The Erroneous Infertility/Post-Menopausal Argument

CNN reports that in today’s session, Justice Kagan and the attorneys for Prop 8 had the following exchange.

“Mr. Cooper, suppose a state said that, because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55,” Kagan asked. “Would that be constitutional?”

“No, your honor, it would not be constitutional,” Cooper answered.

I’m so frustrated by Cooper’s answer (assuming CNN reported this in full).  Why is this SO difficult to understand?  Of course the restriction would be unconstituional…because it is irrelevant.  We can allow infertile and post-menopausal couples to marry because allowing them to do so does not make saying that “a child has a right to a mother and father” discriminatory.   If such a couple were to adopt, for example, that child would still have a mother and a father.

As soon as you claim that homosexual marriage is equivalent to marriage, then you must agree that both kinds of couples are capable of giving the same benefits to any  child they might have.    If you agree with that, then it immediately becomes discriminatory to say that the child actually receives something different from a mother and a father.  It is discriminatory, because a homosexual couple cannot give a child a mother and a father and to say that a child needs a mother and a father is to say that a homosexual couple is somehow less than a heterosexual couple.  You can’t simultaneously say that that two things are the sameanddifferent.

The problem is that all the data shows that children receive important benefits from mothers and fathers and that the absence of one or the other has consequences.  That is not the same as saying that gay people are automatically bad parents or that children raised by gay people are doomed to be axe murderers.  BUT that is to say that if the best homosexual parents are compared to the best heterosexual parents the children of the heterosexual parents will be receiving benefits the children of homosexual parents can never have.  That is unjust.  It is unjust to give a child the chance to have everything but.  Children deserve to have the right to everything society can give them to achieve their full potential.

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit

  • Theodore Seeber

    Men and women are different. The entire point of feminism, the communist Students for Democratic Society, and homosexuality has been to try to deny that fact, and so doing, destroy the United States.

  • S

    Do you know of any studies that have shown that children are better off with straight parents than gay parents? I was having a discussion about gay marriage with someone and he said he doesn’t think there is proof that children are better off with straight parents. It seems like the studies are conflicting.

    Also, what do you think of single people adopting children? Is there any Catholic teaching on it? Is adoption by singles also wrong because it denies a child a mother and father?

    • Dr. Greg

      There are studies that show that mothers and fathers bring different gifts to the parenting table and that children who are missing a mother or father struggle to develop as well as children who have both. The studies that claim gay households are as good as straight households simply look at measures of basic function and life satisfaction. They do not evaluate the child’s ability to develop the specific skills that children of straight parents learn by having a mom and a dad.

      Children who grew up under all sorts of less than ideal circumstances can turn out “just fine.” That doesn’t mean those circumstances are ideal.

  • Domestic Ginger

    I would like to weigh in here as the child of divorced parents. My parents divorced when I was 18, after 20+ years of marriage. They waited so long because they thought it would be kinder to postpone divorce until we kids were out of the house. There was no physical abuse or alcoholism, just mutual neglect.

    Even at 18, the divorce remains the single most devastating thing that has ever happened to me. I barely passed my college courses, I began suffering panic attacks, I ate compulsively (gaining 30 lbs in 4 months) and withdrew from social interactions. I cried constantly, but felt I had no right to be sad — that it was in fact selfish of me to be sad — because, after all, didn’t I want my parents to be happy?

    There is no doubt they were unhappy with each other, but they chose to detonate their family rather than keep their promises to one another and to my brother and me. Now, 20 year after the divorce, I am happily married, have children of my own, am an honors student in a nearby Masters program, and have a rich and rewarding social and community life. I survived the trauma of the divorce, rebuilt my life, forgave my parents, and now enjoy close relationships with both of them.

    Despite the fact that I survived the divorce, there will always be a hole in my heart. I have simply developed coping strategies to mitigate the loss and pain. However, I wouldn’t inflict the suffering I experienced on anyone, especially for some perceived right of mine to feel romantically fulfilled or happy.

    Yes, children are flexible and resilient, but I am here to speak for all of us flexible and resilient children to say that most would rather just have an intact family with a mom and dad. Unfortunately, Dr. Popcak’s defense of marriage as between a man and woman, while true, doesn’t hold much weight in a society that already allows the dissolution of marriage for any reason at all.

  • Paul Rimmer

    If there is really something extra added by a child having both a mother and a father, and if this added something has any significant impact on the child’s future success, then why do studies not converge on this point?

    • Dr. Greg

      See my reply to Lucy. Studies do reinforce this, but studies on homosexual parenting simply focus on basic functioning/life satisfaction. As I’ve already pointed out, there are a million ways to raise a basically decent, grow-up-and-get-a-job, function-in-society kid. Children of divorce can grow up to be happy and functional enough. Children raised in abusive homes can grow up to be happy and functional enough. Children raised in alcoholic or neglectful homes can grow up to be happy and functional enough. Children who are abandoned by a mother or father can grow up to be happy and functional enough. But we recognize that those are tragedies.

      Homosexual families deny children the right to a mother and a father from the get-go, but it is the tragedy that dare not speak its name. If homosexual “marriage” comes to be universally accepted, children who do have the audacity to say that they miss a mom or a dad will be shamed. How dare they not be happy with what dad and dad or mom and mom can give them. Right now, if an adult child of divorce goes to therapy, that adult child is affirmed in his pain that he did not receive what was his right. If homosexual marriage is universally accepted the child who goes to therapy to express their pain about not having a mother and father will not be given therapy. He will be re-educated. Shamed. As a clinician. I don’t want to be responsible for that.

  • Lucy Panda

    You say, “BUT that is to say that if the best homosexual parents are compared to the best heterosexual parents the children of the heterosexual parents will be receiving benefits the children of homosexual parents can never have. That is unjust. It is unjust to give a child the chance to have everything but. Children deserve to have the right to everything society can give them to achieve their full potential.”

    Surely this is false. There are innumerable ways that one set of parents might be able to offer benefits that another set cannot offer. For example, there are benefits to having parents from your own culture. Two of my children are Ethiopian and my spouse and I are white Americans. It is impossible for us to offer our children the benefits of same-culture parents. This is unfortunate. But surely it is not… unjust.

    Second, you seem to fail to understand the difference between sex and gender. The term sex identifies the physiological characteristics of males and females. The term gender identifies the social role one culture assigns to each sex. Being a “manly man” (i.e. gender) is different in different societies. The features of the two sexes are universal. So for your argument to work you would need to show that the benefits of a male and female parent come from their base-line sexual feature rather than mere gendered differences.

    In other words, its not sufficient to show that “men tend to be more such-and-such” and children need such-and-such. You have to show that “men have an ability needed by children that it is impossible for a female to provide.” And whatever this ability is, it must be so important that all children have a right to it. And both males and females must have these unique, essential, sex-based parenting abilities.

    Could you please identify this abilities?

    • Dr. Greg

      Hello Lucy,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

      While there can be benefits to having parents of the same cultural background, we know from generations of experience that it is not necessary. Cultural difference do not rise to the same level of necessesity as gender differences.

      Likewise, while I understand the difference between sex and gender, children do not. Most infants and pre-schoolers are not eligible for classes in Postmodern Feminist Perspectives on Gender that are offered at local universities. Perhaps that is an injustice that we need to rectify, but until then, the only sane response is to deal with what is.

      I will try to do a post later summarizing some of the research on the gifts mothers and fathers bring to parenting. It is Holy Week, so I may or may get to it before Easter, but I will post it at some point. Feel free to check back for further updates. Or feel free to do some of your own research on what mothers and fathers provide children. I think you would find it enlightening.

      That said, I appreciate your comments and tone and I respect your honest questions. I hope you will be a regular visitor/commenter.

      God Bless,

      • Paul Rimmer

        “Cultural difference do not rise to the same level of necessesity as gender differences.”

        I think this is the key point. How do you know that this is true? I don’t see the studies converging on this point at all. Is this a moral intuition or some philosophical position you have? Why should I believe it?

        • Dr. Greg

          Paul, who said you should believe me? By all means, do your own reading on the subject. But you can’t tell me you won’t believe what I tell you and simultaneously ask me to give you evidence. That sounds like a damned if I do damned if I don’t position for me to be in, no? ;-)

          Seriously, read up and let me know what you find.

          • Lucy Panda

            A problem I face with your advice to ‘read up’ on “essential parenting features unique to one sex” is that they do not appear to exist. All my research leads to sex-related _tendencies_ (women tend to be better at such-and-such). Just because women “tend” to be more compassionate doesn’t mean that men can’t be sufficiently compassionate for the needs of children. The closest thing I can find is the ability to produce breast milk (which not all women possess) and this hardly seems to be such an essential ability so as to be unjust to deny it to children.

          • Dr. Greg

            Patience, patience. :-) I’m working on a response to you as I type this. G

          • Dr. Greg

            Okay, my response is up on the main blog page.

  • Lucy Panda

    Dr. Greg,

    I’m sorry I suggested that you didn’t know the difference between sex and gender. I should have said, “your post doesn’t address the difference between sex and gender.”

    You reply, “Cultural difference do not rise to the same level of necessesity as gender differences.”

    That is somewhat helpful. You ended the original post by saying, “That is unjust. It is unjust to give a child the chance to have everything but. Children deserve to have the right to everything society can give them to achieve their full potential.”

    This seems to be a bit misleading since you concede that children don’t have a “right to EVERYTHING society can give them to help them reach their full potential.” This is because you agree that children “have the right” to some parental benefits (those unidentified benefits capable of being produced only by one sex) but not others (having parents of their birth culture).

    Please expand my request to:

    What benefits do children have a “right” to receive? Which of these benefits can only be produced by one sex?

    Thanks and have a blessed Holy Week!


  • John Howard

    Pretty sure I left a comment on this post…

    Greg, you do think that people only have a right to procreate with someone of the other sex, right? You don’t think people have a right to use stem cell gametes or whatever if they want, do you? And you must think that people have a right to procreate with someone of the other sex, don’t you?

    • Dr. Greg

      And your point is…?

      • John Howard

        My point is that there is no right to procreate with someone of the same sex. Do you agree? Marriage is only for couples that have a right to procreate. It’s not about ability at all.

      • John Howard

        And I was hoping you could make that point on familyscholars, in addition to the other points you make here. I think leaving it out makes for a faulty argument. If you agree with that point, it is important to say so, otherwise people will start to think that there is a right to reproduce with someone of the other sex, just because we haven’t been vigilant and haven’t been pro-active.

  • Guest

    I actually think that marriage between a man and a woman who cannot procreate, have no minor children between them, and have no intention to adopt is somewhat problematic. Especially if, as you have said in rejection of ssm, marriage law is about looking out for the rights of children, not the adults.

    The Church has relaxed a lot on this topic and people younger than about 60 probably don’t remember how scandalous it once was for ‘old’ people to get married. It was seen as essentially admitting you wanted to have sex and have it sanctioned by the Church because everyone knew it wasn’t about raising kids. Society though has changed – widowed parents don’t automatically live with their kids anymore, making for a long lonely retirement in some cases. The fact that so many people get divorced and also that they are living so much longer as divorced or widowed along with the whole sexual revolution have changed the way we see later-in-life marriage now, even as Catholics. I argue that even 50 years ago the Church would have greatly frowned on marriages of never-before-married, widowed, or divorced and annulled Catholics who were beyond the age of procreation and did not have minor children to raise. This has added a lot of confusion and a bit of hypocrisy to the issue of what Catholic marriage is supposed to be about and has made the argument against ssm more difficult to stand behind. The Church has changed in response to the change in society and yet we say we really don’t do that – don’t we?