Procreation is the Sole Purpose of Marriage? Yeah, Right.

A funny exchange happened today on twitter between Rob Tisinai and a guy with the handle SoCalCMH. It started with Tisinai’s response to a Ryan T. Anderson tweet, and was going down the normal tortured path of every gay marriage argument, until Tisinai pulled out one of my favorite legal facts:



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One More Round with Douglas Allen and Le Fou du Roi


[Today is Jennifer Lopez’s birthday. She’s now elderly, according to Douglas Allen.]


In case you missed it, last week Le Fou du Roi posted a response to my reading (part 1 & part 2) of Douglas Allen’s “Economic Assessment of Same-Sex Marriage Laws” (2006). I’m very late in responding and I already owed Le Fou du Roi a response to his challenging answer to my post on Dostoevsky and Randall Smith, but here goes.

Taking his posts in tandem (along with the two Allen articles he’s posted) and reading back through what I’ve already written, I’m happy to let the conversation stand where it is now. I think (at least) my key point holds up: Le Fou du Roi and Allen predict negative societal consequences from gay marriage, but still don’t show how those things will come to pass. In his last post, Le Fou du Roi linked a second article by Allen, from 2010, in which the economist argues that his 2006 predictions are already coming true. Specifically, he points to several court cases involving gay couples, custody, and parenting rights, and says that cases like those are changing marriage for the worse. But the examples he uses a) still require a logical leap to the “negative feedback loop” he foresees, in which marriage rates drop and divorce rates rise; b) come almost entirely from places without legalized gay marriage; and c) reflect challenges that have been or could be brought by straight couples, especially ones that use artificial reproduction technology. In fact, the quotation that Allen provides from one of these court decisions reads: “In this era of evolving reproductive technology and intent basedparenthood, our laws must acknowledge these realities and not simply cling to genetic connections as preconditions to being placed on a birth certificate.” [emphasis added] (1067).

I do want to address one more aspect of Le Fou du Roi’s last post. In my post, I wrote that “we have a fuller understanding of the goods of marriage than Allen displays in his writings” and that Allen and many gay marriage opponents need to think harder about the questions What is marriage? and What is the purpose of marriage?

Le Fou du Roi responded “It’s difficult not to read into this, however, the tacit codicil ‘until you arrive at an answer conducive to the endorsement of genderless marriage.’”

The implication is that my reasoning is a post-hoc rationalization meant to justify what I already believe. Which, ironically, is more or less what I think Allen’s doing. Allen presents his system as objective, but his methodology stacks the deck against gay marriage at just about every opportunity.

Here are three examples, from the 2010 article that Le Fou du Roi linked, “Who Should Be Allowed Into the Marriage Franchise?”:

1. As I wrote, one of the most obvious analogies for gay marriage is marriage between elderly individuals: both types of pairings are incapable of procreating, and both types go into marriage knowing that. But since we allow elderly marriages, and most of us even celebrate them, Allen doesn’t want us to make that comparison. Instead, he wants us to see gay marriage as more akin to incest and polygamy, two types of union that, on the surface, have little in common with gay couplings—but do have the benefit (for Allen) of being both unpopular and illegal.

And, lo and behold, Allen tells us that using his objective system he has determined that the costs and benefits of gay marriage are most similar to those of incest and polygamy.

Why not elderly marriage?

Well, he tells us, the exclusion costs of elderly marriage are higher, because “Like the infertile couple, it is difficult to identify all elderly couples ex ante” (1057).

Wait, what? You’re probably thinking. I’ve never had trouble identifying elderly couples. Plus, don’t we all have birth certificates?


[You sneaky devils. I see you!]

Ah, but as Allen goes on, we learn that by “elderly” he means anyone who might possibly be past child-bearing age, which differs depending on the individual: “It is easy to identify two octogenarians at the local senior center as elderly, but not so easy to identify the marginal elderly couple, who are perhaps in their forties.” And on page 1060 Allen tells us what age he’s using as his cutoff to define elderly:


Yes, 45.

No, really. 45.


Now you see why I’ve taken so long to write this post. Obviously, reading that precipitated a massive existential crisis. I’m only 10 years away from old age! What have I done with my life?

In all seriousness, if Allen is worried about identifying couples on the margins of elderliness, all he has to do is move the cutoff past those margins. It’s true, 46-year-olds might still be thinking about the possibility of kids when they marry, but 80-year-olds aren’t. So make the cutoff 80. Or 75. Or even 65.* Logistically, nothing could be easier than forbidding from marriage couples in which both individuals are past a given age. Of course, that would be an unjust and unpopular law, and Le Fou du Roi says that it would cause considerable constitutional problems. But that’s the whole point.**

In any case, the “exclusion costs” Allen finds for elderly couples, at least the ones that differ from gay couples, are just a function of his idiosyncratic definition of “elderly.”


2. It’s also surprising how little consideration Allen gives to the possible benefit that gay couples might provide by adopting and raising kids that otherwise wouldn’t have two parents. In one sentence in a footnote on page 1065, Allen concedes, “Raising these children may be a social benefit if the children perform better than in single households or the same as in heterosexual households” (n 73).

Well, as everyone reading this probably knows, the consensus is that children raised by gay couples do perform better than in single households and the same as in heterosexual households. Now, I’m not new to these conversations. I would absolutely expect Allen to dispute that consensus. But he doesn’t even address it. He acts like it doesn’t exist, like the issue of how gays are doing at raising kids is a novel question and hey, maybe somebody should look into it?


3.This is sort of a pattern with Allen. He’s thought of lots of ways that gay marriage could semi-conceivably harm society, but he doesn’t even pay lip service to some ways gay marriage might bring benefits, not even to argue why they should be dismissed.

One more example: as Le Fou du Roi points out, Allen’s “inclusion costs” depend heavily on the notion of a negative feedback loop, by which the changes that gay marriage will bring will, theoretically, make the institution less attractive to straight couples. Of course, the feedback loop could also work in the opposite direction: it’s totally plausible that gay marriages could increase the social capital of the institution, creating a positive feedback loop and making marriage more attractive to the general population. Jonathan Rauch has been making this argument for years, and it goes like this:

One way to [encourage marriage] is to signal, legally and culturally, that marriage is not just one of many interchangeable “lifestyles,” but the gold standard for committed relationships. For generations, both law and culture signaled that marriage is the ultimate commitment, uniquely binding and uniquely honored; that everyone could and should aspire to marry; and that marriage is especially important for couples with children. Same-sex marriage may be the first opportunity the country has had in decades to climb back up the slippery slope and say, quite dramatically, that marriage—not co-habitation, not partnership, not civil union, but marriage—is society’s first choice. An American gay couple in their eighties got married in Canada in 2003 after 58 years together. Asked why they bothered, one of them replied, “The maximum is getting married.” That is a good pro-marriage signal to send.

If you take this view of the cultural message of same-sex marriage, then there may be significant benefits for children, gay and straight alike. Gay children, of course, benefit directly from knowing that their future holds the prospect of marriage, with all the blessings that go with it. Straight children benefit when they look all around and see marriage as the norm. If a child sees that Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the neighbors to the left, are married, and that Mrs. and Mrs. Jones, the neighbors to the right, are married—that sends a positive and reassuring message to children about both the importance of marriage and the stability of their community. Every marriage signals the cultural primacy of marriage and adds to the social capital available to adults and children.

This type of thinking has (at least partly) motivated some high-profile conversions on the issue, like those of David Blankenhorn, who testified against gay marriage in California in 2010, but began supporting it in 2012, and Catholic writer Jody Bottum. Bottum wrote last year:

In fact, same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in chastity in a culture that has lost much sense of chastity. Same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in love in a civilization that no longer seems to know what love is for. Same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in the coherence of family life in a society in which the family is dissolving.

What does Allen think of this reasoning? I don’t know, and I’ve now read about 70 pages of his writing. Despite the fact that he quotes Rauch in his 2006 article, Allen gives no indication that he’s considered the point.

This is what I mean when I say that Allen needs to think harder about the goods and purpose and definition of marriage. It’s not just that he disagrees with me. It’s that I don’t see him grappling with all of the facets of these questions.

However, that’s not an accusation I could make about Le Fou du Roi. I know I’ve left some of his points unanswered, but I appreciate his willingness to engage, and his honesty and thoughtfulness in doing so. Le Fou du Roi says he’s enjoyed this exchange, and I have, too.



*Allen writes, “Hundreds of women in their fifties now give birth each year, and in 2008, aseventy-year-old woman in India gave birth to twins.” He appears to be referring to Omkari Panwar, who may have actually been 72 when she gave birth. Two things to note about that point, though: first, Panwar, like virtually every woman whom I could find documented as giving birth over 65, used artificial reproductive technology to conceive. In fact, most women giving birth after 65 used donor eggs (and often donor sperm), creating the very same third-party parenting problems that Allen worries about with gay couples.

Second, if the purpose of marriage is to bind mothers and fathers to their biological offspring for life, then extremely aged parents present another problem: it’s highly likely that one or both parents will pass away before their children reach adulthood. In other words, even if elderly marriages are fertile, it’s still debatable whether they fulfill what gay marriage opponents say is the essential public purpose of the institution.

Also, in his response to me, Le Fou du Roi brought up the biblical stories of Sarah and Elizabeth. My snappy response: Sarah and Abraham had the same father. I’ll consider her as a counter-example when someone like Allen includes her in his cost/benefit analysis for allowing incestuous unions.

**I’m no legal expert; Le Fou du Roi is. I’m not sure, in constitutional terms, why citing procreation as the purpose of marriage justifies the exclusion of gay couples from the institution, but not the exclusion of extremely elderly couples. I welcome his input on that question.


On Grace and Houston


I write about gay marriage here a lot, but when I do, I’m really writing about marriage itself: I’m defending the goodness of marriage as know it, as I’ve learned it from my marriage, from my parents’ marriage, from the marriages in my family and among my friends. I defend gay marriage, among other reasons, because gay marriage fits into what I know to be the best definition of marriage, which I think of as a transformative, life-sustaining institution.

The point is, I love marriage. Consequently, I love weddings. It’s normal for me to spend the week after a wedding in a blissed-out daze, dreamily meditating on the wonders of love, love, love. Two weekends ago, my wife, daughter and I drove down to Houston for the wedding of two of our friends. It was the kind of wedding that would drive a lot of religious conservatives nuts—the ceremony took place in a park in the Heights neighborhood; it was officiated by one of the couple’s friends, and I don’t remember a single reference to God.

At the same time, the wedding might have reassured those folks who worry that modern couples see marriage as a private affair, that weddings nowadays represent a couple selfishly turning inward. Instead, it was a wedding that felt like it was all about us. I don’t mean us specifically, even though our daughter did a bang-up job as the flower girl. I mean it was a wedding all about the couple’s friends and family; it was all about community. That was apparent in the way the couple got so many of us involved in the ceremony and in the celebration, in the way they visited with every guest during the reception, and in the way this couple in their late twenties made sure to provide music that would get their 12-year-old nephews and 60-year-old parents on the dance floor at the same time. The bride and groom understood—better than H and I did when we got married twelve years ago—the public nature of a wedding and, behind that, the public nature of marriage.

And there was this: watching the bride and groom say their (secular) vows, I was struck by a thought: They don’t have to do this. Conservative critics of contemporary life are right about one thing: there’s little stigma left in not getting married. A couple can live together forever and no one in the Heights or Montrose, or back here in Austin, will raise an eyebrow. In my social set, marriage is mostly optional. And I’m glad about that.

But I also delight in the fact that couples, my friends, keep doing it. They keep getting married. They keep standing up and announcing their love for one another, and promising it forever, and they keep inviting us into their lives, asking for our help, making us their official witnesses. They keep telling us that we matter to them, as a couple, and, in turn, they keep promising to matter to us, their community. They don’t have to. They just do it.


Which is another way of saying this: Houston is a great place to learn something about grace.

So it’s a great place for Mockingbird to be holding its annual fall conference, entitled “The Risk of Grace.” It will be at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church on October 17th and 18th, and it will feature—get this!—Slaid Cleaves, one of my favorite Austin-based singer-songwriters.

Grace is free, but the conference will cost you $60. Looks worth it to me. You can register here.


If you need another reason to go to Houston, here’s something written by Casey Fleming, one of my favorite Houston writers. Casey learned something I didn’t know about a soul music classic:

American Soul is one of those rich forms of music that allows its listeners to groove and grieve at the same time. “Midnight Train to Georgia” exemplifies the beautiful contradiction inherent in soul music—that a listener will feel joy in her body compelled by a horn, piano, or hook, only to simultaneously feel ache in her heart compelled by the singer’s voice and sad story. The great masters of soul understand that bodily celebration is one way to express, contain, and survive spiritual hurt.

This reason trumps all the others.  I recently discovered that Jim Weatherly’s original lyrics to the song were “Midnight Plane to Houston,” supposedly inspired by a conversation he had with Texas-native Farah Fawcett about her relationship to Lee Majors. Be still my Lone Star heart.  And how typical of Houston, to be almost-cool.  In Gladys Knight’s epic version of the song, the love interest buys a “one way ticket back to the life he once knew.”  I left Houston when I was 18 and never planned to return, but after more than a decade away, here I am again.  When a chorus voices those things a character cannot say aloud, her deepest secrets and fears, it paints a landscape for the audience of her internal life.  How many times have I boarded a late plane to Houston, leaving a lover behind on some lonely tarmac in some faraway place with too many words left unsung?  How many times have the touchstones of a native city—in my case, the miscellaneous string of strip malls, the metallic downtown skyline luminous at dusk, the slow slur of kind hellos and how-are-yous, the heavy blanket of hot air, the generous waft of chorizo from a local taco shack, the colossal highways that dead end into an endless sky—acted as chorus, as the pitch-perfect Pips for our private dramas?

BTW, although the blog is defunct now, If you haven’t read Casey’s writing at, you’re missing out.

Bonus tracks:

On my way out, two gorgeous pieces of writing on marriage, and one more song about Houston and midnight.

First, Elizabeth Bruenig (née Stoker) on her wedding.

Second, a link embedded in Bruenig’s post but worthy of its own link: Wesley Hill on “scruffy hospitality,” or what it means for a marriage to serve a community.

And, finally (why not?), Leadbelly doing “Midnight Special”:


Three Perspectives on Women Bishops in the Church of England

Three (non-Anglican) Perspectives on the Church of England’s decision to ordain women as bishops:

1) VJD Smith (aka Glosswitch), writing in The New Statesmanpoints out that women bishops are the inevitable consequence of seeing women as, you know, human. This paragraph drives the point home:

I want to see women having authority over men, not as part of some shoulder-padded aspirational feminist project. I want men to see women in the way women see men, and for women to see themselves as men see themselves: as real, solid, diverse, complete, as close to and as capable of representing whatever higher power any of us might believe in. We are not hollow vessels, waiting to soak up the teachings that only men can transmit, whether it be through theology or politics or porn. Freedom of conscience is one thing – no one should ever police what goes on inside an individual’s own head – but the fundamental humanity of women should never be up for public debate.

2) Smith calls herself a non-believer. Before anyone goes pointing to that fact to suggest that the CoE’s move was a move against Christian tradition, here’s Fred Clark at Slacktivist to remind us all that radical equality is perhaps the defining Christian tradition. Responding to Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler’s denunciation of the Church of England, Clark cites Acts 2:17:

But the radical inclusiveness of Pentecost didn’t just encompass national and ethnic diversity, with people “from every nation under heaven.” Nearly 2,000 years before the Church of England finally voted to catch up, the church at Pentecost also declared a radical gender inclusiveness:

‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.’

Your sons and your daughters. And if that binary isn’t comprehensive enough, try this: All flesh. Male flesh. Female flesh. LGBTIQ flesh. All.

“Do not quench the Spirit,” Paul said. Or, rather, Paul commanded.

By the way, I appreciated Clark’s clarity in insisting that his argument had nothing to do with Mohler being on the “wrong side of history,” and that, instead, it was simply about Mohler being on the wrong side, period. Or, as Clark put it, “the wrong side of Pentecost.” In that sense (well, in all senses) Clark’s post reminded me of this 2012 piece by NT Wright on the same topic.

3. At Bilgrimage, Bill Lindsey contrasts the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, noting the peculiarity of the fact that “the top leaders of the Roman Catholic church have allied themselves decisively with the top men running the LDS church, and not with those leading the Anglican communion, a communion theologically and historically far closer to Catholicism than Mormonism is.”

He suggests that the convergence of the Mormon and Catholic hierarchies (going back to Mohler’s post, we can throw in the evangelicals too) can be seen as a sort of branding strategy on the part of Rome:

They’re convinced that, if they brand the Roman Catholic church as the church that stands against illicit claims of women on grounds of “orthodoxy,” they can not only hold onto the loyalties of a solid core of reactionary believers in the Northern hemisphere (many of these the richest among their adherents in that hemisphere), but that they will attract burgeoning numbers of new Catholics in the Southern hemisphere, where the church is growing by leaps and bounds and where women continue to occupy a subservient place in most cultures. The Roman Catholic church as the “orthodox” brand in contrast to the brand of Anglicanism and its ilk … .

 In the short run (a relative term when talking about Catholicism), this makes him pessimistic about the status of women in the Catholic Church. However, echoing Fred Clark’s thoughts that I posted above, Bill writes:

The danger of painting a reactionary brand as “orthodox” becomes ever more evident as increasing numbers of people of faith — Catholics included — insist that the movement to accord rights to women and gay folks which some church leaders want to stigmatize as a collapse to godless secular culture is actually rooted in the deepest traditions of their faith communities. For Christians, for instance, this movement is rooted in the example and teaching of Jesus and in the gospels that enshrine the theological memory of Jesus’s example and teaching in the first generations of his followers.

In the long run, he says, that reactionary version of Christianity can’t sustain itself. The real Christian tradition of, in Bill’s great phrase, “open commensality” is just too powerful to be overcome.


Texas: Good News & Bad

Franklin Barbecue is one of the best barbecue joints in Texas (and therefore, Texans say, the world). Which is why President Obama stopped by last week when he was in town. (NOTE: he skipped the famously long line, which, for the first time, made me think that maybe Fox News has it right about his imperial lawlessness.)

Working the counter was Daniel Rugg Webb. The Austin Chronicle reports what happened:

“It was just a lucky day to be the register girl,” says Webb.

The entire restaurant, he says, was prepped in advance of Obama’s appearance, and Webb, who laments not being properly attired in his preferred sequin ensemble, knew he had to make some kind of stand.

As the president approached, Webb threw his hand down and slapped the counter dramatically. “Equal rights for gay people!”

“Are you gay?” the president asked.

“Only when I have sex.”

“That’s when he laughed and said, ‘Bump me,’” Webb says.

“That’s my favorite part because it was cool to get a joke in. In all the photos [all over the Internet], I look like a dead fish, but it was cool. I do stand-up, so it was nice to have some interaction based on, hopefully, something funny.”

Webb & the Chronicle also allay my line-skipping gripe: “Logistically,” Webb said, “that’s a really lazy complaint. I don’t think you can safely have a world leader hanging around in a line.” Fair enough. Maybe I won’t push for impeachment.

Anyway, the story offers a nice counterpoint to the one a few weeks ago about the restaurant (erroneously reported as a BBQ joint) in East Texas that kicked a gay couple out for “touching legs” or not acting manly enough or something.

It’s also a necessary bit of positivity in a summer in which I’ve read about the rise of do-it-yourself abortions, about gay couples denied adoption rights and, more generally, aboutright-wing extremists’ takeover of state politics.