In my home state, New York, it looks as though Marriage Equality will be coming up for a vote very soon. I’ve been becoming more and more vocal about it (part of my aspiration to become a celebrant came from a desire to have a public role from which to advocate for marriage rights). For sure, my support for equal rights comes from knowing, personally, many committed couples who deserve, but don’t have, the same rights I do – and from an idealistic and overdeveloped sense of justice that just can’t tolerate anything unfair (I get really steamed if the person in front of me in the supermarket has fourteen items in the “twelve items or less” line).
As a married, heterosexual woman, I have nothing personal to gain by the passage of marriage equality right? And yet, I’ve developed a real ‘hair-trigger’ when it comes to exclusionary rhetoric about marriage. I can just feel the bile rise in my throat when I hear someone explaining, “What God intended…” or suggesting that if gay marriage is tolerated, farm animal marriage can’t be far behind. If I’m honest, I need to admit that my support for ‘marriage for all’ doesn’t come entirely from a place of altruism. You see, I am a married, heterosexual woman – and one who has chosen…deliberately…not to reproduce.
I can’t remember a time when I ever wanted to be a mother. I don’t find babies cute. I don’t think they smell good. I don’t want to hold yours. My womb does not ache when I see a bright-eyed toddler smile. There has simply never been a time when being a parent seemed like an appealing role to me. I have been a fabulous aunt. My friends’ children love me. I’ve worked with school age children and teenagers most of my career and have adored them (the more gnarly the teens the better!), but my biological clock has not made one single tick. I’ve built a life and a lifestyle that would never have accommodated children. When I was introduced to my husband (at the age of 35), a prerequisite of the meeting was his understanding three things: that I was committed to my work and that it took a significant amount of my time; that my politics were liberal and I wasn’t shy about them; and that I was not interested in meeting anyone who thought I might be the future mother of his children.
Nonetheless, when we married three years later, nearly a dozen acquaintances made breathless off-hand comments about how I could now finally have children (as if I couldn’t possibly have figured out how before I was married if I had wanted to!) A few others shook their heads and lamented that it had taken “too long” for George and I to find one another and we’d missed my chance (for the record, my husband is as committed to non-parenthood as I am).
So when I hear someone mention the “marriage-as-one-man-and-one-woman-because-that’s-how-you–make- babies-argument” as a justification for denying the rights of others, I feel my own marriage being called into philosophical question. Is MY marriage any less valid because it hasn’t produced, and never intended to produce offspring? Do other marriages lose their authority when the partners move beyond their fertile years? Does having ones tubes tied dissolve a union? What about if one member of a couple proves infertile? Should later-in-life couples be prevented from walking down the aisles because no children can result?
Making and raising children is certainly an element of some marriages – but I’d defy even the most ardent reproducers to argue that marriage exists solely for that purpose. After all, it’s been clearly demonstrated that couples of the same gender do just fine raising kids. They just can conceive them. I’d be willing to suggest that very few successful unions are based on the ability to unite a sperm and egg cell successfully. The “but-they-can’t-make-babies” justification is a slippery slope. One ought to be careful when saying things like that – ‘cause they’re talking about MY marriage here.