What’s Uncle Sam Doing in My Marriage?

Art from NYTimes

Great op-ed in the Times this week examining “WHY do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry?” Columnist Stephanie Coontz notes:

For 16 centuries, Christianity…defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows…the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

Fast-forward to the early part of the 20th century and the US state legislature begins making it illegal for whites to marry blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos.

Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

In the mid-20th century, governments began to get out of the business of deciding which couples were “fit” to marry. Courts invalidated laws against interracial marriage, struck down other barriers and even extended marriage rights to prisoners.

She points out that being unmarried does little to absolve one from responsibility toward a partner or your children, but it does deny one the rights granted only by a government-sanctioned union.

Remind me again, whose rights are defended in the Defense of Marriage Act, and why is the government involved at all?

The American Anthropological Association release this statement on marriage in 2004 in response to Bush’s introduction of the D of M Act:

Statement on Marriage and the Family from the American Anthropological Association

Arlington, Virginia; The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association, the world’s largest organization of anthropologists, the people who study culture, releases the following statement in response to President Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as a threat to civilization.

“The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that other civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

The Executive Board of the American anthropological Association strongly opposes a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.”

Media may contact either of the names below: To discuss the AAA Statement please contact: Elizabeth M. Brumfiel, AAA President (847) 491-4564, office. To discuss anthropological research on marriage and family please contact: Roger Lancaster, Anthropologist, author, The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture , 2003 (202) 285-4241 cellular. [Emphasis original, links mine]

060607_bi_gaypanicex_2 Also check out Jacob Weisburg on SLATE in 2006, writing about the GOP’s “Gay Panic Button“. And the history of marriage on wiki.

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One Response to “What’s Uncle Sam Doing in My Marriage?”

  1. jonolan Says:

    Damn right! We need to get religion out of “marriage” – insofar as the State is concerned.

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