Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas is no stranger to saying outrageous things. Recently, he claimed that because gay people can’t procreate, their marriages are essentially meaningless. Let’s look at what he said, and why it was such an epic fail.
Gohmert, who was speaking at the Washington, D.C., conference for the Eagle Forum, said that a study could be launched to show “what nature says is the preferred marriage” by putting gay couples and straight couples on an island together and then coming back in a hundred or so years to find, according to Rep Gohmert, that the gay couples had all died out while the straight couples had given birth to children and prospered.
We could take four heterosexual couples, married, and put them on an island where they have everything they need to sustain life. Then take four all-male couples and put them on an island with all they need to sustain life, take four couples of women, married, and put them on an island, and let’s come back in 100 to 200 years and see which one nature says is the preferred marriage.
Gohmert rather leaves us hanging on this, so I’d like to finish his little thought experiment for him.
First of all, we have to just disavow ourselves that nature even remotely cares about marriage: Marriage is a legal construct that at some time or another codified bonding rituals to grant legal status and confer some form of partnership rights in a neat, legal package. As the straight divorce rate shows–and as the emerging gay divorce rate is showing–marriage does not mean that a relationship will last, that is unless societal or religious pressure forces us to stay with a spouse long after loving each other has ended, which of course denies us the freedom to make our own choices.
That out of the way, we should come up with a name for our island. We’ll call it Gohmert’s Island. On Gohmert’s Island we are told you have four heterosexual couples who are married, and four lesbian couples who are married. We’ll assume Gohmert wanted the four male couples married too. We’re not told anything about their desires for family life, but we’ll make some assumptions: Some of each group will want children. Some of each group will not want children–because, let’s remember, Gohmert’s Island should at least roughly approximate the society we have, at first, and there are many heterosexuals who are happy without spawning.
According to Gohmert’s implied logic, heterosexual marriage should require them to procreate. If they do not procreate and thereby have their lineage survive 100 to 200 years down the line, their marriages are not marriages at all. At any length, the straights that don’t want kids, and the gays that don’t want kids have all failed and Nature is done with them. We’ll assume they die and are never spoke of again but let’s put a pin in that and move on.
So let’s say that three couples out of the heterosexuals and two couples out of the lesbian and gay couples want children. Ah, but one of the heterosexual couples can’t have kids. Their marriage is obviously a bust, and bye bye living on through your children. Another heterosexual couple is out.
We could stop the thought experiment here as the ill-logic in Gohmert’s Island and Gohmert’s idea of “natural marriage” being linked to child rearing is glaring. But let’s now put in a bit of empathy into this experiment, and show how a caring society–regardless of marriages–could facilitate happy lives.
The residents of Gohmert’s Island decide that choosing to or not being able to have kids isn’t that important. They affirm that a person’s worth, and indeed the worth of their marriage, does not come from the functioning of their loins and instead from their agency as actual people. Suddenly, Gohmert’s Island is a happier place to live.
Flash forward 200 years and we return to the Island. Because this is an idealized island by Gohmert’s design, we’ll forget that things like racism, classism and all that awful nonsense exists, but if we do o by our own society we would probably return to find the inhabitants had quickly depleted their natural resources and in the process had split up into tribes and were at war with each other. But for argument’s sake let’s go with the peaceful version of Gohmert’s Island.
Now, because Gohmert’s Island is, we are told, founded to be at least financially stable if not prosperous, the community decides that it could probably support a few families. Some of the men and women who say they do not want children themselves tell those who do want children but can’t have kids that they are absolutely happy to donate their genetic material and/or wombs to the cause. As such, those who can’t have children but who wanted kids–regardless of their sexuality–are able to have said children. Those who did not want children are not penalized for this, however, and benefits are shared out based on need and not automatically through married status.
Over time, the relationships change. In a couple of instances, partners decide to go their separate ways, only to find love with other people on the island. One of the previously identified straight males on Gohmert’s Island quite unexpectedly finds that he is attracted to one of the other men whose partner died in a tragic boating accident (I’m accounting for some mortality rates) and the man declares that he is bisexual (because bisexuals exist too, Rep. Gohmert). He is however in a loving committed relationship with his wife–a relationship that suits them both–and they continue to live together completely happy and affirmed in their separate identities.
Also, in time, one of the lesbian couples recognizes that their child appears to identify with a different gender to what their sex characteristics suggested. The parents have not strictly enforced a gender binary anyway, and the child is affirmed in whatever gender they decide upon (or no gender at all), helped by other gender fluid adults that have since felt okay to come out as trans or non-gender identifying.
Also some of the couples decide, actually, they quite like the idea of not being entirely rigid with the notion of monogamy and the families intermingle. This works out well for the adults in the supra-relationships as they honor each other’s boundaries while continuing to put their childrens’ welfare first.
Two hundred years on and we return to Gohmert’s Island to find that, as it has during our lifetime, what marriage means has evolved, but there is one key element: that the people in that marriage honor each other’s dignity. This, they have decided, is the basis for a good marriage, and the details such as child rearing or monogamy, they are best left to the couples themselves. That, it seems, is the nature of a reasonable look at the private conduct between consenting adults.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic, if Rep. Gohmert thought that just straight marriages would survive on the island, there’s one other persistent problem with that, too: Straight people just keep having gay babies, so even if through some tragic accident all of the gay couples didn’t survive, the straight couples would probably facilitate the creation of more gay people anyway.