With the Supreme Court taking on same-sex marriage (or will they-we shall see), marriage traditionalists have been out there touting the old notion that the purpose of marriage is ultimately about procreation. Old, indeed. And just no longer true. Even marriage traditionalists know this is no longer the case. How did it happen? I talk about the marriage-procreation bond and its breakdown in The Baby Matrix as part of the discussion on the pronatalist Marriage Assumption. Here is an excerpt:
According to Allan Carlson, Ph.D., President of The Howard Center and Distinguished Fellow in the Family Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, the bond of marriage and procreation has broken down over the course of the 20th century. A strong factor: the legalization of contraception. In 1918, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger challenged the Comstock Act by claiming it violated federal and state constitutions. In New York v. Sanger, she claimed that opening her birth control clinic was not illegal because the Comstock Act was unconstitutional. She won; the legal ruling, commonly called the “Crane decision” because it was written by Justice of the Court Frederick Crane, stated that birth control could be used for therapeutic purposes.
Then in 1936, the United States v. One Package case opened the door for the medical community to distribute contraceptives. It ruled that laws prohibiting Americans from importing contraceptive devices or items causing “unlawful abortion” did not apply to physicians who used the items to protect the health of patients.
But in 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut opened the door even wider. Estelle Griswold, Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut at the time, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, a physician and professor at the Yale School of Medicine, decided to test the constitutionality of the Connecticut law banning contraception. They opened a birth control clinic. They were tried and found guilty, and the conviction was upheld in the Appellate Division of the Circuit Court and by the Connecticut Supreme Court. Griswold appealed her conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, which concluded that the 1879 Connecticut Statute was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the “right to marital privacy.” Essentially, as Evan Wolfson states in Why Marriage Matters, this decision meant that “marriage is not just about procreation—indeed it is not necessarily about procreation at all.”
However, the right to privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut only applied to married relationships; in other words, only married couples could possess contraception. Seven years later, in 1972, Eisenstadt v. Baird finally extended the same contraceptive rights to unmarried people. Justice William Brennan held that, “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”
These rulings took the eye off procreation and on to individual rights regarding intercourse and reproduction. In the context of marriage, they made it legally legitimate for marriage not to be inextricably connected to children. As Allan Carlson writes, “Can we still defend the purpose of marriage as procreation? No, not in the current Constitutional climate.”
Read more in The BMx….
So when will this notion be put to rest? One thing for sure, when it is, society will be a lot smarter about seeing through the outdated and untrue assumptions of pronatalism.
Obviously there has been more to marriage than procreation. If marriage was all about procreation, then there would be a fertility test required to get married, but there is not. People who are most certainly infertile, like 80-year old women, have never been prevented from getting married because of their inability to have children. If it was about having babies then 70-year old man and a 70 year-old woman would not be allowed to marry each other, but no one has ever tried to prevent that. There is nothing to prevent a woman with a tubal ligation or hysterectomy from getting married, nor anything preventing a man with a vasectomy from getting married. There’s no law preventing a eunuch from getting married, for that matter.
Yes, this is true today but not so true historically. The purpose of marriage procreation for centuries…in the 1800s some freethinkers started to challenge this, but got real flack – even landed in jail for bucking procreation societal ‘rules’ – I am reading a biography of Charles Knowlton right now, and it is a real eye opener in this regard.