Defenders of the "one-man, one-woman" marriage amendment proposed in Minnesota, and similar laws elsewhere, often say marriage should be defined that way because male-female relationships are uniquely capable of producing children and that a fundamental purpose of marriage is to promote the welfare of children.
Now, we know child-bearing is by no means the whole story behind marriage laws, because men and women may marry in middle or old age, and no one prevents infertile individuals or those who do not intend to have children from legally marrying. The law does not ask their child-bearing status or intentions before issuing a marriage license or granting the legal benefits of marriage. Marriage is not just about children. Primarily, I believe, it's about recognizing and valuing the love and commitment of two people who intend to be lifelong partners.
But children are certainly part of the issue, so let's accept that reasoning for a moment, for the sake of argument.
As a simple matter of fact, it's no longer true that only male-female couples predictably can and do have and raise children. Some same-sex families include children born from a previous male-female relationship. And through adoption, artificial insemination and surrogate birth -- the same methods that have allowed countless infertile heterosexual couples to experience the joys of parenthood -- a great many same-sex couples have welcomed children into their lives and caused children to come into this world through their wholehearted desire to be parents. That's indisputable. It's been happening for many years. Those children are here, and will continue to be here. That ship has sailed.
So we have to decide whether a primary rationale for our marriage laws really is the best interests of the children. If it is, marriage laws should encourage long-term commitment by all couples who do or may become parents, and adopt policies that promote the health and stability of families.
If, instead, we require the law to follow a definition of marriage that used to tell the whole story of reproduction but no longer does, it deliberately makes life harder than it needs to be for real families that are never going to fit into that earlier model.
I believe that the truly family-oriented, child-welfare-promoting approach is to recognize the technological changes that have occurred, as well as our changing approach to who can adopt, and therefore not just to allow but to encourage marriage as the norm for committed adult couples.
Committed couples, whether a man and a woman or a same-sex couple, can and often do become parents. That is all we need to know. We don't make opposite-sex couples wait until they actually have children, or prove their intention of doing so, before they can marry. Committed same-sex couples who wish to marry should receive the same treatment under the law.
It's about real children and real families, who exist right now and predictably will exist in the future. You can believe it's in a child's best interest to have both a mother and a father, but you can't make that happen. Legislating that view is not going to change someone's sexual orientation, or who they love, or their desire to be a parent.
But we can very reasonably hold the view that it is better to have two committed parents than one, and that families with married parents are generally more fiscally, legally and socially stable than families with unmarried parents.
So if you think marriage exists for the benefit of children and that only a man and a woman should be legally married, you are telling many real children that they are better off having unmarried parents than married parents -- or, worse, that they don't deserve to have the stability that marriage helps bring. That makes no sense to me.
There are other compelling reasons to vote "no" on the Minnesota marriage amendment. For one, it's a hurtful restriction on the fundamental freedom to marry the person you love with all your heart, which is given to most (in fact, it's given without question to many who marry impulsively, quickly regret it, and soon divorce), but withheld from many who deeply wish it. And for another, it tends to rest too strongly on a particular religious definition of marriage, which is the explicit reason for supporting the amendment given by some who claim no ill-will or bias -- see , for example -- even though civil and religious marriage are separate and distinct even now.
I agree with those other reasons as well. But I'm focusing on children here because I think recognizing their needs, and their families' needs, is something we can all agree upon.
Change is hard. It can be scary. And some changes can feel instinctively wrong. I'm sure this whole issue does to many people, and they trust their gut on this one. But many people, religious and otherwise, have had exactly the same instincts but, upon deeper reflection, have changed their minds over time.
And, again, the real change has already happened. I'll repeat: Committed couples, whether male-female or same-sex, can and often do become parents. That is the fact. What we need to do now is say "no" to compelling the law to close its eyes to that fact.
Minnesota friends and neighbors, please consider the best interests of real children and their real families when you vote this fall.