Why Not Same-sex Marriage? (IX of X)
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 so-called “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 clan-members’, property on to your male children.
For this is what living with a woman in marriage is: for a man to beget children by her and present his sons to his fellow clansmen and members of his district and to give daughters as his own in marriage to their husbands. Mistresses we have for pleasure, concubines for daily service to our bodies, but wives for the procreation of legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of the household.
— Demosthenes in his speech “Against Neaera,” ca. 340 BC
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.
St. Thomas Aquinas believed a wife is lower than a slave because a slave may be freed, whereas “woman is in subjection according to the law of nature, but a slave is not.“
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 successful 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.