In all the discussions about Same Sex Marriage, the rarely-acknowledged elephant in the room is that there is no coherent non-religious opposition. The religious opposition, of course, boils down to “people who are not members of my chosen religion should nto have the same civil rights as people who are members,” so it makes sense that opponents of SSM would cast about for a reason beyond the sexual orientation of Paul. When I tried to bring attention to this lately, there were quite a few protests, and cries of, “but my opposition has nothing to do with religion! I just don’t see SSM as part of the American legal tradition,” or, “I just think that past examples of SSM in other cultures have been transient.”
But here’s the thing. Those reasons are religious.
There was gay marriage in ancient Rome. When did it stop? When Christianity took over the empire.
There were socially sanctioned same sex relationships among many indigenous North American civilizations. When did they stop? When they were converted, often forceably, to Christianity.
Every (or nearly every … I’m not encyclopedia-man here) post-Roman Western European civilization was officially Christian. The legal tradition they handed down to us was a Christian legal tradition. Christian morality became inexorably bound up in the law, to the point where things like blasphemy were considered crimes.
Thus, when someone says, “Hey, those traditions of Same Sex Marriage in other cultures sure seemed temporary,” what they’re really saying is, “Hey, those traditions of Same Sex Marriage in other cultures sure are part of a non-Christian tradition that ended when we made them convert.”
When someone says “I just don’t see examples of legally/socially sanctioned Same Sex Marriage in western civilization,”1 what they’re really saying is, “I just don’t see examples of legally/socially sanctioned Same Sex Marriage in civilizations with enforced Christianity.”
When someone says “I just don’t see examples of legally/socially sanctioned Same Sex Marriage in the United States,” what they’re really saying is, “I just don’t see examples of legally/socially sanctioned Same Sex Marriage in a country whose legal code grew from laws based on Christianity.”
And of course, when someone says, “I’m opposed to Same Sex Marriage because marriage has always been between a man and a woman,” what they’re really saying2 is, “There was a time when it was against the law to follow another religion, and I sure miss that.”
There was a time when it was illegal to do business on a Sunday. There was a time when adultery was illegal. That was because of this. There was a time when sodomy was illegal, and that was because of this. As time has gone on, those things have been jettisoned from the American legal tradition, in part because of the understanding that there ought to be a distinction between the legal and the religious. The same is true here.
Beyond all that, of course, argument from tradition is a logical fallacy. Knowing how people used to do things ‘way back when’ doesn’t hold any logical or moral weight. If it’s a good idea, we should do it now. If it’s a bad idea, we shouldn’t. Whether or not the Hittites, the Franks, the Normans, or the Aztecs allowed Same Sex Marriage or not is a hell of a red herring.
Please do not comment unless you accept the basic dignity, equality, and inherent worth of all people.
- And by the way, even phrasing the argument in such a way that you talk about ‘western civilizations’ is really very racist. In order for it to make a lick of sense, I would have to be convinced that we somehow have more in common with the 11th century French than we do with the Iroquois Confederacy whom we based much of our Constitution on. More in common beyond “but America’s supposed to be white,” I mean. [↩]
- Aside from, “I am ignorant of history and other cultures” [↩]