Children and marriage aren't one and the same
Ever since this article made the rounds on the lefty-net (Echidne has a great take on it), I've been thinking about it. Yesterday I didn't post because I went to Houston to go to an engagement party, which was a lot of fun. The marry-to-conform crowd would have likely been pleased with the surface appearances. Multiple generations, beaming parents, babies crying, older children running around. The groom is a country music singer, so we even had live country music and since this is Houston you even got some old school Southern accents going on. Pure red state bliss on the surface (ignore the Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers). But scratch the surface and you'll see that marriage just ain't what it used to be. First of all, the couple is in their late 30s/early 40s, first marriage for both. Second of all, the bride has her own business and has no intentions of scaling back that massive workload to be the wifey. No one used this occassion to pressure the single people to marry. And when the couple was asked if children were in the future, they gave a tepid response. Maybe, maybe not. But they aren't going to sweat it, because they are marrying each other, not marrying to have children.
Of course, the bullshit argument that marriage is for children wouldn't be so central to the right-wing social agenda if it weren't for same sex marriage. The best argument for privileging heterosexuals over homosexuals is that heterosexuals can Make Babies (wow, what a talent) and that marriage is for making babies. More interesting debate on this at Alas, as usual. I expect those who have suddenly realized that babies must be raised by their biological mother and father, no exceptions, will shortly be working to ban adoption.
So now deliberate childlessness in straight married couples is suspect, since it is giving lie to the argument that people marry to make babies. Conform, dammit!
Well, attacking deliberate childlessness is also a great covert argument for attacking women's rights as well, and of course it gives the self-righteous one more thing to feel self-righteous about, that they have sacrificed by having children. (I'm sure that it's a warm feeling to be told by your parents that they sacrificed by having you to please God, implying that they would rather be doing something fun.)
Of course, having children is central to a lot of people's choice to marry, and that's great of course. But even those people who want to marry and have children are hurt by the belief that marriage exists to make children alone. It hurts single parents who may like to be married but can't for various reasons. And it hurts couples who marry and want to have children, but can't, because it makes them feel that their marriage is somehow phony. Mohler seems to be aware of the danger of this, because he cautions against it.
Morally speaking, the epidemic in this regard has nothing to do with those married couples who desire children but are for any reason unable to have them, but in those who are fully capable of having children but reject this intrusion in their lifestyle.
Of course, he doesn't give this the attention it deserves. Infertility causes many marriages to fall apart, because the couple can't quite dedicate themselves to marriage without children, or because the resentment at not having children starts getting aimed at your spouse.
Because of this, I am going to venture to say that the hyper-attention that marital fertility gets does more to discourage straight people from being married than same sex marriage ever could. Not only does it tear at marriages that are plagued with infertility because those couples have trouble finding ways to redefine their marriage in a way that they can be happy without children or by adoption, bbut it discourages people who don't want children--or any more children--from marrying. Ask your average single mother about her dating prospects, especially one who makes it clear that she wants no more children.
The truth of the matter is that child-bearing and marriage have unbuckled in people's actual behavior if not in their notions. Second marriages, childless marriages, couples who raise children without the benefit of marriage, and single parenthood are all part of everyday existence, and they are becoming normalized in many people's conceptions of what "family" is. A lot of couples that want children have even begun to quietly discard the fertility rituals from their own wedding ceremonies, because while they want children they don't want to imply that their marriage is "about" children. A friend of mine got a little bit angry at her minister when he blessed her home and "all who will live in it" during her wedding ceremony for this exact reason.
Those of us who are deliberately childless still feel defensive about it. But that's fading, too. Last night I laughed at the antics of a toddler who just had to dance around to the music, and I did so without fear that someone would flip around and start asking me when I was coughing up an adorable brat of my own. It wasn't so long ago that I felt like I had to be defensive around children to prevent people from sizing me up for signs of baby lust, so I consider this a big step forward.