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November 22, 2004

Marriage History Rewritten

Over on Anchor Rising, Marc takes controversy over Oliver Stone's new movie as a springboard to write about history and homosexuality. My favorite instance of historical gerrymandering with respect to same-sex marriage comes from Andrew Sullivan's Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con. In a back-and-forth about whether some of the Christian rituals were marriages or explicit "brotherhood" ceremonies (perhaps used, periodically, to spur a truce between hostile groups), classics professor Ralph Hexter tells what appears to be a pretty spectacular lie.

Hexter argues that (in the Sixteenth Century) Michel de Montaigne witnessed the ceremony in contention, and that it would be odd if it had been a benign brotherhood ceremony, because some of the participants had been burned as punishment. Even were it true, one could argue that benign brotherhood ceremonies would have been as apt to be used for heretical purposes as marriage ceremonies were. One could argue, further, that the burning illustrates, quite clearly, that the ceremony had been misused. But such arguments aren't necessary.

Turn the page in Sullivan's book, and you find reprinted the relevant paragraph from Montaigne. Hexter got just about every important detail wrong. Montaigne was not a witness; he was told the story (as a humorous anecdote) a few years after the incident had occurred. More to the point, he is explicit that the couple had used the actual marriage ceremony for men and women, not a brotherhood ceremony, and certainly not a ceremony for same-sex marriages.

I'd note, too, that every historical example to which same-sex marriage proponents refer differs in important ways with modern notions of same-sex unions. As Marc notes, they never involved children. Often, however, that isn't the only difference from modern constructs that aligns with traditionalists' arguments.

For example, proponents note some Native American tribes that apparently had a sort of same-sex marriage. However, not only did a social stigma apply to them, but one of the spouses was said to be a man-woman and was made to fill the role of wife. In that last aspect, one sees an echo of the traditionalist argument that infertile opposite-sex couples, at the very least, bolster the cultural message of marriage: that it is about the male-female relationship and, ultimately, about procreation.

Posted by Justin Katz at November 22, 2004 9:41 AM
Marriage & Family

I'm looking forward to Sullivan's next book: The Existence of the Square Circle: Pro and Con.

Posted by: ELC at November 23, 2004 9:19 AM