DOMA Supporters Get it Wrong When They Say "True Marriage" is Based on Heterosexual Sex


As the Supreme Court moves closer to hearing Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, both critical the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and same-sex marriage, opponents of same-sex marriage have flooded the courts with amicus briefs to plead their case as to why same-sex marriage is destructive. Many of these briefs, which claim to be “rooted in science,” pit the idealized view of marriage as based in the conjugal act of sex against the destructive “revisionist” view of sex.

The most comprehensive of these amicus briefs is by Princeton University professor Robert P. George, whose arguments against same-sex marriage that claim to be based in science not only puts sex on an imaginary pedestal, but also ultimately excludes many heterosexual couples from its narrow definition of what defines a “true” marriage and what creates the “most appropriate” environment in which to raise children.

George argues that marriage is first and foremost a coital vehicle, and that without this coitus there can be no emotional stability to base a marriage off of. He bashes the “revisionist” view of marriage as “destructive” because it defines marriage as “essentially an emotional union, accompanied by consensual sexual activity.” George believes that in order to achieve this stable, emotional union, there needs to be an act of “dynamism towards reproduction,” which can only be produced through penile-to-vaginal intercourse.

George furthers his argument by asserting that this specific act of coitus is the way to create the best environment in which to raise children. Through this “conjugal union,” children will fare better because of typical arguments like “mothers and fathers have different parenting strengths,” “girls are likelier to suffer sexual abuse … if they do not grow up with their father,” etc. However, none of these arguments show a tie between a “conjugal union” expressed through penile-to-vaginal intercourse and a healthy environment to raise children in. Moreover, these statistics draw from broken heterosexual marriages and single-parent families, not from same-sex parented families.

The argument George presents is problematic because it creates a narrow definition of marriage, one that many people cannot adhere to. What about married couples that use birth control? What about married couples that decide to have children through in vitro fertilization? What about married couples that decide to have a child through a surrogate mother? Through a sperm donor? Couples that adopt? Or what about married couples that simply cannot bear children, or (gasp) simply do not want to?

No problem, according to George, because they are still exercising “dynamism towards reproduction,” which reveals that all this “dynamism” is to George is his fancy way of saying “an act of penile-to-vaginal intercourse” that doesn't necessarily need to end in reproduction because it is still an “organic bodily union.” In George’s opinion, by putting the male phallus into the female vagina, a true marriage that creates an ideal environment for raising children is born.

George asserts that “marriage’s importance is derived from its intrinsic connection to procreation”. But when couples that find other means of procreation, or cannot procreate at all, or choose not to procreate, how can the importance of their marriage be derived from an intrinsic connection to procreation? How can simply having penile-to vaginal intercourse define it? Moreover, how can this simple act of sex be the defining factor in creating the “most appropriate environment for rearing children?”

Moreover, it’s no secret that in marriage, couples’ sex lives often decrease due to the burdens of raising children. If these heterosexual, conjugal acts of coitus are so important to raising children, why does this occur?

Essentially, George’s definition of marriage that puts coitus on an imaginary pedestal ends up excluding not only homosexual marriages from its scope, but a lot of heterosexual marriages as well. I’d even go so far as to say that many heterosexual couples, regardless of their opinions on DOMA, would not say that their marriage is based on an act of coitus, but rather a commitment to each other rooted in emotional connection and stability, a stability that exists independent of “dynamism towards reproduction”; essentially the “revisionist” view of marriage that George vehemently contests against. If this is used as the major legal defense for DOMA, opponents of gay marriage are in for a rough ride.

Sorry, George. Just because you discuss the placement of reproductive genitalia in acts of coitus does not mean your argument is based on fact or science. Try again.