Apr 03 2013

FRC’s Ignorant Nonsense About Procreation

During the oral argument in the Prop 8 case, Justice Kagan pointed out that if marriage really was all about procreation, we should not issue licenses to those over 55 because they are nearly always infertile. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council tries to offer a response that attorney Charles Cooper did not:

Perhaps Cooper was wary of appearing sexist to Justice Kagan if he stated the truth more bluntly—55-year-old women are virtually always infertile, but 55-year-old men are not. As frustrating as it may be to some feminists, there are some sex differences which cannot be overcome. (Justice Antonin Scalia tried to save Cooper with a joke about Strom Thurmond, the late U.S. Senator who continued to father children well into his 70’s, but it seemed to go over the audience’s heads.)

Society’s interest in promoting “responsible procreation”—the term most commonly used in defending marriage as the union of a man and a woman—involves not just promoting procreation itself, and promoting it in a responsible context (i.e., where the mother and father who make a child are both committed to the child and to each other through marriage). “Responsible procreation” also implies an effort to discourage irresponsible procreation—a quite plausible example of which might be a 55-year-old man going around impregnating fertile women (presumably younger than himself) who are not his wife.

Advocates for redefining marriage really ought to listen more, and laugh and scoff less—especially when they are in the Supreme Court of the United States. Otherwise they make themselves, not their opponents, look ignorant.

No, I’m afraid laughing and scoffing is still justified in this case. Even if Sprigg was right that marriage helps keep 55 year old men from impregnating younger women, so what? What does that have to do with allowing gay people to get married? The problem isn’t that Congress has no rational basis for wanting to encourage marriage; the problem is that banning gay marriage does nothing whatsoever to help achieve that goal and allowing gay marriage does nothing to undermine that goal. It isn’t enough that the goal be rational; the policy actually has to help achieve that goal. In this case, it’s like saying that Congress has a rational desire to encourage kids to stay in school and that’s why they adopted a law to ban red-colored crayons. The policy and the stated goal have nothing at all to do with one another.


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  1. 1

    I thought a reduction in the number of future consumers would lead to the collapse of capitalism.

    Surely it’s the duty of all 55 year+ males to do whatever they can to prevent that?

    I’m willing to do my part.

  2. 2

    According to the CDC about 10% of American women aged 13-44 have difficult becoming or staying pregnant.
    No marriages for them then!!

  3. 3

    “Responsible procreation” also implies an effort to discourage irresponsible procreation

    By that logic, wouldn’t we want to allow gay marriage to keep gay people from marrying straight spouses thus preventing these inherently unstable relationships that often produce children and then dissolve into divorce and broken families?

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    I’m curious about the FRC’s stance on vastectomies. A man who cannot have children for any reason should not be allowed to get married, period, regardless of age. Right?

  5. 5

    And here’s a less creditable source.
    Note that:

    Until recently, popular belief held that men could father children as easily at 78 as they could at 18. A mounting body of evidence is showing otherwise.
    In one study of couples undergoing high-tech infertility treatments, researchers concluded that a man’s chances of fathering a child decrease with each passing year. In the study, the odds of a successful pregnancy fell by 11% every year; their chances of obtaining a successful live birth declined even further. The study was reported in a 2004 issue of the American Journal of Gynecology.
    As sure as men age, so too do their sperm. German researchers reported that the volume, motility (ability to move toward its destination, an awaiting egg) and structure of sperm all decline with age. Their study was published in a 2004 issue of Human Reproduction Update.
    In 2008, a French study [no source given] conducted with over 12,200 couples having fertility treatment reported that for men aged 34, the miscarriage rate was 17%, but for men aged between 35 and 39 it rose to 20%, and by age 44 it had reached 32%.


  6. 6

    Here is a paper published under the aegis of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 2004 suggesting that Mr. Sprigg should leave reproductive biology to the experts, and stick with what he’s good at – babbling like an iidiot to judges, apparently.

  7. 7

    The mind boggles at the idea that fathering children in one’s 70s with a wife young enough to be one’s granddaughter being held up as an example of responsible procreation.

  8. 8
    Phillip IV

    I think the crucial fault is this one:

    “Responsible procreation” also implies an effort to discourage irresponsible procreation

    No, it doesn’t. Encouraging A and discouraging alternatives B, C and D might, possibly, serve the same goal, but they are not the same thing and doing one does not require one to do the other. But the authoritarian reflex sees them as the same thing, and that’s also were they falsely see a connection between promoting straight marriage and outlawing gay marriage.

  9. 9

    Female or male sterilization is the most common contraceptive method utilized by couples in the United States, with 36% of fertile women using contraception employing this method. According to the National Survey of Family Growth (2002), 10.3 million women (27%) rely on female sterilization for birth control, whereas 3.5 million women (9.2%) rely on vasectomy in their partners for contraception

    The most common method of birth control among couples n the USA is sterilization.

    10.3 million women have had a tubal ligation.

    The number of vasectomized men is 3.5 million and probably larger.

    So do these people become ineligible for marriage. The divorce rate, after all is 50%.

    Is the Tea Party small government procreation police going to go around checking to see who is in a “procretion marriage”.

    The fundies would be amusing when they try to think. Except they are doing serious harm to the USA, whenever they can.

  10. 10

    Although it is theoretically possible for men older then 55 to father children, it’s a bad idea as the quality of male sperm deteriorates with age. For instance, no responsible IVF clinic would permit the use of donated sperm of men of such an age. In fact, it they had their druthers, they would prefer sperm donated by boys aged 15 or so, which is, of course, illegal.

  11. 11

    Is he really arguing that even though 55 year old women can’t get pregnant, they should be able to get married to 55 year old men because that takes the men off the market and they won’t go round getting 25 year old women pregnant?

  12. 12
    Mr Ed

    I think the answer to procreation, fertility, and marriage is simple. Any marriage that does not produce a child every 36 months will in the eyes of the state no longer exists. Marriages that never produced offspring will be nullified and deemed to have never existed. Once your youngest is out of diapers either start another or divide up the assets. This will let the fertile member find a new breading partner. If either partner in a marriage should become infertile this would be grounds for divorce and seen negatively by the courts.

  13. 13

    Visa vi the FRC I see a new law coming:
    Women who’ve reached menopause cannot marry.
    Women who are, for whatever other reason, unable to conceive, cannot marry.
    Women who don’t want kids cannot marry.
    Yea, that’ll straighten everybody out.

  14. 14
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Oh, Great Gods of Galloping Gab:

    That’s what Cooper said – that men might still be able to procreate after 55. AND that’s what Kagan wanted him to say.

    In the example above, you have Sprigg saying that the government has an interest ***in getting people who cannot procreate within their relationship to marry***.

    Therefore, there’s an argument for getting queer folk to marry so that they don’t get themselves or others pregnant during sexyfuntimes outside of the primary relationship that would otherwise NOT be a marriage.

    If society has a reason for fertile older dudes to marry infertile older women, then society has a reason for **encouraging** the marriages of fertile dudes who almost always confine their sex to solo and/or partners who are other men.

    Sprigg hasn’t read the transcript and is making Kagan’s case.

  15. 15
    Dennis N

    Ah yes, Antonin Scalia is just so insightful that his jokes go over everyone’s heads.

  16. 16

    Even if Sprigg was right that marriage helps keep 55 year old men from impregnating younger women, so what? What does that have to do with allowing gay people to get married?

    I think you guys are missing the logic of the argument because the premises are so silly. He’s what I think Sprigg is arguing:

    It’s not in society’s interests to have potential procreators running around with no limits on their behavior producing children outside a stable family unit. So we invented this thing called “marriage”, which creates such a family unit, and keeps procreation within it. Since homosexuals are not potential procreators, there is no reason to extend the option for this sort of relationship to them.

    The logic is sound, but the premises are absurd given the real world facts of adultery (~75%), divorce (~50%)and homosexual parentage (>>0%). Wingnuts like to pretend that every marriage still lasts forever, the adultery rate is zero, and homosexuals never engage in nonhomosexual behavior, since that would make them not homosexuals (because its all about behavior you see).

    What kills me is their complete cluelessness as to how doltish they look when they say these things out loud.

  17. 17

    “Ah yes, Antonin Scalia is just so insightful that his jokes go over everyone’s heads.”

    I think that Tony “Ducks” Scalia is more into sight gags these days. I can’t wait for him to do his impression of Ernest Hemingway, cleaning his shotgun.

    It would prolly be better for Cooper if he just said, “Yeah, I’m anti-ickybuttseksmawwiage!”. He would appear no less ridiculous, but at least he wouldn’t be confusing HIMSELF.

  18. 18

    Today’s argument:
    The primary purpose of marriage is to encourage parents to care for unintended children. Since it is none of the government’s business whether or not an individual is taking precautions to avoid unintended children or unlikely to have children due to a medical condition (including menopause), it would be a violation of privacy to prevent any straight couple from marrying. However since gay couples cannot produce children it is not a violation to prevent them from marrying.

    Tomorrow’s argument
    If we’re handing out all these special rights in order to encourage parents to take care of unintended children, it really is the government’s business whether or not such children are likely. Women who are over 55 or are using birth control should be prevented from marrying. Any married woman who seeks an abortion will have her marriage immediately dissolved.

    Friday’s argument
    Since the primary purpose of marriage is to encourage couples to take care of unintended children, any man married to an infertile or older woman should be provided with a fecund handmaiden with whom he is to have sex with at least once a week in order to maintain the appropriate risk of unintended children. Of course only those wealthy enough to be able to properly care for the handmaiden should receive this benefit, because otherwise it wouldn’t be fair to the handmaidens. As most men cannot afford both a wife and a handmaiden, the wealthiest men will receive extra handmaidens to ensure that the risk of unintended pregnancies is balanced with the number of marriages across the population.

  19. 19

    The argument I want to try on the wingnuts is this:

    If God wants an older woman (see Sarah for an example) to have a child, he can make it happen, right? So age of the woman should be no bar to marriage if it’s All About The Children.

    What is to prevent God from making one partner in a same-sex marriage pregnant? God is “all powerful” right? So He can do that, right? So if it’s All About The Children, God will see to it that there are children. Right?

  20. 20

    “What is to prevent God from making one partner in a same-sex marriage pregnant? ”

    Talk to AhhhhNold! It HAPPENED TO HIM!! Watch this documentary:

    http://us.search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&fr=vmn&type=zg-search.startnow.com-1_0-zg-rp-rp&p=%22Junior%22+Film+trailer *

    Oh, wait, it’s not a documentary, it’s just a fantasy? Is that fantasy anything like the ones that all the fundies have about their skydaddy and his preferences?

    * When I ran it, a “Gay Marriage” ad banner popped up in the trailer window.

  21. 21
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    a quite plausible example of which might be a 55-year-old man going around impregnating fertile women (presumably younger than himself) who are not his wife.

    But who are presumably just sitting there, maybe soaking up the sunlight, enjoying the occasional rain, growing better where the soil nutrients are…

    Um, dipshit we’re talking about women here, not daffodils.

  22. 22
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    According to the CDC about 10% of American women aged 13-44 have difficult becoming or staying pregnant.


  23. 23

    If responsibility for caring for children is the primary focus and purpose of marriage, then why isn’t plural marriage encouraged? Multiple parental-role members of the family will be better able to ensure that SOMEbody is caring for any children.

  24. 24

    If responsibility for caring for children is the primary focus and purpose of marriage, then why isn’t plural marriage encouraged?

    Because sick sexual indecency is also bad for children. Who determines what is sick sexual indecency? Well, we have a carefully selected panel of white, straight, male, uptight, authoritarian, highly religious closet cases to make just that determination.

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