The seed of the argument is often missed in the drama that builds around it. Such was the case when Charles Cooper offered the precious seed of his argument at the Supreme Court yesterday. It was offered in plain sight but buried in part from the staccato barrage of words and, perhaps even more so, because we don’t have ears tuned to hear what was being shared. It’s the seed; it’s all about the seed.
Scientifically, of course, it isn’t about seed at all. But when the texts that we call sacred were being shared and written and codified, shared ignorance prevailed. Semen was seed, the seed of life, the seed of hope, the seed for a new generation. And as such, semen was sacred. Spilt seed was a sin, for such was spitting on the very prospect of life.
In an ancient patriarchal world, male-male sexual activities that included semen were an abomination. The offense was that not male-male love was problematic (read: the incredible love story of David and Jonathon); the offense (and it was huge) was the waste of seed.
Similarly the ownership of seed was safely guarded. Customs evolved and were codified based on the ownership of the seed and it’s transmission that to us today may seem bizarre. One such law was that if a man died having shared seed with a woman, the man’s brothers (in age succession) now married (owned) the woman. This practice protected the progeny (root word: seed).
Wittingly or no, Cooper shared his fundamental concern with gay marriage: seed.
As Justices Breyer, Kagan and Scalia all chimed in about the ludicrousy of the procreative argument as the state’s defense against gay marriage, Cooper remained resolute. Kagan cited couples past childbearing age, where both were over 55. Scalia even reached for humor, “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?’ ” But what Cooper was offering, and the justices didn’t seem to be hearing, was fundamentally relevant.
Cooper’s argument is that patriarchy itself is on the line.
While the justices are amused by the thought of geriatric couple’s fertility, Cooper is deadly serious. Procreation is, he defends, the domain of male fertility. A woman’s fertility is of no consequence to his argument and luckily so because women (who are, by the way, the real seed carriers) do not spend our lives in a procreative state. For better or worse, the window for procreation is pretty short and many of us discovered too late that it closed too early. But the production of offspring isn’t Cooper’s concern, protection of the seed (read: semen) is. Female fertility, he explains, is really quite irrelevant. He points out that “very few men outlive their fertility” and that, for listening ears, is the ball game.
This particular concern, control of the seed, is the third rail of patriarchy. And inasmuch as patriarchy is on the line, he’s right. Curiously, or not so, true patriarchs were never much concerned with women who loved women, at least until we began to have boy children without benefit of fathers. As women are able to procreate without the (apparent) participation of men, patriarchy is threatened. And fighting mad.
What is at stake is a cultural shift that is bigger than any of us has minds to embrace or words to describe. While feminist ministers followed second wave feminism into the pulpits bringing gender inclusive language, scientists were giving renewed attention to just how procreation occurs and opening new possibilities for how it might occur. While feminist clergy may have rattled the pews, amazing advances in science have simply removed the floorboards. Still unspoken is the fundamental role that patriarchy plays not only in our sacred texts but also our social systems and even our legal code; and as the floor boards disappear, the skeleton of patriarchy is being exposed even while we cling to the pews.
Gay marriage is the canary in the coalmine as the very fabric of our patriarchal culture begins to shred, a most welcome canary for all who cherish life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. May we safeguard his passage.