The Compromise

I propose a compromise to resolve the marriage debate that I think everyone should support. It is based on the univerally acknowledged need for same-sex procreation to be thoroughly examined and declared safe before allowing any lab to attempt to create a person that is not the union of a man and a woman. Until same-sex conception is declared safe and acceptable, same-sex couples should not have a right to attempt it, and this difference in rights from both-sex marriages (which all have a right to attempt to conceive) would simply be acknowledged in name. If and when same-sex conception is considered safe and Congress decides to allow same-sex couples to attempt to conceive, they will do that by changing same-sex civil unions to marriages. Marriage will continue unchanged, always granting the couple conception rights.

In return, the federal government would officially recognize state civil unions as if they were marriages, including paying the social security and tax benefits that the federal government gives marriages. (and the federal government could encourage all states to offer civil unions, since their main objection (that they are marriage in all but name) would no longer be true)

The "tradtitional marriage" side would get to preserve the word marriage, and clearly differentiate it from civil unions in the most substantial way, preserving equal conception rights for all people and preventing unethical manufacture of genetically modified people. This would ban reproductive cloning also, effectively ending that debate as well. (It would not affect the debate about therapuetic cloning, as that does not attempt to create people). The cost of federal benefits for civil unions would be quite minimal, though it certainly is a cost.

The SSM side would get federal benefits and a much greater liklihood of civil unions in all 50 states. They would only give up something that is not even possible and might never be, but they would give up the pretense that same-sex couples have equal rights to both sex couples and acknowledge that people only have a right to conceive with someone of the other sex.

The people who do not support this compromise should have to convince us that, depending on why they don't support it, same-sex couples should be allowed *today* to attempt to conceive children together in spite of the risks, or that committed civilly-unioned same-sex couples should not be entitled to federal benefits. Update 2/14/2013: This was the original proposal of the Egg and Sperm Civil Union Compromise in 2006. It is still the same, except now I specify that Civil Unions would have to be defined by the states as "marriage minus conception rights" to receive federal recognition as if they were marriages.


Jake Squid said...

I don't have a lot of time right now, I'll try to engage you next week. But just a quick note of important points of contention:

1) I don't see your main issue as linked to marriage equality. The right to procreate (by whatever means) is not currently linked to marriage.

2) As long as the technology is not feasible, there is no need to restrict rates of a particular group. Either genetic engineering/cloning future tech will be determined safe and legal or it will be determined dangerous and illegal. Any distinctions among rights to this technology should happen only in conjunction with the relevant research.

More next week, time allowing.

John Howard said...

1) It would mean that a person would have conception rights with someone of the other sex, but not with someone of their samesex. Thus, a same-sex couple would not have all of the rights of a both-sex couple. Currently, and ever since the first marriage, all marriages have had conception rights. There cannot be a marriage without conception rights without changing marriage. Also, currently, Supreme Court rulings such as Loving v Virginia and Skinner v Oklahoma are still valid rulings, and they are based marriage being synonymous with conception rights.

2) It doens't restrict the rights of any particular group, all people, of any group, would only be allowed to conceive with someone of the other sex. And it is currently unsafe and so it should currently be illegal. Certainly if Congress ever decides that it ought to be legal, then by all means we should same-sex marriage shoudl be legal, since we hope that that couples that are intending to conceive children together marry first.

Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Thanks for enabling comments.

My basic response to your proposal: It's unacceptable. As Squid has pointed out, conception rights are not tied to marriage, nor should they be. To tie conception rights to marriage would be to go back to a day of stigmatizing bastards, among other things, which is ridiculous.

Beyond the fact that tying conception rights to marriage should be obviously undesirable, making laws to support any kind of bigotry should be obviously undesirable. If homosexuals can have children through genetic engineering, then they should be allowed to do so.

If, however, laws on genetic engineering were to be changed without limiting access based on sexuality, then it might be appropriate. But that is, as Squid says, a different discussion.

John Howard said...

Well, I was going to point out that the ban itself would not be tied to marriage, it would be illegal and prohibited to combine the genes of two people of the same sex whether they were married or not, but then I see that you are really objecting to the ban itself. If you are going to insist on a right to create a person by combining the genes of two people of the same sex, then of course it would not be an acceptable compromise to you.

But I don't think that very many people will agree with you, given how provably likely it would be to result in horrific birth defects, and how unfair it would be to the child to be subjected to tests throughout its life, and don't forget about the risks to child's own children. I didn't think that it was so important for people who insist that "Love makes a family" to be genetically related to the children they raise that they would choose to be so cavalier about their children's health and well-being. It's unloving, and sends all sorts of wrong messages about responsibility and care.

And the ban on non male-female conception would not apply based on anyone's sexuality, a heterosexual would also not be allowed to conceive using another gamete of the same sex.

And Idea, don't forget about the older same-sex couples that are in civil unions or marriages who are being denied access to survivor benefits and federal tax breaks, as well as couples in other states that do not offer any sort of civil union. Don't throw them under the bus because you are insisting on being allowed to attempt same-sex conception immediately. That's unloving too. Do you understand what a compromise is? Federal recognition is not all that likely to happen any time soon, and those couples that need the survivor benefits only have so many years left. And keep in mind that Congress could always declare that same-sex conception is now safe enough to try and lift the ban, at which point same-sex couples would have the same rights as both-sex couples, and Civil Unions would be automatically converted into marriages with conception rights.

Anonymous said...

How dare you assume that I'm "throwing anyone under the bus" because I disagree with your bizarre little compromise. I'm hardly being given a realistic choice between situation A and situation B, where I must agree with you in order to gain rights for my people. You set the terms of the debate and then, conveniently, are able to plead the case of people you obviously care not a whit about whenever anyone disagrees with you. This is flawed. It is fallacious. I reject the terms of your argument.

Moreover, I have little reason to believe there would be any more risk to same-sex gametes producing a flawed embryo than opposite-sex gametes. What is your basis for this? Fear of science? Alarmism? The rantings of some scientist who is against genetic manipulation, or homosexuality, or both?

John Howard said...

You could support the compromise, and thereby help get it passed, so that civil unions are recognized federally. If you don't support the compromise, you are saying that same-sex conception is more important to you than federal recognition and all the other rights of marriage. This is a real proposal, and you could support it and promote it, so that older same-sex couples can get social security survivor benifits, or you could say forget them, i insist on having same-sex conception rights

And you are in la-la land thinking that trying to combine same-sex gametes has no more risk than combining a man and a woman. In mice, which are amazingly resilient genetically, it took 460 embryos to get O?NE mouse tolive to adulthood. They haven't been able to duplicate that great success in pigs yet. As the species get more complicated, the success rate goes way down. There is no way to test in one species and then decare it safe for humans, because every species has very different genetic imprinting.

Anonymous said...

"You could support the compromise, and thereby help get it passed, so that civil unions are recognized federally. If you don't support the compromise, you are saying that same-sex conception is more important to you than federal recognition and all the other rights of marriage. This is a real proposal, and you could support it and promote it, so that older same-sex couples can get social security survivor benifits, or you could say forget them, i insist on having same-sex conception rights"

Nonsense. I could just as easily set up a false dichotomy for any other issue. For instance, "If you don't support my harebrained scheme to - say - give involuntary vasectomies to all males over 15 in order to prevent abortions, then clearly you're saying that abortions are good." Just because I say that and repeat it doesn't make it true.

Maybe you should take it under advisement that even Robert fails to take you seriously.

John Howard said...

Sure, you could propose a compromise for any issue. The idea of a compromise is that both sides get the most important thing they want while capitulating on something of lesser value, so that both sides come out winners. In the example you give, people over fifteen do not come out winners.

This is a serious proposal for people to resolve the same-sex marriage debate.

BSK said...

This is horribly flawed logic on what a "compromise" is.

First off, procreation "rights" have never been tied to marriage. Would we outlaw pregnancies outside of wedlock? Who would go to jail? The parents? The child? Would it be aborted?

Secondly, you are not actually sacrificing anything. To say that "allowing" legally recognized gay unions is a "sacrifice" implies you lose something in the scenario. You do not. Your situation is completely unchanged by the legalization of gay marriage. You may insist that it does, but you can not present tangible evidence to support this fact. As a result, you are not compromising, but rather shoving a conditional solution down someone's throat and arguing they are pro-something-really-bad if they disagree.


John Howard said...

Federal recognition of same-sex unions is a very significant gain for thousands and thousands of actual couples. And the NOM side certainly does not want to give recognition to civil unions or have to pay the social security benefits, normally they would fight tooth and nail against federal recognition of same-sex couples, but they would accept them if they were not "marriage in all but name" and if we also preserved marriage rights in principle for a man and a woman, and ended same-sex marriage nationally. That is what a Compromise is, both sides get the important things they have been demanding, in exchange for giving up something that isn't so terrible.

John Howard said...

Oh, and procreation rights have always been the sine qua non essential meaning of marriage. There has never been a marriage that wasn't allowed to attempt to conceive offspring together, with their own genes. It has nothing to do with unmarried conception, the three laws of the Compromise wouldn't change a thing about unmarried conception. It would remain as legal as it is today. I don't think it is a right, though, and so yes I think that intentional unmarried conception (sperm banks, egg selling, paying for babies like MJ) could and should be prohibited, which would mean in practice, shutting down the sperm banks and ending donor conception. Even that wouldn't affect pregnancies by unmarried couples, which would presumably be unintentional and therefore legal.

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John Culhane said...

I'm speaking on this issue for a panel of lawyers on Monday, and I'm not sure I'm understanding the basis of your objection to this technology. Let's say that science gets to the place -- it might not -- where we'd have good evidence that creating children through modified gametes is as safe as natural procreation. Now let's also assume that this is achieved through research not funded by the government, thereby doing away with your "why this when some don't have basic health care" argument?
Then what would be the basis of your objection? I'm just wondering, because it doesn't seem to raise any of the serious ethical questions as stem cell research. Do you think it's like cloning? Do you oppose cloning?

John Howard said...

First of all, that's a big "Let's say." I would argue that it is impossible and unethical to even attempt to get to that point, and that the basis of my objection to the technology is the inherent risk of manipulating and manufacturing a human's genome, and cost of getting to that point. The resources are a public asset and the environmental damage is significant at a time when we desperately need to reduce energy consumption, not create new industries that are unsustainable and unnecessary. We should take the lesson from factory farming and not repeat it with factory reproduction. Local, organic, simple "natural" reproduction also preserves human equality and the right to use our own genes. Allowing it would (here we are at the "let's say") open the door to all kinds of human manufacture and transhumanist urges, which would require a big government agency to regulate it and test it and eventually fund access to it, as well as the research.
Also note that if the public does decide to allow it, then I would agree that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. I think those decision should be made at the same time, together.

Anonymous said...

Followed the link from JHK's Clusterfuck Nation. Seems like just another attack on gays and promotion of right-wing values. Splitting semantic hairs on the definition of marriage is a waste of time. It serves only to promote and prolong the marginalization of American citizens who prefer the intimate company of their own gender. Further, implementation these "e & s" ideas would define different tiers of citizenship, i.e., breeding citizens vs. non-breeding citizens. Would gays have to pay taxes to support schools and childhood immunization programs? Why would they want to after being legally restricted from parenthood? Unworkable and wrong-headed is my two cents.

Anonymous said...


1) Stop genetic engineering by limiting conception of children to the union of a man and a woman's sperm and egg.
2) Federally recognize state civil unions that are defined as "marriage minus conception rights."
3) Affirm in federal law the right of all marriages to conceive children together using their own genes.

My reply:

This is interesting, because this could arguably affect the ability of married heterosexuals to use those technologies that might help them conceive, ie., if they are experiencing fertility poblems. In order to ensure they have the right to reproduce, they might use procedures that you would ban as "genetic engineering".

John Howard said...

Good point, anon, but whether that is good or bad or whether it is necessary are open questions. Certainly, married couples do have a stronger argument to be allowed to use X technology, for one thing. And certainly, male-female couples also have a stronger argument to be allowed to use X technology, even if the technology were the same, which it certainly isn't (same-sex couples require altered gametes). There simply is no right to attempt to procreate with someone of the same sex, regardless of whatever right there is to use technology, in the same way that there is a fundamental right to marry and procreate with someone of the other sex, using unmodified genes and reproducing just like everyone else ever has - with someone of the other sex.

And note that though the law that Congress settles on could well be written so as to block technologies that a heterosexual couple might want to try, it would never block their right to reproduce in concept - to conceive offspring. Same-sex couples require use of modified gametes that belong to no one, they do not represent an existing person.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't thinking of the modified gametes context for same sex couples, but the types of techniques infertile heterosexual couples might use: artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.

If I didn't mention it earlier, these techniques began with heterosexual couples using donor sperm where there were fertility problems or using artificial insemination or IVF with both spouses' gametes.

The market then enabled single women and gays to use them, particularly lesbians who had the resources to buy donor sperm and pay for the procedures.

Yet, heterosexual couples can use these as well, ie., if a man is sterile, they can purchase donor sperm as well. But the couple's heterosexuality masks the fact that they used a donor. It can't be hidden, though, when it is a same-sex couple. It is clear that a donor was used somewhere!