Originally posted by kresge:
A very thoughtful response. The question for me, however, is when does the possible threat to the stability of social institutions override the rights of the individual. Again, one might refer to miscegenation legislation. In most societies, endogamous marriage is the norm. One can look at the historical arguments supporting its prohibition in a similar vein as those you espouse with respect to same sex unions.
With respect to same-sex unions, some would make a case for historical instances of such unions with social acknowledgment. The late Yale historian, John Boswell, in his book _Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe_, traces the public/social recognition of such unions from the ancient Greeks, where male-male relationships were considered more noble than male-female; to Rome; to early Christian Europe where the Church created liturgies to bless loving unions both straight and same-sex.
I'll try to answer your questions in one general discussion. Between this post and the next one, responding to MBM, hopefully Kweli4Real's comments get addressed as well.
First, institutions in this more "enlightened" society of ours are always susceptible to change and/or elimination, because many of the ones it was founded on in the first place were unjust and evil. As (white) America increasingly realized that these institutions were in conflict with their aspirational values (especially those touted in the Constitution), one by one the unjust institutions began to change or get dismantled. The less universal across cultures, and the less inherently harmful, and the more founded on greed or prejudice, a societal institution is, the more likely a society can continue to thrive in the long run without it. Marriage is universal across cultures, it's not inherently
harmful to anyone, and it is not founded
on greed or prejudice. (Note the bolded words before issuing the most likely rebuttal). And the same three facts apply to the man-woman feature of marriage. So conversely, the more the reverse of those three things is true about an institution, the more likely -- for all we know -- that a society will have serious problems by the change of the institution or the elimination of its basic features.
The only exception to this, IMO, is if the society understands the function that this institution (or its basic features) has to the society and finds a way to control for its loss or change.
But the above construct (which I admit is my own, without the benefit of scholarly validation) should answer your question about miscegenation laws, keeping women from working, chattel slavery, and a whole lot of other things. (Except to add that in many pre-industrial societies, endogamy was actually forbidden, so there's no argument for universality in endogamy).
As for your same-sex historical info, you mentioned Boswell's argument about the early Church's same sex union rituals. This argument is completely discredited by most everyone except those who want to belive it's true. He bases his assertion not on historical descriptions, but on his own personal "translations" of church manuscripts from back then. Plus, his translation methods have been chided. I haven't read extensively on it, but the criticism I've come across depicts him as the type of person who mistranslates in order to reach the result he wants. Therefore, he's probably mistaken, or lying.
The other examples you cite prove my point: ancient Greece had marriage, only between men and women. If this ancient society, which saw great esteem and nobility in homosexual relationships, instituted marriage between men and women but not men and men, then they must have seen reason not to. Although America has always had good reason to question the limitations of its institutions, we should take their example as a cautionary guide about what they probably figured out.
Modern movements toward gay marriage are based on concepts of equality, civil rights, and tolerance, which are progressive, but are not the basis upon which to judge the continued character of bedrock social institutions that have existed for exactly 100% of known human history, in 100% of known human societies.
This is the first time I've really had a chance to post my thoughts on this. I don't mean to offend anybody. And the issues facing gay life partners are serious and really need to be addressed. I just don't think same-sex marriage is a good way to address them.
[This message was edited by Vox on March 10, 2003 at 06:04 PM.]