Marriage

I am going to write a bunch of blog posts about marriage.

You should regard my opinion about marriage to be valuable; I’ve had several of them. And in this way, I may be more like a hunter-gatherer than a “modern” Westerner, as the practice among the former is to treat marriage as very important and each partner in the marriage as a critical and similarly empowered member of the contract, while the practice among the latter has been to see women as the man’s property and to form economic, social, and sexual alliances as needed outside the marriage. Who is in on the deal and how they work together to get the job done matters.

As we approach a very important election in the United States, the issue of marriage…what it is and who decides how to do it…looms large as a political issue. People who are of the same sex want to get married, and about half of everybody says no. Why? Why do people of the same sex want to get married, and why does either a slim majority or a bare minority care enough to try to stop this?

One of the things that has been said is that marriage between a man and a woman is what God specified, via his various media outlets. Iron age pamphlets, burning bushes, that sort of thing. That is a religious argument for disallowing people of the same sex to get married, but there is also a secular argument; it ain’t natural. The natural form of marriage is for a man and a woman and nobody else to get married. There are all sorts of interesting questions raised by both arguments, and it is interesting to see where they agree and disagree; almost every person mentioned by name in the old testament who was married whether they were a FOG1 or not was involved in a polygynous union, not a “one man-one woman” marriage. Clearly, the Biblical argument and the Naturalistic argument are at odds.

I really am kind of an expert on marriage, and not only because I’ve had a few. I am an anthropologist and we anthropologists study, among other things, kinship and related social relations. That’s marriage and some other stuff. Also, as a biological anthropologist I’ve had a great interest in the genetical and Darwinian aspects of kinship and marriage. Finally, as a palaeoanthropologist, I’ve studied the origin of marriage. As a matter of fact, I’m the co-author of a peer reviewed paper that explains the origin of marriage in our species, and that paper is in the top ten of all papers ever published in Anthropology’s flagship journal, “Current Anthropology” in terms of numbers of times it has been cited. (This is not to say that all those people who have cited it liked it, of course.)

Marriage isn’t simple. It is about social relationships, economics, child raising, sex, power, and all sorts of other things. It is important enough that The Patriarchy has owned it, in Western Society, for centuries. The politics of marriage will likely shape the nature of politics in general, to a disproportionate degree for a social issue, over the next couple of presidential election cycles, as the politics of abortion and choice have in years past. They are related, as I’ve already suggested–marriage and women’s reproductive activities. Having, or not having, babies is an activity reserved for women, and this worries powerful men. For this reason babies have, in Western tradition, been owned or controlled by men, and marriage is one way in which that ownership is asserted. But I’m getting ahead of my self. Let’s just say that many of the sociopolitical conflicts we are experiencing today can be blamed on that age old problem: The Patriarchy. We’ll get to that too.

_______________

1Friend of God

Photo by danny.hammontree

Comments

  1. #1 Wow
    June 25, 2012

    Pfft. I think Newt has much more experience at getting married than you!

    AND he’s all for family values. The number of families he has is just a demonstration of how much he values them!

    IMO the Patriarchy has “owned” marriage because Patriarchal religions have insisted they do so IIRC, it was an edict by the RCC that they, and only they, should officiate marriages, and somewhere around the 1400’s. Before which, marriage had nothing to do with religion).

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    June 25, 2012

    OK, well, we can explore that hypothesis (about the patriarchy, not about Newt)

  3. #3 Anthony
    June 25, 2012

    Will you offer your take on the legal aspects of (American) marriage, or perhaps find an attorney who will?

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    June 25, 2012

    I can probably get a guest post on that from someone involved in a current court case.

  5. #5 daedalus2u
    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/
    June 25, 2012

    We know from DNA that present day humans are descended from more females than males, so preventing some males from reproducing has been going on for a long time, so there isn’t any evidence for long term one man and one woman pair bond for life kind of thing.

    In the Little Rascal’s, the boys went through a stage where they disliked girls and actively avoided them, as in the “He-Man Woman Haters Club”. Is that typical in hunter-gatherer social structures? My guess is that it relates to women as property, so boys have to be careful to not be killed by the girl’s owner.

    In females, pair bonding recapitulates parturition (mediated through oxytocin). In males pair bonding recapitulates territoriality (mediated through vasopressin).

    Wow, I will have you know that Newt has only had one marriage. He paid the Catholic Church to have his first two fake marriages officially annulled, so they never happened.

  6. #6 Jim Ramsey
    Tallmadge, Ohio
    June 25, 2012

    Oh, the wisdom of Roy Zimmerman:
    “Defending the institution against people who want to get married.”

  7. #7 Wow
    June 26, 2012

    Dedalus, Henry the eighth did the same thing…

    Meanwhile, he’s really just an example of the hypocrisy and partisan blindness in USA politics.

    Greg gets away with it because he’s not pretending to be the most moral guardian of family values. I.e no hypocrisy.

  8. #8 Eric Lund
    June 26, 2012

    Henry the eighth did the same thing

    He tried to do the same thing, but the Pope, in a rare (for the time) moment of integrity, refused to go along with it; the Pope had previously given Henry a dispensation to marry Katherine of Aragon. Henry’s response was to split the Church of England away from the Catholic church and have his bishop approve the divorce.

    Three of Henry’s subsequent wives preceded him in death (two executed, one in childbirth). Those marriages were obviously not annulled. Henry did divorce his fourth wife.

    Where Newt wins the hypocrisy award is that, while he was going after Bill Clinton for having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, Newt himself was having an affair with his eventual third wife while still married to his second wife. (Were it not for that and the circumstances under which he divorced his first wife, I would consider Newt’s marriage history irrelevant.) Several other Republican leaders of the time were either having affairs or on their second marriages. Clinton, meanwhile, is still married to his first wife.

  9. #9 Wow
    June 26, 2012

    No, he DID do the same thing. As you say, he had several divorces. *Eventually* the pope gave up on the idea and told him “No, you’ve had enough tries, I’m not letting you divorce again”. So he DID do the same thing: get the church to annul the marriages. Just like Newt did.

    You’re right that there’s more than one layer to the hypocrisy, though.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    June 26, 2012

    The trick is to not get married in a church.

  11. #11 Wow
    June 26, 2012

    Well, like I said, the Church mandated a while ago that all marriage MUST be done under Church doctrine. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to get married outside Church, and even more recently being able to do so without social stigma.

    Of course, as Newt demonstrates, if we’re wealthy enough, we can ignore the laws. As Henry VIII shows, if you’re wealthy enough, you can start your own church, and make the laws suit you!

    You do need the proverbial brass balls for this, though.