Collie Creating
Codex Firestarter

Why Not Same-sex Marriage?

by Collie Collier
May 2004 Firestarter column

I've been watching the joy and euphoria spreading through San Francisco and parts of the Bay Area as hundreds of loving, committed couples finally have their already-extant, long-standing relationships officially recognized. It's rather wonderful to see love, kindness, and tolerance finally triumphing in our society, however temporarily.

Which leads quite naturally to the question: why are some people so horrified by what's happening in San Francisco -- and a tiny handful of other enclaves across the country? It's not like it's hurting them personally.

However, from what I've heard not only are many upset by the "incipient destruction of society," but there's also some truly sick vitriol being spewed against these marrying couples. And for what? Because they want to be recognized as married, productive members of society? I don't get it.

Marriage is not my thing, but I don't feel I have any right to say who may or may not engage in the institution. Why are there some people who apparently feel they are the Arbiters of Rightness? Where on Earth do they get this idea?

Putting it into perspective

Someone managed to put this attitude into perspective for me with the following example:

Let's say you have someone you respect and admire, who is your friend. You expect your friend to treat you differently than they treat others, because the relationship between you both is special -- you are friends, you have a closer relationship than strangers passing on the street.

Now let's say you both know someone who is not a nice person. This person is a lying, deceitful, cheating, abusive, manipulative, vicious, unpleasant person, and you want absolutely nothing to do with them.

They're vile, and the absolute scum of the earth -- and your friend treats this person exactly the same as she treats you: someone special, a true friend.

Wouldn't you feel that was just wrong?

I agreed -- yes, I would find that deeply wrong, and I could now comprehend how someone who believed homosexuality was wrong might view the marriages in San Francisco. But, I added, at no point did I feel I had the right to legislate my friend's choices in friends!

I might try to show my friend what a mistake it was to treat this vile person with such respect and kindness; I might let the friend know what nasty lies the bad person was telling about them behind their back, if that were actually happening.

I might even choose not to associate with my friend any more -- but I simply would not ever have the unmitigated arrogance to assume I had the right to decide for everyone just who might be treated with the respect due a real friend!

Ah, said my friend. That's the difference between you and the folks who're against gay marriage.

"Take sides"

So I guess this is one of the messages I came away with after the strange events of the past few months. Try to understand how those who are against gay marriage might feel; it'll help you in trying to explain to them why they have nothing to fear. But don't make the mistake of thinking you get to make life decisions for anyone but yourself.

Alternatively, don't think silence protects you, regardless of where you stand on this issue. As Elie Wiesel astutely noted:

"Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim."

So I'm going to try to do my bit; I'm going to address some of the objections I've heard to legitimizing same-sex marriages, and follow up with a personal conclusion. I guess you could call this a pro-tolerance FAQ, of sorts, since I personally think marriage, as it is now socially constituted, is an out-of-date cultural relic which desperately needs re-creating into a better, more egalitarian, and more socially useful format.

I should note I intend to refer to this entire issue as 'marriage,' not just as same-sex marriage. We don't talk about the issue of straight marriage, or patriarchal marriage, after all. Why should the gender of the participants make any difference?

List of Arguments

So what are the arguments against gay marriage I've heard? These are the ones I've got so far, although if you know of others I'd be interested in hearing them as well.

  1. We're a christian nation

  2. The Bible says homosexuality is a sin

  3. 'One male-one female' marriage is the historical cornerstone of civilization

  4. Marriage should be just for child-rearing

  5. Homosexuality is unnatural

Responses to Arguments

1. We're a christian nation

Um, no. We are not now, nor have we ever been, strictly a christian nation, and we can thank the Founding Fathers for that.

We can easily verify the historicity of the above statement by checking what our Founding Fathers have said on religious issues. For example, we have the gentleman who wrote our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. He wrote to Peter Carr, his nephew:

The Christian god can be easily pictured as virtually the same as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of the people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.

Then there's John Adams, who wrote,

The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.

More tersely, Ben Franklin wrote in 1758 in his Poor Richard's Almanac,' "Lighthouses are more helpful than churches." Thomas Paine also had a nice turn of phrase when he wrote concerning the Bible, "I would not dare to so dishonor my Creator God by attaching His name to that book."

Let's face it, the overwhelming number of Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christians. Here are two interestingly informative articles, "The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians," and "America -- Not a Christian Nation" on the web on this subject.

The latter article has an excellent Editor's Note following the original 1995 article. I quote part of it here:

Which beliefs are true? If a politician appears one way in public and another in private, which do you think better represents their true beliefs? How do you reconcile the inflammatory writings above with various pro-Christian statements that the same men made in public over the course of their careers? Could it be called "politics," an attempt to appease Christians while ensuring a more rational government based on the separation of church and state? It certainly seems that way.

In addition, the Editor does not recognize any religious intentions of the so-called "Founding Fathers" as relevant to discussions of political process today. As a descendent of Native Americans the editor understands that America had already been "found." The "Christian" beliefs of a handfull of landed, White, male aristocracy enslaving blacks and murdering Native Americans hold little credibility and should be dumped along with the notions of slavery we so wisely dispensed with on January 1, 1863.

I encourage you to go do your own research as well. Go to a library, read up on the Founding Fathers, and decide for yourselves. As the wonderful slogan goes, "Think! It's patriotic!"

Remember the First Amendment?

That's the historical context. In a more modern context, we have this wonderful document called the Constitution, which states quite clearly the in the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Overly-enthusiastic presidents notwithstanding, we are a secular state, not a theocracy, and espouse the separation of church and state. We all know of several modern theocracies, of course -- the Taliban springs to mind. If that's what theocracy gets you, I for one am very happy we're not one.

Just out of curiosity, can anyone name any theocracy that didn't devolve into social self-mutilation?

What if we were, though?

But let's try looking at this from more than one point of view. Let's postulate a United States that was indeed truly a "christian" nation. In that case, I doubt there'd be any problem at all with marriage.

Consider -- Jesus' message was one of forgiveness, tolerance, and kindness. He practiced what he preached, too. The people he spent the most time with were the social outcasts and fringe elements of his culture -- ignorant country bumpkins, tax collectors, heretical Samaritans, lepers, and (*gasp*!) women.

So who might we consider the fringe elements or social outcasts of our own society, whom Jesus -- and any christian worth the name -- would greet with kindness, tolerance, and open arms? How about blacks, lawyers, homosexuals, homeless, and (once again) women?

Please note I intend no disrespect to those I've named above. If anything, I consider it a terribly sad thing that a) I can so easily come up with such a list, and b) we've made so little progress that women are still on the list. What this says to me is even if we wished with all our might to be a christian nation -- we have a very, very long, troubled way to go to reach that goal.

If anything, I think we've regressed. Read the late John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe for a fascinating, scholarly history of both the social and spiritual aspects of love and marriage. The book left me with a lovely idea of what-could-have-been today, were it not for the tragedy of homophobia. As the former Yale professor notes himself,

The extent of early Christian hostility to same-sex eroticism has been exaggerated by modern Christians, who tend to overlook comparable Christian strictures against divorce or other common aspects of modern life also condemned by the early church, while focusing their energy and moral outrage on this particular issue.

If we truly want to be considered a christian nation... maybe we should start acting like christians first?

2. The Bible says homosexuality is a sin

Lordy, I'm tired of this one. Why religious zealots feel they can pick and choose the parts of the Bible they think best support their own secular desires -- and ignore the rest -- is beyond me.

Add to that the raging debates still on-going as to how to interpret the original faded, non-vowel-using, hand-written, euphemistic writings, and it's painfully obvious anyone stating they know exactly what the Bible says -- is full of it.

Here's a fascinating and thoughtful discussion of the hotly contested translation difficulties surrounding Leviticus 18:22. When absolutely literally translated from the Hebrew, it reads, "And with a male you shall not lay lyings of a woman." Confusing, isn't it?

Also fascinating is how that one verse is the one most focused on. In that particular chapter of Leviticus alone there are admonitions against obeying the laws of the land you live in, as opposed to following only Jewish law; incest; sex with a menstruating woman; sex with your neighbor's wife; giving your children to a rival god; bestiality; or allowing strangers living among you to obey any laws of the realm, excepting only Judaic law.

But do we have people orchestrating hate campaigns against adulterers, or those who obey the laws of the land and disobey Judaic law? No, of course not. Stirring up hatred against adulterers wouldn't get any takers, because a majority of the populace has done so. Agitating to ignore the laws of the land would just get the agitators arrested.

So those who seek power through manipulation of others turn their focus to homosexuals -- because they're a minority group, and easier to pick on. It reminds me of the bumper sticker:

"People are more violently opposed to fur than leather because it's easier to harass rich women than motorcycle gangs."

Reality check

Secondly, I'd have to cast some doubt on the relevance of the Bible to modern day. As a woman, I find the book to be a fascinating historical and literary document. However, as a model of how to live I'd have to say it, and the church purportedly based on its teachings, are both appallingly out of touch with the modern world.

Let's face it -- we're no longer a nomadic tribe of goat-herding, war-like, invading barbarians. We don't stone adulterers or forcibly marry rape victims to their rapists, we don't murder or enslave non-believers in our religion in order to get their stuff, we make all the graven images we want, we eat shellfish with pleasure, and we don't regard women as property equivalent to herds of goats or sheep.

People and cultures change over time. When we were children we did what was right because we were punished if we didn't. One of the signs of maturity, though, is doing the right thing because we know it is right -- not because we fear punishment.

A religion which predicates future punishment for bad behavior, from a murderously vengeful father figure, is not going to succeed in creating good behavior in the long run. Any competent animal trainer can tell you training by fear only works when feedback is immediate -- and it's never learned as quickly, remembered as well, or performed as willingly as behavior based on reward.

Barring a person having some mental disorder, doing good simply feels better than harming others. Isn't it time for us to start doing the right thing because we know it is right -- not because of childhood fears based on an outdated book?

3. 'One male-one female' marriage is the historical cornerstone of civilization

Uhm, again, no. We're a far, far more imaginative and flexible species than this argument would imply.

However, for the sake of fun discussion let's take a look at the civilizations from which the US classically traces its inspiration. I do this for two reasons. One, I'm a US citizen, and thus that's the culture I know the most about, so feel the most willing to discuss and critique. Two, it's the US that's having this silly squabble about marriage in the first place.

We will start with the Greek "Golden Age" of roughly around the time of Pericles' Athens -- the so-called "Age of Democracy," with votes just for land-owning males. We move on through the Roman Republic/Empire, then watch Christianity rise and continue to influence the myriad societies of Western Europe.

From there we follow European colonization efforts onwards to the United States of America -- pausing only for a quick glance at the largely forgotten but decisive contributions of the Iroquois -- and then through time to the here and now.

Was 'one man-one woman' marriage the fundamental assumption, the underlying principle, the cornerstone of these civilizations? In examining this thought, we immediately notice a couple of striking questions which demand answers, and which will affect our results:

A) Who's speaking?
B) What is Woman?
C) What is marriage? Why marry?
D) What is civilization supported by?
E) The existence of slavery

A) Who's speaking?

It is said (with some accuracy) history is written by the winners. I know of only one case where this is not true, and that is when the winners are pre-literate, while the losers are post-literate.

Ultimately, however, the adage proves itself completely true, in that a particular people may have lost a war, but if only their side of the argument is presented, then history remembers them as the unjustly abused -- and in the war of creation of "fact," they win.

This is the problem we find immediately, upon seeking to discover if a particular form of marriage is a cornerstone of civilization. The only people whose writings have survived the destructive forces of time, hostile readers, fire, flood, etc. -- are land-owning males.

We don't know anything about ancient Athens or Rome, except what we've been told by slave-owning patriarchs. Only the upper class and the clergy wrote in medieval Europe, and precious few of those literate individuals were women. In the US, we have more women writing, and even some slaves, but the overwhelming majority of writings are again by White men.


This may not sound particularly important, until you view it in perspective. Let us say you were an alien, reading about today's society. However, the only writings you were able to find were from the President of the US, the Supreme Court, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, and the House and Senate majority leaders. No other writings survive -- just those.

Based on just those writings, you would receive an extremely twisted view of society. You'd probably know next to nothing about professional sports, voting, children, fashion, or environmental issues.

Because our President doesn't believe in the separation of church and state, or believe women should be able to make decisions about their own bodies, you'd perhaps wonder why the Supreme Court was so behind on that issue, and why they kept flouting the wishes of the President.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court is nominated for life, while the President is around for a maximum of eight years. You might think the President was simply an advisor to the Supreme Court.

You might think the US was an extremely philosophically-oriented and law-abiding society, since there are writings from twelve lawyers, but only one religious figure. You might even wonder why there're women and black people on the Supreme Court -- surely they can't accurately represent the people, any more than children can, right? You might not know there were any ethnic groups in the US -- isn't everyone mostly White, mostly male, and rich?

We have to keep this information firmly in mind while reading about the past. When we use ancient writings to figure out what a society thought marriage, or women, or civilized behavior was, we have to remember we're getting only one viewpoint -- that of the male nobility.

If only noblemen are speaking, then they get to define what everything is. We can't read what women, slaves, or non-nobles thought about themselves, who they were, what they did, or what they thought of the cultural rituals of their time.

B) What is Woman?

So, keeping that in mind, let's examine the next stumbling block we find when reviewing the possible cornerstones of past civilizations: the passage of time. We're talking here about approximately three millennia of cultural changes.

Even within one particular culture there is a huge amount of change, as can be shown by the Roman Republic sliding into the Roman Empire, and then fading away. Concepts, societies, rituals -- inevitably, they all change. Thus, writings of one era don't necessarily reflect the views of another era, even within the same culture.

This is relevant because we're now going to look at a concept: Woman. You may think this odd, but consider what a woman is today in the US. She's considered an adult, able to own property, pick her own friends and life partners, bear children or follow a religion only if she wishes to, marry or divorce on her own recognizance -- she is responsible for herself.

Athens & Rome

This attitude is historically relatively new among the cultures we're examining, however. In Athens women were considered literally to be children all their lives. They belonged to their fathers as children, and were given as property to their new husbands. The man was conventionally a decade or two older than the woman, so as to more easily overpower her mentally and physically.

Any property she might have inherited from her father went automatically to her husband, to use as he wished -- including her. She was usually only allowed out, heavily veiled, to witness sacred ceremonies performed by the male-controlled clergy. She had little to no rights.

Rome was a bit kinder, in that women were allowed education, could go out occasionally, and could own property if they were widows. Also, at some point during Rome's rule, it became socially acceptable to publicly express affection for your wife.

Since the Roman home was the center of social life, and women were the moral center of the home, they had access to a far more mentally stimulating intellectual life. On the other hand, men were absolute masters of their homes and property, and women still counted as property.

Christianity & medieval Europe

Christianity doesn't do anything to elevate the status of women, despite Jesus' teachings. It was Paul who has been interpreted as saying women should be subject to their husbands just as their husbands are subject to God, and men haven't let women forget that first part.

Curiously, men seem to have conveniently forgotten the second part, of course. You can see the actual verse (1 Corinthians 11:3) in the sidebar.

Thus, due to stuff like this, throughout medieval Europe we have the same sorry condition held in place due to religious conditioning. Women are chattel because some male preacher -- who never even met Jesus -- said so.

Finally we end up in the US. Only recently, like in the last few decades, have women made any progress at all in being considered adults responsible for themselves rather than just more possessions.

It's a battle which has to be vigilantly re-fought every decade or so, too, each time some insecure, atavistic politician feels the need to drum up some votes. Previous to now, women were still mostly considered property, legally akin to children and slaves.

C) What is marriage? Why marry?

That's a quick review of the historical concept of Woman. So how was marriage viewed? If it's the cornerstone of civilization there should be a fair amount of reverence surrounding it, right?

Well, no. Like the concept of Woman, the concept of Marriage has varied and changed significantly over the millennia.

Again, Athens

There was no romance about marriage in Athens. Pure and simple, marriage was how men produced heirs. The only respectable role for an Athenian women was as the wife of a wealthy man, managing his household and kept with her serving women, children, and slaves in the back of her husband's house -- prisoners of society's expectations.

The difference between the married woman and the slaves owned by her husband was uncomfortably slim -- today's prosperous housewife could easily become tomorrow's slave.

The husband, on the other hand, had a fair amount of sexual freedom. Slaves, boys, prostitutes, concubines, or hetairai were all available to him for sexual "use" whenever he wished. He owned and controlled his wife as much as he owned slaves or land, and could divorce her if he wished.

Her sole purpose was to produce male heirs for him -- but that was critically important. A man without heirs was a man who was failing his family. It is important to note wives, aunts, sisters, and daughters weren't included in the category of family or bloodline -- only male relatives were.

Friendship between men (including homosexual friendship) was considered far nobler and more spiritually satisfying than a husband's possible love for his wife. As an example, Socrates' wife Xanthippe was summarily dismissed by him as he lay on his deathbed. His stated preference, approved by all the men present, was to die in the company of his male companions.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of marriage as a cornerstone of classical Athenian civilization, is it?

Roman redux

So what was Marriage in Rome? Well, depends on what economic class you were as to what type of marriage you had. The Romans did come up with some interesting new ideas, at least in comparison to how Athenians viewed women. These included the concept of consent from both parties being necessary for a marriage to occur, and setting minimum ages for grooms (14 years) and brides (12 years).

Depending on your social class, there were three different types of marriage. The rich got a confarreatio, which was in effect a public celebration of the union, possibly including special food and sacrifices.

The common people simply moved in together and were eventually considered married -- there doesn't even seem to be a special name for this arrangement. Worst case (at least for the women) was being in a coemptio, in which the woman was considered legally a child, and pretty much sold to her husband.

What did Roman men write of marriage? I couldn't find much -- I don't think it was considered at all interesting or worth discussion. Juvenal wrote of it only in passing, as he soundly berates women who are better educated or smarter than their husbands. It sounds quite insecure of him... and, sadly, very modern.

According to Livy, in 17 BCE Augustus read a speech in the Senate to support his own legislation encouraging marriage and childbearing:

"If we could survive without a wife, citizens of Rome, all of us would do without that nuisance; but since nature has so decreed that we cannot manage comfortably with them, nor live in any way without them, we must plan for our lasting preservation rather than for our temporary pleasure."

Let me point that out again, please: If we could survive without a wife, all of us would do without that nuisance.

The very fact a law had to be passed to encourage men to marry, in order to breed "legitimate" heirs, speaks volumes concerning the validity of this supposed "cornerstone."

We could say Augustus knew it was necessary for preservation of the civilization, and call that a cornerstone. However, to be fair we'd also have to note what he really wants is male comfort, continued male lineages, and soldiers to continue Rome's expansion -- not that he believes in the wonderfulness of marriage or women.

Also, it's a shaky cornerstone indeed which has to be legislated for, and which treats a portion of the populace as nothing more than breeding material. Then again... isn't that what we're doing today also?

Christianity's copy

So where to next in this quick historical scan of cultural attitudes towards marriage? We turn now to Christianity. For once, women are not treated as disposable breeders; Jesus plainly states a man divorcing his wife is not acceptable. Nothing about marriage as a cornerstone of civilization, of course -- just an admonition to treat women better.

However, Jesus' admonitions are about as good as it gets. Once we're past that small (mixed) gain for women, we get Paul's mostly disdainful view of marriage as an ends to a means -- a way for men to avoid behaving lustfully. Gee, how uplifting for women.

Are you also getting the sneaking suspicion that marriage, when defined by men, is actually bad for women?

Echoes in Europe

And of course, next we end up in Europe throughout the medieval time period. An interesting point a friend raised -- if the Apostles were married (as is noted in the Bible), and marriage is considered so civilizing and wonderful today, then why does the Roman Catholic Church have such a horror of married clergy?

I've no polite answer for that. Instead I'll note there was no Christian ecclesiastical definition of a valid marriage, nor a contract to validate a marriage, until 1563 -- and many areas simply refused to recognize the ruling for centuries thereafter.

Let me reiterate: until 1563 (and until well past then in many geographical locations), the Catholic Church had nothing to do with marriage.

So... do we assume there was no European civilization until that time? Or do we recognize marriage as what it really is -- not an integral part of civilization so much as a constantly evolving, personal ritual which people enter into and leave as they wish?

In Rome at least a marriage could not occur without consent from both participants -- women lose even that tiny gain during these centuries. To be fair we should note, as with Rome, there were multiple centuries passing, and a huge variety of cultural forms extant.

This doesn't change, unfortunately, the various abuses women suffered due to men getting to define what marriage was -- abusive arranged marriages, husbands maintaining lovers and concubines while women had to maintain chastity, wives which didn't produce the requisite children being summarily divorced without recourse, religiously sanctioned physical abuse and sexual coercion of women, female infanticide, women regarded as disposable chattel...

I'm not sure this sort of behavior, either within or without a marriage, can be regarded as "civilized."

Originality in the early US

So, on to the United States of America, where we finally get to hear more from women, although they're still mostly all White and upper class. When John Adams was helping to draw up the Constitution of the US in 1777, his wife Abigail wrote,

"Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could."

If only he'd listened. Then again, she wasn't the only sage voice we've ended up ignoring. History has unfortunately largely forgotten the decisive role played by American Indians (primarily the Iroquois) in shaping the ideas of our Founding Parents.

There's good reason for our foreparents to have listened to the Iroquois. The people of the Six Nations are today still the oldest living participatory democracy on Earth -- currently over eight and a half centuries -- as opposed to our (theoretically) representative form of democracy.

However, immigrants from Europe often borrow from native people, then forget the origins of the new knowledge, remembering it only as their own.

As I initially noted, when a literate society gets to define history, things get changed. The reconstruction of true, complex history can take quite a bit of effort, since you not only have to buck cherished cultural myths and canons, but also try to find material on something lost and long forgotten.

Today, due to popular culture, American Indians are often viewed as primitive savages "uplifted" by the White settlers. At that time, however, the opposite situation often seemed to be in effect. The Iroquois extended education, political power, and liberty to women as well as to men. Women controlled allocation from communal stores, and communicated culture from generation to generation.

Also, the men were known as such skilled and sophisticated orators that the White people of the time frequently admiringly compared them to the Romans and Greeks.

Was one man-one woman marriage the cornerstone of the Iroquois nation? I don't know yet -- I'm still reading up on them. However, I do know this is quite possibly the only civilization worthy of the name, to be mentioned in our quick review.

I find it peculiarly fascinating that the sole society which treated people, women included, with respect -- is the one whose influence has been mostly (deliberately?) forgotten.

Women's views

So how did the White women see the White men of this (extensive) time period, regarding their definitions and use of marriage? A sister of President Madison wrote: "We southern ladies are complimented with the name of wives: but we are only the mistresses of seraglios." A southern planter's wife described herself as "the chief slave of the harem."

The wife of a Confederate general wrote: "God forgive us, but ours is a monstrous system... Like the patriarchs of old, our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines."

Regarding the argument of one-man-one-woman marriage being a cornerstone of civilization, I'll close this section with a quote from Briffault (emphasis mine):

The patriarchal "family" of academic social science is but a euphemism for the individualistic male with his subordinate dependents. As a social unit the family means the (male) individual, activated by his most aggressively individualistic instincts; it is not the foundation, but the negation of society...

That's it in a nutshell, regarding legislated one-man-one-woman marriage in the historical civilizations which gave rise to the US society we live in today.

Put bluntly, enforcing this type of marriage has been extremely good for property-owning men -- but disastrously bad for women and slaves of both genders. Furthermore, any so-called civilization which requires the ritualized brutalization of any class of people does not deserve the appellation of "civilized."

D) What is civilization supported by?

The common thread running through all the societies we've looked at so far is quite clear on this. For them, the cornerstone of civilization is emphatically not one man-one woman marriage.

What is the fundamental assumption of civilization, the underlying principle holding it all together for these societies? The answer: male heirs and property. Women are there to beget "legitimate" sons, so you can pass your, and your male clanmembers', property on to your male children.

One man-one woman marriage may have been the "official cultural norm" for all the societies we've looked at, but there was some truly horrific emotional baggage that went along with this form of marriage.

Property theft from women, children taken from their mothers by vengeful fathers, old or widowed women condemned and murdered as witches in order to steal their goods, concubinage, abandonment and divorce of unwanted wives, forced female prostitution, forced marriage for girl children, physical abuse of women, the emotional brutality of non-consensual slave-master relationships...

If this is what we have to accept in order to have the "civilizing" effects of one man-one woman marriage, then I'd say we're heartily better off without it!

E) The existence of slavery

There's one last element we should note is present in all these cultures, which should be mentioned for the simple reason of its commonalty. In all these societies which treat women like property -- slavery also is present.

I don't know if it's related or relevant at all. Isn't it interesting, though? Definitely food for thought -- we outlaw slavery in the US, and soon thereafter women also begin to make strides towards self-arbitration. It's not perfect yet, but I consider the progress we've made so far quite commendable, considering what went before.

Modern & real life

Now to look at marriage not from a historical sense, but to review it factually, as a fascinating, widely-varied, and ever-evolving modern ritual. Read the following official statement from people who truly are experts in the field of cultural exploration. It's things like this, which enlighten well-meaning ignorance, which make me proud to be an anthropology major.

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association, the world's largest organization of anthropologists, the people who study culture, releases the following statement in response to President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as a threat to civilization:

"The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution.

Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association strongly opposes a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples."

There are many examples of the rich and fascinating diversity of family types across cultures (archived version), many of which we might consider emulating beneficially in our own society. Then there's the wonderfully flexible nature of marriage throughout human history (archived version).

The human species is as succesful as it is because it is endlessly inventive, adapting as necessary to the needs and pressures of the environment. The very fact that we are not stuck in one cultural rut should be cause for hope, enthusiasm, and diversification -- not for futile attempts to fear and hide from change.

4. Marriage should be just for child-rearing

My first thought at assertions like this is: "why?" Kids don't care if there's a piece of paper holding their family together -- and that piece of paper has proven notoriously incapable of doing so anyway.

However, let's work through this theory rationally. If marriage is just for child-rearing, then that doesn't exclude same-sex couples who wish to adopt, or where one of them contributes in creating a child.

Non-breeders need not apply!

If what the argument was really meant to say was that marriage should be just for those who will breed and raise a child, I'd be a little disturbed. Firstly, we're more than just baby-making machines, and I wouldn't care to so restrict or categorize someone else's life choices.

Also, that's both thoughtlessly cruel and patently unfair to anyone who's incapable of having children, but has or wishes to adopt and lovingly raise a child. I know of several truly loving families where none of the kids were born of the married parents.

This also means older couples would be automatically excluded. They've already had their kids, after all, and they can't have any more. What does this mean -- their marriage is worthless, is non-existent now? I know I don't want to be the one to give them such a cruelly unfeeling message.

What if you marry someone in good faith, planning to have a child, then find out you can't? Should your spouse dump you for someone who can, so they can say they're really married? Maybe they could keep you around as a part-time paramour and nanny, since you're sterile?

What if there are tax benefits for being married, as there are today? If you marry but don't have kids, how long should you be allowed those benefits? If you have an abortion, should your marriage be revoked? If you find out you can't have children, but you're married, should the government get involved, and penalize you for fraud?

What about couples where one person chooses sterilization for ethical reasons -- should the demand to breed trump ethics, reason, or thought? Should we make birth control illegal? If the couple hasn't bred yet, maybe they're not having enough sex -- could we mandate sex therapy for them?

Maybe wearing a condom could be considered an act of civil disobedience! Better yet, could we get tax benefits for sex toys as marital aids? ;-)

Yes, I know the above is nasty, unrealistic, and silly. Most arguments, this one included, when taken to their logical extremes are both absurd, and lacking in any sound basis in reality.

5. Homosexuality is unnatural

This one is easy. First let's define "natural" and "unnatural," so we know precisely what we're talking about, then check and see which definition works best to describe homosexual behavior. With a quick thank you to the ever-helpful RhymeZone, we find the following:

unnatural: (adjective) not in accordance with or determined by nature; contrary to nature
natural: (adjective)
  1. unthinking; prompted by (or as if by) instinct,
  2. in accordance with nature; relating to or concerning nature,
  3. existing in or produced by nature; not artificial or imitation,
  4. existing in or in conformity with nature or the observable world; neither supernatural nor magical,
  5. (biology) functioning or occurring in a normal way; lacking abnormalities or deficiencies

Guess what -- homosexual behavior has been scientifically documented as occurring naturally in more than 450 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and other animals worldwide. That means it fulfills the criterion for all five definitions of the word "natural," but doesn't fulfill the one single criteria for the word "unnatural."

That's pretty darned definitive. Don't just take my word for it, though -- read Bruce Bagemihl's wonderfully droll (and huge) book, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity.

Who's really unnatural?

Indeed, if anything could be defined as "unnatural," it would be human behavior in our modern societies towards homosexual behavior. From the editorial review of the book on, we find:

An overview of biologists' discomfort with their own observations of animal homosexuality over 200 years would be truly hilarious if it didn't reflect a tendency of humans (and only humans) to respond with aggression and hostility to same-sex behavior in our own species.

...scientists have sometimes been afraid to report their observations for fear of recrimination from a hidebound (and homophobic) academia.

Scientists' use of anthropomorphizing vocabulary such as insulting, unfortunate, and inappropriate to describe same-sex matings shows a decided lack of objectivity on the part of naturalists.

That's just sad, when empirical objectivity goes out the door due to societal pressure. What happened to logic and reason, to academic honesty? What has happened to us, that we feel such unreasoning fear of even the reporting of natural, normal behavior? We need to get over this sort of unreasoning, knee-jerk reaction.

Why? Why not?

So I have to ask -- why not tolerance? They're paying their taxes and supporting society. They're not destroying it, as San Francisco and New York City show. Neither of those cities have fallen into the sea, or been turned to salt, or anything similar.

The argument for the inherent failure of society due to a scary upcoming cultural change was used in the United States against blacks when they were allowed to own property, and against women when they were given the right to vote. And yet, somehow we're still here, chugging along without some mythical apocalypse having come crashing down on us yet.

Change is a constant in every society; it's part of growth. To fear change, to try to enforce unchanging constancy, is stagnation... and eventually death.

When I hear folks being repressive, fearful, or religiously intolerant about marriage, I can't help but remember Winston S. Churchill's stirring words:

"You do your worst -- and we will do our best."

I don't know how Mr. Churchill would feel about the subject, but I think what he said is still valid today, as an uplifting call to arms for those who believe in the inherent dignity of human nature.

Reader comments

12.04.04: Kelly's thoughts

Finally managed time to read this one. Although it probably wouldn't be too difficult to write an entire book on the subject, I do believe you've touched on all the salient points. I plan to share this with folks, if you don't mind.

You certainly come across as much calmer than I am on this issue. It's another of those blood-boiling issues. Sure, I'm married to a man... but if any of the women I lived with had been somewhat less psychotic, it might not have turned out that way. So I take it rather personally.

Ah, breathe breathe... the Wheel turns... things have changed in the last 20 years, and will continue to change.

:) Good job!

12.04.04: George's comments

(and my replies)

Thank you very much for the credit.

Oh, good, I'm glad you liked it! I thought your previous comment was rather important, though, and needed recognition. It's why this time around I tried not to be quite so harsh and impatient sounding.

I very much liked the "Take Sides" quote and paragraph.

I thought that the quote from The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association was very appropriate. The links were useful too.

However, some of the people who think that gay marriage is a bad idea won't put much stock in a professional organization of academics. Recent history puts academics on the liberal side of many social issues, promoting faster cultural change.

If one thinks that many of these recent changes have been causing the "cornerstones of civilization" to crumble, then saying that academics support another change won't help change these minds.

You shouldn't ignore the quote. However, it doesn't seem like it is enough by itself.

Yes, I'm quite aware my arguments won't sway someone who's already made up their mind. However, I don't think someone like me possibly could change their minds.

I believe it'd take something different and personal, like having to deal with a close gay relative who's suffering. I know very few who are cruel enough to absolutely turn their backs on the suffering of those they love, you know?

My arguments are aimed at the currently-undecided majority. I read once that you could statistically "break out" belief in an issue by stating that about 10% to 20% would be powerfully for it, and approximately the same number would be strongly against it.
The remainder hadn't really thought about it, and would probably echo what they'd heard from others. That majority -- that roughly 80% to 60% -- is the group you want to address your arguments to.
They've not yet had time to talk or think about it, and they don't want to be yelled at about the subject. So if you can politely discuss the issue with them, without pressuring them about it, you have an excellent chance of converting them to your point of view.
So... that's the group my article is aimed at. I hope it helps. ;)

I think that this argument ('One male-one female' marriage is the historical cornerstone of civilization) is one that bothers some thoughtful individuals. The only history they know has been dominated by marriage that consisted of one male and one female.

In either case, I would have liked to have seen more of your thoughts countering this argument.

Hm. I didn't put a lot of my own thoughts in there because I was worried about the article becoming too long and bulky, and I felt the actual examples said it better than I could. Still... you haven't directed me wrong yet! Okay, here's what I came up with -- hope it wasn't too emphatic-sounding. Thanks!

I like the final idea, "why not tolerance?"

Thank you for sending this.

05.04.04: Donji's comments

Nice, thoughtful, and articulate article you wrote on same-sex marriage :-)