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    Justice Roberts's Gay Marriage (and Mine)

    The Supreme Court spent Holy Week (or, as Jesus would call it, Passover) debating gay marriage, which Chief Justice John Roberts clearly opposes. Religious opponents of gay marriage like to argue that the purpose of marriage is to beget children, so that only heterosexual marriages are "real," because only biological fertility makes a marriage "real." By this standard John Roberts's own marriage is not real, and neither is mine. I do not believe that, and neither should he.

    John Roberts did not marry until 41, to a woman his own age, and they adopted their children. Justice and Mrs. Roberts are, as that link suggests, believing Catholics. That their marriage did not result in biological children does not make them less Catholic or less married. Roberts married an intellectual and professional peer rather than, say, a twenty-five year old. If he had married a twentysomething admirer, that hypothetical marriage would likely have led to biological children. Would such a marriage, to less closely-matched spouse, have been more authentic? More sacred? I do not believe so. I do not think Justice Roberts believes so, either.

    Like Roberts, I did not marry until my early forties: a year and a half ago last Monday. Like Roberts, I married a person who was my equal or better intellectually, professionally, and emotionally. For me as for Roberts, that meant someone relatively close to my own age. And, like Roberts and his wife, my spouse and I share a faith life that is part of our marriage; as it happens, we and they belong to the same church. External circumstances make beginning a family out of the question for the near future; it would be irresponsible of me to father a child when I spend most of every week hundreds of miles away (just the thought of my wife entering labor while I am that far away from her opens a swampy pit inside my stomach). I am not less married because we do not have children. And I would not be more married if I had chosen a spouse with whom I could wait ten years to begin a biological family because she was half my age: God forbid.

    I could not be more married than I am. My relationship with my spouse has become a fundamental element of my identity, whether I wake up beside her or two state lines away. Marriage is not just dating with tax benefits; it has the potential to transform and reorient your life, to change the way you move through the world. My marriage is part of who I am. And my spouse, to borrow John Donne's words, is the compass "who makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun." I believe and hope that Justice Roberts's marriage gives him the same sense of purpose and the same consolations.

    I do not believe that marriage is a means to an end, or simply a prerequisite to something else. Nor do I think anyone truly married can believe that. The purpose of marriage is to be married: to enter a lifelong relationship with your spouse. It is, as John Milton argued long ago, a remedy for the loneliness of the human soul: "against all the sorrows and casualties of this life to have an intimate and speaking help, a ready and reviving associate in marriage." Sex can be arranged by other means; childbirth can be arranged by other means, but, as Milton says, only marriage can satisfy the soul's thirst to join "to itself in conjugal fellowship a fit conversing soul ... many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it." The intellectual and spiritual companionship of marriage, not the potential for begetting children, is essential and irreplaceable.

    Justice Roberts' spiritual and emotional bond with his wife, the essence of his marriage, is exactly what he would deny his fellow citizens because they have taken another man for a husband or another woman for a wife. The commitment to intense lifelong partnership comes to those who will not or cannot have children of their own body. That is as true for gay husbands and gay wives as it is for straight husbands and straight wives, as true as it is for John Roberts and his wife, as true as it is for my spouse and for me. Except for the privilege society offers to one class of citizen instead of another, John Roberts' marriage is a gay marriage, a source of profound spiritual and emotional nourishment that transcends the biological. The comforts and fulfillment of Justice Roberts's marriage, which I hope continue for many more years, are no less valid because he and his wife have not conceived children. But neither are the consolations of his fellow citizens' marriages any less real or valid because they, like Roberts and his wife, may not physically procreate. If John Roberts believes, as I trust he does, that marriage is a genuinely spiritual institution, then he should respect and honor the emotional and spiritual bonds of marriage. If mere biology invalidates such a bond, then John Roberts can no more be married to his true partner than two men or two women can be. Their marriages are as real as his, or mine. And to dishonor the sacred reality of those marriages dishonors his own.


    You bring up a good point.  I have attended several weddings here in South Florida between retired people.  They won't be making any new babies.  They are just happy with having someone to love in their twilight years and not be alone.

    How great a role do you think the heritability of social security and other retirement plans plays into the decision to marry or not for older couples?

    Genuinely curious - not being argumentative.  

    That depends on the person.  These people wanted to marry and the families seemed happy about it.  Some just live together because of financial and family relationships.  Others just hang out together and maintain their own homes and are content with being boy friend and girl friend.  They are the same as younger people in society.  

    In Jesuit high school, they told us that the church organized riots when a rich widow past child-bearing age would remarry. Ostensibly it was because she was sinning by having intercourse when she could no longer bear children, but actually they wanted her to die without an heir and leave her estate to the church instead of having to consider her husband's family.

    "John Roberts marriage is in a gay marriage..." Nice one, I hope he understands that the anti-anti-people don't value his marriage precisely because he and his wife don't have bio-children. They don't believe in equality of any kind, and I seriously hope John Roberts does believe in equality for everyone. I do, I just don't have any way to verify that, but if he hangs around the repulsive Antonin Scalia for very long he can see that an inability to see others as equals completely distorts his relationship with humanity. We all know Scalia has no real beliefs in the Constitution, he just knows that everything he doesn't like is unconstitutional, let's just hope Roberts isn't cut from his cloth.

    Congratulations on being happily married so recently. You obviously care very much for your wife so I assume you married primarily for love; companionship, too, though that is currently limited by distance. Those are by far the best reasons to marry and are what makes any matrimony truly holy.

    I do wonder though how important legal recognition of your marriage was/is to you and your wife. Also, at your age, you and perhaps your wife as well, have accumulated some property and other financial assets, did you enter into a pre-nuptial agreement?

    It really is not necessary for you to answer such personal questions.  I raise them simply to point out that the only rational reason for government involvement or recognition of any marriage is where it intersects with property and contract laws -- unless children are involved.

    There is absolutely no reason government should discriminate for or against married people in taxes or other benefits like immigration status. Any special 'rights' and benefits it bestows should be reserved for parents, not spouses - gay or not.


    Well, that's great Doc Cleveland, but this blog needs grandchildren!

    Oh, mm. You made me laugh on a day when I sorely needed it.

    Thanks Doc, because you're right on the money here.  I really am so surprised that this whole procreation argument as grounds for opposing gay marriage is still given weight by anyone who sits on that Court or who happens to walk by it.  I guess it's a reflection, perhaps and placing things in a better light, that the issue is moving so quickly through the courts, legislatively, and societally, that the arguments aren't keeping up with the pace.  

    Nice work Doc. 

    P.S.  And let me add my appreciation for pointing out that married and unmarried people choose to have or not to have children for all kinds of reasons, just about all of them I can think of being fundamentally private and personal considerations. 

    I think the 2 main arguments are 1) condemned in the Bible and 2) historically not done around the world over thousands of years.

    Sorry to deconstruct your straw man, but inability to procreate hasn't been the #1 argument against gay marriage. And even if 1 or 50,000 hetero couples are unable to, the vast majority can


    Does this mean you do not love me any more?

    Oh internet relationships are!

    I guess I'll go back to my bible.

    Oh no prob, we can still hook up, just don't need a certificate from city hall. Bring your King James if you like. [PS - what's love got to do with it? Are we 14?]


    PP - you are the straw man king, and there you go again!

    Dr. C didn't construct one, you did, and then you deconstructed your own creation!

    Dr. C.: "If John Roberts believes, as I trust he does, that marriage is a genuinely spiritual institution...". That isn't a straw man , it's John Roberts!!

    And tax deductions for marriage, medical and legal privileges/benefits, spouse health coverage and other things have also 'not been around for thousands of years'. Half of marriages end in divorce, and most children in the US are born out of wedlock now anyway, which would seem to negate any link with marriage and procreation.

    One of the best posts I have read at this site Dr. C, or any other venue on this subject.

    Oh, you skewered me, I bleed.

    "If John Roberts believes...and I trust he does" and then "spiritual institution" must hic haec hoc ergo cogito zoom thusly mean "for procreation only" and concerns about marriage must refer to tax deductions.

    No straw men here - you've earned your degree in Thinkology. Please proceed to the thinkers café.

    This opens a whole can of worms if marriage isn't about procreation. For example could a mother marry her son? Laws against incest are there to protect us from inbreeding and if a mother is too old to have children she can't breed. That's why we need laws against elderly women and male homosexuals marryiing. Old men with young women and lesbian couples should, of course, marry because they can breed. In fact with lesbian couples both can breed so lesbian marriages should be encouraged.

    Here, noted scientist Jeremy Irons (at least I think he played a noted scientist in one of his movies) can explain it better than I can.

    "Could a father not marry his son?" Irons asked HuffPost Live host Josh Zepps. Irons argued that "it's not incest between men" because "incest is there to protect us from inbreeding, but men don't breed,"

    I think those worms have been crawling around for centuries. Irons seems to be claiming that marriage is too special a concept to apply to other relationships than a man and a women. But he claims to be a complete libertarian so rather than openly tell other people how to live, he just finds it interesting to bring up incest and the tired old man-dog marriage argument. I'd never marry Mom or Dad because then they'd have more reasons to complain that I never call them. I'd never marry a dog or a cat because it would then spend all our money on stuff like electric can-openers, then just look baffled when I complained about the bounced checks. But apparently so many people want to marry Mom, Dad, Spot or Fluffy that we just have to settle that before addressing gay marriage.

    It is interesting that Irons pointed out that a father marrying a son might complicate inheritance taxation. So he does recognize that marriage has to do with the property of the marrieds as well as social and legal recognition of their relationship.

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