The following things have all been opposed by the Christian church at various times and to various degrees throughout history. But aside from that important fact, can anybody tell me what they all have in common?

• The rhythm method
• Oral sex
• The birth control pill
• Anal sex
• Sheepskin barriers
• Abortion
• Pornography
• Inducing miscarriage
Coitis interruptus
• Condoms
• IUDs
• Masturbation
• Contragestives / abortifacients
• Vasectomies
• Homosexuality
• Gay marriage

Have you got it yet? It’s not just that they’re sex-related. It’s that they all permit sexual activity and sexual expression without its otherwise likely primary consequence: They all allow sex without babies!

In most cases, the church has given alternative reasons for its opposition to one or another of these things. For example, abortion is most often opposed with the premise that it constitutes murder; birth control has been opposed with the premise that it encourages rape (that was among the rather dubious assertions of the church on the subject) or constitutes abortion (this is false).

But the belief in the sole legitimate purpose of sex as procreation is a rather telling common thread, when you think about it. Every one of the things identified by Christians as being somehow ‘sexually immoral’ and worthy of banning (sometimes in the religious sense and in many cases even legally*) have the property of allowing people to engage and explore their sexuality without the consequence of having children.

E.J. Graff, in a response to Maggie Gallagher, puts it this way:

“The Catholic Church considered any sex that had no hope of leading to reproduction as a horrible “crime against nature.” […] All were banned for the same reason: Because only sex that led to babies was legitimate. […] As late as the early 20th century, the Catholic Church was opposed even to the rhythm method, which had been promoted by one of its priests, as a horrible crime against nature.”

And the always fascinating Dan Savage† says it like this:

“Abortion, contraception, homosexuality; all three issues are about the non-baby-making sex that you’re not supposed to be having. […] They think those bitches who are having sex and don’t want to have babies should be punished. And people who want to use birth control? They want to make sure that that is as difficult as possible because people who want to have sex without having babies should be punished. They want to throw obstacles in their way. People who are gay […] they want to make sure that we are punished. They want us to suffer.”

The current debate on gay marriage represents the leading edge of social discourse in the 21st century, but so often falls back upon this same idea; that sex, and therefore marriage, is for procreation alone and thus needs restricted to those who can reproduce. By keeping marriage restricted to heterosexuals, the idea is that God’s natural order is promoted and maintained. Even more moderate people opposed to gay marriage seem to think that there is a hierarchy of lifestyles, and that heterosexual marriage with children is at the top of it. Any deviation from this definition of marriage is regarded as unwise at best, immoral at worst.

But E.J. Graff and many others are right to respond by saying that the definition of marriage has evolved away from its old purely procreational focus already:

“That’s why, when you and others argue that same-sex couples don’t belong in marriage because the institution is for procreation, everyone rolls their eyes and asks whether couples who don’t have kids will be kicked out: Because our shared social agreement on marriage’s public purposes has already changed. Society no longer enforces the view that sex should lead to babies, and that babies belong only within marriage.”

All arguments against marriage equality (same sex marriage) based on the purpose of marriage are misguided. Why? Because everyone who gets married has their own purpose in doing so. Contrast this with the past, when women married for security and men married for families, when kin and community played a pivotal role, when the only legitimate sex acts were for procreation. As Graff says:

“Same-sex couples seem to fit marriage today because all the changes that make it seem appropriate were already complete. […] So yes, same-sex marriage confirms that shift in symbolism, further snipping the link between sex and diapers, among others. But I am married today as the consequence, not the cause, of changes that have already happened.”

Same-sex marriage is a single step further, one item more on a sizable list of things that people – for religious reasons, usually – have tried to ban, lest they encourage sex without babies. Since babies (and the number thereof) are now widely seen as an option rather than a necessity, and sex is now viewed as having uses beyond procreation (intimacy and pleasure among them), there is no reason that we should think same-sex marriage would be the first time our definition of marriage has changed.

The rest of Graff’s wonderful response on the issue can be seen HERE.

John Wright

* Contraceptives used to be banned with the Comstock laws. Abortion has been banned or highly restricted or stigmatized (though it’s controversial for other reasons too). Anal sex would likely still be illegal today in 14 states if it weren’t for a Supreme Court decision 9 years ago. Gay marriage is still illegal in most states. Most such laws have at their heart a theocratic motive.

† Savage has a theory as to the root psychological cause of this attitude:

“The obsession isn’t babies, despite what you may have seen on billboards on highways in red states. The obsession is sex. They are terrified of their own genitals and more so of your genitals. They’re terrified of their desires and they wake up every day acutely aware that they could spin out of control sexually at any moment. They are barely hanging on. Because that’s how we’re wired, all of us. They can barely control themselves and they think that maybe if they assert control over you they’ll have an easier time controlling themselves. They want your choices to be as limited as they have made their own. And if you make different choices? Around birth control, around being with the people who you’re actually attracted to if you’re gay or lesbian or bi they want to see you punished. Because if you’re allowed to make different choices, to have non-procreative sex, to use birth control, to be gay if you’re gay, it really does make a mockery of the limitations they’ve placed on themselves. If you can do all those things and be happy, healthy, a contributing member of society and not miserable, they die a little inside. They get hurt. They get angry because they’ve told themselves that this is how sex is supposed to work. This is the way the world is supposed to work. And there you are living your life proving every day that it ain’t the way it works. That that’s not what sex is for. That you can live the life you’re living and live it successfully and you know what that does? That rubs their pitifully unfulfilling fear-warped sex lives back in their own faces and they hate you for that! They can’t forgive you for that! Hence the desire to control you, persecute you, punish you; because you’re everything they want to be, everything they’re wired to be, and nothing they’re allowing themselves to be.”