Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marriage, equality and infertility

When I was in high school, I had a couple of boy friends (= friends who were boys) in addition to my girlfriends. They were smart, musical (band buddies), artistic (drama club) and extremely funny, with biting senses of humour. One of them regularly asked me to be his "date" on family outings, and we always had a good time together, even though there was never anything remotely romantic between us. 

I often got asked, "Is he gay?"

"I don't know," I answered, in all honesty, "and I don't care." And I didn't, on both counts. It was a time when these things just weren't talked about in a serious way, certainly not among teenagers and DEFINITELY not in the small Prairie town where I lived. I just knew that he was my friend, and that was all that mattered to me.

Sadly, I've lost touch with him and my guy friends over the years -- but I still think of them often and all the fun that we had together, all those years ago. Through conversations I've had with mutual friends over the years, I now know that a few of them were, in fact, gay (or at least, came out as adults). 

The only reason I found this at all problematic was that AIDS began ravaging the gay community just as we were all leaving university and heading out into the world. Back then, to be diagnosed with the AIDS virus was considered a death sentence. I often thought about my old friends as I read the news stories, and prayed that they would be careful and safe.  And -- even though, as Canadians, they have been free to marry whomever they wished (if they wished) for several years now -- I've been thinking about them again, as the United States Supreme Court hears two pivotal cases dealing with marriage equality. 

Being at work, I haven't been able to watch the hearings. But I was found this Salon article, and  Maureen Dowd's New York Times column.  I applauded Justice Elena Kagan's excellent points about marriage and fertility -- and was horrified by Justice Antonin Scalia's attempts at humour.  (“I suppose we could have a questionnaire at the marriage desk when people come in to get the marriage – you know, are you fertile or are you not fertile?")(Good grief...). 

I was sufficiently incensed that I actually shared the Salon article on Facebook with the comment:  "Justice Kagan rocks. :) Justice Scalia, you should be ashamed of yourself. :p Don't try to tell me my marriage is any less valid or valuable than yours because I am in my 50s & don't have children." 

(Which, for me, is pretty major, lol.)

Children are one reason why people get married, of course. (And, of course, a lot of people these days are having children without getting married.)  But there are many others. I wanted children and I expected that dh & I would have them, someday. But the chief reason we got married was that we loved each other and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. We promised to love each other for better or for worse, and when we were walloped by stillbirth and infertility, I realized that this must have been "the worse" they were referring to in the vows -- it doesn't get much worse than that, does it?

Before we got married, we went on an Engaged Encounter weekend. It was a Catholic church program, recommended by our (Anglican) minister.  Even though the Catholic church is a big fan of procreation ; ) I distinctly remember the couple leading the session advising us to put our marriage at the centre of our family, and make time for each other amid the chaos of family life.

A few years later, anticipating the family to come, I bought a book called "Childbirth and Marriage: The Transition to Parenthood" by Tracie Hotchner. It went into the Goodwill bin some years ago, but I remember it had a big impact on my thinking. From what I remember, it, too, advised couples to stay focused on their marriage and not let their new roles as mom & dad overwhelm their original roles as life partners. I came to believe (and still do) that the base, the core, of any strong family is a strong partnership between spouses. Children are the icing on the cake -- but the cake, the core of the family, is, or should be, the marriage. It's funny to think that a book about "the transition to parenthood" has helped me make the transition to a permanently childless future, but that's essentially what happened. 

So there are two good reasons why I'm paying attention to what's happening in Washington this week.

As I mentioned marriage equality has been a reality here in Canada for several years now. The roof hasn't caved in. ; )  It's pretty much a non-issue these days.  I hope someday the United States will be able to say the same thing.

Mel and Kathy have written two other great blog posts on this subject. 


  1. Like you, I was appalled at Scalia's comments and loved Justice Kagen's articulate line of questions and comments. Off now to like your FB comment.

  2. Similar thinking from The Not Mom:

  3. Loved this. I fear I'm getting so used to being horrified at what goes on in US politics, and that I am so far away, that sometimes - when the comments can get me too angry and stressed - I just switch off. And some of this is affecting me.

    As I've mentioned elsewhere, I am pleased to report too that a gay marriage bill is going through our parliament at the moment, without much fanfare, and is expected to pass easily. I'm hoping so anyway.

  4. This is such a great post. I loved Justice Kagan's line of questioning, too ... because she really begins to get at what marriage is about. And to be honest, as someone who lost children, and now also HAS children, I can say that I agree with her ... that focusing on the children can actually create problems or rifts in a marriage, when we do so at the expense of our relationship with our partner. It's a mistake we have made, to some degree, ourselves.

  5. I was so appalled by Justice Scalia. The suggestion that my marriage would be somehow less valid or less significant if my husband and I chose not to or were unable to have children is ludicrous and offensive. Good for you and your FB comment.