The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Supreme Court’s awkward discussion of middle-age sex

Among the highlights of the first day of Supreme Court debate on same-sex marriage:

JUSTICE BREYER: Now, what happens to your argument about the institution of marriage as a tool towards procreation? Given the fact that, in California, too, couples that aren’t gay but can’t have children get married all the time.
MR. COOPER: Yes, Your Honor. The concern is that redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus, refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.  Suppose, in turn —
JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, suppose a State said, 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. Would that be constitutional?
MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, it would not be constitutional.
JUSTICE KAGAN: Because that’s the same State interest, I would think, you know. If you are over the age of 55, you don’t help us serve the Government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?
MR. COOPER: Your Honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples — both parties to the couple are infertile, and the traditional —
JUSTICE KAGAN: No, really, because if the couple — I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.
MR. COOPER: Your Honor, society’s — society’s interest in responsible procreation isn’t just with respect to the procreative capacities of the couple itself. The marital norm, which imposes the obligations of fidelity and monogamy, Your Honor, advances the interests in responsible procreation by making it more likely that neither party, including the fertile party to that —
JUSTICE KAGAN: Actually, I’m not even —
JUSTICE SCALIA: I suppose we could have a questionnaire at the marriage desk when people come in to get the marriage — you know, Are you fertile or are you not fertile? (Laughter.)
JUSTICE SCALIA: I suspect this Court would hold that to be an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, don’t you think?
JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, I just asked about age. I didn’t ask about anything else. That’s not — we ask about people’s age all the time.
MR. COOPER: Your Honor, and even asking about age, you would have to ask if both parties are infertile. Again —
JUSTICE SCALIA: Strom Thurmond was — was not the chairman of the Senate committee when Justice Kagan was confirmed.
MR. COOPER: Very few men — very few men outlive their own fertility. So I just —
JUSTICE KAGAN: A couple where both people are over the age of 55 —
JUSTICE KAGAN: A couple where both people are over the age of 55 —

“Very few men outlive their own fertility … ladieeeeeees.”

You can always tell you are on a weird side of history when your argument before the Supreme Court hinges, for several minutes, on mansplaining* in great detail to Justice Kagan about the fertility of middle-age men.

It all sounds very official, because you were using terms like “proponents” and “fiduciary” earlier, but that’s what it boils down to. That’s adulthood for you: You get to tell the entire Supreme Court about how “very few men outlive their own fertility” — and it’s not weird, as it usually is when you work the fact in during second dates, or readings of the biblical story of Isaac and Sarah. Years of law school, studying precedents, becoming head of the Law Review, getting your name on a law firm — all so you can stand before the court and make note that, Hey, America, Older Men Are Pretty Fertile, As You Can Tell From All Those Commercials With Them In Bathtubs Holding Hands. “Marriage HAS to be between a man and a woman because 55 YEAR-OLD MEN ARE SO FERTILE, GUYS! SO FERTILE! Did I mention how FERTILE? Unlike women! And if they weren’t married TO LADIES, they’d go and sow SO many wild oats!”

Also, “the fertile party”?  (“Hello, I’m Lucille Smith, and this is my husband, Dave, or as we like to call him, the Fertile Party.”) There’s a certain undeniable awkwardness in the way these arguments slowly creep back to sex, every time. If you want to defend traditional marriage, it keeps coming down to your having to stand in front of the Supreme Court pointing out that Virile 55 Year-Olds Need To Be Kept In Check Or Else They Would Strew Children Liberally Over The Earth.

I also like how Scalia pointed out, I think, that Strom Thurmond was so Virile While Elderly that Rules Didn’t Even Apply To Him, or something.

Yes, Strom Thurmond, a great example of marital fidelity and everything we aspire to.

There’s always that point in the argument that comes down to yelling about who is the most fertile, and this was that point.

The deeper you wade into this argument, the closer you get to the unnerving idea that  marriage as an institution is simply necessary for keeping Roving Hordes of Barbarous, Fertile Men in check. As Alyssa Rosenberg points out, this is a deeper problem with the whole argument that doesn’t simply revolve around middle-age sex. This is Middle Age sexual mores, and they’re much more problematic.

*I hate this term, but I lack a better one.