Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Musée de Cluny.

“You’re not seeking to join the institution, you’re seeking to change what the institution is."
How do you join an institution without changing it? When Jews wanted into the country club, couldn't it be argued that they were changing it from its identity as an institution without any Jews? "It's not that I don't like Jews, it's just that I like a place where I feel comfortable." No, of course, they didn't say that. Gentleman's agreement. They only said it out loud when it was about black people. And women—they still say it about women. "I can't really be myself if there are women all over the place. I can't really relax."

But then did the Loving case actually disturb marriage in Virginia in the way Jews disturb the country club? Did it make Virginia marriage less classy and exclusive, or for that matter less comfortable? Did single-race couples feel their relationships were cheapened, or stressed, or otherwise affected? By what social mechanism, exactly?

Marriage isn't an institution in that sense; not a place where you'd be in danger of bumping into the Wrong Sort of members, lowering the tone, or a society where they could take over the executive board. Couples I disapprove of aren't in my marriage in the way people I don't like might be in my club. They're in their own marriage or cohabitation or whatever, in their own living arrangements, doing their obnoxious stuff quite independently of me and my opinions. I've never heard anybody even try to explain how a gay marriage could affect my marriage, and I just can't understand it.

Roberts went on to say:
"The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship.”
I would really dispute that, from an anthropological standpoint. The opposite-sex relationship is privileged by nature, in those plant and animal species that have it at all (as opposed to bacteria, or yeast), or that have it in a simple way (as opposed to snails and oysters, for instance). It's going to happen no matter what, with most women and enough men (I can imagine a society like that of the gorilla, where only a tiny number of males ever get any), whether they have marriage or not.

What marriage is about has always been something else, or several things: the system of allocating partnerships so that nobody gets stiffed, like the ones where a guy has to marry his matrilateral cross-cousin; and the system of moving property from generation to generation, which ruled in feudal times, as an arrangement not between a man and a woman but between families (it was only in 1140 that Gratian declared that the bride and groom themselves needed to consent for a marriage to be valid); and the system of setting up a household, which isn't necessarily connected to sexual satisfaction, though that's obviously a nice way to manage.

The Romans hated polygyny, so that's been out of fashion in the West for two thousand years, but in other places and other times it's been an absolute norm for men of power, including of course among the biblical patriarchs. The ancient Greeks, to whom Justice Alito apparently referred as an instance of people who approved of same-sex screwing but not same-sex marriage, also did not regard marriage as a source of sexual happiness—Plato would have been disgusted by the idea of marrying somebody you were in love with, or even a long-term relationship, since the beloved was bound to get old and ugly when he turned 18 or 20 and want to go out looking for a catamite of his own, while marriage was for grim but patriotic procreation, close your eyes and think of Athens. I can't help thinking that latter is the kind of sex our Christianist scolds want everybody to have.

For many heterosexuals of the Western European Enlightenment as well, marriage was a business arrangement with kids, and love was something sought elsewhere. A John Adams with a modern-style spousal companionship was an early Romantic, not a normal figure of his time.

But we in the post-Enlightenment world expect to form a household with somebody we love, as a matter of right, and this is when same-sex cohabitation has become a thing, as in the 19th-century Boston marriage. Alongside the development (see Foucault) of homosexuality as an identity, and hence its own community, around the same period. It wasn't absolutely a new thing (I can't be arsed to look it up at this point, but everybody knows about Plains Indian male couples, and I'm sure there are instances all over the cultural landscape), but the idea that it should be normal to be best friends and roommates with the person you prefer to have sex with is really only a couple of centuries old, the collapsing of all the various ancient functions of marriage into the single relationship, and the historical weirdness of it hasn't yet worn off.

But most people like it, too, and there's no reason to shut some class of people out of it, none. Saying people of the same sex shouldn't form modern marriages is like saying people who speak Portuguese shouldn't use the Internet, because the fundamental core of the institution is that it's in English, like the Bible.

Closing the debate can close minds, and it will have a consequence on how this new institution is accepted
I.e., maybe we should allow states to ban same-sex marriage because that will make people more relaxed about it? I don't quite...

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