No one is as passionate about a cause as someone touched personally by it. Sympathy for strangers with dread diseases is nothing like the angst you feel when a member of your family is sickened. You may pity victims of hurricanes, but there’s nothing like wandering your own submerged neighborhood to bring the devastation home.
That was me and same-sex marriage. I understood it as a civil rights matter. I grew more committed as I saw how the happiness of friends and family members depended on it. But until I read the dissenting opinion in the marriage-equality case decided last week in Richmond, I didn’t realize just how personal the issue could be. Because if the arguments of gay-marriage opponents ever succeed, my marriage will be toast.
In a 2-to-1 decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit struck down Virginia’s voter-approved bans on gay marriage. The majority argued that states can’t keep such a fundamental right as marriage from individuals just because of who they are. Equal protection and all that. So far so good.
But here’s where fear plumbs my heart. In his argument for those who would ban gay marriage, Judge Paul Niemeyer asserted that the kind of marriage protected by the freedoms in our Constitution isn’t the same as the one between gay people. Why not? Because same-sex couples can’t reproduce biologically (with each other, that is). In contrast to “traditional marriage,” Niemeyer said, same-sex marriage ignores “the inextricable, biological link between marriage and procreation” and “prioritizes the emotions and sexual attractions of the two partners without any necessary link to reproduction.”
Why does this upset me so? Well, you see, I got married two years ago, a few days shy of my 60th birthday. My friends (and new husband) tell me I still look super awesome, and I can still do a pretty good downward dog. But the inescapable fact is that — under normal circumstances (more about that later) — I am way past reproductive age. I have the hot flashes to prove it. If, as Niemeyer says, the whole point of marriage is not the mere parenting of kids but actual biological reproduction, it is clear to me that he believes that my marriage is invalid. To opponents of gay marriage, marriage is all about breeding. Since my breeding days are over, it looks like, marriage-wise, I should be, too.
And it isn’t just Virginia. Kentucky used the same argument. So did Georgia. And Texas. This argument is surely going all the way to the Supreme Court.
Think of the implications of this, ladies. Those of you who depend on Match.com for your partner search know just how annoying are those 45-year-old men (lying by a decade) seeking 25- to 35-year-olds. Who are they kidding? But what if that’s what the framers of the Constitution intended marriage to be? A bond between young, fertile women and the older men who want them. For purposes of paternity, of course.
Marriage is thus not about friendship. Not commitment. Not companionship. Not even tax breaks. Just procreation. And love? I love my husband. I’m pretty sure he loves me. But according to the state of Virginia, without childbirth, what’s love got to do with it? Virginia has no interest in “licensing adults’ love,” Niemeyer quotes.
Not that I have anything against reproduction, mind you. My husband and I have six lovely children between us. But what if Virginia’s argument eventually prevails and the pro-procreation forces manage to enshrine in law what I would call the Donald Trump effect. You know: serial 28-year-olds. Since, near as I can tell from searching the Web, the oldest man to father children did so — twice — after his 94th birthday, where will this all end?
Men, you, too, should beware. What if anyone who can’t procreate was barred from marrying? Some researchers have suggested that George Washington was infertile (owing to a bout of tuberculosis). What if The Father of Our Country himself had been forced to live in sin with Martha because he couldn’t be the father of anything else?
I acknowledge that with a little help from science I might become a mother again and, thus, I presume, return to marriage-worthiness. A 70-year-old woman in India had a baby a few years back using someone else’s eggs. I shudder at the conversation a few years from now. Husband: “I’m going to play Candy Crush for a while and then take a nap.” Me: “No way. You have to pick up little Donny at karate.” We want to stay married, of course. But at what price?
That’s why I’m proposing a special piece of legislation and seeking a sympathetic member of Congress to sponsor it. It would be called DOOF.US, for “Defense of Old Fogies in the U.S.” This bill would allow a special end-of-fertility dispensation for all old people (I won’t discriminate against men) allowing them to marry — and to stay married — after their childbearing years are behind them.
Old people of America, please, join with me. This is urgent. The sanctity, indeed the very existence, of our unions is at stake.
Amanda Bennett, the former executive editor for projects and investigations at Bloomberg News, is a freelance editor and writer.
Special to The Washington Post