Can Childless Atheists Get Married? June 29, 2011

Can Childless Atheists Get Married?

Your Atheist Muse has a simple question for any Christian opposing gay marriage because it goes against what their God wants for us:

I’m an Atheist, my husband is an Atheist, and we decided not to have children. Therefore, by your definition of marriage, should we have been allowed to marry?

I’d love to hear the answer…

You know, we used to hear Christians make the argument that it was an “elite” group of people who overturned gay marriage bans. First it was the judges (“the judicial activists”), then it was the legislators… What are the Christian figureheads going to say when voters in a state make gay marriage legal?

I hope the videos of these people get played back over and over in the future. Just as a reminder of how bigoted these people were while everyone else was in support of marriage equality. And anyone who belonged to their churches should have to defend the bigotry long after they change their ways. If you’re not speaking out against what your own pastors say, you’re part of the problem.

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  • SeekerLancer

    I’ve asked this question before because I’m in the same type of relationship. I never got a good answer though I did have someone say to me that atheists shouldn’t be allowed to marry because they don’t believe in god.

  • NOW who is being “elitist”? “You cannot get married unless you fit my narrow view of the world!” Actually, would that make those christians elitist, or fascist*?

    (*Godwin shoots… he scores!)

  • Michael

    An elite group of activists misled the wider public into abandoning their god-given sense of right and … sorry, that’s as far as I can type it but it’ll be something like that.

    Need a shower.

  • My wife and I are child free atheists. I had a vasectomy 5 years ago and we married last year.

  • mirele

    I’d just like to note that the good slave-owning Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, who lived in the antebellum South, wouldn’t allow their heterosexual slaves to get married to one another. Why? Because they owned those slaves, and they weren’t going to let their CHATTEL PROPERTY enter into any relationship that might hamper the owners’ rights to sell the slaves as they saw fit. So no marriage then either for obviously heterosexual couples, but they had no problem taking the children of those relationships and making them slaves as well.

    In more recent times, I remember reading about a Catholic priest who refused to marry a couple where the man was paralyzed from the waist down. The priest’s rationale was that he couldn’t marry them if they couldn’t procreate. *shakes head*

  • My husband and I are child-free and we got married last year. I have actually had people ask me why I got married if I didn’t intend on having children. I don’t understand this type of question….am I not entitled to companionship and love like Christians who crap out kids every opportunity they have?

  • Liz

    I’ve asked this question, and my boss (an Evangelical “Christian”) said we should not be allowed to marry, even if the reason for not having children was involuntary. There are many Christians in the south who would be happy to say that you shouldn’t even be allowed to live if you don’t believe exactly as they do.

  • MrCheese

    Whenever I’ve asked this, the answer is that homosexual couples are different from all other couples because a homosexual couple can never have children, they use the word ‘inherently’. If a straight couple won’t have children through choice or can’t because of infertility, it isn’t the same, because a male/female couple could otherwise have children. The argument then circles around and doesn’t give more info…

    The only good response to that explanation is laughter.

  • Nicoline

    For real? If you guys are consenting adults you should be able to get married.

  • Claudia

    What are the Christian figureheads going to say when voters in a state make gay marriage legal?

    Just like any dominant majority that suddenly finds itself in the minority (as those opposed to gay marriage already are) they’ll suddenly discover “tyranny of the majority” and say that just because a majority wants something doesn’t mean it’s right or that it should be allowed.
    Along the same lines, fundamentalists crow about how since the vast majority of people are Christians and therefore they should get anything they want (prayer and creationism in school, religious laws, religious test for office etc.). The instant they ceased to be a majority they’d suddenly discover that the Constitution is a great document that protects minority rights, dontcha know?

  • My husband and I are child-free atheists. I’ve never asked anyone that question, but here in the South I’m sure the answer would be a resounding “NO. You should not get married.” Never mind all of the legal benefits to being married.

  • Jessica

    I am an atheist and my husband is an agnostic. We have a son and plan on having another soon. I believe that everyone has the right to get married. To me marriage has nothing to do with religion. It was about me and my husband showing eachother and the people we love how much we love and care for eachother and showing our commitment to one another. We were married by a judge in a banquet hall. There was no religion involved in any of it.

  • MariaO

    When same-sex marriage was much discussed here in Sweden a few years ago the Christian Democrat party (4-5% of votes but part of the ruling alliance) was of course against and always started talking about procreation and children as the reason. The question they then often got was: “Do you mean that you would like to forbid two senior citizens (of different sexes) to marry?” The only answer I ever heard was a variation of “Don’t be silly, that is completely different”. When pressed on in what way different they change the subject.

    Btw, our prime minister and leader of the conservative(!) party calls himself an atheist and refuses to get into religious debates.

  • I can tell you as a former Christian that some Christians think that Atheists regardless of the children factor should not marry, because they believe marriage to be a God-thing and Atheists don’t believe in God, so for them it’s “simple” (yet idiotic).

    My husband is Agnostic and I am an Atheist.. we’ve decided on no children and we have made this decision permanent through appropriate means. Does this mean to Christians that we should not have gotten married?

    Answer: I don’t fucking care. Why would I care what they think? It’s my life, not theirs. So the answer, one way or another, does not phase me one bit.

  • The Pint

    Atheist married to a lax Unitarian, neither of us wants any kids of our own (we are, however, happy to baby sit for friends and return their kids to them hopped up on jelly beans and coffee ice cream). The whole “marriage is about having children” argument is complete and utter bollocks. I’ve never gotten asked why we got married if we’re not going to have kids, but I have heard stories from other childfree friends who’ve gotten responses ranging from the typical “you just want to be selfish self-absorbed irresponsible adults” bingos to the bizarre “you don’t want kids because you hate God!” variety.

  • PCE

    I find it interesting that an atheist should want to get married, gay or not. Marriage is something that has always been instituted by religion. Beyond religion, what is the point of “marrying”? I understand wanting the rights that come with marrying, but to me it makes more sense to keep from being married.

  • PJB863

    “Marriage is for having children,” yet 40% of children are born without benefit of it. That 40% of children have the same legal rights as the other 60%.

    Sex is for having children, marriage is for spousal rights – two totally different things.

  • Jon Garneau

    Well, if Gays can’t get married because they can’t produce children, then the elderly can’t get married then either because how likely are they to produce children? I was always raised to think that if two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry, regardless of skin color, politics, and/or sexuality. Did I mention that my dad is an Orthodox Catholic priest? And that I’m an Atheist Priest(thanks to Universal Life Church who will ordain anyone for free and give you any title for only $10)? Plus my dad says that “God loves everyone, he has no step-children”, his exact words. Plus he went to seminary so he knows what the bible is really supposed to mean. Though I still believe that only thing above is is sky and space.

  • C. Peterson

    Whenever I see the argument that same-sex couples shouldn’t marry because they can’t procreate, I wonder what anti-gay marriage advocates think of all those individuals inflicted with infertility. Should they also not be allowed to marry? In order to get a marriage license should the loving couple be forced to take fertility tests to ensure that they’re eligible to marry?

    “I’m sorry sir, it seems you’re sterile. We cannot allow you to get married. Enjoy your life of solitude.”

    Yeah, that sounds like a nice world to live in.

  • Steve

    The Romans already had completely secular marriages by the time of the late Republic. There were several versions from simple common law marriages to elaborate ceremonies for the nobility.

    For much of western history, marriage was a common law arrangement. If two people considered themselves married, they were. The church didn’t get involved in it until the middle ages. Before that they were clearly influenced by the Roman model.

    Interestingly, during the Reformation Martin Luther declared that marriage is a worldly thing and wanted the church to stay out of it. In response the Catholic Church – during the Counter Reformation – strengthened their hold on it. By then a priest was required and they officially declared it a sacrament.

    The French Revolution resulted in a very radical and forceful secularization of the country. Marriage became a secular affair again. Civil marriage was required in addition to whatever church ceremony people wanted. During Napeleon’s wars that model was exported to much of continental Europe where it can still be found today.

    Except of course for England, which brought its laws to America. But even the theocratic Puritans of all people saw the management of marriage records as a duty for the government. That resulted in the unfortunate and weird system of having the state issue marriage licenses that can be signed by clergy. Still if you get down it, even in the US your marriage rights come only from the state.

    /end history lesson

  • Bryan Johnson

    I don’t like hearing about all these child free atheists. C’mon, the Christians are popping out babies every second: if we don’t keep up, we’ll be overrun by 2056!!

  • Julie

    I have never been married (maybe someday) and do not want children. But I am a little saddened that so many atheist couples don’t want children, while virtually all religious couples want them (or will have them because they’re “supposed to”). So more and more Christians will be raising more and more Christians (or other religions), but fewer and fewer atheists will be raising children to be atheist. Ever seen the movie Idiocracy? Very prescient, that film (though in the movie, it was the really intelligent people not having children, and the stupidest people having more and more, so the population just got exponentially dumber….kinda the same thing? Ha!).

  • SeekerLancer


    Mainly because marriage has become a legal status instead of just a religious thing. I guess it obviously also has a lot of social importance in our culture.

    If it was up to me the term marriage would be used specifically for religious ceremonies and the actual legal status of a domestic partnership could be called some other generic name then they’d have no room to complain (though I’m sure they still would).

  • C. Peterson


    Well, Steve beat me to it, but I’ll add that, as far as my understanding goes, traditionally marriage was also more of a business arrangement than anything else. They were more often than not arranged and designed to tie two families together or seal a deal. Love almost never entered into the equation.

    As to your question of “what is the point of marrying?”, answers will vary from couple to couple, but I’ll point out that culturally marriage is a big thing in America. Movies, television, magazines, and sometimes even our own families all pound it into our minds that the greatest thing we can accomplish in our lives is to meet that special someone and settle down together. Single individuals beyond the age of 40 are often viewed with a sense of pity, like somehow they missed out on their chance to be happy. There’s a lot of societal pressure to get married.

    On a lighter note, today marriage is considered the ultimate showing of devotion, a pact between two individuals promising they will love one another forever. There’s a lot more to it than just religion, especially since you can get married without ever setting foot in a church or speaking to a priest.

  • @PCE
    I very much agree with C. Peterson. Marriage, outside of the legal implications, is a show of agreement and devotion. It carries a societal status and a cultural pedigree. Marriage is so much more than a religious ceremony. Which should go without saying, seeing as to how marriages happen just fine without God in them. My marriage of 14 years has been blissfully god-free and very successful 🙂

  • The Pint

    I don’t like hearing about all these child free atheists. C’mon, the Christians are popping out babies every second: if we don’t keep up, we’ll be overrun by 2056!!

    True. It is a bit depressing. But just because there are atheists like me who won’t have children, doesn’t mean we can’t have any influence on others around us. My parents weren’t the only adults in my life who made strong impressions on me and influenced the adult I grew into. You don’t need to be a parent to build a strong rapport with children – we have nieces, nephews, cousins, etc., whose lives we can be a part of and can hopefully help cultivate into rational, thoughtful people for whom critical thinking and compassion are as natural as breathing. Also, just because one or both parents are atheists, there’s no guarantee their children will be atheists as well, much less end up sharing the same values as their parents.

  • The Pint

    @PCE – chiming in with the others for whom marriage is about more than religion. The husbeast and I were married by a friend who was ordained on the internet, in a civil ceremony that had absolutely nothing at all to do with God or religion. Getting married for us was about declaring our intention to be partners and lovers for the rest of our lives in front of the people we loved. It was also about celebrating community, because when two people get married, it’s not just about connecting two people – a whole new community is formed by bringing together the various communities associated with the bride, groom or both. People who may not have otherwise met each other did so and became connected through our marriage, and will always have a bridge to each other through us. And if I’m going to be totally honest, the legal benefits of getting married weren’t bad perks either.

  • Marisol

    Don’t worry, The Pint. It will always be that way, that religious folks have lots more babies than the educated. But if you look at trends, upward mobility usually means more education which diminishes superstition belief, and lowers the birth rate for the educated…and the cycle continues. That’s why we atheists need to be a little more “out” every year–to be there to support those kids whose eyes are opening despite parental brainwashing.

  • Trace

    Kids, no kids. Your choice. Never understood the RC opposition to in-vitro if procreation is an issue…oh well.

    The real question should be, should human-vampire marriages be allowed? Would liberal/moderate Christians accept them?

  • unclemike

    @PCE For me as a gay atheist, if I’m not allowed to legally marry my partner, he won’t be able to legally enter the US and live with me. So, there’s that.

    I actually asked a Xtian friend of mine that question about atheists marrying, and he said it should be allowed because, no matter what the atheists wanted, if god chose for them to become pregnant, then they would become pregnant anyway. So just that possibility was enough.

  • Keljopy

    One more person chiming in @PCE:

    Immigration benefits, health insurance, automatic inheritance, cheaper taxes, a legal system set up to in theory fairly split up your possessions if you split up after being together and sharing many things over many years, social recognition and support of your relationship and over 1000 other benefits, many of which you could get through a host of legal documents, but would be a lot more difficult and you might miss something important and some, like petitioning for your alien partner to be able to immigrate to the US, that you can’t get any other way.

    For you it may make more sense to not get married, but for many people, including many atheists, it makes more sense to get married. For me, if I don’t get married I cannot live with the person I want to in either of our countries. I could live in his country for less than half of any year and he would never even be allowed to visit me here.

  • Thanks for the blog link! Really enjoying the comments. Just to clarify – ofcourse I *can* get married, but my blog is a challenge to opponents of Gay marriage – aren’t their arguments against Gay marriage also arguments against mine? Will they try to take mine away as well?

  • Kent Schlorff

    According to Catholic doctrine, the marriage is not valid because it does not have children as its focus.
    So dumb, right?

  • Surgoshan

    Of course childless people shouldn’t get married! Marriage is about *children*.

    As soon as a woman hits menopause she loses ALL value as a human being and should be put out to pasture by her owner.

    Sex is about babies and post-menopausal women have as much value as a car put up on blocks. Maybe she can give spare parts to an actual, functional, real human being.

    And once a dude loses the ability to maintain an erection, well, he should start taking drugs so he can get up a stiffy. Because that’s just God’s plan.

    Everything I just said is intentionally offensive because everything religious folks believe is in and of itself HORRID. What I said about women being owned? A casual reading of the Bible suggests that it is, just a little bit, entirely misogynistic from end to end; the Bible hates women.

    According to the Bible, women are property and they serve only two purposes. 1) Sin. 2) Babies. Notice that these are the result of the same act. In one, the elders look on and smile in grim confirmation that you’re fucking for god. In the other, they beat the *woman* to death with a sock full of double a batteries.

    Not the man.

    Men fuck, women sin.

  • Claudia

    According to Catholic doctrine, the marriage is not valid because it does not have children as its focus.
    So dumb, right?

    Dumb, but at least in the case of the Catholic church, not inconsistent. I used to live very close to the Catholic equivalent of divorce court in Madrid. Of course Catholics can’t get divorced, but they can get an annulment (essentially a declaration that your marriage was invalid, and hence you aren’t really divorced). Since one of the core conditions for marriage in the Catholic church is it being “open to reproduction” you can get an annulment if you show that your spouse is infertile. In fact, you can even get one if you show that your spouse is not open to having children, even if they are able. So in that sense, they are consistent.

    Then again, the Catholics don’t let you get an annulment if your spouse beats you, so any goodwill for consistency can be happily tucked away.

  • Archer

    @ SeekerLancer
    Mainly because marriage has become a legal status instead of just a religious thing. I guess it obviously also has a lot of social importance in our culture.
    Wrong way round. It’s become a religious thing instead of just being a legal status.
    But yes- it’s culturally very important.

    If it was up to me the term marriage would be used specifically for religious ceremonies and the actual legal status of a domestic partnership could be called some other generic name then they’d have no room to complain (though I’m sure they still would).
    Since the word ‘marriage’ comes from Latin; and Roman marriages, as has already been pointed out upthread, were potentially entirely secular or refered to deities which are no longer systematically worshipped; it would make much more sense to restrict the word ‘marriage’ to the legal status and the religious thing could be called something else- a religious/holy/sacred commitment/partnership/union, perhaps? Delete as prefered.

    Or some people could just get the difference between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ through their heads. Then we could all get married and all be happy.

  • Alice

    I’d like to turn that question around and ask if a fertile, heterosexual Christian married couple with children can ever get divorced.

    (Yes, that’s a stupid question too.)

  • A friend of mine made the claim that a marriage was only valid if it was before God in a church. He also claimed that a marriage so blessed could only be broken in death. That doesn’t bother me as I do see marriage as a largely religious institution that has been given state approval and I’ve no intention of buying into that crap. He also told me that I should become a Christian and “make an honest woman” of my unwife. He wasn’t even joking.

    Then he got divorced, became a Jehovah’s Witness and moved to where all the other God botherers and Jesus freaks go: The United States of America. Honestly, it’s the best place for him.

  • TG

    “Sex is for having children…” HAY-Oooo! Not as far as I’m concerned! – :-p

  • TG

    Marriage is, among other things, a way to determine your status in society and confers a level of respectability to your relationship, however superficial that respectability is. Therefore if you subscribe to the respectability of marriage and you view all homosexual relationships as not worthy of respect then denying marriage to gay people is a way of enforcing and encoding your lack of respect into law. However by doing so you trample on the civil rights of those people because of the lack of equal treatment under the law. Civil unions is bogus because it is an attempt to preserve the lack of respectability and get around the equal treatment problem. Happily nobody really takes the “civil unions” solution seriously, nor should they, because it still allows for the stigmatization of gay people in the eyes of society. “Yeah you have a civil union but you’re not REALLY married!” – That’s the viewpoint that will appease bigots but society at large cannot tolerate this nonsense!

  • Allen

    Why is this question limited to childless atheists? Wouldn’t the same answer apply to childless Christians?

  • I’be never actually asked the question, but I have had a few people ask why we got married if we’re not going to have kids.

    Odd as that view point is, is does actually answer another question: why would someone stay with an abusive spouse? Or a spouse they don’t love? Because, getting married for the sole reason of having children isn’t a choice (in their minds), it’s a job given to you by god.

    We have also noticed that using the phrase “choosing to have children” really gets to some people. Many do seem to think that having children isn’t voluntary.

  • They can, of course, believe that marriage is only valid inside of their own religion, or only valid if they have children. But, if they really do think that, then they should have no problem with ‘civil marriages’. It has nothing to do with their particular religion. Seriously, I think it’s the word. It confuses them. I think, before any Christian can vote on gay marriage, they should have to take a short course on ‘marriage’, so they understand that their is a civil version of it that has nothing to do with the particular church that they attend.

  • Chris M

    Intriguing question. As an atheist man engaged to an agnostic woman, we do value the institution of marriage as a commitment to loyalty and service to each other. Also considering I’m from a Presbyterian family background and my fiance is a former Catholic the specific views do oppose the anti-god group and gays vehemently, we both have the ability to think for ourselves, educate ourselves, find our own chosen path of faith (or otherwise) for ourselves… why should marriage with or without children be any different? Regardless if children ever do enter the picture, I would view our upcoming marriage as important (if not more so) as any christian values their own.

    Regarding gays, why the fuck not? They are human being like the rest of us, aren’t they? Don’t they qualify for all the privileges (not rights, there is no such thing as a “right”) we all qualify for? Marriage without children is just a specific state of being, not a disqualifier. Who gives a crap if two men or two women want to get married to each other? Have these christians never heard of the ability to choose ones own path? And if these same sex couples want to have children, have these christians never heard of adoption or IVF?

    While I am a proud and happy American (veteran, taxpayer, voter, and general crabby ass anti-theist), I feel that due to the fact the majority of American politics and general policy is created and maintained by the “faithful” we will never have a truly intellectual and choice-without-conditions society and therefore marriage will continue it’s bastardized version we see today (limited and exclusive). Shameful, I’d rather be Swedish at this point.

  • Archer

    @ TG
    Sing it, sibling!
    I view myself as being married, but there are people out there who would and could say “But you’re not really married, and in all honesty I’d have to agree. I’m in a ‘civil partnership’.
    Not everyone, be they gay or straight, wants to be ‘married’, but I DO. I want what my parents had as they were fantastic role models (my father is now deceased), and in many ways, and certainly in the most important ways, I have that.
    But when marital status comes up on a form I have to pass over the ‘married’ box and tick ‘in a civil partnership’, and it bugs me. Because it’s silly, and petty, and in a weird way makes me complicit in my own marginalisation.
    I know I sound radical and almost militant- but as you say, the different terminology is legalised disrespect and that is unacceptable.
    I think that the odds are good that the terminology will be balanced out within the next… 5 years, maybe, and it’ll be marriage across the board, but right now? I’m peeved.

  • Aaron

    Well they have every right to get married. Marriage has very little (or perhaps nothing at all) to do with religion. Marriage was around before a breath was spoken of Christianity. Today, marriage CAN be religious, yet it can also be completely secular. It’s as varied as the couples and their relationships. Even without marriage, a couple can claim that their purpose is to help each other please God. Another couple can claim that they make each other happy. And these relationships turn into marriages (usually). There is nothing wrong with not being married. It’s just that the societal norm is that if you are committed to someone, why not make it official? That is why athiests get married, I think, because it shows a lot of commitment, in front of friends and family.

    My wife and I got married while our son was on the way. Yes, I did feel pressured to do it sooner rather than later, but I was already on the boat that it was going to happen sooner or later. I don’t regret it at all.

  • Linda

    Of course you should be able to get married, since it is a marriage between one man and one woman. And probably you will change your minds and decide to have children after all.

  • Linda

    If you are an athiest then why bother to get married? I mean you do not have to be married to have sex with somebody.

  • Archer

    Of course you should be able to get married, since it is a marriage between one man and one woman. And probably you will change your minds and decide to have children after all.


    If you are an athiest then why bother to get married? I mean you do not have to be married to have sex with somebody.


  • My husband and I, also child free on purpose, have been told that we shouldn’t have been allowed to marry because we planned to not procreate. Some people just need to mind their own business.

  • Jemgeach

    If you ‘get married’ intending that your ‘marriage’ be sterile, then it is not a Christian marriage: one of the cultural shifts that made the clamour for gay ‘marriage’ possible is the wide acceptance and practice of contraception in ‘marriage’.  A deliberately sterile ‘marriage’ is not a marriage as Christians understand it: but rather concubinage.  This does not mean that those who are inadvertently sterile may not marry, nor that post menopausal spouses are off limits to their husbands.  In this matter, as in so many others, it is intention which matters.  If a couple is inadvertently sterile, that is bad luck: but it does not invalidate the marriage.  If however a couple deliberately violate the marriage act and never intend to have children, then they are not marrying as Christians understand it.
    For a Christian, marriage is a permanent union between one man and one woman which is open to procreation.  Some couples are unfortunate, and do not have children:  but that is not at all the same thing as pretending to marriage while intending sterility. 
    As to society at large: the only reason why the state has any interest in people’s sexual arrangements is that normally sexual congress between a man and a woman leads to children, who are the future.  Absent the possibility (however remote) of procreation between two sexual partners, the state has no interest in intervening.  That is why marital benefits belong exclusively to marriage properly speaking – that is, to marriage between a man and a woman.

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