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July 24, 2014 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Misleading on Marriage: how gay marriage opponents twist history to suit their agenda - "Much of what you hear about the purpose of marriage is ahistorical. Lisa L. Spangenberg on what the institution was traditionally fit for."
As someone in a same-sex relationship, I followed arguments for and against the overturn of DOMA with some interest. As a medievalist, my attention was particularly caught by arguments against DOMA on Twitter and elsewhere that asserted that Christianity and history unilaterally agreed that marriage means one woman and one man and coitus. This simply isn't historically accurate even within the context of Christianity and European history.
posted by the man of twists and turns (47 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
:D Great title that references the link's URL.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:03 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]


The opponents of same-sex marriage aren't typically people well versed in, or very concerned with, history, IME.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:06 PM on July 24 [21 favorites]


Two gay coworkers of mine married each other this past weekend. I haven't checked but I'm pretty sure society is still standing.
posted by jonmc at 12:13 PM on July 24 [4 favorites]


Traditional Marriage: One Woman = several head of cattle or equivalent
posted by leotrotsky at 12:13 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]


There is a Venn diagram to be made touching upon historiographical sophistication, flavor of Xtianity, and stance on same-sex marriage. I am too lazy to make it.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:21 PM on July 24


FTA: These former opponents say that the institution of marriage is a foundational element in society dating back thousands of years, if not longer

This is interesting, again FTA: The emphasis on coitus as a privileged sex act is telling; this objection to same-sex marriage it isn't really about children, it's about sex. It is at least partially based on ignorance regarding human sexuality. It's not as if heterosexual people don't engage in the same wide array of sexual behaviors that people in same-sex relationships engage in.

Ever sat outside a cafe and watched the people walk by and wondered what they did in bed last night and realised you have no way of knowing, it could have been anything - and isn't that exciting and amazing? I am fascinated by this, it reminds me of the bit in The Acid House, where he flies back to his parents house and sees what they get up to when he is out.

Great post, tmotat.
posted by marienbad at 12:23 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]


Ever sat outside a cafe and watched the people walk by and wondered what they did in bed last night and realised you have no way of knowing, it could have been anything - and isn't that exciting and amazing?

...so you felt sex sonder. Would that be sexder?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:29 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]


Learn something new everyday. Did not that "coitus" was specifically limited to behavior between a man and a woman.

It's not as if heterosexual people don't engage in the same wide array of sexual behaviors that people in same-sex relationships engage in.

And it's not as if reproduction can only be achieved via coitus.

Traditional Marriage: One Woman = several head of cattle or equivalent

Or this.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:30 PM on July 24


Two gay coworkers of mine married each other this past weekend. I haven't checked but I'm pretty sure society is still standing.

In Canada, same-sex marriage has been a reality, for what? A bit over a decade and guess what? Society in Canada hasn't collapsed. Actually, for some huge shift, nothing has changed. We all get up, go to school, work, whatever, and go home and life goes on as mundane as before.

If you do not like same-sex marriage, then don't marry a same-sex partner. Easy, win-win solution. People who want it pay taxes and contribute to society just like anybody else, and people have rights. I don't understand the resistance, especially as there is a precedent right across the border, and you don't need to dig through history books one way or another.

We are all just fine up here, really...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:38 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]


especially as there is a precedent right across the border

American Exceptionalism. See also healthcare, etc. It's unfortunate.

The opponents of same-sex marriage aren't typically people well versed in, or very concerned with, history, IME.

They're concerned with some bits a few years before 33CE, and 1950 onwards. Everything in between is just noise.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:41 PM on July 24 [7 favorites]


What's always puzzled me is that even if conservatives were totally right about the historical origins/purposes of marriage, why should that be a good argument at all to keep it the same? "This is how we used to do it" is a terrible reason for continuing to do something.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:02 PM on July 24 [7 favorites]


But Lutoslawski, change is scary! (So is the future, so let's never change, let's never progress.)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:04 PM on July 24


Ctrl+F "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe": yep. Also I really need to read that Coontz book she mentions in the footnotes.
posted by immlass at 1:06 PM on July 24


Society in Canada hasn't collapsed.

That's not fair, give Harper his full term and see if he can't pull it off
posted by Hoopo at 1:11 PM on July 24 [13 favorites]


Because this article is too wordy to easily hand to everyone I meet who is against marriage equality, I have a brilliant plan: flood Zazzle and similar sites with bumper sticker-sized slogans from this, and let the messages spread from there (while making a very small profit). ... and so forth
posted by filthy light thief at 1:12 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]


As I wrote to Truett Cathy a few years back, "It's not biblical. It's just bigoted."
posted by ob1quixote at 1:23 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


The author of the OP doesn't give enough emphasis to one of my favorite details about this: "marriage between one man and one woman" is a pagan Roman custom that like so many others was adopted from the Imperial status quo and overrode Biblical marriage in Christianity.
posted by XMLicious at 1:38 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]


I'd like to see a parallel article about how many of the claims made by proponents of same sex marriages--for example, that marriage is necessary for maximum happiness and human fulfillment--are ahistorical compared to the prevailing progressive critique of the institution prevalent in the 70s, when a there was a robust feminist condemnation of marriage as oppresive and stifling.

And when you push back against conservative claims that marriage is for the children, what does that say about the argument that restricting marriage to heterosexuals is unfair because it stigmatizes the children of gay couples?

It feels to me that on both sides, which are offered as arguments are really rationalizations; one is either for or against same-sex marriage; then you look for reasons to justify your position, and you aren't particularly picky about why reasons you pick.
posted by layceepee at 1:38 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


RESPECT TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE : ONE ROBOT, ONE OCTOPUS
posted by benzenedream at 1:44 PM on July 24 [4 favorites]


> "... claims made by proponents of same sex marriages--for example, that marriage is necessary for maximum happiness and human fulfillment ..."

What?

> "... And when you push back against conservative claims that marriage is for the children, what does that say about the argument that restricting marriage to heterosexuals is unfair because it stigmatizes the children of gay couples?"

I ... think you have gravely misunderstood the arguments on the pro same-sex marriage side. Give me a moment, I'll write up something more detailed.
posted by kyrademon at 1:45 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


Op-Ed: 1 man, 1 woman isn't the Bible's only marriage view
As academic biblical scholars, we wish to clarify that the biblical texts do not support the frequent claim that marriage between one man and one woman is the only type of marriage deemed acceptable by the Bible’s authors.

The fact that marriage is not defined as only that between one man and one woman is reflected in the entry on “marriage” in the authoritative Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000): “Marriage is one expression of kinship family patterns in which typically a man and at least one woman cohabitate publicly and permanently as a basic social unit” (p. 861).

The phrase “at least one woman” recognizes that polygamy was not only allowed, but some polygamous biblical figures (e.g., Abraham, Jacob) were highly blessed.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:46 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


Oh, you found it! The link from Patheos was dead.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:50 PM on July 24


The fact that marriage is not defined as only that between one man and one woman is reflected in the entry on “marriage” in the authoritative Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000): “Marriage is one expression of kinship family patterns in which typically a man and at least one woman cohabitate publicly and permanently as a basic social unit” (p. 861).

I wish that, when making an assertion about what the biblical texts do or do not support, they would actually cite the texts, rather than citing a secondary source commenting on the texts. I mean, I get that Eerdmans is authoritative in their academic world, but those they're trying to convince are likely to just dismiss the assertion because it's not backed up by a primary source citation.
posted by The World Famous at 1:52 PM on July 24


I'll start with the first one, layceepee. I don't think I have ever heard anyone on the pro same-sex marriage side argue that marriage is necessary for maximum happiness and human fulfillment. Not once. I mean, I suppose it's possible, but I don't think it's a common argument. The usual logic is not that all people SHOULD get married to be complete human beings, but rather than that they SHOULD BE ABLE to get married if they want to.

I have certainly heard the argument that marriage (along with many other considerations such as the hundreds of legal family-based rights that come with it) makes some people happy, and that there is no particular reason to deny them that happiness, since it manifestly doesn't happen at the expense of anyone else's rights. But the "all people should" isn't really an argument that anyone makes.
posted by kyrademon at 1:56 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]


And it's not as if reproduction can only be achieved via coitus.

Traditionally, reproduction in Christianity involves involuntary surgery followed by coitus with your genderbent clone.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:01 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]


I'll start with the first one, layceepee. I don't think I have ever heard anyone on the pro same-sex marriage side argue that marriage is necessary for maximum happiness and human fulfillment.

I'm not sure I've seen it phrased exactly that way, but in the Utah case, at least, there were arguments made and, I believe, amicus briefs filed by religions whose tenets include the belief in same-sex marriage as a necessary sacrament in the same way they believe opposite-sex marriage is. The free exercise rights of those religious adherents were cited explicitly by the court in its decision.
posted by The World Famous at 2:07 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


kyrademon, I probably overstated the argument I was referencing. Here's the kind of thing I was getting at, which I found on Rational Wiki

Being married to the partner of your preferred gender allows participants a much happier domestic life, and better sex. . .The benefits that people ascribe to opposite-sex marriage - greater commitment, a better place to raise children, a more fulfilling and satisfactory existence etc. - ought to be available for same-sex partners who want to get married.

And my point was I am old enough to remember when people were actively rejecting the claim that those benefits DID flow form opposite-sex marriage, especially that marriage was a more fulfilling and satisfactory existence.

It's an argument that I found compelling then and find compelling now. As a gay man, the freedom FROM marriage has been quite valuable to me, especially compared to single straight peers who experienced marriage as practically compulsory, and who felt (both about themselves, and in judgements from family) that their unmarried status was a sign of failure, suggesting that there was something wrong with them.
posted by layceepee at 2:13 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]


The one about the children is a little more difficult to unpack, because it's slightly more complicated. There are a couple of related arguments going on.

The first is that marriage, per se, is not explicitly for procreators only. People can get married without wanting to, trying to, or being able to procreate. So there is the argument that marriage is not "for children".

But, as children are still considered a common and important part of romantic relationships, there is also the question of whether having married parents is beneficial for children, leading to a couple of questions:

1) Is being raised by partners in a heterosexual marriage more beneficial to children than all other forms of child-rearing? Pretty much all of the credible scientific studies say no, not particularly.

2) Is being raised by partners who are married more beneficial to children than all other forms of child-rearing? Here we get complicated, because the answer is, depends.

A number of those hundreds of marriage-related rights I mentioned earlier are explicitly about children, ranging from who has power to make medical decisions for them to who gets custody if one parent dies. This does not mean that marriage is always the ideal situation in which to raise children, but it does mean that if a couple wants to take advantage of these rights as an aid to bringing up their children, and there is no particular reason to deny it to them, why should they be denied?

The social stigma argument is similar. It's not that all parents consider the social stigma of being unmarried with a child to be a potential problem for their children, but for those that do, why deny them the right to get married?

So basically, the argument is not so much "marriage is always better for children" as "there are those who believe that marriage will be beneficial for their children, and no reason to deny it to them."
posted by kyrademon at 2:14 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]


Here's the Google Books preview of the entry for Marriage in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. It gets into more details of the Old Testament versus New Testament references and explanations of what marriage means, noting OT biblical passages often include polygamous situations with one husband with multiple adult women as wives, while such practices in (pagan) Hellenistic and Roman worlds where polygamy was rare. In the NT, "household codes ... share many features in common with popular wisdom in contemporary Greco-Roman culture," including limititing marriage to one man and one woman.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:14 PM on July 24


This is a pathetically bad article.

It wasn't until the Council of Trent in 1547 that canon law specifically named marriage unilaterally (and retroactively) as one of the seven holy sacraments in canon law.

Nope. There's so much wrong with this that it's hard to know where to start, like the fact that the imposition of the idea of "seven sacraments" is a later developed construct such that not naming marriage as one of the seven doesn't mean that marriage wasn't a sacrament, but rather that it wasn't part of the "seven sacraments" conceptual scheme. Her argument is sort of like saying that Olympic sports didn't exist as sports until the Olympics existed. The sports existed, it was the grouping as "Olympic sports" that didn't.

But even if we grant that the "Seven Sacraments" discussion has the (incorrect) importance that she places on it, that rubric predates the Council of Trent, being explicitly used, for instance in the Profession of Faith of Michael Paleologus and in the Decree for the Armenians issued as part of the Council of Florence.

and then lead the wedding party into the church for Mass and possibly, a marriage blessing.

Well no... these things varied from place to place, but if the blessing doesn't take place, there's no Nuptial Mass, because it is the presence of the blessing that makes the Mass a Nuptial Mass.

The wedding itself was still a civil and secular matter; only the sacramental nature of marriage (and the genetic relationships of the participants) were the concern of the church.

This fundamentally misunderstands what is meant by "the sacramental nature of marriage" means, "sacrament" pertains to its nature, it's not some appertupance added over and above.

But it also misstates the relationship between civil and canon law in the middle ages and the reformation period, which can't just be cleaved off from each other like that. (Heck, in many countries they can't be cleaved off from each other like that today.)

It was another four hundred years or so before the church formally declared that weddings must be performed in public, by a priest, and before witnesses.

Embarassingly for her argument, none of these things happens to be precisely true of Roman Catholic marriages.

Roman Catholic marriages are witnessed by priests (or deacons, or even lay people under certain circumstances), but they are performed by the couple that is marrying (i.e. the role analogous to that the priest has in the Mass as minister is taken by the couple as ministers in marriage.) Furthermore, while ordinarily they must happen before witnesses and in public, but there is allowance for secret marriages in certain circumstances. To the extent that it is true that marriages must be public, that actually is formally declared by the Council of Trent, not 400 years later. What happened was that the law of the Council of Trent was only effective where the decrees of the Council were published... which, because of the Reformation didn't happen everywhere, and was especially confused in Germany with it's patchwork of minature principalities and state-like entities. What happened 400 years later was that the Pope finally decided to sort out the issue by codifying canon law and making the Tridentine rule required everywhere.

It's soo so bad.

I get it that people disagree with the Church on marriage, but this is just bad bad history.
posted by Jahaza at 2:26 PM on July 24 [7 favorites]


> "As a gay man, the freedom FROM marriage has been quite valuable to me, especially compared to single straight peers who experienced marriage as practically compulsory, and who felt ... that their unmarried status was a sign of failure ..."

I understand this. But ... does that really trump the rights of people who want to be able to visit their partners in the hospital? Immigrate to join their loved ones? Have their children be brought up by their partner if they die? Make medical decisions for their children? Have their family covered by insurance?

Those single straight peers of yours may feel marriage is practically compulsory, but it isn't. None of them were forced into it. You may enjoy not feeling any pressure to get married, but even if you did, you don't have to do it. Getting married is simply not compulsory, and feeling like it is isn't really sufficient reason to keep it from people who actually want it.

Now, you could argue that none of those rights should be associated with marriage, and should simply be legally contractual, but I always found that argument a little odd. Marriage is effectively a legal contract declaring someone else your legal next of kin -- creating a legal family of choice rather than being forever tied only to your family of origin. That's hugely important to a lot of people. That's what all those rights are for, it's very similar to adoption. The only way to replace it would be to replace it with a legal contract declaring someone else your legal next of kin, basically the same thing with a different name.

So why not have it be the same thing with a different name, like a civil union? Sure, as long as it's the same thing for everybody. "Separate but equal", it's pretty well established by now, ends up meaning "separate but not really equal". Either everybody can get legally married and there are no civil unions, or everyone can get civil unions and we get rid of civil marriage entirely, or everyone can do both if they want and pick, sure.

But as long as marriage is a legal thing, it needs to be legal for for same sex couples as well. If it isn't, even if you don't like marriage and want it to go away, the laws are unfair.
posted by kyrademon at 2:30 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]


What's always puzzled me is that even if conservatives were totally right about the historical origins/purposes of marriage, why should that be a good argument at all to keep it the same?

um...because they're conservatives?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:42 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]


I understand this. But ... does that really trump the rights of people who want to be able to visit their partners in the hospital? Immigrate to join their loved ones? Have their children be brought up by their partner if they die? Make medical decisions for their children? Have their family covered by insurance?

I don't want to be married.

I'd like to visit my partner in the hospital. Why should it be that a married gay guy can visit his husband in the hospital, but I can't visit my partner in the hospital?

My partner is from El Salvador. Is your position that he's entitled to U.S. citizenship if he's my husband, but not if he's my partner?

The insurance one really gets me. New Jersey was one of the first states to recognize civil unions. I had a friend who worked in New Jersey, and his company, before that recognition was granted in 2006, allowed the same sex partners of employees to be covered by company health insurance. Once the legislature approved civil unions, the policy changed; same sex partners would only be covered if they went through the legal process of civil union.

Well, that's wasn't exactly marriage, and it wasn't exactly compulsory, but they sure felt like they were forced to get married.

You are right that getting married is not compulsory. But I wonder how old you are? Because to many people of my generation (especially women) I think they would regard your comment that "getting marriage is simply not compulsory" as dismissive of the enormous social pressure to wed that was the norm in this country until very recently.

Laws that privilege married people over single people seem unfair to me in ways that are similar to the way it's unfair to give heterosexual people the right to marry while denying it to same sex couples.
posted by layceepee at 2:46 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]


I'm 42, if it matters. And I may be more similar to you than you think. The only reason I finally got married to my long-time partner was for reasons of health insurance and immigration. Sure, it would have been nice if I hadn't had to. I think it'd be great to reform immigration law. And hospital visitation law. And insurance law.

None of which changes the fact that marriage exists, and it's unfair not to extend the right to get married to same sex couples as long as it does.

My argument wasn't so much that there shouldn't be a way for individuals to make contractual arrangements with each other on life issues (that would be great), as that I actually believe there SHOULD be a way to easily declare a life partner your legal next of kin. In other words, even if there were laws that let single people contractually pick and choose various aspects currently covered by marriage, I still think that marriage, call it what you will, serves an important civil and legal purpose.

And I also think that your desire not to feel pressure to get married does not trump other people's right to make a particular kind of legal contract with each other. When I said marriage is legally very similar to adoption, I meant it. I'm not sure we would be having a similar argument if we were talking about gay couples' right to adopt and you weren't a fan because it made you feel pressured to have children, but they strike me as pretty much the same kind of issue.
posted by kyrademon at 3:37 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]


None of which changes the fact that marriage exists, and it's unfair not to extend the right to get married to same sex couples as long as it does.

You could make a similar argument about the antebellum South, but somehow I don't think you would: "None of which changes the fact that slavery exists, and it's unfair not to extend the right to own slaves to married women as long as it does."

I think it's hard to argue on the basis of equality that people should be equally entitled to enter into a legal status that allows them to enjoy rights denied to others. What if we were talking about gay couples right to adopt and someone said "Yeah, gay people should be able to adopt, but only if they are married"?
posted by layceepee at 4:19 PM on July 24


> "You could make a similar argument about the antebellum South ..."

Um. Wow. No, not the argument I have been making you couldn't. Although I didn't put it in the particular line you quoted, I have several times stated in this thread that rights like marriage should be extended "as long as there is no particular reason to deny it". Particular reasons like that right infringing on the rights and freedom of others. Which same sex marriage doesn't, and slavery does.

> "I think it's hard to argue on the basis of equality that people should be equally entitled to enter into a legal status that allows them to enjoy rights denied to others."

Actually, it's really really easy. Example: Everyone should have a chance to sit for the bar exam, because that's equality. But people who don't sit for the bar exam should not necessarily have the right to practice law anyway, because it isn't.

Similarly: Everyone should be able to get married to the adult of their choice, because that's equality. But not everyone should have the right to pull the plug on someone else's life support machine, even if they've been dating for a couple of weeks and could therefore be considered partners.

And look, I've already said that I think if a nonmarried couple trusts each other and wants to sign, say, a binding medical power of attorney contract for such situations without getting married, they should be able to. I'm not even arguing that married people should have rights that others can't ever have access to, just that I think marriage should exist because it's a particularly efficient and useful way of getting those rights. You're not even arguing against what I'm saying at this point.

Which makes it basically sound to me like you're just saying that I shouldn't be able to have something simply because it's something you don't particularly want for yourself.
posted by kyrademon at 4:46 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]


Yay, traditional marriage.
posted by xedrik at 4:49 PM on July 24


Here, let's look at it this way --

We get rid of marriage. OK. Now no one is entitled to enter into a legal status that allows them to enjoy rights denied to others!

Now, let's say you want to have the right to make medical decisions for your lover of 30 years when he's comatose in the hospital. Well, let's say you signed a private contract giving you that right. And about 1,017 other contracts giving each of you various other similar rights over the years that you wanted each other to have. It was a huge pain, and expensive. But you didn't have to get married to do it!

Oh, but wait. That doesn't work either. By signing that private contract, you entered into a legal status that allows you to enjoy rights denied to others. Not everyone has the right to make medical decisions for your lover, after all. So you can't have that contract. It's null and void.

In fact, no one now has the right to make any medical decisions for your lover. At all. Not relatives, not doctors, not you. That would be a legal privilege denied to others.

You see the problem with that line of argument?
posted by kyrademon at 5:17 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]


(And I will repeat, I do not think marriage should be the only method for obtaining many of these rights. That isn't the argument I'm making.)
posted by kyrademon at 5:25 PM on July 24


Equality before the law seems pretty straightforward to me. If the government can't deny a driver's license or a gun license to a citizen because he or she is black, or is Muslim, or is gay, or is a Republican, then a marriage license shouldn't be denied anyone because they're the wrong kind of American either.
posted by XMLicious at 5:38 PM on July 24


The only reason I finally got married to my long-time partner was for reasons of health insurance and immigration. Sure, it would have been nice if I hadn't had to.

So you were co-erced into the conservative institution of marriage by repressive economic and political factors, and you want to make sure the LGBTQ community has that same freedom?

Interesting that marriage equality makes really astonishing political gains in a fairly short period of time just as the institution of marriage is losing its grip. With more people happy to live outside of marriage, it loses some of its power as an enforcer of conservative social norms, including control of sexuality and the stigmatization of promiscuity.

Much of the success of the campaign for same sex marriage, I believe, is a genuinely progressive acceptance of diversity, but I think there's a more conservative element as well. I think it would be healthier if gay liberation succeeded as a challenge to marriage, rather than re-inforcing it.

By the way, I am 57, and I do think that 15 years could account for a radical difference in our experience of the marriage as a social institution. I'm old enough to remember when "forsaking all others, till death do us part" really was the form you expected marriage to take. When conservatives worry about gays changing what marriage is, I think they've got it backwards. It's only because the conservative definition of marriage, which was the norm in this country for many years, had already shifted radically, that same-sex marriage could even exist. At least into the 60s marriage was a patriarchal, hierarchical system with rigid gender roles. If marriage hadn't already changed, there's no way same-sex couples could participate.

But while marriage may have changed too much for the conservatives, it hasn't changed enough for me. Or, I guess, it couldn't change enough. I don't think marriage is flawed--I think it's a bad idea. It was exciting for me to see a gay movement that dared to empowered people to reject marriage, and I don't think any political effort to make the institution more powerful or more popular is liberating.

I do see your point about marriage as a practical thing that makes people's lives easier in the world. You are completely correct that it only makes sense to eliminate marriage as part of a massive the way we relate to each other and to our communities. I sense we're both committed to that kind of change, so maybe we will met some day in a post-marriage world, where you wouldn't be forced to say "I do--want health care and the chance to share my life with someone born ina foreign country."
posted by layceepee at 8:06 PM on July 24


There certainly is a minority of social conservatives that are in favor of gay marriage, as they view marriage as a conservative institution.

Likewise there was a segment of the LGBT movement that was against fighting for gay marriage as they wanted no part of the patriarchal institution and thought it was the wrong battle to be fought.

While I'm with layceepee entirely, I am happy every time I see a state move towards equality in marriage.

I just hope we (as a society) can be more accepting of those that want no part of the institution.

I always thought a wonderful solution that would piss of social conservatives and still bring equality to the LGBT community is to eliminate state recognized marriages of any kind.
posted by el io at 8:50 PM on July 24


Yay, I can mention one of my favourite books again, Marriage, a history. Very accessible round-up of marriage practices that narrows down to Western at the end but has some wonderful long bits earlier about China etc. I sort of vaguely knew that the one man: one woman model was recent, but she really illustrates the ways different social-religious and economic and political causes shaped ideas of family and marriage brilliantly. People married for a lot of different reasons, and much of that is related to how women and young adults were seen as extensions of the family or as individuals. Really great book, cracking read.

I strongly believe in civil marriages for all, and am increasingly interested in the idea of multiple family structures under law so you could have multiple parents and partners with contracts because of the way reproductive technology and the growing rights of children are interacting.

However, last year my husband and I got married in an Orthodox church, and it was an intensely different experience from the civil vows that we had made and meant a decade earlier. Currently, the sacrament of marriage is for opposite gender couples in Orthodoxy, and historically has been, although there are vows of same-sex relationships that come close but are not the same sacrament - skim milk is a great phrase from the article.

It was and still is a struggle for me that I had access by an accident of gender to a sacrament, and I was taken by surprise by how much I hesitate over same sex marriage in Orthodoxy, while believing and supporting firmly in civil marriage for all. Another argument for separating theology from civil law.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:36 PM on July 24


And the book is in a bunch of her footnotes! A really good article, thanks for posting it.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:38 PM on July 24


It's soo so bad.

I get it that people disagree with the Church on marriage, but this is just bad bad history.


Yeah, her calling herself a "medievalist" is kind of misleading I think based on what most people would believe that term to mean. Her PhD is in English, albeit with perhaps a specialization in Medieval literature, but she's never been employed after that as an academic instructor. So she doesn't really have much credentials as a historian of the medieval period.
posted by SollosQ at 10:13 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


I tend to view marriage as an economic undertaking precisely because of my historical training (and because of being an atheist, which means that all the god-bothering has no personal relevance for me, just relevance to historical context). So talking about getting married for economic reasons isn't particularly bothersome one way or the other to me. To the extent that marriage is how we make families, I'm all for SSM broadening the sorts of families we can make.

I'm also pro-SSM because I think marriage is generally taken as a conservative institution by many people and opening it up to folks who aren't stuck in the currently fairly narrow confines of gender roles (which I think have narrowed even in my adult lifetime) makes it less conservative. I certainly understand the arguments against marriage as a patriarchal institution, but I'm reluctant to abandon it without some method of family-of-choice formation to replace it.

And I don't mean to sneer at Spangenberg, but if you take Boswell at face value even in a pop history article, it tells me that you've got a particular point of view and I read your article accordingly. That doesn't make it bad history--some of the criticism I've read of Boswell doesn't seem particularly well-informed--but it does color the way I'm going to read your work. If you talk about this issue and don't refer to Boswell at all? That's when I think you're not worth bothering with.

When I was in grad school, which was not that long before Boswell came out with his (last) book, I was reading Bullough and Brundage on canon law and sexuality. My sense of what I read from them was that they were more in line with the traditional interpretations of canon law and homosexuality. In terms of the actual history, I don't have a strong feeling about the issue of SSM and religious views of homosexual feelings and acts except that it's probably more complicated than any streamlined story makes it look. History is like that.
posted by immlass at 10:52 PM on July 24


Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian, explains the rules surrounding Biblical marriage.
posted by Hactar at 8:42 AM on July 25


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