It’s not often I bother to click on a link tweeted by ABC Religion and Ethics because far too often I find myself suffering serious eye-roll, if not rage. Sometimes they have articles worth reading, today’s effort by Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond (two UK writers) was not one of them.
The article was florid and pretentious, using language and terms that many people would struggle with, but the worst thing is that the article was masquerading as a balanced view on marriage, which instead came across as sexist, gender essentialist and a bit homo, bi and trans* phobic. I suspect that most people would have been put off by the language use, I almost was, and perhaps for my rage levels I should have let myself be – curse my stubbornness.
So, Scruton and Blond attempt to suggest that they’re not homo, bi or trans* phobic:
This debate has created many divides across and between religious, civil and advocacy groups – the most unpleasant of which is the demonising of those who question the merits of same sex union as if it were self-evidently homophobic to have reservations about the current proposals
Now without reading the rest of the article this sounds relatively ok. Having issues with the current proposals for marriage equality could mean that you don’t agree with the wording, or how it would be implemented. Upon further reading of this article however you discover that Scruton and Blond have problems with anything other than religious marriage, and a certain type of religious marriage (Christian Patriarchy would be my guess).
But throughout all of the debate, recognition of the value and worth of marriage has been assumed rather than discussed. Those who advocate the extension of marriage to same sex couples have been very strong on the value of equality but almost silent on the nature of marriage they want equal access to. Whereas those who defend marriage as it is currently defined seem unable to say exactly what its value and worth is and why the institution would suffer from extension to same sex couples
This is actually a valid point, and probably the only one in this entire article. This needs no further comment.
Scruton and Blond start digging when they set themselves up with the two types of marriage they see existing in the world:
Put simply, there are two competing ideas of marriage at play in the current debate. The first is traditional and conjugal and extends beyond the individuals who marry to the children they hope to create and the society they wish to shape. The second is more privative and is to do with a relationship abstracted from the wider concern that marriage originally was designed to speak to. Some call this pure partnership or mere cohabitation.
The latter view is what marriage is becoming: a dissolvable contract between two individuals who partner purely for the sake of the partnership itself. It has little or nothing to do with children, general education or social stability.
So there is either marriage for children and building a better society (sounds Dominionist), or being in a relationship with your spouse with or without children, and apparently with no care for wider society. Is it just me or are these two definitions rather restrictive and forced?
So after setting up the ideal of what marriage should be (conjugal), Scruton and Blond (I am just loving typing that) whine about how the other form of marriage is all bad:
This is not to say that it is to be wholly resisted – of course not – but it should be incorporated and built up to a conjugal summit, because the loss to society of the conjugal model imposes such high costs on society and the state that neither can be indifferent about its erosion. The partnership model is one shared by many heterosexuals and wider society, and it is this that has done much harm to the institution of marriage.
I mean what? Apart from “CITATION NEEDED” all over the shop, how can we determine that there really are two types of marriage and that one is in decline and the other overall bad for society? How are the authors measuring one type of marriage over the other? Did they just make this up while at the pub one day, whining about how the younger generations didn’t value marriage like they did, and that all those evil people of not their religion didn’t have the same values as they did?
By the same token, many homosexuals actually fulfil a more conjugal model and it is to be hoped that the civil unions we propose speaks to this and offer same sex couples their own proper version of “conjugal marriage.” Marriage in this conjugal view is a sexual union of husband and wife who promised each other sexual fidelity, mutual caretaking and the joint parenting of any children they may have. Conjugal marriage is fundamentally child-centred and female advancing. Lone motherhood, which is bad for both the woman and the child, is the evident manifestation of the contemporary separation of marriage and parenthood.
“We hope that the gays accept our form of
religious marriage and that despite being a same-sex relationship that the couple take on a male or female role so that we feel better about the whole thing.” Bisexual, trans* and intersex people need not apply.
Ok, last I looked traditional marriage, which is what I take Scruton and Blond’s meaning of “conjugal marriage” to mean, is not “female advancing”. I’d like to see the research they have which suggests that it is.
I also take issue with Scruton and Blond’s suggestion that “lone motherhood” is any form of “manifestation of the contemporary separation of marriage and parenthood” without appropriate references. Because there are many many reasons for mothers raising their children on their own, and suggesting that it’s just because people aren’t committed properly completely erases domestic violence, early death on behalf of the spouse, incompatible partnerships, and you know – sex. Sex is important, and suggesting that only people who are married should have sex and should be open to have children every time they have sex – is yet another attempt to control your body.
But a “close relationships” culture fails to acknowledge fundamental facets of human life: the fact of sexual difference; the enormous tide of heterosexual desire in human life; the procreativity of male-female bonding; the unique social ecology of parenting which offers children vital and fundamental bonds with their biological parents; and the rich genealogical nature of family ties and the web of intergenerational supports for family members that they provide. Union across sexual difference is the most powerful aspect of conjugal marriage. It provides the sole institution that can successfully cope with the generative power of opposite-sex unions.
I’m sorry I really don’t understand what the authors were smoking when they thought that this paragraph was suitable for publication. Apparently even same-sex attracted people have an “enormous tide of heterosexual desire”… which makes absolutely no sense. “Procreativity of male-female bonding” I assume means that it takes sperm and ovum to create zygotes which may become babies, which doesn’t actually need a penis and vagina to come into contact with each other (SCIENCE!).
Note the code which made me think that Scruton and Blond are Christian “fundamental bonds with their biological parents”, because apparently biological parents are the best – so all those children who are adopted – well their lives are terrible, and all those children who lost a biological parent before or during their birth – their lives are also terrible, and children who lose a parent later in life but who find a step-parent who loves them and treats them as their own child – their lives are terrible too, etc etc. Really, I don’t know of any studies, and the authors haven’t quoted any, which actually show that biological parental bonds are somehow magically better than any other form of parental bonds. I do know of studies that show that queer parents raise well adjusted and psychologically healthy children.
This whole paragraph smacks of homo, bi and trans* phobia.
Conjugal marriage has several strengths which partnership marriage does not. It is inherently normative, which is fundamentally good, for it stabilises and secures people in their most profound relationships. Conjugal marriage cannot celebrate an infinite array of sexual or intimate choices as equally desirable or valid. Instead, its very purpose lies in channelling the erotic and interpersonal impulses between men and women in a particular direction: one in which men and women commit to each other and to the children that their sexual unions commonly (and even at times unexpectedly) produce. A political indifference to this normativity reflects a culture that chooses to “do nothing” about sexual attraction between men and women. The outcome of which is a passive, unregulated heterosexual reality and multiple failed relationships and millions of fatherless children.
Ok, so “conjugal marriage”, which hasn’t actually been defined well enough for me to explain it to someone else, is “inherently normative”. This suggests that a) I should be able to describe it to someone else, and b) be the same as it has been for ever and ever. One thing that hasn’t remained the same forever is marriage. It’s changed repeatedly since history began to be recorded.
The suggestion that an “infinite array of sexual or intimate choices” cannot be celebrated in conjugal marriage would suggest that this definition attempts to control your sex life, but surely what is consensual between you and your partner/s is no one else’s business.
Again the suggestion that those who are married should be open to having children as the consequence of sex at any time flows both into Christian Patriarchy (see previous link) and Quiverfull ideals of marriage. The idea that a couple may want to only have as many children as they can afford to rear, survive the pregnancy of, or any other reason, would appear to not be part of conjugal marriage. Again the authors are focusing on heterosexual relationships and have forgotten about the same-sex relationships that they started out writing about.
The political (because you want the government to be involved in your bedroom) indifference to the authors’ idea of conjugal marriage means that there are “multiple failed relationships” which means that governments allow divorce and unhappy people to stop being in relationships that are not good for them, and “millions of fatherless children”. I note that the authors haven’t suggested that fathers should be involved with their children and started writing a series on how men can be better fathers and partners to the mothers of their children. I would hope instead of scaremongering that the authors cite statistics and studies for these claims and actually look at cause and effect and report on those faithfully.
For reference, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that there are:
In 2004–2006, there were on average 486,000 one-parent families with children under 15 years. They accounted for 22% of all families with children of this age. In this period, on average one in five children aged under 15 years (20%) were in one-parent families.
Over the last two decades, one-parent families increased substantially as a proportion of all families with children under 15 years. In 1986–1988, one-parent families accounted for 14% of such families on average. The proportion increased to an average of 20% in 1996–1998, reached 23% in 2002–2004 and then fell slightly to 22% in 2004–2006. [ABS]
And back to the article
Not every married couple has or wants children. But at its core marriage has always had something to do with societies’ recognition of the fundamental importance of the sexual ecology of human life: humanity is male and female, men and women often have sex, babies often result, and those babies, on average, do better when their mother and father cooperate in their care. Conjugal marriage attempts to sustain enduring bonds between women and men in order to give a baby its mother and father, to bond them to one another and to the child they have created. If human beings did not reproduce sexually, creating human infants with their long period of dependency and need, marriage would not be the virtually universal human social institution that it is.
Yes, yes ish, yes, yes, maybe, yes.
This idea that one form of marriage, which is superior to the other forms of marriage, works at building “enduring bonds between women and men”, when you are debating about same-sex marriage, is kinda distracting to the argument at hand. What are we even talking about now? It is great when children have parents, to suggest that two parents of the opposite sex are the best parents isn’t necessarily true. We know that LGBTI parents are good parents (see previous link) we also know it takes a village to raise a child and in many parts of the world extended family and friends assist with child rearing. To suggest that rearing a child is solely the duty of the biological mother and father of that child erases all the other family, friends, medical professionals, teachers, etc that are involved with a child’s development.
The authors go on then to discuss the history of marriage, from women being goods of war or slaves, through to the Ancient Greek customs, Roman Customs, the Christianisation of Roman Customs and then…
This historical experience can be summarised in three propositions:
- … it is not a contract for services, but an existential choice – a change from one mode of being to another.
Clearly the authors didn’t bother checking what marriage was like in the Dark or Middle Ages when marriage was very much practised as an exchange for property or wealth and the bride was the price paid.
The erasure of marriage traditions from other ancient cultures which influenced Christianity (Egypt for example) or other major cultures and religions in the world is disturbing, or would be if I didn’t already know what agenda the authors are pushing.
As sociologists are beginning to observe, however, this gain in freedom for one generation implies a loss for the next. Children born within a marriage are far more likely to be socialised, outgoing and able to form permanent relationships of their own, than children born out of wedlock. For their parents have made a commitment in which the children are included, and of which society approves. This fact is part of the deep phenomenology of the marital home. Children of married parents find a place in society already prepared for them, furnished by a regime of parental sacrifice and protected by social norms. Take away marriage and you expose children to the risk of coming into the world as strangers, untutored by fathers or abandoned by mothers, a condition of effective abandonment in which they may remain for the rest of their lives.
Citation needed. And really? Children born out of wedlock in this day and age are stigmatised? And perhaps if society is so judgemental that it makes a child suffer for the lack of marital status of their parents, maybe society should change and not an expectation that marriage is the be all and end all of all relationship choices. Perhaps that’s their point – make marriage so unattractive that no self respecting queer person would be interested in joining that club.
And I don’t know about you, but if I see two people together with children, I don’t assume that they are married or not. I don’t assume that the children were born “strangers” (whatever that means) or that they are not loved by those people that they are with.
This is no religious appeal to an institution that is only favoured by the quaint or unduly nostalgic. Marriage was made part of the secular settlement because of the self-evident and manifest benefits it conveyed. By almost every measure, we now know that marriage confers significant if not life changing advantages on children born under its auspices. We know that outcomes for children of divorce and one parent families are significantly worse in term of mental and physical heath. We know that children born outside of traditional structures suffer significant economic and social harm and that this harm extends throughout their education to future relationships and the stability and success that they can confer on their own families and children. So strong is the original bond from which the children originate that remarriage does not correct the dysfunction that comes from its loss.
Yes, yes, yes… we know marriage is “important”. It’s important because for a long time if you did have children out of wedlock you were sequestered until you gave birth to that child and then it was forcibly removed from you and put out for adoption. That’s when children were born “strangers”. Marriage is only important because there is a long history of the various religions having sway over various Governments. When Governments took over the marriage business, they kept much of the tradition and stigma against unmarried couples, because that was the way it was always done. And then slowly the world changed, divorce was allowed, recognition of cohabiting opposite sex couples occurred, recognition of cohabiting same-sex couples occurred, the positive change continued.
To suggest that social change is harming a tradition and to be alarmist and suggest these changes will harm children without citing any references is scaremongering at it’s worst. Show us your working.
An anthropologist will hardly be surprised to discover that marriage is regarded, in most simple societies, as a religious event. Rites of passage are conducted in the presence of the ancestors, and the ancestors are presided over by the gods. Religion is one way in which the long-term interests of society may animate the short-term decisions of its present members.
It is therefore natural that marriage should be seen from within as something divinely ordained, with a sacred aura that reinforces the undertaken duties and elicits the support of the tribe. You do not have to be a religious believer to observe this or to see its point. You need only be aware of what is at stake when people bring children into the world and claim those children as their own. Hence, although marriage was a civil institution in Roman law, it was embellished with religious trappings and the household gods were fully part of it.
Again, what? Storms are also seen as something presided over by gods, arguing in the sky, or threatening the unbelievers… this doesn’t mean that in this modern age we cling to that belief. These days we tend to look up at the sky and enjoy the light show while knowing (for the most part) that lightning is a massive electrostatic discharge caused by unbalanced electric charges in the atmosphere, and resulting in a strike, from a cloud to itself, a cloud to a cloud or a cloud to ground, and accompanied by the loud sound of thunder. We no longer see the sun rising or setting as religious events, nor the solstices or the full moon. Society moves on, learns more about the world, about how people work, discards old and unnecessary beliefs and continues on. The same will happen with marriage.
Since then, however, we have experienced a steady de-sacralisation of the marriage tie. It is not merely that marriage is governed now by a secular law – that has been the case since Antiquity. It is that this law is constantly amended, not in order to perpetuate the idea of an existential commitment, but on the contrary to make it possible for commitments to be evaded, and agreements rescinded, by rewriting them as the terms of a contract. What was once a socially endorsed change of status has become a private and reversible deal.
I really don’t see this as a bad thing. I’m fortunate that I’ve been married to the same man for almost 17 years. We’ve been together now for 19. If our relationships hadn’t been as strong or as good, if we had discovered that there was a severe incompatibility I’d prefer to have the option of dissolving the marriage if I couldn’t work through the issues, than having to stay in it, unhappy and depressed.
This should not surprise us. When the Government usurped the rite of matrimony, and reshaped what had once been holy law, it was inevitable that it should loosen the marital tie. For the Government does not represent the Eternal, nor does it have so much regard for future generations that it can disregard the whims of the merely living. The Government is always and inevitably the instrument of its current members; it will respond to their pressures and try to satisfy their demands. It has therefore found it expedient to undo the sacrament, to permit easy divorce, to reduce marriage from a vow to a contract and – in the latest projected act of liberalisation – to permit marriage between people of the same sex.
Ah here is the suggestion that same sex marriage is a bad thing. You have to get through two thirds of this tiresome and pompous article, but eventually you get there.
And the authors are right in that Governments (in most cases) are not religious. Given the number of religions present in the UK, Australia, and the USA, the Government should not privilege one religion over any other – and so they don’t. It might frighten the authors to know that in some religions marriage is only a contract which can be dissolved.
None of this has been done with evil motives, and always there has been, in the back of people’s minds, a memory of the sacred and existential ties that distinguish people from animals and enduring societies from madding crowds. The desire has been to retain the distinctiveness of marriage, as the best that we can hope for by way of a lasting commitment, while escaping from its more onerous demands – demands that many people are no longer prepared to recognise.
No, I really don’t think there is in the back of people’s mind the “memory of the sacred and existential ties that distinguish people from animals and enduring societies from madding crowds”. I would also suggest that perhaps the authors are a tad racist, as they privilege Christianity and therefore that’s the “enduring society” over other religions and their cultural heritage.
We are animals, that is evident in the wars we fight, the lack of consideration we give to others who are not like us, the grinding poverty some of us live in, and the way we treat other animals. Religion hasn’t done much in the way of improving any of these aspects, and I would suggest that abolishing religion would be a fantastic start to have humanity reach it’s higher purpose.
Lacking religion or a more communal understanding, people no longer live by unbreakable ties. Vows become contracts and long-term commitments become temporary deals.
And then a dig at the atheists, why hello Mr Scruton and Mr Blond. Did you know that atheists are also ethical individuals for the most part and don’t crowd out prisons due to our complete lack of morality?
If marriage is without religious overtones or sacrificial demands, then many people will begin to believe that it is no more than a prejudice to think that marriage is to be conceived in traditional terms, as the relation of matrimony, devoted to motherhood and child-raising. If two people of the same sex wished to be joined by marriage, and if the definition of marriage lies entirely with the State, why should the institution not be amended in order to accommodate them? Is not this simply the next step in a natural process of decay which, viewed from another perspective, is also a process of growth – the growth of a new institution, and one more suited to our times? Are we not merely witnessing the latest manifestation of the transition (commented upon a century and a half ago by Sir Henry Maine) from status to contract? And in a secular, liberal democracy, it is contract not status that counts.
Put simply, yes.
The authors then go on to suggest that the fight for equality is wrong because it makes people equal (I’m not sure I understood that argument, I read it several times and seriously these authors need a better editor), that the removal of all differences between people is a bad thing, because their religious beliefs hold that people are different and therefore stuff, and that if queer people are allowed to marry then what marriage effectively is (according to the authors) will change and society will continue to decay. The authors also state that marriage was designed to protect motherhood, you know instead of property rights.
Marriage has grown around the idea of sexual difference and all that sexual difference means. To make this feature accidental rather than essential is to change marriage beyond recognition. Gay people want marriage because they want quite rightly a variant of the social endorsement that it signifies; but by admitting gay marriage we deprive marriage of its social meaning. It ceases to be what it has been hitherto – namely, a union of the sexes and a blessing conferred by the living on the unborn.
You know what isn’t important? Sexual difference. Just because I lack a penis doesn’t mean I can’t do many of the same things that a man can. Just because many men lack vulvas doesn’t mean that they can’t do things that women do. The idea that gender essentialism is important to marriage is a load of arse.
One immediate consequence of this is that the laws that exist in order to protect marriage lose their traditional rationale. Incestuous and bigamous marriages are currently forbidden, and indeed severely punished – but why should this be so, if marriages are simply contracts of cohabitation, in which only the partners have an interest?
OMG run for the hills, it is a slippery slope argument!
We are entering a period in which we are in direct confrontation with cultures that treat women as chattels, which regard marriage as a form of male domination, and which permit one man to have up to four wives – in some cases more. We have, in our midst, sub-cultures that endorse the genital mutilation of girls, which condemn girls to marry whoever has been chosen for them by others and which do not baulk at “honour killings” when a girl has followed the inclination of her heart.
Oooh, the authors are not racist, but…
And then we come to the crux of this godforsaken article. This mess of words that was a complete torture to read and I hope it is appreciated that I have missed out on sleep to get this thing written and published. Because some things are so bad you just have to rant about them at length.
So… the final jewel in this crown of shit:
We have profound reservations about same sex marriage, not just because of the harm it does to a vital heterosexual institution, but also because we reject the implication that in order to be equal and respected homosexuals should conform to heterosexual norms and be, in effect, the same as heterosexuals.
In this sense, we believe same sex marriage to be homophobic – it demands recognition for gay relationships, but at the price of submitting those relationships to heterosexual definition. This serves neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals. The former are absorbed into a structure that does not give due credit or recognition to their distinction and difference; whereas heterosexuals are stripped of any institution that belongs to them by virtue of their heterosexuality. Men and women who marry are denied proper recognition of their own distinctive union across the sexes and, even more importantly, any recognition of their role and unique responsibility in creating and nurturing children whose origin still lies exclusively in heterosexual union.
Just remember that bisexuals, trans* and intersex people don’t exist.
Now try and think that as well as diminishing heterosexual marriages, teh gays getting married in a heterosexual tradition is homophobic. Yes you read that right, equal marriage is homophobic and it will harm the marriages of heterosexuals.
For serious, this article is a massive pile of arse.