Marriage and Infertility
Last fall, one of the frequently asked questions about marriage and gay and lesbian couples was posed during a discussion at Princeton Theological Seminary: If gay and lesbian couples can’t have children then how can they legitimately be married since the primary purpose of marriage is the bearing of children?
At the time, I replied that gay and lesbian couples are just infertile couples and I find God’s Grace in all the ways modern science offers infertile couples so that they may have children these days. A student added that adoption continues to be a good option as well. I was happy to receive that reminder. Afterward, another student came up and thanked me for my response to the question, saying that she had never thought about this challenge to same-gender marriage in this way.
Had there been more time that evening at Princeton, I would have shared another response: The heart of marriage in the protestant tradition is not procreation, but is the love and commitment between the partners.
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Book of Confessions, the two purposes for marriage are “to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern (The Confession of 1967, 9.47).” These qualities of marriage stem from the Scriptural understanding of the loving, committed relationship between God and creation.
Society benefits by supporting couples in marriage who love and support each other, regardless of whether or not they have children. This applies to gay and lesbian couples just as much as it does for all other couples.
Society also benefits when loving committed couples provide a caring home for raising children, regardless of whether they are biologically related families or not. I was reminded of this when I read Melanie Thernstrom’s thought-provoking cover article in the New York Time’s Magazine about the long road she and her husband took to becoming parents despite infertility. It is perfectly possible for gay or lesbian couples to have very similar sagas to tell about the forming of their families.
Melanie Thernstrom and her spouse’s drive to raise children arises from the bedrock elements of marriage: their love for, and commitment to, each other. And this holds true for the gay and lesbian couples I know as well. They are earnest and excellent parents, not least because it has been a winding, rarely traveled road to have families for them all.