Friday, May 16, 2008

Marriage, A Gay Old Time

Actually, I'm on the verge of turning the Bit Maelstrom into a full-on breast blog (possibly with a dissertation about the '80s Afghan revolt against the Russian Invaders) since that's what everyone comes here to see.

So, yeah, I'm pro-breasts (pointy or otherwise). And no, Charlie Wilson's War wasn't historically accurate, though parts were true. Also, all those peak oil guys who say that the world is coming to an end but it's not just a crazy prophecy of some mad cult? They're the crazy prophets of a mad cult.

Anyway, with that aside, the issue of who can marry whom has come up again in this fine state of California. In this case, the California Supreme Court has (once again) overridden the wishes of the people to say that, in fact, same-sex marriage is not only a right, it's always been a right according to the state constitution.

Now, it seems to me that if that were the case, same-sex marriage would have been established by two people of the same sex getting married, the state refusing to acknowledge it, and then the court saying the state has no right to refuse to acknowledge it. But I certainly might have that wrong.

Let me say, first of all, that I have no personal interest in who marries whom. As I understand it, one can arrange almost any sort of domestic situation one wants (hetero, homo or poly) except a bestial or pedophilia relationship (and maybe incestuous) and set up almost any sort of legal arrangement one wants.

Also, as I understand it, domestic partners have all the same rights as married couples, and certainly since palimony it hasn't mattered so much whether a couple is actually married. (California doesn't recognize common law marriage.) These days, it would probably make sense for married couples to create a nuptial contract and revisit it every year. (This might sound horribly clinical, but it actually could be quite romantic.)

If that's true, and it's really just about the word "marriage", well, you know what I call a couple of guys in a permanent committed relationship? "Married." Really. What else you gonna call it?

My preference? Marriage either gets a strict definition by the state that benefits the state, or the state gets its nose out of the union business. The latter being preferable.

So, having established my relative lack of concern over how people bond and what they call it, I'm going to expound a little on my understanding of marriage, and why I'm not entirely unsympathetic to cultural conservatives on the issue.

Despite everything I learned from the '70s, personal happiness actually ranks very low down on the list of societal concerns. No, really! It's true: Society doesn't care if you're happy. Society cares about its own survival and as long as you do your part to continue it, you can be as happy or as miserable as you like. So, the social importance of marriage is that you stick with one person, create the next generation, and raise them in such a way that they go on to continue society.

When you think about it, the idea that billions (or thousands, if you prefer) of years of struggle and hardship is going to come to its end because, you know, some gal wants to pursue a career, or some guy just doesn't care for female company--it's the ultimate in self-centered-ness.

Society's historical answer to the question of personal fulfillment--assuming it entertained the notion at all--was to simply not allow women to do anything but create the next generation, and to force gays to marry and produce offspring.

The other part of the equation was to discourage or disallow divorce, adultery, polygamy and fornication--to say nothing of onanism and homosexual activity. Basically, society figured out the best way to secure its own survival was to get people married pretty quickly, reproducing ASAP, and bonded forever, while outlawing sexual activity that didn't produce offspring.

These are the rules of a highly fragile society, one deeply concerned about its own survival. And it may be a coincidence, but every society that moves away from these principles dies. Will Durant wrote that every society enters stoic and exits epicurean. The Western world has been in full epicurean mode for decades.

Anyway, in the historical context, the definition of marriage is very clear, and very clearly not inclusive of homosexuality. One argument I've heard as an attempt to defend homosexual marriage "What about childless couples?" Well, until recently, the pressure for couples to have children was tremendous, and an inability to have children has historically been grounds for annulment.

It was really the '70s that turned divorce into a casual event, degraded "women's work" and made childlessness into a respectable option. And, also, at that point, made marriage into a word that applies (or should apply) equally to any people seeking to find happiness and fulfillment in long-term committed sexual relationships.

I don't know if anyone will read this, and find it less likely that anyone will care, but it's something I had to learn over many years. And the funky-funny thing is that there is tremendous happiness possible the old way, while allowing people to pursue personal pleasure has probably not resulted in any net gain in happiness for people over all.

So, why would I not personally fight to preserve the definition of marriage? For one thing, because it's long gone, and it's unlikely that heteros are going to be lining up to give marriage back to its original gravity. Secondly, since that is what has to happen--groups of people have to agree to restore the society-serving definition of marriage--it's not something the government can do. It's a social and religious thing, and requires people to look beyond themselves--not something they're generally encouraged to do.

The pendulum may swing back: a lot of victims of the "Do Your Own Thing" '70s (and beyond) are now grown and may take child-rearing and marriage more seriously than their parents did.

As I've said before, a society can be judged on its kindness to outliers, and I don't think it's likely we'll ever go back to the days when assaulting gays was acceptable and women had to put up with abuse because society's prohibitions against divorce were so strong. But it is possible to elevate individual fulfillment above society's survival needs, and this usually results in a barbaric culture where outliers must hide or be destroyed.

As a footnote: Some maintain that the California supreme court just overrode the will of the people in the service of a liberal agenda. Not surprisingly, this pisses off some and pleases others. For me, it just seems like business-as-usual in the Golden State.


  1. I don't know if anyone will read this

    I read every word. Every well-written, deeply considered, or at least, articulated word -- since I wonder just how much any of us think about the topic, unless it's on the table.

    Thanks so much for the post, especially that kindness to outliers link.


  2. Thank you for reading.

    Anything I say about kindness to outliers should probably be taken with the understanding that I'm an outlier. Heh.

  3. I agree with just about all of what you say, except your assertion that assaulting gays and women was once a societal norm. Certainly wasn't where I come from.

    Other than that, you make a lot of sense.

  4. Two thousand years ago, Christ dramatically transformed the moral code regarding adultery and bastardy. he said:

    He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

  5. Where did I say assaulting gays and women was once a social norm?


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