One-Minute Animated Primers on Major Theories of Religion

Last year, Open University brought us 60-Second Adventures in Thought — a fascinating and wonderfully animated series exploring six famous philosophy thought experiments. This season, they’re back with 60-Second Adventures in Religion — four short informative yet jocular primers on some major theories of religious studies, offering a fine addition to these essential meditations on faith.

The first introduces Karl Marx and his conception of religion as a vehicle of illusory happiness and a means of oppression and social control:

The second explores religion as ritual through the work of pioneering sociologist Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte, better-known as Auguste, who — like Alain de Botton today — tried to start a secular religion based on values of charity, order, and science:

The third episode paints religion as a mother through Swiss antiquarian and Roman law professor J. J. Bachofer’s theories of matriarchy:

The final installment explores religion as a virus, a concept proposed by Richard Dawkins, who famously coined the term “meme”:

Why I am a Liberal – Not So Secret Obsession

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“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” ~ Greek proverb

Why am I am liberal? 

I am a liberal because I care about the well being of others.

I’m a liberal because I live it and I believe it. I don’t show up in church on Sunday and pay lip-service to the teachings of Jesus Christ then spend the rest of the week using my religion as a weapon against people I do not know or understand.  I do it because it’s the moral and right thing to do, not because some Cosmic Father Figure is going to spank me in the hereafter if I don’t.  I have never understood why Republicans claim to be so very Christian when they are the least Christ-like in their behaviors.

I’m a liberal because I know education and a chance to move up in the world is a basic desire and should not be denied to anyone. I believe I owe my fellow humans a certain standard of decency and dignity. I’m a liberal because I know that sometimes bad shit happens to good people, for no good reason. I’m a liberal because I don’t believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

I’m a liberal because I believe that a society that lets the mentally ill wander the streets and live under a bush is uncivilized. I’m a liberal because people deserve a chance.

I’m liberal because I know that unregulated capitalism results in Enrons and mortgage meltdowns, manipulative monopolies and poisoned air and water. I’m a liberal because I know there are evil people who will exploit the weak for a few bucks.

I’m a liberal because I believe what happens in your bedroom between consenting adults is your own business and none of mine.

I’m a liberal because I believe that science, real science, belongs in science class, and religion belongs in the church.  Creationism is not science.

I’m liberal because I am outraged that over half of all bankruptcies are caused by the high cost of health care.  I know how slippery my (and most everyone’s) hold on success is.  One bout with cancer, one bad accident, one lay off and I could have to decide if going into severe debt and possible bankruptcy is worth my life. I’m a liberal because I recognize this and want the safety net to be around anyone need it.

From Kristallnacht to the Berlin Wall.

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The attack was inspired by the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris. When Hitler heard the news, he got the idea to stage a mass uprising in response. He and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers around the country, and told them to attack Jewish buildings but to make the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims. Fire fighters were told only to put out fires in any adjacent Aryan properties. Everyone cooperated.

In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were neighbors of the victims. The Nazis confiscated any compensation claims that insurance companies paid to Jews. They also imposed a huge collective fine on the Jewish community for having supposedly incited the violence. The event was used to justify barring Jews from schools and most public places, and forcing them to adhere to new curfews. In the days following, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.

The event was called Kristallnacht, which means, “Night of Broken Glass.” It’s generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.

Also on this day in 1989, the leader of the East German Communist party made a quiet announcement that the Berlin Wall would be opened for “private trips abroad.” Within days, millions of East Germans flooded into West Berlin, and citizens began to pull the wall to pieces. Fireworks went off, people from all over Europe jammed the checkpoints and drank champagne, and the East German police and the West German police traded caps.

Arguing Equality Chapter 9: Gay Marriage by Definition

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality. For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject with others. I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.

“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” President Barack Obama.

CHAPTER 9: 

DEFINITIONAL ARGUMENTS

For gay marriage opponents who are a bit less intellectually developed, here are a few topical statements.

BUT, IT JUST CAN’T BE!

For many Americans, the very concept of same-sex marriage is puzzling and confusing: “It just can’t be!” Marriage has always been a union between one man and one woman – by its very definition, it is opposite-sex. By this line of reasoning, “gay marriage” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

Believe it or not, definitional arguments have proven persuasive in courts. Take, for example, the Kentucky Court of Appeals’ reasoning in the case of Jones v. Hallahan. The court began its decision by quoting from Webster’s Dictionary, second edition, which defines marriage as:

A state of being married, or being united to a person or persons of the opposite sex as husband or wife; also, the mutual relation of husband and wife; wedlock; abstractly, the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence, for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family.

After citing this definition, the court ruled against two gay men who requested a marriage license with the following conclusion:

[M]arriage has always been considered as the union of a man and a woman and we have been presented with no authority to the contrary. It appears to us that appellants are prevented from marrying, not by the statutes of Kentucky or the refusal of the County Court Clerk of Jefferson County to issue them a license, but rather by their own incapability of entering into a marriage as that term is defined.

Straight up, the argument doesn’t work. It is, simply, illogical.

A) The Logical Incoherency of the Argument

Definitional arguments against gay marriage suffer three fatal flaws of logical consistency. First, they employ circular reasoning. Follow the logic:

Marriage is a relationship between two people of different sexes, therefore a same-sex couple cannot marry. But Why? Because marriage is a relationship between two people of different sexes.

The argument employs no outside moral, legal, social, ethical or historical rationale as to why the status quo should be retained, a prime example of circular reasoning.

Second, pay attention to the primary point being put forth: “Two people of the same sex can’t get married because marriage is for two people of different sexes.” In legal terms, this is referred to as ipse dixit reasoning – “It’s so because I say its so!” It may be impossible to question such reasoning, but it is hardly persuasive.

Third, the claim is non-responsive. The statement “this is the way things have always been” fails to address the argument that things should change. As one of the greatest legal thinkers f modern times, Oliver Wendell Holmes put it: “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”

Again, a little history lesson may be in order. The argument, when illuminated by the facts, doesn’t hold water.

A) Gay Love And Marriage Historically

The argument fails on a fourth ground as well: it simply is not true. Marriage is not naturally, normally, or even traditionally heterosexual in nature. Gay unions have been sanctioned in various historical eras and cultures from ancient Greece to 17th Century China to pre-colonial America. Indeed, a 1951 survey of sexual practices around the world drew the following conclusions:

In 49 (64 percent) of the 76 societies other than our own for which information is available, homosexual activities of one sort or another are considered normal and socially acceptable for certain members of the community…. In many cases this [same-sex] behavior occurs within the framework of courtship and marriage, the man who takes the part of the female being recognized as a “berdache” and treated as a woman. In other words, a genuine mateship is involved.

To illustrate the presence of gay love cross-culturally and historically, I will explore some of those civilizations which have recognized and accepted same-sex unions. Please keep in mind that this is meant solely as a cursory overview, and is by no means an exhaustive list.

Africa: “Woman-Marriages

In the 1930s, the phenomenon of “woman-marriages” in the Sudan and northern Nigeria, once dismissed as an odd curiosity, was given considerable attention when anthropologists Eileen Jensen Krige and Melville Herskovits researched and published a study of the Nuer tribe in Sudan:

What seems to us, but not at all to the Nuer, a somewhat strange union is that in which a woman marries another woman and counts as the “pater” [father] of the children born of the wife. Such marriages are by no means uncommon in Nuerland, and they must be regarded as a form of simple legal marriage, for the woman-husband marries her wife in exactly the same way as a man marries a woman…. We may perhaps refer to this kind of union as woman-marriage.

Anthropologist C.K. Meek described the institution as it currently exists in northern Nigeria:

There is a curious and ancient custom found among some of the Yoruba, Yagba, Akoko, Nupe, and Gana-Gana communities — that of a woman going through a regular form of matrimony with other women.

All the ceremonial of marriage is observed in these marriages of women to women, and a bride-price is even paid to the young girl’s father. The usual rules of divorce apply. The legal “husband” can divorce her “wife” and recover her dowry, and if the young girl runs off with a man she can claim the resultant children as her own. The marriage of women to women is not regarded with disfavour, and the chiefs will even consent to their daughters being married in this way.

Ancient Greece:

It is widely accepted that same-sex eroticism was common in ancient Greece, especially among the upper classes. In fact, a great deal of Greek art and literature represents gay love as the only form of love which can be lasting, pure, and truly spiritual – primarily because it reaches beyond procreation in purpose. For instance, the concept of “Platonic love” derived from Plato’s conviction that only love between persons of the same gender could transcend sex.

The Greek notion that homosexuality was an integral part of the spectrum of human sexuality is perhaps best exemplified in Plato’s Symposium, where Plato puts forth a theory on the origins of human love. According to this theory, all humans were originally giants who had four arms, four legs, two heads, and two sexual organs — either two male genitalia (male giants), two female genitalia (female giants), or one of each (androgynous giants). At some point, Zeus became angry with the giants and cut them all in half, yielding gay, lesbian and heterosexual humans respectively, all in search of their other halves.

Additionally, many of the Gods of ancient Greece, including Zeus and Achilles, had both same-sex and opposite-sex lovers. Indeed, according to Greek mythology, when Zeus returns up to the heavens, it is Ganymede, his male lover, whom he chooses to accompany him for all eternity.

Ancient China:

Gay male love was also fully integrated and accepted in the Fukien Province of ancient China. Indeed, among the ancient Chinese, same-sex love was commonly spoken of as “the love of the cut sleeve.” The phrase referred to the last emperor of the Han dynasty, Ai-Ti, who cut the sleeve from his shirt when called to give a speech rather than wake his lover, Tung Hsien, who had fallen asleep on it.

Ancient Mesopotamia:

Finally, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the most celebrated of Near Eastern myths, illustrates the celebration of same-sex love in Ancient Mesopotamia. The epic describes the relationship between Gilgamesh — the powerful ruler of Uruk — and Enkidu, a beautiful male created by the Gods to divert Gilgamesh’s attention and keep him from wreaking havoc on the world.

As the story goes, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become lovers before Enkidu is killed by “the fates.” When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh mourns for him as a widow (literally translated from the epic as “a wailing woman”) would and veils his corpse as if he were a bride.

Pre-Colonial America:

Accounts by Spanish explorers and missionaries provide evidence of same-sex marriages in North and South America. For instance, in 1542 explorer Cabeza de Vaca recounted the five years he spent among the Timucua Indians of Florida: “During the time I was thus among these people I saw a devilish thing, and it is that I saw one man married to another.”  Similarly, Pedro de Magalhaes’s The Histories of Brazil, published in 1576, described women in northeastern Brazil who “give up all the duties of women and imitate men, and follow men’s pursuits as if they were not women…. [E]ach has a woman to serve her, to whom she says she is married, and they treat each other and speak with each other as man and wife.”

As may be gleaned from the tone of these accounts, same-sex unions were hardly looked upon favorably by the colonists. Indeed, gay marriages among the Native Americans were seen as evidence of the “barbarism” of these foreign cultures, and were denounced in the most vociferous of tones. As the engraving below illustrates, when the colonists ultimately conquered the Native-American tribes their denunciations took a more savage turn – countless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were brutally massacred.

1594 Theodor de Bry engraving of Balboa using dogs to massacre Native-American berdache.

Modern American History:

While gay marriages have yet to be formally recognized in the United States outside of Massachusetts, same-sex love and lifelong monogamous commitments have been documented for quite some time. One means by which two people of the same sex could live together without provoking suspicion was by having one partner cross-dress. Indeed, records kept by the Dutch East India Company reveal hundreds of women caught “passing” as men, and as many as four hundred women are known to have passed as men while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Franklin Thompson (Sarah Emma Edmonds) fought for the Union Army in the Civil War.

Among female cross-dressers, a substantial number sought female companionship, and hundreds legally married other women. For example, Mary Anderson, who died in 1901, “passed” as a man in New York City for thirty years. Hall ran a lucrative business, was active in Tammany Hall politics, gained a reputation as a “man about town,” and married twice — the first marriage ending in separation and the second by her wife’s death.

The industrial revolution brought great change to American culture, foremost among them being the advent of economic independence. For the first time in history, the family unit was no longer necessary for individual economic survival – men and women could work in factories, earn wages, and survive on their own. As a result, same-sex relationships blossomed as individuals could decide whether to marry (or not), or raise children (or not).

For women, these long-term monogamous relationships became known as “Boston marriages,” named after a female couple in Henry James’ 1885 novel The Bostonians. Boston marriages were popular among well-educated, professional women in particular.  For men, emotional and sexual needs were similarly gratified in “buddy” relationships during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Men in frontier communities without women tended to form personal and often sexual partnerships with other men, a phenomenon documented in countless communities of pirates, hoboes, cowboys and miners.

To put it succinctly, same-sex unions have long been recognized, sometimes formally and sometimes informally, in innumerable civilizations and eras throughout time. Any argument that marriage is, always has been, and therefore must be heterosexual in nature is normatively and historically fallacious.

via Gay Marriage by Definition.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.

Arguing Equality Chapter 8: Gay Marriage & Religion

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality.  For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject.  I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.

CHAPTER 8: 

RELIGION

 For many, this is the be all and end all of the debate. Countless books have been written on the subject, and scholars on both sides have wrestled with the subject. Ready? Here we go…

GAY MARRIAGE IS PROHIBITED BY MY RELIGION

The argument is simple, and doesn’t require a whole lot of explaining. It is the single most frequently cited rationale for opposing the legalization of gay marriage.35 For many if not most Americans, marriage is thought to be a religious institution inextricably linked with the Judeo-Christian moral ethic. Since the grand majority of Jewish and Christian sects oppose gay marriage, many contend that it should remain illegal period.

The very definition of democracy.

A) America is a Secular State

The problem with utilizing personal religious beliefs to oppose state sanctification of gay marriage is that legally speaking, religious and civil marriages are completely separate institutions. Though many faiths currently perform same-sex marriage “ceremonies,” these ceremonies have no legal recognition as civil marriages. A heterosexual couple similarly can have a religious marriage ceremony, but unless they file papers with the state that ceremony has no legal significance. Conversely, a couple does not need the blessing of a religious institution to marry – atheists and others who choose not to have a religious ceremony need only fill out a marriage license at City Hall to legally wed.

Just as the state does not dictate which ceremonies a religion can perform or recognize, religious sects should not be able to dictate who receives a civil marriage license. Even if most Americans have a profound religious objection to same-sex marriage, denying even one gay couple the right to wed on religious grounds is a gross violation of our country’s commitment to the separation of church and state.

Not convinced by argument A? How about the opposite end of the spectrum?

B) Freedom of Religion

On the other hand, if one fails to note a disjunction between the religious institution of marriage and its secular counterpart, arguing the alternative — that the religious and secular components of marriage are inherently and inextricably linked — proves equally effective on religious freedom grounds.

At present, the Unitarian/Universalist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism all recognize same-sex marriage as an intricate part of their religion. If the religious and secular components of marriage are truly linked, then a strong case could be made that the government’s failure to sanction gay marriage is a violation of our constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. Moreover, the government, by not legalizing gay marriage, is valuing some religious ceremonies over others (for instance, a marriage ceremony performed by the Methodist Church rather than the United Church of Christ), an example of government favoritism clearly forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Below is a little history lesson. Christianity, historically, has valued neither procreation nor marriage all that much for most of its existence.

C) Marriage and Christianity

Finally, those who claim that marriage is a vital, fundamental and immutable facet of the Christian religion should be greeted with a healthy dose of historical skepticism. Despite its import in recent times, Christianity has been most notable for its insistence on the preferability of lifestyles other than family units – priestly celibacy, voluntary virginity (even for the married), and monastic community life. While it may seem like the biological family has always been the central unit of Christian life, this is simply not the case. As John Boswell noted above, Christianity was, for the most part, ambivalent about marriage for much of its history.

But even if in recent times marriage has come to play a vital role in the Christian religion, the idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies of the church’s position certainly work to undermine its credibility. Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal Church, for instance, notes that the church regularly blesses fox hunts, homes, and even warships: “The church has no problem blessing a vehicle whose sole function is to reign nothing but death and destruction, yet refuses to bless the union of two people who are in love.”

As an institution, Christianity remained overwhelmingly ambivalent about most forms of heterosexual marriage during the first millennium of its existence. This is hardly surprising for a religion whose founder was supposed to have had no biological father, whose parents were not married at the time of His conception, who was believed to have had no siblings, who Himself never married, and whose followers — in direct opposition to those of Judaism and most pagan religions — considered celibacy the most virtuous lifestyle. – John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

THE GOOD BOOK

LEVITICUS 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”

When addressing homosexuality and religion, biblical arguments inevitably come into play. As Peter J. Gomes explains: “Nearly every such person who acknowledges an aversion to homosexuality does so on the basis of what he or she believes the Bible to say, and in their minds there is no doubt whatsoever about what the Bible says, and what the Bible means.” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth; what the Bible actually says and means about homosexuality is wildly disputed in both academic and religious circles. For a good read on the subject, I highly recommend my good friend Daniel Helminiak’s “What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, and John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.”

via Gay Marriage & Religion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.

Arguing Equality Chapter 7: Gay Marriage Destroy Marriage

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality.  For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject.  I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.

CHAPTER 7: 

THE SANCTITY OF THE INSTITUTION

PROTECTING MARRIAGE

Inherently related yet subtly distinct from the slippery slope argument is the notion that same-sex unions would somehow undermine the institution of marriage. Proponents of this viewpoint can be expected to make the following empirical observations: Marriage is already in a weakened and precarious state; At present, over 50% of marriages end in divorce; An almost epidemic number of children are being born out of wedlock; Marriage is the “bedrock of ourculture”; It must be protected at any cost.

Gay marriage opponents go on to conclude their points with apocalyptic visions of the moral decay of our nation – legalizing gay marriage would threaten the sanctity of the institution upon which our very society rests. The editors of the Catholic magazine Commonweal, for instance, argued that: “[E]levating same-sex unions to the same moral and legal status as marriage will further throw into doubt marriage’s fundamental purposes and put at risk a social practice and moral ideal vital to all.”

[W]e are not predicting that there is going to be an erosion of marriage, but I think the melancholy point is this, that the notion of marriage may not be extended to take in, to accommodate the concern for gay marriage without setting off many other kinds of changes, and as a result of those changes, I think we would find that marriage would not have that special kind of significance that makes it an object right now of such craving.

A) Confronting the Stereotype

Unfortunately, a great deal of erroneous information has been disseminated in recent years involving stereotypical portrayals of gay people, the gay rights movement, and a so-called “homosexual agenda” to undermine American cultural standards. With respect to marriage specifically, these misconceptions often translate into a fear that once permitted to wed, gays and lesbians will make a mockery of the institution by treating the marital bond as less than sacrosanct, or, worse yet, will threaten the institution of marriage by deliberately sabotaging it from within.

Of course, these fears lie wholly unsupported in fact. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens who want to marry want to do so for much the same reasons heterosexuals do – ideas of mutual love, support, and commitment. Indeed, gay people would likely be the institution’s most “enthusiastic recruits,” seeking not to destroy the institution, but rather to take part in it, and thereby strengthen it.22 In the words of Rabbi Yoel H. Kahn: “I do not believe that encouraging commitment, stability, and openness undermines the institution of family — it enhances it.”

B) The Hypocrisy of the Argument

If conservatives are truly worried about the demise of marriage, why not target Las Vegas-style weddings, or no-fault divorce laws, or adultery? Why the fixation on the one group of people excluded from the institution, the one group of people who could not possibly be responsible for its decline? The answer is clear. As Stephen Chapman put it: “Conservatives say they abhor gay marriage because they value marriage. The truth is they abhor gay marriage because they abhor gays.”

C) The Cross-Cultural Analogy

It seems strange, if not hypocritical, that the same people who proclaim the institution of marriage to be “the bedrock of our civilization” also argue that it is so fragile that allowing gays access to it will endanger it forever. Countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands, which have all legalized gay marriage and are hardly racked by moral decay, provide concrete evidence that this fear is grounded in neither fact nor reason.

D) Strengthening the Institution

In some ways, one might expect that gay marriages would not mirror their heterosexual counterparts, an inevitable byproduct of gender differences between same-sex and opposite-sex unions. While some have theorized that this alteration in traditional marital structures would destroy the institution, a better argument would be that it would actually strengthen the institution by pushing marriage in its evolution towards being a partnership of equals.

Professor Nan Hunter, for instance, theorizes that the traditional notion of marriage, with man as head of the household and wage-earner and woman as housekeeper and childrearer, would necessarily be challenged by examples of same-sex households where a woman is the wage-earner, a man is the housekeeper, or, ultimately, the partners share the roles.25 Recognition of same-sex marriages, she notes, “would radically strengthen and dramatically illuminate the claim that marriage partners are presumptively equal.” In this vein, Hunter and others theorize that heterosexual women could benefit from the legalization of gay marriage almost as much as gays and lesbians.

Lets put this all in perspective. What is this all really about?

E) A Note On Change

Finally, it would be wise to note that arguments which employ slippery slopes or refer to the “sanctity of the institution” are for the most part simply arguments of fear. People are always wary of change, and for many, gay marriage represents change of a particularly powerful kind. In this vein, as we explored with respect to slippery slope arguments, it might help to note that the institution of marriage has undergone tremendous transformations over the past few centuries; recognition of same-sex unions would not be the first, nor the most drastic, step in the evolution.

Here’s a brief history lesson: To begin with, African-American slaves at one time had no family rights and were not permitted to marry. As a nineteenth-century jurist put it, “whether [slaves] ‘take up’ with each other by express permission of their owners or from a mere impulse of nature, [their marriages] cannot in the contemplation of the law make any sort of difference.”

While African-Americans were later extended the right to marry, miscegenation laws remained on the books. Virginia’s antimiscegenation law, for instance, was first adopted in 1691 to prevent “abominable mixture and spurious issue,” and was not declared unconstitutional until 1967.

The institution of marriage has evolved in other ways as well. At one point, marriage was essentially a business deal which had little to do with love. Marriages cemented family ties, prevented feuding between rival clans or countries, and provided social status for men and economic support for women. Marriages were typically arranged, and bride-prices were bargained between the father of the bride and her future husband.

Vestiges of these business transaction functions of marriage remained a part of the marital institution until recent times, including those which treated women as the “property” of their husbands. In 1967, for instance, every state exempted from its criminal laws a rape by a husband of his wife – a woman was seen as the “property” of her husband and had a “duty” to provide him with sexual gratification. Ultimately, women succeeded in convincing legislators that the entitlements of marriage did not include a husband’s free reign over his wife’s body, and every state either curtailed or repealed its marital rape exemption by 1993.

Indeed, if one takes a broad look at the institution, very few aspects of marriage have stayed the same: Marriage is not “traditionally” monogamous (in the Old Testament, Jacob’s two wives and two concubines produced the head of the twelve tribes, and King Solomon is said to have had 10,000 wives); Does not “traditionally” involve a religious blessing (in early Christian unions, marriage was not yet a sacrament); and was not “traditionally” recognized by law (centuries of European “parole” marriages were conducted outside the law). As scholar E.J. Graff notes: “Each era’s marriage institutionalizes the sexual bond in a way that makes sense for that society, that economy, that class.… Marriage is – marriage has always been – variations on a theme.”

I talk, obviously as others do, to people in my district, and I have people tell me:.

  • “I am worried about losing my Medicare.”
  • “I am worried about losing my job.”
  • “I am worried about the lack of safety on the streets.”
  • “I am worried that there is not enough money now to continue with toxic waste cleanup.”

Never yet has someone come to me and said, “Congressman, I am terribly threatened. There are two women who are deeply in love a couple of miles away from me. And if you do not prevent them from formalizing their union, this will be terrible for me, and, in fact, will threaten my marriage.” I know of no heterosexual marriage, the form of marriage that we have that has sustained us, that is threatened by this.  – Congressman Barney Frank, during Congressional hearings on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

via Gay Marriage Destroy Marriage.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.