What is “traditional marriage?”
This week the Supreme Court hears two monumental cases. Their decisions could potentially destroy the sanctity of marriage, and invariably result in a shotgun wedding between your child and a Norwegian Elkhound—except you won't even have a shotgun because Obama's going to confiscate them all, so he can melt them down into prison bars for the super-secret FEMA camps (I've said too much!).
The above is an only slightly hyperbolic example of why some believe both Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) should be ruled constitutional. For those living under a rock, brick, or giant sandwich, Proposition 8 is California's '08 voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, bankrolled largely by the Mormon Church, and found unconstitutional by a federal appeals court last year. And DOMA is a federal statute which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, denies same-sex couples all the legal and fiduciary advantages of matrimony, was sponsored by “Libertarian” hypocrite Bob Barr, and was signed into law by Bill Clinton under the cynical advice of the poll-skewing troll Dick Morris. There. That's where we are. But the nine justices won't rule until June, so you may now crawl back under your enormous Reuben.
Marriage has been defined as being between one woman and one man “since the beginning of time,” according to Rush Limbaugh. Like nearly everything that multiple-divorcee spews, it is simply untrue. The protectors of “traditional marriage,” and their Santorum-esque slippery slopes, that currently dominate right-wing talk—per usual—have almost no basis in reality.
We hear a lot about “tradition marriage,” but what the hell is it? The phrase conjures a '50s family—your nuclear Ozzie and Harriet, your corporate sociopath bread-winning man who compulsively cheats on the sadly compliant, alcoholic wife who resents her one child, extinguishes cigarettes on the other 1.5, and beats the dog with a lead pipe that's hidden in a rolled-up Norman Rockwell-illustrated Saturday Evening Post. That's what “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” was about, I like to imagine.
Well, believe it or not, the concept of marriage predates the '50s. But it certainly didn't begin with time itself, nor did it exist for the bulk of our species' existence, and it didn't really get going until about 20,000 years ago—give or take a few days, according to Wikipedia. It's impossible to know exactly what the institution of marriage was like before the advent of writing and—presumably—bronze marital aids. But even if you believe—against all reason—that recorded time begins shortly after Adam and Eve (not Adam and Steve!) you can't also believe that marriage was historically a covenant between one man and one woman. What am I talking about? Sure you can! People who believe in the Bible's divinity tend to have not perused it. (Fun fact: To “peruse” is to read very thoroughly, yet it's commonly used to mean the exact opposite. Subsequent fun fact: We're all doomed! DOOMED!)
In ye olden times, before Larry King even, marriage was strictly a business arrangement—the exchange of property, “I'll trade you ten goats for your ten year-old daughter” kind of thing (I don't actually know the goat to disturbingly young girl ratio). And it definitely didn't stop with “one woman.” Every beardy dude in the Old Testament had a plurality of wives, gifted unto them in some instances by God. Basically, the Bible defines marriage as a scared covenant between one man, one woman, 699 more women, and 300 other women the man owns, has sex with, whips mercilessly if they step out of line, are buried alive with him when he dies, but he's not super-committed to. That record goes to the Israeli King Solomon who had 700 (!) wives, in addition to 300 concubines!
Mormons, coincidentally, get flack from “real Christians” for carrying on the polygamous (polygynous, really) tradition well into the Larry King-era. Mitt Romney's great-grandpappy was forced to flee to Mexico in 1885 to keep his four wives—a time in our history when thinking of people as property had officially gone out of style. But back to out regularly scheduled destruction of 'Murka with THE GAY!
It should be noted that the Constitution references marriage as many times as the Bible makes mention of gay marriage—which is a grand total of zero times. The Bible focuses only on sex, for instance: “You [because the Bible's a seriously dude-oriented book] shall not lie with a man, as with a woman. That is detestable.” (The lesbian loophole is also a result of the book's profoundly patriarchal point of view. Guys like lesbians—the fantasy version, not the flannel, wife-beater, and wallet-chain variety.) It would stand to reason that if religious folk wanted to reduce the “detestable” activities, which they definitely never think about while masturbating, they'd want gay people to be legally bound to each other, so they can slowly grow to hate one another so much that their skin crawls every time the other slurps their cereal in that really annoying way, and would rather punch them in the throat than have sex. You know, just like sanctified, procreative marriage.
Nonetheless, the opposition to same-sex marriage is primarily religious in nature—with a touch (a lot) of self-loathing homosexuality mixed in. Despite the sizable divorce-rate, and all that stuff about cereal, we're supposed to think of marriage as a sacred covenant. And gay marriage threatens its sanctity in some ill-defined, make-believe way. Interestingly enough, this is only the latest way the “sanctity of marriage” has been “threatened.”
The Middle Ages, Europe, marriage—the very bedrock of society—was widely considered to be under serious threat. The culprit? Love. We have this ridiculous idea that history was one long episode of “The Bachelor,” but around the 12th century, it was a totally new, literally revolutionary, and legitimately dangerous concept to marry for love. Few dared to follow their hearts, lest they be mocked in song, disowned by their parents, and excommunicated by the church.
Love—that odd brain cocktail of norepinephrine, dopamine, and oxytocin, or whatever—was the reason to cheat on your spouse, not the reason you married them. As it has always been, marriage was business—the business of securing goats and goods for the lower class, and of securing family dynasties, wealth, and power for the elite. We may think of this as highly cynical today, even though it's still like that in some ways (see: “The Bachelor”), for all of antiquity's utility of marriage it was still viewed as a sacred thing. They were pretty serious about their religion junk back then.
"What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate," said Jesus, as quoted in the Gospel of Matthew some 100 years after his death (if he ever lived), and that meant something to people—until Henry VIII came along and hated the way Catherine slurped her cereal so much that.... Anyway, it meant that, above all, the marital union of two souls was an act ordained by God. Two became one under the supreme power of God. God, God, God. In his typically vain way, it was all about God. The binding together, for reasons both procreative and profitable, of two souls into one wasn't possible without submitting to God and basking in His love. So as marriage flowed toward romantic love, it ebbed away from the love of God.
That's a serious freakin' threat to the “sanctity of marriage.” And unlike today's talk, it actually makes some level of sense. Not much. But some.
The common denominator between the old threat and new is love. Love, love, love. It screws everything up—especially when you're set in your ways, tied to tradition, or seriously committed to keeping a filthy bathroom. And that's the essence of conservatism: things should stay the same, power, privilege, and patriarchal structures must remain in tact, for some reason, in perpetuity. It's also why conservatism is an inherently flawed philosophy. Things change, inevitably. If they do their jobs, the Supreme Court justices will strike down these sinister attacks against love—or the equality guaranteed by the Constitution, depending how you look at it. And even if they don't, love will win in the end. It has a proven track record.
Next bout: Love Vs. The Keystone XL Pipeline! We're doomed. DOOMED I tell ya!
- Give a Gift
- About Us
- Civil Liberties
CURRENT ISSUE: December 2013 / January 2014
Rick Bass | Why I’m left with no choice but to put my body on the line.
When Government Was Neighborly
Wendell Berry | Saluting a New Deal program that helped Kentucky farmers.
The Bravest Woman I Know
Kathy Kelly | How an eighty-two-year-old librarian braved Baghdad.
How to Build a New World
Naomi Klein | Why I was wrong in The Shock Doctrine—and what we must do now.