Neither Church nor state invented gay marriage, and neither can take it away

Via Leroy Huizenga, the Archbishop of Chicago wrote:

Neither Church nor state invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.

I’ve heard similar comments from many other opponents of same-sex marriage. To some extent, I agree with the Archbishop. If tomorrow morning Congress passed a law redefining the word “marriage’ to mean “delicious circular bread which is boiled then baked,” no one would accept that a bagel is a marriage. The government cannot radically change the meaning of marriage.

So why do millions of Americans accept that same-sex marriages are marriages?

The first time I attended a same-sex wedding was 1986, long before any court or legislature was prepared to recognize same-sex marriage. A woman and a woman got married, and none of us needed a law passed to understand that it was a marriage.

This was around the same time (give or take a few years) that the cartoonist Howard Cruse, in his groundbreaking comic strip “Wendel,” had his main characters Ollie and Wendel share a dream in which they were married, with all their friends and relatives in attendance. (And Smokey the Bear as the officiant). “Wendel” was published at first in a gay newspaper, and later in the nationwide gay magazine “The Advocate”; I doubt that any of Cruse’s thousands of readers had to have the concept of marriage between two men explained. Because it was too obvious to need explanation.

Same-sex marriage was not invented in a courtroom, or a state congress. Lgbt people, and those who love them, knew about same-sex marriage years before the government knew about it. It came into being as a natural outgrowth of people’s lives.

The Archbishop is correct to say that the government can’t change marriage. But that’s not what the marriage equality debate is about. For vast numbers of Americans, marriage has already changed (just as it’s changed many times before).

I’m not going to stop considering my married same-sex friends married, no matter what the law says. Neither will millions of others. The Archbishop and his allies have no power to stop gay marriage.

The only thing opponents of same-sex marriage can do is prevent the government from recognizing all these existing marriages. That hurts a lot. It hurts because it sends a message of rejection to all lgbt people. It also hurts on a practical level — it means same-sex couples and their children will sometimes be poorer, sometimes lack legal protection, sometimes be kept apart by immigration laws, sometimes be kept apart in hospitals.

But no matter how much hurt they cause, it won’t mean, and will never mean, that same-sex marriage is not a reality.

Here’s what the Archbishop doesn’t understand: Neither Church nor state invented gay marriage, and neither can take it away.

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61 Responses to Neither Church nor state invented gay marriage, and neither can take it away

  1. 1
    tallbacka says:

    That always irritates me when people say that we can’t redefine marriage or change marriage. As you said it has been changed radically before. Romney says that marriage has a 3000 year history and Huckabee goes even further with 4000. Just 150 years ago, a man could rape his wife, beat her and steal everything she owned. Go back several millenia and the differance from a modern civilized marriage is even starker.

  2. 2
    james says:

    I think the state did invent marriage. It’s just a group of legal rights, so it can only have been invented by the state.

    I think what the Archbishop said is just a restatement of the position of the Council of Trent that marriage is divinely instituted. Not much more you can say, if you believe that sort of thing you believe it, if you don’t you’re going to have a hard time being convinced.

    CANON I.-If any one saith, that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelic law, (a sacrament) instituted by Christ the Lord; but that it has been invented by men in the Church; and that it does not confer grace; let him be anathema.

    Lgbt people, and those who love them, knew about same-sex marriage years before the government knew about it. It came into being as a natural outgrowth of people’s lives.

    I’m not sure, the early queer and feminist movement were incredibly hostile to marriage. Something did change that made the movement push for SSM, rather than oppose the institution.

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    tallbacka, the fact that in some cultures at some time a man could abuse his wife within the bounds of marriage has nothing to do with the essential characteristic that marriage has shared over the millenia; it is a way to civilly and religiously (or both simultaneously in those cultures where those two roles are joined) recognize a bond between a man and a woman. Changing that is an entirely different issue than saying, for example, that a woman’s property no longer automatically becomes her husband’s property when she marries.

  4. 4
    Eytan Zweig says:

    RonF – that’s just the usual gambit of selecting the properties you like about marriage and arguing that those are part of the core institution while the others are incidental.

    I can as easily state that marriage is a way to civilly and religiously (or both simultaneously in those cultures where those two roles are joined) recognize a bond between two people. The fact that for most of human history those two people were of opposite genders is as incidental as the fact that for most of human history, no-one arrived at their own wedding in a motorized vehicle.

  5. 5
    mythago says:

    @RonF: No, that’s not what marriage was, historically. You’re taking a very modern conception of marriage (the State giving benefits to a love match) and pretending that was all of human history. I know you know this. We’ve talked about coverture here for years. I know you’ve read the Bible. Why do you keep saying things you know aren’t true?

  6. 6
    james says:

    I doubt that any of Cruse’s thousands of readers had to have the concept of marriage between two men explained. Because it was too obvious to need explanation…

    The most striking thing about that cartoon is just how closely it riffs off the Christian vows and ceremony all the readers would have been familiar with. That’s why it doesn’t need explanation. Rewrite it using the Muslim ceremony and see how many people get it.

    The only thing opponents of same-sex marriage can do is prevent the government from recognizing all these existing marriages. That hurts a lot. It hurts because it sends a message of rejection to all lgbt people.

    How you you think Catholics feel about the appropriation of one of their most recognizable religious ceremonies? It is kinda weird. On the one hand you have argument about SSM being an organic growth out of gay peoples lives, and the modern form of the institution just representing one part of a spectrum of human history. And that’s right. But then you get a cartoon like that and it’s immediately recognizable as one very particular cultural form of the institution.

  7. 7
    james says:

    Actually, don’t rewrite it using the Muslim ceremony.

  8. 8
    queenrandom says:

    How you you think Catholics feel about the appropriation of one of their most recognizable religious ceremonies?

    I dunno, why don’t you ask them. Or do a little bit of research.

  9. 9
    KellyK says:

    How you you think Catholics feel about the appropriation of one of their most recognizable religious ceremonies?

    Catholics don’t own marriage any more than any other religion does. All the Catholic church owns about marriage is the right to define what that sacrament means *within their own faith.* And incidentally, there’s nothing that screams “Catholic” to me about the Smokey the Bear dream sequence wedding ceremony. It’s as much like the many Protestant and secular wedding ceremonies I’ve been to, and, for that matter, the one Jewish/Pagan wedding I attended, as it is like the Catholic ceremony.

  10. 10
    RonF says:

    mythago:

    You’re taking a very modern conception of marriage (the State giving benefits to a love match) and pretending that was all of human history

    I said “a bond”. I didn’t say anything about love.

    Eytan:

    that’s just the usual gambit of selecting the properties you like about marriage and arguing that those are part of the core institution while the others are incidental.

    No, it’s the gambit of taking a look at marriage throughout the ages in various cultures and seeing what property or properties of it have been least variant.

    James:

    How you you think Catholics feel about the appropriation of one of their most recognizable religious ceremonies? … But then you get a cartoon like that and it’s immediately recognizable as one very particular cultural form of the institution.

    Not one mention of God, or Jesus, or even Mary? Both of the participants and the entire crowd of witnesses are at least half-naked? And this is recognizable as a Christian ceremony, and specifically Catholic at that? I’ve been to a few Catholic weddings. You’re more likely to go to a Catholic church and see a talking bear officiating than you are to hear wedding vows like those.

  11. 11
    chingona says:

    Ron,

    For most of human history, marriage was a property arrangement. Today, it is not. That’s a pretty big change. I think you know that.

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    No, it’s the gambit of taking a look at marriage throughout the ages in various cultures and seeing what property or properties of it have been least variant.

    The least variant property of marriage is that it makes two unrelated or not-closely-related people and makes them close kin.

  13. 13
    nobody.really says:

    You’re more likely to go to a Catholic church and see a talking bear officiating than you are to hear wedding vows like those.

    Yeah — those vows are vastly too SHORT. With vows like those, there’s a chance the attendees would get to the reception before the chafing dishes cooled. I think there must be an encyclical prohibiting that practice.

  14. 14
    Robert says:

    The least variant property of marriage is that it makes two unrelated or not-closely-related people and makes them close kin.

    Mmmm, no. If you are scoping for least variation, then you have to use specificities, not generalities. The least variant property of marriage is that it makes an unrelated man and woman close kin. To make the claim for “people” you have to show a broadly gender-neutral history of the institution, and (while there have been the occasional outliers), you can’t.

  15. 15
    james says:

    No, it’s the gambit of taking a look at marriage throughout the ages in various cultures and seeing what property or properties of it have been least variant.

    Dunno – I think this marriage through the ages stuff is just not helpful. Marriage (the word and the institution we currently have) developed in Western Europe during the last millennium. Projecting it backwards in time and on to other cultures and forms of relationship is just inappropriate.

    It’s like talking about Pharaohs in the context of Kingship – Pharaohs were one thing, Kings developed in a different place at a different time. It wouldn’t be useful to talk about the fundamental properties of rulership as if they were the same thing. Similarly saying modern marriage should be X or Y because ancient Spartans used to have some sort of form of ritual bonding ceremony is the same mistake.

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    Robert, I think the difference is that you’re excluding the events of the last 20+ years as an outlier, and I am not.

  17. 17
    Robert says:

    The qualifier “throughout the ages” was part of the definition. The last ~20 years are an outlier, unless you can show that they are not. Ergo, the least-common-denominator elements of the institution, for the definition given, must be those that are common throughout history.

    One can certainly argue, in the midst of a slave rebellion, that slaves ought to be free. But one cannot point to the recent success across the way as proof that throughout history, slave rebellions have been successful.

  18. 18
    Robert says:

    In other words, I can take an otherwise qualified male and female couple and ask at various points in history and in various cultural milieus, “can these two get married” and the answer will usually be yes. A similar couple of the same gender, pursuing the same test, would find the answer to usually be no. A similar couple, presented to the locals as being just “two people” and asking about the inquiry, would provoke a mandatory counter-inquiry: what are their sexes? Ergo, same-gender couples or unspecified-gender couples are not the least variant possible descriptor; opposite-gender couples are.

  19. 19
    chingona says:

    This whole argument is a little disingenuous from both sides, though. You could come up with numerous examples of legally sanctioned same-sex unions throughout history, and Ron still wouldn’t like it. You could demonstrate that never in any human society has there ever been any recognition of any same-sex relationship, and I would still support marriage equality. “That’s how it’s always been” is hardly an argument.

  20. 20
    james says:

    @ KellyK, Ron: It’s kinda hard to respond to that sort of argument. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, the sad truth is it just means you don’t have much cultural awareness.

    Catholics don’t own marriage any more than any other religion does.

    They own a specific ceremony (the Rite of Marriage) more than other religions who do not practice this ceremony. (I mean literally own, BTW, specific translations are copyrighted). Let me throw down some instantly recognizable quotes.

    (Name), do you take (Name) to be your wife? Do you promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and honor her all the days of your life?

    The bridegroom: I do.

    Not one mention of God, or Jesus, or even Mary?… And this is recognizable as a Christian ceremony, and specifically Catholic at that?

    Yes. The Catholic vows do not contain a mention of God, or Jesus, or even Mary.

    It’s as much like the many Protestant and secular wedding ceremonies I’ve been to, and, for that matter, the one Jewish/Pagan wedding I attended, as it is like the Catholic ceremony.

    Can’t speak for all Protestants – certainly the main tradition, from the ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer, goes with a different form “I, X, take thee, Y, to be my lawful wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward…”. Jewish ceremonies traditionally don’t have vows and seal the ceremony with ”you are consecrated to me with this ring according to the laws of Moses” rather than “I do”.

    I could go on, but I think this is more a case of you not wanting to see something, rather than it not being there.

    Anyway, the broader point is it’s kinda weird to argue for civil SSM from practices among native americans or ancient greeks or african tribes people, and then adopt the ceremonial form of religions which are traditionally hostile to it. If those alternate forms are so great, why not use their ceremonies?

  21. 21
    Ruchama says:

    I’ve never been to a Catholic wedding. But that form of vows, with the “Do you, X, take Y, etc…” followed by “I do” is the way that most weddings are on TV and in movies, and thus fairly recognizable as a wedding to most people. Catholics don’t really have a monopoly on saying “I do.” In this civil wedding handbook for mayors, there are a bunch of sample ceremonies at the back, several of which use the “Do you, X, take Y” sort of vows.

    (And now I’ve got the ABBA song “Say I Do” running through my head.)

  22. 22
    Ruchama says:

    At the Jewish/Pagan wedding I attended a few weeks ago, there was no officiant, but they still used the “Do you, name, …?” “I do” format. They had all the guests stand up and read the questions, and then they answered “I do” to all of us.

  23. 23
    james says:

    But that form of vows, with the “Do you, X, take Y, etc…” followed by “I do” is the way that most weddings are on TV and in movies, and thus fairly recognizable as a wedding to most people.

    Yeah, it’s probably quite a good form for film and TV because the ‘I do’ is short and you can omit or strip down the question, so it spares them wasting time on an unnecessary monologue and gives the option for a dramatic pause. But I think the movies likely copied the Catholics, rather than the other way round though.

  24. 24
    Ruchama says:

    My point isn’t that the Catholics stole it from the movies, but that it’s been used in so many different wedding contexts for so long now that most people don’t think of it as exclusively Catholic. When someone says, “We said ‘I do,’” they mean “We got married,” not “We got married in a Catholic ceremony.”

  25. 25
    KellyK says:

    james, the words you’re quoting aren’t in the cartoon. I could see the argument that it was appropriating the specifically Catholic ceremony if it were those exact words, but the generic form of “‘Do you, X, [something about taking Y as husband/wife with some variation on promises of love and fidelity for the rest of your life]?’ ‘I do.’ ‘Do you, Y [ditto]?’ ‘I do.”” is not limited to Catholicism.

    From the Catholic Rite of Marriage (taken from Wikipedia, they cite it from http://catholicweddinghelp.com/topics/catholic-wedding-vows.htm):

    I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

    From the Book of Common Prayer (also from Wikipedia):

    I,____, take thee,_____, to be my lawful wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

    See how similar those are? They’re more alike than the bit about not abandoning ship and never being stingy with the hugs is like either one of them.

    Quaker vows are shorter and simpler, but not tons different (from Chapel HillFriends Meeting’s webpage – http://www.chapelhillfriends.org/marriage.html) :

    “In the presence of God and these our friends, I ___________ take thee __________ to be my husband/wife/partner, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife/husband/partner as long as we both shall live.”

    From a guideline for JPs performing secular marriages (http://www.dentoncounty.com/dept/jp6/WeddingVows.pdf):

    I ________________________ (first name groom)
    Take ______________________ (first name bride)
    To be my wife, to have and to hold from this day
    forward; for better, for worse, for richer,
    for poorer: in sickness and in health; to love,
    to honor, and to cherish, for all the days of our lives.

    Again, see the similarity. None of them are or pretend to be the Catholic Rite of Marriage. But Protestants share a common religious background with Catholics, and a lot of US traditions are generic-Christianish even if not specifically religious.

    Anyway, the broader point is it’s kinda weird to argue for civil SSM from practices among native americans or ancient greeks or african tribes people, and then adopt the ceremonial form of religions which are traditionally hostile to it. If those alternate forms are so great, why not use their ceremonies?

    Probably because the people getting married aren’t Native American or African or Greek and wouldn’t presume to appropriate a ceremony that has nothing to do with their cultural or religious heritage. But plenty of them were raised Christian (whether Catholic or Protestant), so of course they use the forms that go with their own traditions. *And* secular marriage in the US (by which I mean getting married by a judge or a justice of the peace) is heavily influenced by Christian tradition, to the point that it’s extremely similar to both Catholic and Protestant marriage ceremonies.

    the sad truth is it just means you don’t have much cultural awareness.

    Uh. Huh. Thanks.

  26. 26
    KellyK says:

    james, is your criticism that the comic is appropriating the Catholic ceremony that it uses the “Do you, X….?”…”I do.” format rather than the “I, X, take you, Y…” format?

    Because, like Ruchama said, that “Do you…” format is used pretty much interchangeably with the “I, [Name]…” format in not just TV and movies but secular weddings too. (The first couple sites I found from Justice of the Peace’s offices list both variants.)

    Also, in Catholic Rite of Marriage, the response to the questions asked by the priest (the ones about “have you come here of your own free will” and “will you accept children lovingly and raise them in the Catholic church” are supposed to be “I will” or “Yes,” not the “I do” that everybody views as traditional, right? Those questions come *before* the vows, which are in the “I, X, take you, Y” format.

  27. 27
    mythago says:

    chingona @19: No, it’s not disingenous on both sides. Your support of marriage equality is not rooted in historical forms of marriage, whereas RonF’s opposition is. Talking about historical same-sex unions is a counterargument to the “marriage has always been this” claim. (Which, of course, turns into tap-dancing about ‘who cares about history?’ when incorrect.)

    And we’ve seen this same goalpost-moving before, yes? An anti-LGBT activist claims homosexuality is “unnatural”. If you point out that, in fact, homosexual and bisexual activity (and pairing) occurs in nature, they indignant reply that just because something is “natural” doesn’t make it moral.

    Notice how james pretends that the cartoon is offensive to the “vows and ceremony” of Catholicism, and then when called on it argues that Catholic “vows” never mention God? Strange for a ceremony that is actually a Mass – and, surprise, the *ceremony* requires the priest to talk an awful lot about God and Jesus. Just like the bear-officiant in the cartoon doesn’t.

  28. 28
    Eytan Zweig says:

    KellyK – the English translation of the Rite Of Marriage recommends that the vows should be of the form “I, X, take Y…”, but allows the priest to decide to do them in a question/answer format “Do you, X, take Y…” in which case the correct answer is “I do”. I assume this is what james is referring to.

    Of course, this just goes to show how flimsy james’s argument is – even ignoring the entirety of the rest of the cultural context, the “I do” form is the dispreferred form of a relatively recent translation of the Catholic rite.

    I’m kind of curious, now, as to whether the Catholics originated the “I do” form or whether the English translators borrowed it from an earlier source (a civil ceremony? a Protestant one?). I’m also kind of curious as to how long they’ve been using this English rite – it’s copyright 1969, which is a very plausible date, but I can’t find any clear information online.

  29. 29
    Grace Annam says:

    It doesn’t matter if “Marriage has always been this way” is true or not. If it’s not, then it’s a bad argument. If it is, then it’s a bad argument.

    Legal slavery was legal essentially everywhere until countries started making slavery illegal in the 1700′s (until the modern day, when it is illegal everywhere, though still practiced). Did that make legal slavery any more justifiable?

    In many, many places in the modern day, girls may be married against their will at ages younger than thirteen. Historically, arranged marriage and promised marriages were routine across many cultures, probably a majority. Does that make coerced marriage any more justifiable?

    With a few exceptions infrequent enough to be noteworthy, women could not own property until a hundred years ago or so. Does that make the denial of property rights to women any more justifiable?

    Granting marriage rights to same-sex couples hurts no individual human being in any quantifiable, demostrable way. Withholding them hurts many individual human beings in very quantifiable, demonstrable ways. On the one hand, significant human suffering. On the other hand, no hurt, only discomfort with a new idea. This is a no-brainer.

    Grace

  30. 30
    Bear says:

    Something that’s gotten lost in the discussion of whether the “I do” is a Catholic thing is James’ comment in #2 that the early gay liberation movement was “incredibly hostile” to the concept of marriage. This is not at all true.

  31. 31
    chingona says:

    Your support of marriage equality is not rooted in historical forms of marriage, whereas RonF’s opposition is. Talking about historical same-sex unions is a counterargument to the “marriage has always been this” claim.

    I don’t believe that Ron’s opposition is actually rooted in history. I think he says that because he finds it convenient. It allows him to claim that same-sex marriage is an unprecedented innovation.

    The real unprecedented innovation has already occurred, and that’s the shift to marriage as a partnership of two equal parties. A century ago, a married woman essentially ceased to exist in a legal sense. Compared to that change, letting two people of the same gender marry is not that big a change.

  32. 32
    RonF says:

    As an aside:

    The Archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George, will be answering to a higher authority on the matter soon enough. A few years ago he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. His bladder and a few other body components were removed, he underwent chemo, etc., etc. A few days ago cancer cells were found in his kidney and his liver.

    It speaks to an understanding of religion, culture and politics in Chicago that on the day it was announced, all the local newscasts led off with this story and then switched to a reporter live at the venue where Cardinal George was to address the press and public. Each one of them told us that the Cardinal was delayed in traffic and discussed what they knew again before the newscast continued with other stories. Each newscast closed with a switch back to their reporter who announced that the Cardinal was still delayed in traffic but that an update would be issued as soon as he arrived, made his remarks and took questions. It was also front page above-the-fold in both major Chicago newspapers the next day.

  33. 33
    james says:

    james, is your criticism that the comic is appropriating the Catholic ceremony that it uses the “Do you, X….?”…”I do.” format rather than the “I, X, take you, Y…” format?

    Okay, since people are having trouble comparing two blocks of text.

    My observation is the Catholic vows are: “Do you promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and honor her all the days of your life? I do.

    The comics vows are: “Do you promise to [not abandon], [respect], [love]? We do.

    The similarities are not just the question, but the promise, the themes of the promise – which are pretty much intact even though they’re being expressed by a cartoon bear – and the acceptance, which is switched to a plural.

    Note ALL the Protestant examples you quoted – which come from the Common Prayer tradition – are statement by one of the couple, rather than responses to a question, and don’t include a ‘promise’.

    Notice how james … argues that Catholic “vows” never mention God? Strange for a ceremony that is actually a Mass

    The vows have been cut-and-pasted into the thread twice, and do not mention God. I don’t know what more I can say. You and Ron will just have to come to terms with the fact that real Catholicism is different from your imaginary Catholicism.

    I’m kind of curious, now, as to whether the Catholics originated the “I do” form or whether the English translators borrowed it from an earlier source (a civil ceremony? a Protestant one?).

    For some reason, I feel pretty sure the earlier source the translators got the idea from was the original Latin, rather than theft from the Protestants or the atheists.

  34. 34
    Eytan Zweig says:

    James – I’m pretty sure that the Catholic vows are as given here: http://catholicweddinghelp.com/topics/text-rite-of-marriage-mass.htm – what you are describing is a variant – which priests are allowed to use if they choose to – KellyK is describing the preferred form.

    You and Ron will just have to come to terms with the fact that real Catholicism is different from your imaginary Catholicism.

    You may have to come to term that real Catholicism includes more than your observations of Catholicism.

  35. 35
    KellyK says:

    Okay, so it is the “Do you promise…?” part. The part that the Catholic ceremony *may or may not* use, and the part that secular ceremonies performed by justices of the peace also use (see the links above, which give both variants), and the form that, as we’ve already established, is common in TV, movies, etc. Incidentally, the question and answer format is in both the Anglican and Episcopalian Books of Common Prayer, though they both use “Will you…” and “I will.”

    Once something has become that common, it’s not really fair to say that it’s a specifically Catholic thing that’s being appropriated. *Especially* when the Catholic Rite of Marriage doesn’t always use that form.

  36. 36
    AMM says:

    Something that’s gotten lost … is James’ comment in #2 that the early gay liberation movement was “incredibly hostile” to the concept of marriage. This is not at all true.

    “Not at all true” is at least exaggerated.

    I recall back in the 1980′s, when various Quaker meetings in New York were discussing same-sex marriage, there was a vocal contingent among gay Quakers arguing against same-sex marriage. (Gay Quakers were my main contact with the gay community at that time.) Their reasoning, which I believe was widespread in the gay community, was that sexual promiscuity was an essential part of the liberation of gay people (=gay men), and institutions such as marriage which tend to limit promiscuity were therefore tantamount to pushing gay men back into the closet.

    Randy Shiltz (sp?) in The Band Played On describes how this attitude was one (but only one) of the things that made it hard to get anywhere against AIDS, back in the days when its spread might conceivably been limited to something less than the entire human race.

  37. 37
    Ampersand says:

    James, I appreciate your participation in this thread, in that it’s led to a discussion of stuff it didn’t even occur to me to be interested in. I like that.

    But condescending comments like this:

    Okay, since people are having trouble comparing two blocks of text.

    And this:

    Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, the sad truth is it just means you don’t have much cultural awareness.

    Are not appropriate or welcome.

    I’m sure you have it within you to disagree with people without sneering at them. Please try.

  38. 38
    AMM says:

    James @2:

    I think the state did invent marriage. It’s just a group of legal rights, so it can only have been invented by the state.

    Formalized in law, perhaps, but not “invented.”

    What happened with marriage in Western societies is pretty much what has happened with many social relationships: more or less generally accepted social rules at some point became what is now called “common law,” and, in the US at least, the common law has been turned into statutory law. Just as the prohibition against murder (and the definition of what exactly is prohibited) predates statutes against it, so marriage predates formal State involvement. What’s more, as society’s expectations of marriage (and divorce) change, the law is limpingly trying to keep up.

    On another note, the idea that “love,” especially romantic love, has anything to do with marriage is a very recent idea, dating back only to the 19th century, and was often considered more of a threat to it than adultery. “Love makes a family” would have sounded absurd in the 1700′s or before, regardless of the genders involved.

  39. 39
    james says:

    I don’t see how does the existence of 3 forms of vow, 2 of which are closer to (but not identical to) Protestant versions (and less similar to the cartoon) makes any difference. The comic is mirroring one iconic version of the Catholic marriage ceremony. Are you saying they could have still mirrored the Catholic rite, but used different vows which were less recognizably Catholic, or gone with something more generically Christian? Well, yes, I completely agree that they could have. But they didn’t. They went with the most distinctively Catholic version available, that’s kinda my point.

  40. 40
    james says:

    Something that’s gotten lost … is James’ comment in #2 that the early gay liberation movement was “incredibly hostile” to the concept of marriage. This is not at all true.

    It is true, honestly. It’s fascinating, because there has been just a volte face in opinion that many people (like you do) just wouldn’t believe people ever took those positions.

    Here’s an example: http://www.csun.edu/~snk1966/Polikoff%20-%20We%20Will%20Get%20What%20We%20Ask%20for.pdf

    I believe that the desire to marry in the lesbian and gay community is an attempt to mimic the worst of mainstream society, an effort to fit into an inherently problematic institution that betrays the promise of both lesbian and gay liberation and radical feminism.

    marriage runs contrary to two of the primary goals of the lesbian and gay movement: the affirmation of gay identity and culture and the validation of any forms of relationship

    I AMM might be on to something that AIDS played a large role in getting some elements of the gay community to revise their opinion on alternate relationships, monogamy and marriage.

  41. 41
    mythago says:

    chingona @31: It doesn’t matter whether RonF sincerely believes the ‘redefining marriage’ argument; he’s using it very selectively, and he’s still wrong. That is, claiming that marriage is a bond between only two people is a very modern, revisionistic view of marriage, and is flat-out wrong.

    If it were really a ‘bond between a man and a woman’, there would be no such things as in-laws. The man and woman would now be husband and wife, and that would not change anyone else’s status. There would be no such things as stepchildren, or cousins-by-marriage. Of course, that’s not how marriage has ever worked. Marriage has always created kinship bonds between the spouses’ kin; it has always been a device to blend families, tribes, even empires.

    The idea that the two people getting married are in a little bubble that affects only themselves is a newfangled one and, I’d argue, part of the awful modern changes to sexuality and women’s roles that social conservatives are always bemoaning.

    You will find far more cultures that permitted marriage between same-sex couples than you will find cultures that treat marriage as only this personal thing that the man and women do together.

  42. 42
    Bear says:

    james, it’s not true. I’m a gay man and I was an adult in the 80s. I was part of that gay community that you think was “incredibly hostile” to the idea of SSM. I know exactly of what I speak.

    You (and AMM, I think) seem to be assuming that the part of the gay community that opposed SSM was the prevailing opinion but it wasn’t. The gay community has never been a monolith and there have been a wide range of opinions. Just as there is a wide range of opinions about every subject imaginable among straight people, the same is true of gay people. But those gay people who have opposed it (for a number of reasons, and for a number of reasons that reflected the way gay people were oppressed within a specific timeframe–and sometimes for the same reasons that some straight people oppose marriage) have never been such a large percentage of the population that they could be said to represent all or even most gay people. It would be like saying that some heterosexuals have reasons for not getting married and that means heterosexuals are incredibly hostile to the idea of marriage.

    If you want to revise your statement to “the gay community has never been unanimous about SSM” you might be more accurate. But saying that gay people have been incredibly hostile is just untrue.

  43. 43
    mythago says:

    Bear @42: Heck, even the link james posted doesn’t say that the LGBT community was an anti-marriage monolith, but if he’s going to try and derail by cycling through tired anti-equality arguments, I guess “but they don’t want to get married anyway!” was inevitable.

    I, too, remember lesbians arguing on both sides of this. A vocal minority believe that marriage and commitment was aping patriarchal norms and would lead to the same oppression, but most disagreed. There’s a reason for all those commitment ceremonies and broom-jumping and U-haul jokes.

  44. 44
    KellyK says:

    Are you saying they could have still mirrored the Catholic rite, but used different vows which were less recognizably Catholic, or gone with something more generically Christian?

    No, I’m saying that the vows they used were not solely Catholic, but were very similar to any number of other Christian and secular vows. I think I’ve said that three or four times already.

    Had I realized that the “Do you…I do” format was what you’re defining as exclusively Catholic, I would have quoted only examples of that format, as there are plenty out there.

    The format that you’re arguing is the most recognizably Catholic possible marriage vow is the format that shows up all over TV and movies, civil marriage ceremonies, etc., in contexts that have nothing to do with Catholicism.

    A number of wedding websites talk about the various options for saying vows, and they list three kinds: the “I, [name]…” format, the “Do you, [Name]…” format, and the “Repeat after me” format where the officiant says the vow in short chunks and the bride or groom repeats it. These three formats are treated as interchangeable, based on what the couple wants and whether they can memorize their vows.

    Here is the “Do you…I do.” format in a Jewish context (http://www.bridalguide.com/planning/wedding-ceremony-traditions/examples-of-wedding-vows)

    In the Reform wedding service, this wedding vow may also be included, directed toward the groom and the bride, one at a time:

    Rabbi: “O God, supremely blessed, supreme in might and glory, guide and bless this groom and bride. Standing here in the presence of God, the Guardian of the home, ready to enter into the bond of wedlock, answer in the fear of God, and in the hearing of those assembled: Do you, [partner to whom the rabbi is speaking], of your own free will and consent, take [other partner] to be your [wife/husband], and do you promise to love, honor, and cherish [her/him] throughout life?”

    Groom/Bride: “I do.”

    The Rabbinical Assembly Manual, a guide for many Conservative synagogues, provides this vow exchange for the ceremony, which includes the ring vow and is led by the rabbi:

    Rabbi (to the groom): “Do you, [groom's name], take [bride's name] to be your lawful wedded wife, to love, to honor, and to cherish?”

    Groom: “I do.”

    This form is so common that, as Ruchama already said, we use the expression “saying ‘I do’” to mean “getting married.”

    And even if they had used the “I [name], take you, [name]…” format, you could still have complained that they were appropriating the Catholic ceremony, because that version is in the Rite of Marriage as well.

  45. 45
    Jake Squid says:

    The early Gay Liberation movement happened in the 80′s? I always thought that Stonewall was the big event of the early Gay Liberation movement. Have I misunderstood/mislabeled?

  46. 46
    RonF says:

    Mythago, the bond of wedlock is formed between two people. Other people are certainly affected by that bond as you quite accurately point out. But the bond itself is between two people. Even in a polygamous marriage – it’s my understanding that in such an instance the man is wise to confer with his existing wives, but in the end the spot on the marriage license or contract stating who is to be joined together has only two names. There is an officiant, there are witnesses, there are relatives and offspring and all that who are affected by the bond, but the bond itself involves two people.

    And it’s been very, very rare that those two people have been of the same sex.

    A century ago, a married woman essentially ceased to exist in a legal sense. Compared to that change, letting two people of the same gender marry is not that big a change.

    A century or more ago a woman’s marriage didn’t change her from being an independent human being to a chattel of her husband. It was more of a transfer from being a chattel of her father to a chattel of her husband. Even if her father was dead a young woman was generally considered to be dependent on her relatives. That change is far less significant than what we’re talking about here.

  47. 47
    RonF says:

    Neither Church nor state invented gay marriage, and neither can take it away

    Nor does either have to recognize it with any civil or legal or spiritual status.

  48. 48
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Ron @47 – wait, what? Are you saying that the church has the authority to refuse to recognize things’ legal or civil status?

    If the state decides something is legal, it is legal. That’s how laws work. The church can make whatever moral and spiritual judgments it likes, but it cannot decide for itself the legal status of anything.

  49. 49
    chingona says:

    A century or more ago a woman’s marriage didn’t change her from being an independent human being to a chattel of her husband. It was more of a transfer from being a chattel of her father to a chattel of her husband. Even if her father was dead a young woman was generally considered to be dependent on her relatives. That change is far less significant than what we’re talking about here.

    I marvel that you could even write those sentences with a straight face. First of all, it’s not true. Single women could own property and enter into contracts and work (if not in every field or at every position). If someone raped or assaulted them, it was a crime. After marriage, she could own no property, enter into no contracts, could not take employment without her husband’s permission and he could rape and beat her as much as he liked with no legal consequence, as long as he didn’t kill her. That’s pretty damn significant. If you’re going to argue that the genitals of the people involved in the relationship are MORE significant, please present an actual argument instead of an assertion.

  50. 50
    Jake Squid says:

    I marvel that you could even write those sentences with a straight face.

    Seconded.

  51. 51
    Elusis says:

    I think I see the editing error.

    That change is far less significant than what we’re talking about here.

    Perhaps what was meant was “That change is far less significant TO ME than what we’re talking about here. “

  52. 52
    mythago says:

    RonF @46: the “bond of wedlock” is the creation of a kin relationship that didn’t exist before. Your argument is a tautology – it’s a bond between two people because it’s between two people – which isn’t even true, historically, of marriage (levirate marriage, for example, is not uncommon, and creates a marriage-in-waiting). It doesn’t simply “involve” two people; it creates a bond between a lot of people.

    And then you try to retcon marriage with a lot of modern notions. “Marriage license,” really? Do you think that cultures without a tradition of written records put anyone’s name on any “line”?

    As for chattel, women not becoming their husband’s property to various degrees is even rarer than recognized same-sex unions. Being her father’s chattel was not a prerequisite for a woman becoming her husband’s chattel. Marriage, as you know, has happened throughout history in all kinds of ways other than Prospective Groom asking Dad for his daughter’s hand in marriage. If a woman was a free adult under the laws of wherever she lived, that changed when she married. If a woman’s family was all killed by a man who then claimed her as a wife, she became chattel when she married regardless of there being no man to ‘transfer title’.

    I’m sure you’re old enough to remember when civil-rights and other laws were proposed (and sometimes passed) for women, that there were calls about how this would Destroy Marriage and the world would go to hell in a handbasket. Heck, there are STILL people arguing this today. How can you say they’re wrong, when they’re right that we’ve changed marriage as it has been, everywhere, forever?

  53. 53
    Bear says:

    Jake at #45: I imagine james couldn’t find anything that even remotely supported his assertion pre-80′s–maybe because it’s harder to find mainstream references to what gay people were talking about then, at least quickly on a superficial internet search.

  54. 54
    james says:

    First, I didn’t say all gay people, I said the early queer and feminist movement. Obviously, the most politicized took the most extreme views, most people are more moderate.

    Bear’s right that early stuff is less digitized. Still it’s quite clear the early movement simply opposed marriage: the quote from the leaders of the GLF in 1969 right after Stonewall was “We expose the institution of marriage as one of the most insidious and basic sustainers of the system. The family is the microcosm of oppression.”

  55. 55
    Ampersand says:

    My memory is more like the other folks here — I remember people debating if gay marriage (as it was called back then) was desirable, but I don’t remember there ever being a consensus against marriage. (Certainly not anything as strong as the near-consensus for marriage that now prevails.)

    It’s certainly true, in my memory, that the folks who were against SMM were highly politicized. However, that doesn’t mean that all feminist/lgbt rights people who were highly politicized were against SSM. (All squares are rhombi, but not all rhombi are squares.)

    ETA: I should clarify, however, that my memory of the political debates going on around me only extends back to the mid-1980s or so. I certainly don’t remember anything from 1969!

  56. 56
    Simple Truth says:

    This seems like a well-researched piece on marriage development throughout Medieval and Renaissance eras: Medieval and Renaissance Marriage.

    Three items that stood out to me:
    – There are legally accepted alternate forms of marriage, including a marriage that doesn’t exchange property rights, and a ceremony for concubines.
    – The Church was not usually involved in marriage until around the 12th century. Indeed, Martin Luther spoke out against the church being involved in marriage, saying it was a “worldly business [where] we clergy ought not to meddle or direct things.”
    – The things that we mostly associate with marriage ceremonies are historically more tied into a betrothal, which was a lengthy period of time where the couple cohabitated.

    I looked this up because I remembered learning that consumation used to happen before marriage (you didn’t want to end up with a barren wife/impotent husband,) and I think that fits in well with this discussion.

    Marriage today is not anything what it’s been historically, and it will continue to change, just as it always has. I don’t see anything wrong with SSM as a continued progression of marriage.

  57. 57
    Jake Squid says:

    There’s a significant difference between being opposed to marriage in its entirety and being opposed to SSM. james’ quote from 1969 is the former. I don’t believe SSM was considered even a remote possibility at the time and, therefore, I don’t think the quote had anything to do with the concept of SSM.

    Otoh, you show that some people, leaders even, opposed marriage. That does not equate to the early Gay Liberation movement being incredibly hostile to SSM.

    But it is true that at one time the movement opposed marriage as an oppressive heterosexual institution. I wonder whether their views would be/are different given the giant changes in environment over the past 40 plus years.

    I am open to correction on this. I’m just going off my, admittedly limited, knowledge of the era.

  58. 58
    Charles S says:

    As an example of the strong pro-marriage position of part of the early gay liberation movement, the Metropolitan Community Church was formed in 1968 directly as part of the early days of the gay liberation movement. MCC’s founding minister officiated the first public same sex marriage ceremony in 1969, and sued for marriage equality in 1970.

    So even the vanguard of the movement was never monolithically anti-marriage.

    In addition, as someone who has opposed the institution of marriage for much of my life (I’ve become less doctrinaire on this as marriage equality has started to win), I can say that there isn’t actually that much of conflict between believing the the institution of marriage should be radically transformed and believing in marriage equality within the existing institution. So long as the institution of marriage is part of how we structure society, it should be open to all loving couples. It is not unlike being opposed to the modern financial industry and believing that people of all races and sexes and orientations should be equally free to use financial services.

  59. 59
    Charles S says:

    I opposed marriage as a patriarchal institution at the time I got married. When I got married (in 1995), there were still states where I would have been legally permitted to rape my spouse. The institution as it stood deserved opposition. It also deserved opposition for its heterosexism. We are in the process of changing it so that it no longer deserves opposition on those lines.

    It still deserves opposition for its role in the diadic nuclear family structure, but as Amp’s other recent post points out, that one is much harder to change, and there is a lot less popular support for that form of transformation.

  60. 60
    james says:

    There’s a significant difference between being opposed to marriage in its entirety and being opposed to SSM. james’ quote from 1969 is the former… I don’t think the quote had anything to do with the concept of SSM.

    If you want some more color, this is from Whittman Refugees from Amerika (1970):

    2. Marriage: Marriage is a prime example of a straight institution fraught with role playing. Traditional marriage is a rotten, oppressive institution…

    Gay people must stop gauging their self-respect by how well they mimic straight marriages. Gay marriages will have the same problems as straight ones except in burlesque. For the usual legitimacy and pressures which keep straight marriages together are absent, e.g., kids, what parents think, what neighbors say.

    To accept that happiness comes through finding a groovy spouse and settling down, showing the world that “we’re just the same as you” is avoiding the real issues, and is an expression of self-hatred….

    Liberation for gay people is defining for ourselves how and with whom we live, instead of measuring our relationship in comparison to straight ones, with straight values.

    From the London Gay Liberation Front Manifesto 1971:

    We do not deny that it is as possible for gay couples as for some straight couples to live happily and constructively together. We question however as an ideal, the finding and settling down eternally with one ‘right’ partner. This is the blueprint of the straight world which gay people have taken over. It is inevitably a parody, since they haven’t even the justification of straight couples-the need to provide a stable environment for their children (though in any case we believe that the suffocating small family unit is by no means the best atmosphere for bringing up children.

    … the monogamous couple, with or without children, is an isolated, shut-in, up-tight unit, suspicious of and hostile to outsiders. And though we don’t lay down rules or tell gay people how they should behave in bed or in their relationships, we do want them to question society’s blueprint for the couple… People need a variety of relationships in order to develop and grow, and to learn about other human beings.

    It is especially important for gay people to stop copying straight-we are the ones who have the best opportunities to create a new lifestyle and if we don’t, no one else will. Also, we need one another more than straight people do, because we are equals suffering under an insidious oppression from a society too primitive to come to terms with the freedom we represent. Singly, or isolated in couples, we are weak-the way society wants us to be. Society cannot put us down so easily if we fuse together. We have to get together, understand one another, live together.

    Two ways we can do this are by developing consciousness-raising groups and gay communes.

  61. 61
    Bear says:

    james, you really have to stop pulling out these singular quotes and using them to support your assertion that historically gay people were “incredibly hostile” to SSM. They certainly don’t prove anything other than that some gay people thought marriage was a bad idea. It doesn’t indicate that there was a prevailing attitude of hostility to the idea. This has been pointed out a number of times now, so I’m not sure why you keep flogging that particular horse.

    Perhaps if you modify your argument to “there has been an historical if small opposition to SSM from some in the gay community” that might be an argument you can support*. Otherwise, you are simply just wrong.

    *Although not for the reasons you make the argument in the first place; the historical if small opposition to SSM from some in the gay community is not more significant than the historical if small opposition to marriage in general from some in the straight community.