Today is a big milestone in the ongoing push for equal marriage rights nationwide: Today the Supreme Court heard the opening arguments in a case questioning whether states have the right to ban same-sex marriage.
Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky are all in court defending their same-sex marriage bans. In just a few short years, their state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman have started to look increasingly archaic. As this New York Times chart points out, the 14 states where same-sex marriage is banned are holdouts as support for marriage equality has spread nationwide.
Same-sex marriage, state by state. Chart from the New York Times.
So what top-notch argument are these states’ best lawyers bringing to the Supreme Court to justify banning same-sex marriage? That marriage is defined by procreation.
Seriously. That’s the argument.
As the states’ lawyer John Bursch told NPR, “Michigan has a legitimate interest in encouraging opposite-sex couples to enter into permanent, exclusive unions within which to have and raise children.” Wow. The idea that marriage is defined by reproduction feels equal parts “laughably outdated” and “downright offensive.” This reasoning is offensive not just to gay and lesbian couples, but to straight couples who don’t have kids.
I’d be interested to see how these states are planning to pursue their legitimate interest in making sure couples are monogamous and procreating. Will their next campaign be to get straight women off of birth control? Or to make sure straight couples have comfortable mattresses? What about tax subsidies for mood lighting upgrades? Those ideas all make about as much sense as spending public money to fight against same-sex marriage. After all, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted today, legalizing same-sex marriage is “not taking away anything from heterosexual couples.”
But the truth is, the increasing number of American women who aren’t having kids will never have to worry that states like Michigan and Alabama will put their marriages on the legal chopping block. The states’ concerns about procreation are just an attempt to put the real issue—homophobia—into legally defensible language. If these states actually cared about the well-being of children and not just about defending crumbling vestiges of conservative morality, they’d jump at the chance to make it easier for same-sex couples to adopt kids. Gay parents are great parents and the Michigan couple challenging their state’s ban on same-sex marriage is motivated in part by their fear that they’ll lose custody of their adopted kids if one of them dies. No parent or kid should be faced with that worry.
But don’t take my word for it. Take the Supreme Court’s word for it—the fate of kids raised by same-sex couples was central to their decision to rule the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2013. DOMA, the court said, “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples” and “makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Do these holdout states really want to argue for that?
Sarah Mirk is Bitch Media’s online editor. She intends to never procreate.