The Procreation Problem

June 30, 2019

A common objection to the validity and holiness of LGBTQ+ folks living and being in relationship with one another is that the Creation story makes it obvious that “those kinds” of relationships or lifestyles are unnatural.

graphic displaying the title of the article

The argument usually goes something like this:

“LGBT people can’t procreate! God didn’t create them to fit together, so it’s obvious that their lifestyle is sinful.”

Let Me Tell You A Story

(Disclaimer: this is the story as I was taught it growing up. It is an extremely literalist reading of Genesis, and while not necessarily the norm in Christianity as a whole, it is definitely the norm in white Evangelical and adjacent circles. This reading is the basis for many theological convictions prevalent in conservative American Christianity.)

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve. They were the only two humans on the entire planet, so God joined them in holy heterosexual matrimony and commanded them to be fruitful and populate the earth with more humans.

Then they discovered that one off-limits tree and ate it’s fruit. Suddenly they’re naked and God’s cursing them and kicking them out of their garden, but he still wants them to create more humans — it’ll just be a lot more painful now.

So, Adam and Eve get to it. They had an entire planet to populate, so we can probably safely assume that as soon as Eve recovered from having one baby, they were sexing it up to try for the next one.

While the recovery period and duration of time between children obviously varied, Adam and Eve would have continued this pattern for quite some time. As soon as a few of their children hit puberty, it was their turn to take on the task of populating the earth.

There was just one little problem. The only other people available for procreation activities were their parents and their siblings. The Genesis account doesn’t go into detail here, but it’s extremely obvious that some incest took place in order to complete this fruitful mission. Even several generations out, people would have been marrying and procreating with their cousins.

This is the story on which a lot of Christians base their theologies of sexuality and gender. Of course there are other passages, but Christians like to come back to this story as foundational, especially in discussions about LGBTQ+ folks and our relationships. Often, a few key points dominate the discussion:

  • Adam and Eve are clearly created as a man and a woman
  • they are married (in the sense that God joined them together for life)
  • they can procreate (and so are obviously made to fit together sexually, unlike LGBTQ+ folks and their partners who cannot “naturally” procreate)
  • they are obviously heterosexual (generally based on the fact that they got married to each other)
  • this story provides a template for sexual relationships today — namely, that marriage is when one heterosexual man and one heterosexual woman join together in relationship for life and are able to procreate

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s dig right in. ​

What’s Missing from the Creation Story

The first thing we need to acknowledge is that there are certain concepts and ideas that we read back into the text, concepts that are “missing” from the story but we assume are present.

Science and language have evolved to give us not only a better understanding of certain things, but also better words to describe them. The author of the Creation narrative didn’t have any words other than “male” and “female” to describe Adam and Eve. When the text was written, those terms had all sorts of cultural implications (as they still do today!). Male and female were not only a reference to sex (“this person has a penis and testicles” or “this person has a vagina”) but also a reference to gender norms (male/man and female/woman were practically interchangeable). However, we now know that these sex and gender binaries are scientifically inaccurate (as well as not being interchangeable).

Largely, those who argue against these scientific realities attempt to do so by pointing to this text as proof. Such justifications rely on faulty hermeneutics, proof texting, and a decent amount of cognitive dissonance to make their point. I majored in theology at a conservative Baptist college, and one of the first rules of interpretation we were given was to always consider the historical context, the knowledge possessed by the author, and the point the author was making to their original audience. In order to claim that the Bible contains proof that only two biological sexes/genders exist, one must ignore all three of those categories as well as scientific advancements since the text was written. The principles they taught me in their school are being ignored for the sake of justifying conservative talking points.

What all of this means is that the concept that the Creation story presents us with factual evidence of a male/female binary (whether talking about sex/genitals/chromosomes or gender) is ridiculous. The story was never meant to give us information about those topics, and assuming that the author intended those sorts of takeaways is a huge interpretational leap that we simply cannot make.

There are lots of resources available if you want to do more reading on the topic of biological sex and gender. The discussion would take up more blog posts than I have knowledge or room to write, especially within the larger scope of discussing the Creation story. If you’re new to the idea that even “biological sex” isn’t a binary, check out this Twitter thread, then head on over to this letter written and signed by a bunch of scientists.

Descriptive vs Prescriptive

Another facet of interpretation that is often overlooked is whether a passage is descriptive or prescriptive. A descriptive passage is one that simply tells us what happened. A prescriptive passage, however, is meant to teach us how to live our lives; it gives us something to emulate. We run into problems when we conflate these two story types or misinterpret passages as one type when they are most likely the other.

Generally, the people who fall back on the Creation story in their theologies of sexuality and gender also consider Genesis to be narrative in type (other options found elsewhere in the Bible might include poetry, epistle, wisdom literature, etc). By definition, narrative literature is descriptive. It is telling a story of something that did happen, not something that should happen. The most conservative, literal readings of the Creation story must see it as a narrative in order for it to be historical. Otherwise, their theologies surrounding the creation of the world would come crashing down from lack of foundation. But these folks don’t get to have it both ways. If the Creation narrative is descriptive, then there is no precedent for claiming that what is described is also the only way things should function.

We see evidence of this in other aspects of the Creation story. God created day and night, but sunsets break that binary. God created land and sea, but beaches break that binary. God created birds of the air and fish of the sea, but flying fish and swimming birds break that binary. While it is true that God created day and night, land and sea, and birds and fish, God didn’t only create those things. There is only description, not prescription. In the same way, while God created male and female, there is room for other options in between or even outside that binary.

Another problem with seeing the Creation story as prescriptive is that there is a major aspect of this story that people almost always condemn emulating — that little bit about incest. If we were taking this story at face value — as if every single person is either male or female, as if every person should marry someone of the opposite sex, as if those couples should all have children — we can’t ignore the fact that there are siblings marrying each other and procreating in the story. Reading this narrative as prescriptive means, at the very least, that we should allow and possibly encourage siblings to do this. The irony here is that scientific advancements — the same scientific advancements that are ignored when it comes to gender and sex — are one of the main reasons we have made it illegal (or at least highly discouraged) for siblings to procreate, as well as the fact that cultural norms — the same kinds of norms that are ignored when interpreting the Creation story — discourage that type of love and attraction between siblings.

LGBTQ+ Folks Can’t Procreate?

Now that we’ve gotten a few of the interpretational issues out of the way, let’s talk about the underlying assumption in this argument that LGBTQ+ folks can’t procreate (at least without the help of “unnatural” means like sperm donors and IVF).

I am a cis bisexual woman. Does my ability to procreate suddenly disappear because I identify as LGBTQ+? Of course not. Since I am partnered with a cis man, I could easily attempt to have children “the natural way” if I chose to do so.

For all we know, Adam and Eve could have both been bi, pan, queer, demi, ace, etc. We have no evidence that they were heterosexual (or even cisgender!). Combine this with the knowledge that, statistically, the highest percentage of people are identifying as LGBTQ+ in US history, and the chances of both Adam and Eve being allocishet** fall dramatically. The percentage of folks identifying as LGBTQ+ has been steadily rising in our country as the social climate becomes more accepting (despite some recent political setbacks in that arena), presumably because knowledge of the spectrum of identities and the relative safety to come out is at an all-time high. Given a “perfect setting” in which they had absolute safety and knowledge required to label their sexuality and gender, I think it’s highly likely that one or both of the first humans would have identified as LGBTQ+.

The assumption that Adam and Eve were both allocishet relies solely on the fact that they were partnered with each other and able to procreate. Cultural norms that see an allocishet identity as “normal” influence this assumption more than the actual Creation narrative, which — given what we know about narratives, science, and Biblical interpretation — is unable to provide us with this information. When Christians read the Creation story and see Adam and Eve as allocishet, it’s because they have been culturally conditioned to see everyone as allocishet until they announce otherwise.

This argument is also highly reductionist. The umbrella term of LGBTQ+ contains a wide range of identities, and within those identities there are many pairings of people who can still procreate. For example, two gay men could potentially “naturally” procreate if one of them was a trans man. Reducing the entire LGBTQ+ community to the instances in which a couple cannot procreate is disingenuous at best and explicitly harmful at worst. These ideas contribute to erasure and further stereotypes about LGBTQ+ folks while at the same time providing fodder for the people actively campaigning to take away our right to exist freely in this world.

The Purpose of Marriage and Sex

Another problem with this argument is the way it treats the concepts of marriage and sex. The underlying assumption in claiming that LGBTQ+ relationships are “obviously sinful” because the couple may not be able to procreate is that the purpose of marriage, and ultimately sex, is to make babies.

This idea can be attributed to both cultural norms and religious ideals. We live in a society that still pressures married women to have children. When childfree, married women start nearing age 30, they are often the subject of insensitive jokes about ticking biological clocks. In conservative religious contexts, this pressure is compounded by teachings which claim that women were explicitly created to bear and raise children as their duty to the Lord. One prominent example of these teachings is The Nashville Statement, which explicitly claims marriage is to be “procreative” (Article I).

Sometimes, however, conservative religious folks don’t hold too tightly to the idea that married women must have children. Faint whispers of feminism have touched even those circles, and it is commonly acceptable to be married and childfree (though the pressure and insensitive jokes remain). These marriages are seen as holy and good despite the fact that they are not procreative, even by choice. (The way that these beliefs impact people affected by infertility and other related issues would take up an entire post on its own.) Thus, while our society often pressures married women to have children, it also fairly readily accepts those who cannot or choose not to do so without questioning the validity of their relationship.

Procreation can be a purpose of marriage or sex, but it is not the purpose of marriage or sex. Then what is the purpose of marriage or sex? Our society often answers this question with one word — love. However, only the people involved in the marriage or sex can truly answer this question. No one can dictate what marriage or sex means to someone else, and as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, the only thing we can know for sure is that absolutes about the purpose of these concepts are unfounded.

The worth of a person or a couple is not dependent on the ability to have children. The validity of a relationship is not called into question because the sex is not resulting in babies.

The purpose of marriage is not procreation.

The purpose of sex is not babymaking.

This same belief should also extend to LGBTQ+ relationships. It makes no difference whether they are able to have children or choose to do so. These relationships are valid and worthy of the same respect we give to childfree heterosexual couples.

While we’re here, I also want to note that science is an incredible tool that gives people in many different situations the opportunity and ability to have children who may not have been able to do it “the natural way.” No one bats an eye when a heterosexual couple utilizes IVF, sperm or egg donors, or a surrogate in order to have children. But as soon as a gay or lesbian couple choose to go that route, they are told that their use of “unnatural” means is proof that their relationship is illegitimate. This double standard points out yet another problem with the original argument being made against LGBTQ+ relationships.

It Takes A Village

Our communities benefit from the presence of childfree adults.

We need people in our lives who can take on different roles because they are childfree. Certain vital occupations require long hours and the ability to be on call at any time for emergencies. Working parents turn to those without children for help with their own kids. Some people choose to work with children in different settings instead of having their own. Plus, what would we do without the fun aunts and uncles of the world?

We would also do well to remember that many couples who cannot or choose not to have biological children will foster or adopt. This is another area where double standards abound — allocishet couples who choose to foster or adopt are celebrated while LGBTQ+ couples are condemned. While these couples are not saviors, they can be vital to the welfare of a community.

The lives of the children already present in our communities are enriched because our communities are made up of a wide variety of people, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.

We Are Valid

I know that there are other “Biblical arguments” to be made against LGBTQ+ relationships (although none are convincing, in my opinion). However, using the Creation story as a foundation does not hold up under almost any level of scrutiny. It requires assumptions to be made and hermeneutics and science to be ignored, which does not make for a strong argument.

There is no problem with the fact that some LGBTQ+ folks in relationship cannot procreate, just as there is no problem with the fact that some allocishet folks in relationship cannot procreate.

LGBTQ+ folks and the relationships we enter into are holy and valid.

 



** Allocishet is shorthand for allosexual (allo) cisgender (cis) heterosexual (het).