If fertility is important, shouldn't infertile heterosexuals be disallowed to marry?"

No. That would be silly.

When this question is raised, it is important first to address a pernicious intellectual obstacle.

The phenomenon of human fertility is not subsequent to marriage (like some kind of "add-on feature") but rather, prior to it. The fact that we have been rendering childbirth technologically optional does not change this. But our sense of control over childbirth is artificially inflated. We have lost touch with the socially organizing power that fertility naturally holds.

Fertility is prior to, and the basis of, all manner of human interactions. We should not be surprised at its central role in early and nature-based religions. In civilizations where women were accorded a solemn reverence, it was their fertility that was the source of their sanctity.

The existence of fertility in general is, anthropologically, the basis for the existence of marriage in general. I do not believe this is a controversial statement in itself.

However, reflecting on this reveals something new. Comparing a same-sex union to an infertile gender-complementary marriage involves a mental seppuku. Neither is bearing children, it is true--like two trees that had no apples for the harvest. One tree may be suffering a disease. The other is made of plastic. One couple fails in spite of participating in the socially organizing powers behind civilization. The other never participated.

Consider the justifiable outrage if NIA support groups around the country began being attended by same-sex partners.

One must also consider that infertility is not fully understood in the same way that same-sex infecundity is. Children born to couples who believed themselves to be infertile are not uncommon. Even so, an couple that is infertile because of a vasectomy is still infertile for accidental, not constitutive reasons.

The phenomenon of gender-complementary fertility in general is the basis for the existence of marriage.

Therefore same-sex infecundity, infertile-by-definition, means that there is no basis for same sex marriage.

EDIT: Clarification based on questions from friends:

Wyatt: Wait, I'm lost in syntax. How is a vasectomy accidental? And how is something constitutive necessarily not accidental?

I meant "accidental", not in the sense of "unintentional", but rather being the result of an external occurrence. If a dog has three legs, or is wearing a knit sweater, or has a notched ear, those are all "accidents"--none of them are the result of the dog being a dog. They just happen, whether by chance or invention. Accidental. It's philosophy jargon.

A gender-complementary marriage might be infertile, but that infertility is due to random incident--not to any constitutive feature of the couple, as is the case with a homosexual pair. There is a difference between being infertile in fact and infertile by definition. C.f. sick tree vs. plastic tree.

Typically when I make this distinction, the common reaction is, "Well, you're just splitting hairs, they have the same results, so they're the same thing." But that's reducing things to their function and result, and we don't do that in other areas, not even legal ones.

Wyatt: And how is homosexuality not both [constitutive and accidental]?

The jury's still out on whether homosexuality is a constitutive element of a person. Probably that answer is different from gay person to gay person and there are different varieties of homosexuality.

Regardless, homosexuality doesn't cause infertility. A homosexual union is infertile, not in the way a hetereosexual couple /can/ be infertile (external incident, disease/belief/surgery), but in the way a chair, a cloud, an antler are infertile--by definition.

Katlin: What about heterosexual couples who choose not to have children for religious reasons (believing the end times to be near) or personal morality (believing the world is already overpopulated?

On a personal (not legal) front, I might question the point of the people in your examples getting married in the first place. But even their decisions are "accidental," in the sense of being the result of something *external*--i.e., their heterosexuality didn't *make* them believe those things.

Katlin: There ARE people who do not believe in sex outside of marriage but who still refuse to have children. Should they also be forbidden the right to marry in a courthouse because they define marriage as being between two individuals WITHOUT the intention to procreate?

Recall my earlier statement: the only reason marriage exists at all, for anybody, is the generalized phenomenon of human fertility. Gender complementarity is not an optional component of that.

There is a difference between something being "forbidden" and being simply a contradiction in terms. Matrimony cannot be forbidden anyone for whom it is a possibility. But its origins define it. Matrimony without gender complementarity might as well be matrimony without two people. Either variance takes the union utterly outside any resemblance to its known origins, and outside any participation in its distinctive social character.

Infertility, voluntary or imposed by circumstance, does marriage no favors, but it does not create a contradiction.

An aside: In Catholic Canon Law, it is impossible for a couple to be married in the Catholic faith if they are not at least sincerely open to the possibility of children. This impediment does not prevent a (by chance) infertile couple from marrying, since they are still participating in the same formal structure, and anyway, children have been born to couples thought to be infertile.


Paperback Writer said...
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The Rebelprofiler said...

I have to respectfully disagree with your hypothesis. Torah clearly states that marriage is divine providence simply because "it is not good for man to be alone." (Genesis 2:18) Judaism teaches that the purpose of marriage, and of sexual intimacy within a marriage, is NOT for procreation, but to bring the couple closer to one another and to being like G-d, since it is taught that G-d is neither male nor female but bot. This is why sex during pregnancy and after menopause is still encouraged in married couples and considered a vital part of a healthy marital relationship. Catholic dogma may differ but not all religions hold to the same logic as Catholicism.

Father Maurer said...
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Father Maurer said...

[Original comment deleted, re-phrased slightly & posted here - sorry for the confusion]

The Torah also states "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). This is simply not possible outside of marriage in terms of gender complementarity.