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February 19, 2006
Evolving Social Systems

Gay marriage debate centers on history vs. change

Gosh. That's a big surprise.

Opponents say same-sex marriage is - among other things - a historical contradiction. Marriage, they say, has always been between a man and a woman and the laws are written to reflect that.

That argument echoes reasoning that has been proffered time and again to defend such outmoded laws as those that defined wives as the property of their husbands, or that prohibited divorce, or even

In the first place, saying that marriage has "always" been between a man and a woman just isn't true.

In the second place, it's not just "change," it's "progress."

It's the same kind of social evolution that, for instance, allows rightwing radio hosts to call for the deaths of liberals without getting lynched. Or for rightwing so-called "pundits" to call for the deaths of prominent politicians without getting tossed into jail without benefit of trial.

And, yes, that makes it illegal for us to buy and sell other human beings, no matter what their skin color or ethnicity.

But Katherine Spaht, a law professor at Louisiana State University and an expert on family law, said permitting gay marriage would constitute a change more profound than any other in history.

"Most of the changes, historically, have been at the edges of the concept of marriage, not at its core," Spaht said. "We've changed lots of things about the relationship between married people, but not as much about the fundamental idea of what marriage is."

Yeah, well, no. Because I'm kinda thinking that the whole thing about women-as-chattel was a pretty radical change in its day. The idea that not only was a married woman not just another kind of table or household fixture owned by a man, but a human being entitled to ownership of her own property and even her own body caused a certain amount of comment, back in the day.

And I'm thinking that interracial marriage was pretty traumatic for a lot of people. I mean, I've heard rumors to that effect, you know?

Apparently, Ms. Spaht's study of law didn't include any study of even comparatively recent history.

And I'm thinking that two people getting married is pretty much two people getting married, so it's not so much a change in the fundamental idea as she thinks. That whole "procreation" thing doesn't hold a lot of water in these days.

Of course, I'm also thinking that homosexuality, while proscribed at various times in various places, really hasn't been the focus of as much targeted hatred and repression during most of history as it is in the USofA today. In a lot, an awful lot of historical societies, people had real problems to worry about.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:16 PM


It's a damned shame we have to keep making this argument, isn't it? This view of history that seems to run straight from Genesis to present, with the rest of the world as "other, probably perverted" is pretty sticky.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at February 20, 2006 02:08 AM

Every single time our society recognizes its own deficiencies and moves to take a step forward, we get these frightened reactionaries demanding that we stop the world in its orbit and prevent things from changing.

I get that change is scary, but part of what being a responsible adult is is learning to cope with the fear, and even moving past it to the discovery.

Posted by: Anne at February 21, 2006 10:34 PM