August 7, 2012

A Fallacy That Will Not Die

Once again — how many times has this come up? — it is being asserted widely that the reason only mixed-sex couples can marry is that only they are “inherently” capable of procreation. This is not only false, but a fallacy.

First, though, let it be acknowledged that the state, and for what it is worth, many religions, do hold that procreation ought to take place within the context of marriage, thereby implicitly recognizing the sadly obvious fact that marriage is not essential to procreation. However, as soon as this is said, it also has to be recognized that the converse is equally true and obvious: that neither the state, nor most religions, require procreation of married couples. Some religious groups insist that couples at least attempt procreation, but the bearing of children is, for most states and most faiths, a positive outcome and not a requirement. Making the institution of marriage depend on what is essentially a contingency robs it of relation to what in fact constitutes the marriage, which is the mutual consent to life together.

In short, it is not the bearing of children that “makes” the marriage a marriage. As long ago as the 17th century, the eminent Scottish jurist James Dalrymple, the Viscount Stair, wrote in his Institutions of the Law of Scotland,

It is not the consent of Marriage as it relateth to the procreation of Children that is requisite; for it may consist, though the Woman be far beyond that date; but it is the consent, whereby ariseth that Conjugal Society, which may have the conjunction of Bodies as well as of Minds, as the general end of the Institution of Marriage, is the solace and satisfaction of Man. For the Lord saw that it was not fit for him to be alone, and therefore made a help meet for him: Yet though this capacity should never be actuat, as if persons, both capable, should after Marriage live together, and it should be known and acknowledged that they did abstain, yet were the Marriage valid, as to the Conjugal Rights on either part. (I.iv.6)

However, we then come to the fallacious belief that any given mixed-sex couple are somehow “inherently” capable of procreation, while same-sex couples never are. First of all, the obvious truth is that it takes two to dance the procreative tango — and both must be, individually as well as jointly, capable of procreation, in order for procreation to happen. The marriage of a couple consisting of one member of each sex does not have any "inherent" capacity to procreation, solely on the basis of their sex. Such a couple either has "actual" capacity for procreation or it doesn't.

So let me sketch this out in simpler terms. The “traditionalists” appear to be arguing thus:

a. Male and female are required for procreation
b. Marriage requires procreation, therefore
c. Marriage requires male and female.

I hope you can see the syllogism follows, but only if (b) is accepted as true. However, in fact its contrary is true. As it stands (b) is not acceptable to most states or faiths — any more than same-sex marriage is acceptable to most states and faiths. So those who frame the argument in this way are employing a premise they do not in fact accept to reach a conclusion they desire.

Let’s look at it another way:

a. A couple including a person of each sex, each of whom is capable of procreation has an inherent capacity to procreate as a couple.
a(1). This means that the inability of either or both members of the couple to procreate prevents the couple from procreation.
b. The inability to procreate is not grounds for forbidding marriage, or dissolving marriage.
b(1). This means that those who wish to prohibit same-sex marriage on the grounds of incapacity to procreate need to come up with a better argument.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


JCF said...


Daniel Weir said...

What is sad is that we have to go over the sane ground on this issue. I am reluctant to accuse of lying any of those who resort to the fallacy, but I might be willing to use the term willful ignorance in reference to them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks JCF. Daniel, I have to hope that those who advance this really do believe it. I had a recent go-round in an email exchange with someone who seems absolutely convinced of this and other counteractuals, as well as some very strange notions involving the Trinity, more of which I'll post about as time permits. It is very strange the lengths to which those opposed to SSM will press against both reality and the truly dogmatic teachings of the church. I really do have to wonder at the motivation, the motive, and the goal.

Peter said...

Thanks for this. (I've just discovered your blog via a Facebook post.)
The procreation argument is one that I've battled with for a long time.
How many 'non-married' couples or individuals produce children, and how many 'married' couples do not or can not! As a Minister I have never refused to marry an older couple, who clearly will not be procreating!

Erika Baker said...

Can I also add, please, that same sex couples are not infertile, they are just incapable of having offspring that are genetically the product of both parents.

But lgbt people do have their own children, through artificial insemination, through IVF, through surrogacy arrangements or from previous marriages.

And just like straight couples, they can adopt and foster.

The recent comment over on TA that families with adopted children are somehow not "real" families is insulting to those millions of parents who adopt children and to the millions of children who have been raised in adoptive families.

I suggest we simply refuse to engage with arguments that are rooted in such a shallow, reductionist biological view of relationships.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Peter, welcome to IaGD.

Erika, quite right. I neglected to add the following parragraph that was in my notes:

Let us posit four classes of people, where M = male and F = female, f = fertile and i = infertile. Thus we have Mf and Mi, and Ff and Fi. The 'traditionalists' would allow marriage only in cases where the major term (M or F) differs. Thus the minor term (f or i) is actually irrelevant to them. Moreover, they would refuse marriage to two Mf's or Ff's even though they are individually fertile, though not as a pair. But we have already seen that they do not forbid marriage to a pair who are infertile on the basis of infertility alone — their real reason for prohibition is the lack of a sex difference.

Drew Downs said...

Great arguments!

I am also curious about the impact on existing marriages when the fertility argument is made. Since one's fertility is rarely known before entering marriage, and it is most commonly discovered in the process of procreating that one or the other is infertile, doesn't the logic of the fertility question posit that infertility is grounds for annulment or divorce? And if so, why are we so hard on Henry VIII?

To make fertility the reason for excluding one sort over another before entering into marriage, but not after, therefore means to either A) make it more important a condition for the suitability of the marriage than, say prospects for love or fidelity or B) make it a required attribute in any marriage. You adeptly dismantle the argument for B, but what of A? It seems to me that they are (un)intentionally making a stipulation more important than all of the other elements of the marriage. For the other elements are not being defended with such gusto.

Just a thought.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Drew. Infertility discovered after marriage is not grounds for divorce or annulment. If someone knows him or herself to be infertile and conceals that fact from a prospective spouse, that is grounds for divorce or annulment in some places. But the issue there is deception, not fertility as such. And nothing prevents infertile people from marrying so long as they are duly informed. (A couple who marries in their sixties likely needs no explicit documentation!)

This fact alone vitiates the whole argument advanced by those who would limit marriage equality on this ground. I've often said that if they wanted to make fertility and procreation a condition for marriage, fine. But this has not been the historic requirement, at least in the modern West. There are cultures and religious traditions (including Rabbinic Judaism) that do see procreation as a positive duty, and allow infertility as a cause for divorce. But Christian teaching has never taken that view, as far as I know, nor do most civil laws allow it, since marriage is made by consent --- and the consent is to have conjugal relations, not to have children. (There is no marriage vow to procreate!) I think this is why there is little gusto on that particular front...

Thanks again.

musculars said...

Thank you so much for the syllogism which is exactly what San Francisco's new Roman Catholic Archbisop Cordileone (father of Prop 8)continuously employs.
Fortunately few San Franciscan
catholics accept such fallacious reasoning as good theology let alone good policy.
Likewise the Archbishop's depiction of adoption as a simulacre of heterosexual households is equally flawed, In adoptions one encounters grace in the reality confronting the mythic ideal. In his disregard for the thousands of adopted children of same sex couples, he shows little understanding of the theology of redemption wherein with Christ we all become the adopted children of God.
He has also called on prochoice Catholics to refrain from communion. Most prochoice Catholics who accept the teachings regarding abortion however consider prolife initiatives as bad public policy as an overly intrusive imposition of the State.
While I didn't expect much regarding his public policy positions I'm surprised if this is the theology they taught him at the Gregorian?