Saturday, February 8, 2014

Birth Rates Hanging By a Thread

One of Utah’s primary arguments against marriage equality – believe it or not – is that same-sex marriage would imperil Utah’s birth rate and send it crashing from its current pinnacle to depths that imperial the continuation of the species in the Beehive State. “Utah,” the State argues, “has a strong and compelling interest not only in the quality of parenting its children receive, but also in the number of children who will be conceived in the future and raised in high-quality home arrangements.”

A Causal Non-Causal Link

As their opening salvo in this argument, the State’s attorneys attempt to establish a causal connection (even though they refer to it a correlation) between marriage equality and lower birth rates in states and countries that have legalized same-sex marriage:
“It is striking that fertility and birthrates tend to be markedly lower in nations and states that have embraced same-sex marriage. For example, the birthrate in states (and Washington, D.C.) that have adopted a genderless marriage definition is significantly lower than the national average. In fact, the six lowest birthrate states [comprising the New England states] have all adopted that redefinition  … The same is true overseas. As of 2011, ten countries permitted same-sex marriage. Six of these ten fall well into the bottom quarter in both birth rates and fertility among 223 countries and territories, and all ten fall below the average worldwide fertility rate.”
After citing these statistics, however, the State admits that “ …  [w]hile these statistics obviously do not prove a causal link between same-sex marriage and declining birthrates, they do create cause for concern.”

Utah’s Orwellian Interest in Procreation

After strongly implying that other states are not pulling their birth rate weight – especially those that have already legalized same-sex marriage – the State goes on to point out how successful it has been in procreating. “So far,” the attorneys for Utah argue, “Utah has been more successful than these states and countries in encouraging procreation.”

Utah’s lawyers then go on to explain to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals why Utah has been so successful:
“By providing special privileges and status to couples that are uniquely capable of producing offspring without biological assistance from third parties, the State sends a clear if subtle message to all of its citizens that natural reproduction is healthy, desirable and highly valued. That message fosters more reproduction …  Utah’s marriage laws and traditions subtly convey to all citizens that it is good to make the sacrifices necessary to have children—even though doing so may be inconvenient or even burdensome to adult parents … [T]he very institution of man-woman marriage stands as a State endorsement not only of the value of raising children in intact marriages, but also of the value of procreation.”
Hmmmm. Is it just me, or does this sound more like a General Conference talk by a leader in the LDS Church than a legal argument advanced by a sovereign state? Since when does a governmental entity tell its citizens that they should have children, even if it is “inconvenient” or requires “sacrifices”? (See also the italicized passage in the quote below.) That this Orwellian argument is being advanced by the state of Utah – which prides itself on its “conservatism” – is an irony of almost limitless richness.

Hanging By a Thread

Utah then goes on to paint a picture of what would happen in the Beehive State if marriage equality is legalized:
 “By contrast, redefining marriage in genderless terms would tend to reduce fertility rates, for at least three reasons. First … redefining marriage in genderless terms breaks the critical conceptual link between marriage and procreation … Second, … a genderless redefinition would send a powerful message that it is entirely appropriate—even expected—for adults to forego or severely limit the number of their children based on concerns for their own convenience. That a new child might “cramp the style” of an adult would come to be seen as sufficient reason not to have the child at all. That too would tend to reduce fertility rates. Third, to the extent a genderless marriage definition encourages the further abandonment—or privatization—of marriage, it would almost certainly reduce birthrates"[emphasis added]. 
Again, however, I ask: is this an argument of a sovereign state or of a leader in the LDS Church? And, by the way, should I also point out that the State offers absolutely ZERO citations to ANYTHING – no social studies, no legal precedent, nothing – in support of this argument. But I guess that could be easily deduced by the incredible inanity of it.

As in other sections of Utah’s opening argument before the 10th Circuit, there are strong Mormon overtones to this procreation drivel (by which I mean the legal argument, not Mormon doctrine). There is almost a millenialist, impending judgment overtone to it, bringing to mind the legendary prophecy ascribed to Joseph Smith that the US Constitution would one day “hang by a thread” and that it would be members of the LDS Church who would save it. In this section of its argument, the State of Utah sends out a similar warning that same-sex marriage will cause birth rates to plunge to apocalyptic levels. Do the State’s lawyers really expect anyone to treat this argument seriously? (Facepalm)

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