April 29, 2015


Listening to the presentations yesterday, I was struck by the shallowness of the repeated arguments about procreation as the essential core of marriage. Whatever else can be said, it seems some are unable to think logically about this subject. I hope for better from the justices themselves, and offer this virtual Venn diagram as a help. 

In spite of heterosexual marriage having been the normative place for procreation to take place (not the same as a "cause" but a context, and only realized in some of the marriages) the reality is that the other purpose of marriage (binding two people in a committed relationship with each other) is true of all marriages, regardless of the gender of the couple. It's a simple rule that something that applies to all situations is more fundamental than that which applies only to some, but the drum-beat argument that "marriage is for procreation" continues its ostinato in spite of the fact that not everyone is dancing to its beat.
For those who want a Scriptural approach, Genesis 1 might come up. There God creates male and female and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. However, there is no sign of marriage in this command. In fact, God gives the same command to the birds and fish, and no one suggests they ought to marry. It has also been observed that this can be read as an address to the species as a whole, rather than a commandment to two individuals.

Genesis 2, however, gives us something much more recognizable as a marriage: the very important concept of unity of the two in one, including the formation of a new household, but without any reference to procreation.

So I might chart it out this way:
Heterosexual sex (a biological phenomenon) is necessary for procreation (pace any biotech innovations!)
But not all heterosexual sex leads to procreation.
And not all procreation takes place within marriage.
The commitment of marriage as permanent fidelity of two persons (a human phenomenon) can and does apply to all who are married. A "failed" marriage is not one which has produced no children, but one that has not sustained the bond of fidelity. 
Placing the legal and moral concerns at the biological rather than the human level is an inversion of the purposes of law and morality. Obviously everyone wants children to be brought up in a loving, caring, nurturing household. Those are moral qualities that biology cannot, on its own, provide; and they can be provided by any couple who engage the will and receive the grace to do so.

Got that?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


merrymike said...

And the BCP clearly recognizes that procreation is not universal in marriage when it says of procreation, "when it is God's will."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Merrymike. And that wasn't an innovation of the 70s. The 1549 BCP also recognized this reality by specifying that the prayer for childbirth was to be omitted when the woman was of advanced years. Nothing new here, but it takes a while for reality to sink in sometimes!

June Butler said...

Does the marriage ceremony in the Episcopal Church of an opposite sex couple of a certain age, when the woman is past the age for child-bearing, necessarily include the words about procreation?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

June, it didn't from 1789 to 1979... why they thought it necessary to add it in the 70s is beyond me, as by then it should have been obvious that not only age but choice was often involved in not having children, is beyond my ability to discern.

June Butler said...

I didn't frame my question accurately. Are officiating clergy permitted to leave the words out?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

June, they shouldn't leave them out, but they can lay heavy emphasis on "when it is God's will" and perhaps raise an eyebrow.... If they use the third marriage service (the outline) there is more scope to choose more appropriate wording.

June Butler said...

..."raise an eyebrow..." ever the actor. This is not about me, as I am well-married. I'm just curious, or "asking for a friend".

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

June, I knew this wasn't you ;-) -- but seriously, if this person doesn't mind the Tudor English, I'd suggest they look to asking the bishop for permission to use the 1928 marriage liturgy, which only mentions procreation in a prayer that is marked as optional. Most of the evocative language is there, and they already got rid of "obey" for the wife in 1928....