Marriage Equality Versus Fertility Cult

After the federal court overturned California’s Prop 8 gay marriage ban earlier this month, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat lamented the passing of a certain ideal of the family:

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing.

Note the odd specificity of this “ideal”. Why “sexually different” (have you ever met two partners who were sexually identical?), and why “biological parents”? These ethically irrelevant qualifiers must be thrown in to preserve the tenuous distinction between procreative straight couples and everyone else.

I agree with Douthat, and with conservative defenders of marriage, that society does have an interest in channeling the disruptive force of sexual desire into stable relationships, surrounding physical intimacy with emotional safety, and orienting lovers toward a future that extends beyond their desires of the moment. Christians should want to strengthen marriage because it can promote integration of body and spirit. Sex without a long-term investment in your partner’s well-being presents a temptation to ignore the golden rule that one should treat others as an end in themselves, not a means to an end.

Thus far, we’re still in the realm of ethics — behavioral standards based on evidence of what is or isn’t conducive to human flourishing. We can express our judgments about marriage versus other sexual arrangements, in hopes that this will encourage responsible choices. But Douthat also wants to make judgments about types of people, deeming one group superior to another, although this serves no purpose because the differences between them are biological and beyond their control. Stigma will not deter the disfavored way of being; at best, it’s a very un-Christian appeal to pride as an inducement for straight married couples to be faithful spouses and parents.

Gay political columnist Andrew Sullivan responds on his blog, The Daily Dish:

…Ross’ argument simply ignores the existence and dignity and lives and testimony of gay people. This is strange because the only reason this question has arisen at all is because the visibility of gay family members has become now so unmissable that it cannot be ignored. Yes, marriage equality was an idea some of us innovated. But it was not an idea plucked out of the sky. It was an attempt to adapt to an already big social change: the end of the homosexual stigma, the emergence of gay communities of great size and influence and diversity, and collapse of the closet. It came from a pressing need as a society to do something about this, rather than consign gay people to oblivion or marginalization or invisibility. More to the point, it emerged after we saw what can happen when human beings are provided no structure, no ideal, and no support for responsibility and fidelity and love.

If you have total gay freedom and no gay institutions that can channel love and desire into commitment and support, you end up in San Francisco in the 1970s. That way of life – however benignly expressed, however defensible as the pent-up unleashed liberation of a finally free people – helped kill 300,000 young human beings in this country in our lifetime. Ross may think that toll is unimportant, or that it was their fault, but I would argue that a Catholic’s indifference to this level of death and suffering and utter refusal to do anything constructive to prevent it happening again, indeed a resort to cruel stigmatization of gay people that helps lead to self-destructive tendencies, is morally evil.

What, in other words, would Ross have gay people do? What incentives would he, a social conservative, put in place to encourage gay couples and support them in their commitments and parenting and love? Notice the massive silence. He is not a homophobe as I can personally attest. But if he cannot offer something for this part of our society except a sad lament that they are forever uniquely excluded, by their nature, from being a “microcosm of civilization”, then this is not a serious contribution to the question at hand. It is merely a restatement of abstract dogma – not a contribution to the actual political and social debate we are now having.

We gays are here, Ross, as you well know. We are human beings. We love one another. We are part of countless families in this country, pay taxes, work hard, serve the country in the armed services, and look after our own biological children (and also those abandoned by their biological parents). Our sex drives are not going away, nor our need to be included in our own families, to find healing and growth and integration that alone will get us beyond the gay-straight divide into a more humane world and society.

Or are we here solely to act as a drop-shadow to the ideal heterosexual relationship?

I don’t share much of my personal life on this blog. Regular readers know that I was raised by two moms. But I’d like to speak up now on behalf of another group that’s also slighted by the biology-obsession of the Prop 8 crowd: Adoptive families.

One would think that social conservatives, being pro-life, would want to encourage adoption as an alternative to pregnancy termination. But their rhetoric on gay marriage ties them in knots. As Sullivan observes, gay couples are parents too. The only way to tell them apart is to elevate procreative ability to a spiritual ideal. Inadvertently perhaps, this attitude wounds and discourages potential adoptive parents, reinforcing our fear that infertility is a kind of failure, an exclusion from the highest level of sacred marital union.

As my husband and I have proceeded on our journey to build our family through adoption, we’ve become sensitized to this fertility bias. “Don’t you want to try to have your own children?” well-meaning acquaintances might say. (What do you think we’re doing?)

Through extensive reading and conversations with other families, we’ve also become convinced that an open adoption–where the birthparents are an ongoing part of the child’s life–is beneficial for all parties, especially the child. This too can be a hard sell to friends and relatives shaped by the one-mommy-one-daddy culture. It gives Heather Has Two Mommies a whole new meaning.

I found an unlikely soulmate in sex columnist Dan Savage. In his open adoption memoir The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, he describes attending an adoption education seminar with a group of infertile straight couples. While the others were grieving the loss of the biological child they’d expected, he and Terry were thrilled that, as gay men, their civil rights had progressed to the point that they could start a family at all. Savage speculates that a lifetime of hearing heteronormative rhetoric contributed to his straight companions’ identity crisis and exacerbated the pain of infertility (boldface emphasis mine):

Heterosexual identity is all wrapped up in the ability of heterosexuals to make babies. Straight sex can do what gay sex cannot, make “miracles.” The straights at our seminar had expected to grow up, fall in love, get married, make love for fun, and sooner or later make love to make life. Infertility did more than shatter their expectations; it undermined their sexual identities.

Straight sex can be recreational or procreational–or both–but gay sex can only ever be recreational. Gay sex is never a means, only an end, and the end is pleasure. Homophobes use this to justify their hatred of gays and lesbians: straight sex, since it can make a baby, is “natural”; gay sex, since it can only make a mess, is not. Babies make straight sex more important than gay sex, so straights are therefore more important than gays. Babies underpin all hetero-supremacism, from “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” to “Gays don’t have children, so they have to recruit yours.” Even when straights are using birth control, procreation still sanctifies straight sex. Even when straights are having sex that couldn’t possibly make babies (oral, anal, phone, cyber), the fact that these two people could make babies under other circumstances or in other positions legitimizes straight sex.

This is pounded into the heads of gay people and straight people alike. Gays grow up believing that their desires, pleasures, and loves are illegitimate; and straights who fall for the hype believe they gotta work that magic, gotta make that baby, or…what? A straight person who can’t make a baby isn’t really a straight person at all. And if you’re not straight, you must be…what? You’re like my boyfriend and me. Suddenly your sex is all recreational, like gay sex, delegitimized and desanctified. Oh, it’s an expression of love–but so is gay sex, and that never made gay sex okay. No babies means no miracles, no magic. The sex you’re having may still be pleasurable, but in a sex-hating (and consequently sex-obsessed) culture, pleasure is not a good enough reason, otherwise gay and lesbian sex would never have been stigmatized.

I sympathized with the straight people sitting around the conference table. I understood what they must have been going through. I had been through it myself, a long time ago. When I hit puberty, I got the news that I was functionally infertile. But the straight couples at the seminar had only recently gotten that news, and they were still adjusting to it. How much we had in common with them was driven home by the rhetoric the counselors used during the seminar. It was the rhetoric of coming out. The straight couples were encouraged to accept what they could not change. In time, they’d see their “problem” as a blessing. It was important to tell family and friends the truth, even if they might not understand at first. They might in their ignorance ask hurtful questions, but be patient and try to answer. And while it is possible to live a lie, possible to adopt a child and pass it off as your biological child, no one can spend a lifetime in the closet.

Now we all had some common ground.

James Brock: “Upon Hearing That My Grant Application Was Passed Over…”

“Your poem should touch God in places only Emily Dickinson has dared touch….Your poem cannot save anyone. Your poem must be seven words or fewer, or two thousand lines or more. Entry fee: all of your boss’s money,” James Brock directs in his witty prose-poem “The Jim Brock Poetry Contest: Guidelines”, which appears in his new collection Gods & Money (WordTech Editions, 2010).

The poem below is reprinted by permission from his previous poetry collection, Pictures That Got Small (WordTech Editions, 2005). Denise Duhamel calls this book “a lush, sexy, nostalgic (in the best sense of the word) look at old Hollywood, the experimental films of Matthew Barney, and home movies of southern Florida. Irreverent and unpredictable, intelligent and haunting, deadpan and dead serious, these poems are buoyant and felicitous.”

Upon Hearing That My Grant Application Was Passed Over and the Winner Was a Bio-Tech Professor Who Has Designed Genetically-Altered Protein for Buckwheat Seed

      —for Denise

Okay, call me Tallulah Bankhead. I wanted that award,
the crystal glass eagle, the pendant, the certificate,
the lapel pin, the thousand bucks, and the parking space
next to the university president’s spot—the whole
platinum and sapphire tiara. I knew I should have
written that poem on the manipulations
of amino acid balance in buckwheat seed proteins.
I knew I should have named that new genetic
strand Omicron-Brockide-32, should have brokered
the patent rights to Monsanto, let them spread the seed
of my pumped-up, high-octane, drought-tolerant,
American-can-do-know-how buckwheat
to sub-Sahara Africa and southern Mongolia.

One year later, then, I would have written
the grant report, presented it to the committee
on PowerPoint, and finished off my presentation
with a streaming video clip, showing some adolescent
boy, from Gambia, say, and he would be eating
my buckwheat flat bread, and there he would be,
digitalized, smiling, full, and muscular. Yes,
and at that moment, vindicated and wise,
teary-eyed and generous, the grant committee
would gather and lift me on their shoulders, laughing
and singing, joyful for all the corporate sponsorships that
would follow me and bless our humble home
institution. For me, dare I dream further confirmations?
O, to be Nationally Endowed, Guggenheimed, MacArthured!

Of course, in Gambia, and other geographies
beneath the sweep and hoozah of fellowships
and announcements in The Chronicle of Higher Education,
the newly nourished could be striking the flint
of their first syllables of their first poems, poems
whose phrases—under the most subdued of flames—would
coolly scorch and burn our best American intention.


Read more poems from this book here.

Jesus, Word of the God Beyond Words

Corporations’ legal staff constantly patrol the Internet, searching for disparaging parodies and unauthorized YouTube videos that threaten their ability to control the discourse around their brand name. Proving that no target is too small, the Mattel Corp. last month denied my request to use the name “Barbie” in the title of my forthcoming poetry chapbook, which will now be called Anatomically Impossible Commercialized White Female Body Image Icon at 50. Or The Happy Endings Support Group. We’re still working out the details.

If God were as protective of His trademark as Coca-Cola, we’d all be in trouble.

“What right, really, do we have to talk about God?” asks Mark Galli in “God Talk is Dangerous“, an article on the Christianity Today blog. Normally we’d hesitate to pronounce on an issue that we didn’t know much about. But we often sling around opinions about God’s will and God’s attributes, even though “if there ever was a ‘topic’ beyond our comprehension, it is the infinite, immortal, and all powerful God!” Biblical and theological metaphors are always mere approximations. Galli writes:

This is the genius of apophatic theology, about which our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox tradition have taught us so much. Apophatic theology talks about God in terms of what he is not. God is uncreated, not bound by time and space, and in one sense is unknowable—that is, because he is infinite and we are finite, we can never know God as he is. From the perspective of apophatic theology, we can even say that God does not “exist.” We use that word to talk about people, plants, animals, and rocks. But how and why these created things “exist” cannot be compared to the way a transcendent, immortal deity “exists.”

…[But] the Incarnation and Jesus’ talk about God suggest that there is more than one way to blaspheme—that is, to be irreverent and impious. That would be to so exalt the transcendence of God that there is no room left in the imagination for the scandalous Emmanuel, God with us.

As early church theologian Irenaeus put it, Jesus Christ “gathered together all things into himself … he took up man into himself, the invisible becoming the visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassible becoming capable of suffering, and the Word being made man, thus summing up all things in himself.”

Today there are many who strive to protect the reputation of God. They are, so to speak, on “blasphemy alert.” At their best, they remind us whenever we suggest that God is anything but holy, immortal, and almighty. In an age such as ours—which can be so casual about things divine—I’m glad there are such people around.

But the interesting thing is that God does not seem all that concerned about his reputation. He is the one who inspired people to think of him as an inert rock (Deut. 32) or a common shepherd (Ps. 23), and who came to us not in a flashy show of glory and power but as a baby in a trough wrapped in rags. He apparently isn’t offended when he is mistaken for a simple gardener (John 20).

The incarnation is God’s permission to talk about that which, really, we don’t know that much about—God Almighty! He’s even willing for us to tread on the border of blasphemy if it will communicate something true about him.

To be sure, we are wise to not transgress that border. But that job is made easier when we realize that all our talk about God is partial, that there is no word picture that can do full justice to his being, that there is always something greater than the arresting image we might fashion—and that there is a divine source that can keep us both humble and balanced in our God-talk.

Reading this piece, I had the thought that the Incarnation points to a resolution of the postmodernist paralysis that follows from the inadequacy of language. Rather than revive the failed modernist project of searching for fixed, objective meanings that perfectly contain reality, we can speak knowing that we will fail, knowing also that we are forgiven for our failure to “get it right”. God-in-Jesus would rather that we took a halting step toward communication with him, than that we hung back out of false scrupulousness.

Ted Olson Defends Prop 8 Victory on FOX News

In this 7-minute video, constitutional lawyer extraordinaire Ted Olson eloquently rebuts FOX News commentator Chris Wallace’s effort to pin the “judicial activist” label on him. A longtime hero of the libertarian Right, Olson gives our cause a bipartisan face. Olson argues that in overturning California’s gay marriage ban, the district court did not create new rights, but rather ensured that a well-established fundamental right was equally extended to all citizens. Send him a thank-you note at the Courage Campaign website.

Northampton Celebrates the Prop 8 Decision

(From left: Princess Queerpants, Ericka Soto, transgender activist Trystan Dean, & Rev. Tinker Donnelly. Photo by Adam Cohen.)

Northampton yesterday celebrated the overturning of California’s gay marriage ban at a rally organized by Gary Lapon from the W. Mass. chapter of Equality Across America. Joyful, tearful speeches marked how far we’ve come, yet also reminded us not to forget other ongoing civil rights battles, for GLBT folks and others. It can be hard for an embattled minority to avoid tunnel vision, focusing on one’s own struggles without making the leap to the broader realization that everyone is affected when anyone is oppressed. I always appreciate how Gary, a socialist, connects the dots between issues like gay marriage and employment discrimination, transgender issues, racism, and immigrants’ rights.

Enjoy this half-hour video, recorded by Adam Cohen. Speakers include Gary, Trystan, Tinker, Michael Fiorentino, Kate Losey, Ben Taylor, and yours truly (around the 27-minute mark).

Federal Court Rules “Proposition 8” Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional!


U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco has issued a landmark ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, overturning California’s Proposition 8 gay marriage ban as a violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The Courage Campaign’s Prop 8 Trial Tracker has posted a thorough analysis of the 138-page decision (read the full text here).
Go send them a donation; they’ve worked hard to inform the public about
this historic legal battle, despite the other side’s efforts to keep
the proceedings secret.

Judge Walker ruled that there is no rational basis for the government to impose gender-based restrictions on the fundamental human right of marriage (boldface emphasis mine):

The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away
from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from
state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding
of gender rather than a change in marriage.
The evidence did not show
any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as
states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to
procreate in order to marry….Rather, the exclusion exists as an
artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles
in society and in marriage. That time has passed.

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to
choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a
household….Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage
during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were
never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage….Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’
obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender
composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to
opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and
obligations of marriage under California law….Gender no longer
forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of


Plaintiffs do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize
plaintiffs’ objective as “the right to same-sex marriage” would suggest
that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples
across the state enjoy —— namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask
California to recognize their relationships for what they are:

(And that, folks, is why gay marriage is a feminist issue.)

The court concluded that the ban was purely motivated by anti-gay animosity: “Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California
Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to
same-sex couples.”

Though the decision was immediately appealed and is likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, a trial judge’s factual findings are entitled to great deference on appeal. Thus, it’s significant that Judge Walker devoted 100+ pages to a thorough examination and rejection of the other side’s factual claims that gay marriage harmed children, straight marriages, and society as a whole.

Watch this space for video of tomorrow’s celebratory rally and kiss-in on the steps of Northampton City Hall. I’d better go iron my rainbow-striped pants.