Sam Schulman: Same Sex Marriage isn’t Going to Work

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The role that marriage plays in kinship encompasses far more than arranging a happy home in which two hearts may beat as one--in fact marriage is actually pretty indifferent to that particular aim. Nor has marriage historically concerned itself with compelling the particular male and female who have created a child to live together and care for that child. It is not the "right to marry" that creates an enduring relationship between heterosexual lovers or a stable home for a child, but the more far-reaching kinship system that assigns every one of the vast array of marriage rules a set of duties and obligations to enforce. These duties and obligations impinge even on romantic marriage, and not always to its advantage. The obligations of kinship imposed on traditional marriage have nothing to do with the romantic ideals expressed in gay marriage.

Consider four of the most profound effects of marriage within the kinship system.

The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood--and sexual accessibility--is defined. Again, until quite recently, the woman herself had little or nothing to say about this, while her parents and the community to which they answered had total control. The guardians of a female child or young woman had a duty to protect her virginity until the time came when marriage was permitted or, more frequently, insisted upon. This may seem a grim thing for the young woman--if you think of how the teenaged Natalie Wood was not permitted to go too far with Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass. But the duty of virginity can seem like a privilege, even a luxury, if you contrast it with the fate of child-prostitutes in brothels around the world. No wonder that weddings tend to be regarded as religious ceremonies in almost every culture: They celebrate the completion of a difficult task for the community as a whole.

Read the whole article.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchChildrenLaw & Legal IssuesMarriage & FamilyMenSexuality--Civil Unions & PartnershipsWomen

Posted May 27, 2009 at 1:19 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Mark Baddeley wrote:

Thank you Dr Harmon.  Not sure I sign off on absolutely every detail, but it is a fine example of the level of discourse we have got to step up to in this situation.  I don’t think we can win at the level of soundbites and propaganda - liberalism always sounds more attractive at that level.  But this article succeeds in reframing so much of the debate.  Worth my time, and I’ll be coming back to it.

May 27, 2:28 pm | [comment link]
2. Timothy Fountain wrote:

He’s making some good points but then lets drop that he’s been married three times… he doesn’t say anything about being a widower or under police investigation so I’m assuming that he’s had one or more divorces.  This makes his ammo incompatible with the church’s argumentative weapons.

We (the church) are not just talking about notions of “normal vs. abnormal” sex.  We are talking about God’s revealed standard for marriage, whatever else the culture might do.  “Gay marriage” simply hops on the moving truck of heterosexual serial marriage.  The “straight” culture sees marriage as a temporary arrangement rather than a lifetime vocation, and as such has very little to preach to advocates of Gay or any other claim of “marriage.”  If it is just about an individual’s transient utility and feelings, then marriage can be “whatever.”  But the church needs to stand for, nurture and bless something very different.

May 27, 2:31 pm | [comment link]
3. Creedal Episcopalian wrote:

The destruction of kinship isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Why else would the progressives be so solidly behind homosexuality?

May 27, 2:47 pm | [comment link]
4. ember wrote:

(Quoting the article) “...marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality.”

I don’t know a soul, even among my rural-Texas fundamentalist relatives, who’d agree with that statement.

May 27, 2:47 pm | [comment link]
5. Mark Baddeley wrote:

I’m not sure that his being divorced makes his arguments incompatible with Christian doctrine.  It probably means you don’t want him in your pulpit, but your suggestion really seems to be playing the man in a big way.

We (the church) are not just talking about notions of “normal vs. abnormal” sex.  We are talking about God’s revealed standard for marriage, whatever else the culture might do.

Sure, the article isn’t sufficient for a Christian ethic of marriage.  But that does not mean that it doesn’t help illuminate aspects of why limiting sexual behaviour and creating taboos actually helps life flourish - especially for some of the more vulnerable categories of human beings.  That’s a hard sell in today’s environment, and I think the article helps us there.

Your complaint seems to be that because it doesn’t help establish that Scripture’s teaching is true this article offers us no resources.  But I’d suggest that one of the biggest challenges we have in the current debate is that people think the Christian view of marriage isn’t good for human beings.  And this article opens up some good avenues to have that debate.

“Gay marriage” simply hops on the moving truck of heterosexual serial marriage.

But what if the article is right and heterosexual serial marriage is not the ‘core problem’ but is itself just another symptom?  The article implies that our problem at the moment is due to the romantic notion of marriage - where people can fall in love (and it’s corollary, that they can fall out of love as well).

May 27, 2:53 pm | [comment link]
6. Jeff Thimsen wrote:

#4, I agree. This may be true in theory, but won’t get much traction in a society in which cohabitation is almost as common for couples as marriage.

May 27, 3:08 pm | [comment link]
7. Sarha7nj wrote:

Snarkily speaking, my favorite definition of marriage is the Marxist one: a woman exchanges sex for access to resources.

May 27, 3:34 pm | [comment link]
8. Timothy Fountain wrote:

#5 - it all gets back to the church presenting a counter-culture, which is what the first Christians did.

I agree with your last statement (which is a good summary of the article) - the current notion of “romantic love” carries the corollary of “falling out of love.”  But that’s pretty much what I mean by cultural “marriage” as a temporary arrangement to meet transitory “felt needs.”  The church does not overcome that with utilitarian arguments, because it is itself a utilitarian position.  The church can only offer the alternative, Biblical vision of marriage, along with intentional support for its married people. 

This problem is evident when #6 brings up cohabitation - the statistical evidence of its instability and attendant problems has been out and about for years, yet has not stopped the behavior.  If people’s basic assumption is, “I do what works for me, while it works,” then tweaking a few ideas of “what’s socially useful” are not likely to mean much.

Although it sounds harsh, I do discount the author here because he has no model to hold out in support of his ideas.  He’s made and broken two or three “kinship” establishments.  Maybe he’s learned some things the hard way, and that’s worth hearing.  But he can’t articulate an alternative to the culture because he’s an exemplar of it.  If he can experiment with multiple living arrangements to arrive at his ideas, why shouldn’t Gays or any other folks be able to do the same?  As St. Paul warned, we can be “disqualified” to preach at others when our behavior doesn’t back up our message.

May 27, 3:40 pm | [comment link]
9. Branford wrote:

This is the statement that resonates most with me:

There is no doubt that women and children have suffered throughout human history from being over-protected and controlled. The consequences of under-protection and indifference will be immeasurably worse. In a world without kinship, women will lose their hard-earned status as sexual beings with personal autonomy and physical security. Children will lose their status as nonsexual beings.

Once it’s impossible to deny polygamy, woman and children become commodities and status symbols, no longer individuals. This echoes what Dennis Praeger wrote years ago ( in his article “Judaism’s Sexual Revolution”:

. . . Yet another reason for Judaism’s opposition to homosexuality is homosexuality’s negative effect on women.

One of the most remarkable aspects of contemporary societies’ acceptance of homosexuality is the lack of outcry from and on behalf of women. I say “outcry” because there is certainly much quiet crying by women over this issue, as heard in the frequent lament from single women that so many single men are gay. But the major reason for anyone concerned with women’s equality to be concerned with homosexuality is the direct correlation between the prevalence of male homosexuality and the relegation of women to a low social role. The improvement of the condition of women has only occurred in Western civilization, the civilization least tolerant of homosexuality.

In societies where men sought out men for love and sex, women were relegated to society’s periphery. . .

Read the whole thing.

May 27, 4:04 pm | [comment link]
10. Br. Michael wrote:

You know I can see the end of marriage, period.  Why should a couple receive more benefits and privleges than single people?  If it is a denial of equal protection to ban same sex marriage then it should also be a equal protection matter to deny such benefits and privilges to singles.

May 27, 5:17 pm | [comment link]
11. Branford wrote:

Because, Br. Michael, as study after study has shown, the intact family of mother and father married is the best environment to raise children, and from the state’s viewpoint (and older people as well), the raising of the next generation of taxpayers is an endeavor worth rewarding in some small way by the state. Without children to grow into taxpaying adults who care for their aging parents, the state has to pay for more and be responsible for more.

May 27, 5:22 pm | [comment link]
12. Br. Michael wrote:

Branford, however the homosexuals argue that many heterosexual couples don’t have children.  And some courts have rejected your argument as a bar to same sex marriage.  That being the case why shouldn’t unmarried persons with children get the benefits of marriage or, simply end the practice of marriage altogether.

May 27, 6:01 pm | [comment link]
13. Mark Baddeley wrote:


The church does not overcome that with utilitarian arguments, because it is itself a utilitarian position.  The church can only offer the alternative, Biblical vision of marriage, along with intentional support for its married people.

1. Pointing out that a certain approach has good results is not necessarily utilitarian.  Unless you are of the view that morality is not wired into creation, then truth and good are complementary.  I think it is primarily Kant’s influence that has tended to make Christians shy away from bringing out the good that the truth brings.  Before Kantian ethics got such a grip, I think Christians were pretty comfortable with mixing up ‘this is right’ and ‘this is good for you’ kind of arguments.
2. If the Church can do nothing more than declare revealed truth and support those who voluntarily opt into trying to live by such principles, then there is no such thing as a cultural war.  If there is no place for us to show how such revealed truth fits with the world people live in, and no place for us to bring about a common good that supports and encourages that common good even for those who don’t voluntarily take up Christian teaching then we have nothing to say to these debates in the societies we live in.  We are, in the classic sense, ‘idiots’.  The best thing we can hope for is freedom to do our thing while others do their thing.

Although it sounds harsh, I do discount the author here because he has no model to hold out in support of his ideas.  He’s made and broken two or three “kinship” establishments.  Maybe he’s learned some things the hard way, and that’s worth hearing.  But he can’t articulate an alternative to the culture because he’s an exemplar of it.  If he can experiment with multiple living arrangements to arrive at his ideas, why shouldn’t Gays or any other folks be able to do the same?  As St. Paul warned, we can be “disqualified” to preach at others when our behavior doesn’t back up our message.

I don’t know where you are coming from theologically, so it is possible that this reflects a different understanding of the relationship of Law and Gospel between us.

I don’t think that simply knowing the right way to live gives one the ability to live it.  The Law is not the Spirit.  I think there is a long history in Western society of non-Christian moralists with personally patchy performances.  In my limited readings into the apologetic works of the early christians this is a phenomena that they are aware of and highlight to bring out the superiority of Christ to the philosophers.  Athanasius, for example, in Incarnation of the Word uses it as evidence that Christ Jesus is alive - because Christians from lowly backgrounds evidence a substantial moral transformation, whereas the philosophers struggle to get minor changes in themselves and relatively small groups of followers.

Poor moral performance does disqualify a Christian indwelt by the Spirit of the living God from holding a leadership role.  And so it should. 

I am not so sure that such a rule works the same for an unbelieving moralist.  I fully expect an unbeliever who knew and affirmed the whole of Christian ethics to be patchy at best in their achievement of it.  Godliness is something that God must work in us.  Contra Pelagius we don’t have the resources to be good people simply upon knowing the right morality.

May 27, 6:05 pm | [comment link]
14. ember wrote:

the alternative, Biblical vision of marriage

Some Biblical visions of marriage would horrify a heathen—Deuteronomy 21:11-14 and 22:13-21, for example.

May 27, 7:57 pm | [comment link]
15. Paula wrote:

I think the article is extremely thought-provoking—one of the few I’ve seen to probe deep “primordial” regions of humanity to suggest what all we are losing in the dissolution of the ties (marriage bonds) that have channeled our natures generationally and created our civilization.  It’s not a theological text but allows us to see into the state of our fallen nature that we surely loose upon the world in all its fury without the time-honored patterns of containment and re-creation.  The patterns are time-honored, of course, because ordained by God but also because they are necessary for our good. While this may seem an obvious truism, few treatments of the subject give it such force.  This author indicates successfully that marriage has reasons that are much deeper than any of us recognize—and that this makes the anarchic, chaotic sexual movements of our time not just wrong-headed but perilous in incalculable ways.

May 27, 9:08 pm | [comment link]
16. Sam Schulman wrote:

May a grateful author chime in here, most of all to thank you for reminding me that I wrote the piece I thought I did, rather than the homophobic, bigoted collection of Victorian attitudes that my GLBT audience says I did?  Thank you Paula and all.
But I did want to say more - first of all, of course, that I am not a Christian, and did not write as a Christian.  In my Semitic tradition, marriage and divorce is merely a contract, with terms in place for its dissolution - although there is a text that notes that God weeps when a man puts away his first wife.  Still, I am also an American, and grateful to be one, and so I legitimately inherit a Protestant-sacramental view of marriage, and I am a Chicagoan, and so legitimately inherit a Roman Catholic-sacramental view of marriage.  So I fully accept that my history of divorce disqualifies me from the pulpit.  But in Paula’s term, the primodial view of marriage, I think that it is precisely my chequered marital history that is an argument in favor of the existence of a priviliged, sanctified, and disciplinary category called “marriage.”  If I was as bad a man as my throwaway line - which I thought would charm my opponents! - might be construed to suggest, and that even one of you suggested - that I carelessly destroyed and abandoned two families - it is precisely the existence of marriage which ensured that the shattered remnants of my families could prevent me from simply abandoning them, materially and spiritually.  (Of course, you might well imagine that the facts were different).  But one of marriage’s primordial purpose is to extend the reach of kinship and shame - which held the fort until Sin came along - to men as bad as and even worse than me. 
But I’m not complaining - I should tell you that the degree of uncharitableness and assumption of fault is a couple of orders of magnitude higher among the enlightened defenders of gay marriage and general antinomianism than the few remarks you all have made.
Thanks again - as I told my wife, her Christian brethren have ridden to the rescue!
-Sam Schulman

May 27, 10:00 pm | [comment link]
17. Chris Taylor wrote:

Paula, well put.  I agree with you that this is not a theologian writing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a piece worth reading and reflecting on.  I share your sense that this is one of the most thought-provoking reflections on this issue I’ve read.  This piece is likely to persuade many secularists out there that there’s MUCH more to this issue than they think there is.  Many secularists currently dismiss the whole gay marriage issue as simply a concern of the religious, which they aren’t.  This article may give even the most hardcore secularists pause.

It may also prompt many women to realize that for all its failures across time and space, marriage, from a COMPLETELY secular and utilitarian standpoint, is ultimately most critical for women.  It is women, after all, who bear the greatest burden in the procreative process.  Most societies across time and space have understood that women are not the problem in the procreation of the species, men are.  More often than not men have proven themselves to be biologically irresponsible agents—sowers of seed!  Most societies have sought ways to tie men to the consequences of their procreative actions—which is very hard to do!  Think for a moment about how unequal the physical roles are in the procreative process.  Most societies have found it VERY difficult to get men to hang around and participate in the heavy and hard work of bringing new life into the world and raising it beyond their initial contribution to the process—which takes all of a few seconds.  As Marshall Hodgson pointed out years ago, marriage is about tying males to the marital unit, not women.  Having borne a child for nine months and then having given birth to that child, women have, historically speaking, been far more reliable than men in sticking around to raise the new life they have brought into creation, after all, their investment in this enterprise is, from a physical and emotional sense, so much greater.  The example of our new president’s own parents is, unfortunately, NOT unusual, it is typical.

So women have NEVER been the problem, men have and continue to be the issue—they always will be.  How do we tie them to the family unit and to the new life they played such a small, albeit critical, role in bringing into being?  Marriage is the answer every society has come up with.  Each society has shaped its understanding of marriage differently, but I think the goal is usually the same, keeping men invested!  Women have, by far, the most to lose by the destruction of marriage, but many of them today are, unfortunately, being brainwashed by feminist arguments that seek to “liberate” them from the “patriarchal male bondage” of marriage.  This article reminds us, in totally secular terms, what the consequences of the destruction of marriage will be!

May 27, 10:28 pm | [comment link]
18. montanan wrote:

Fascinating.  Mr. Schulman (#16; author), thank you for chiming in.  I am saddened that your GLBT audience takes your argument not on its merits (and whatever lack thereof) but on name-calling.  I believe I find that common on the liberal and far-right conservative threads - and far less common in the middle and center-right.

May 28, 3:53 am | [comment link]
19. Mark Baddeley wrote:

It is great to have your input Mr. Schulman (#16; author).  I’d like to restate my deep appreciation for your article - along the kind of lines that Paula articulated.

Yours and other comments got me thinking a bit in light of your article.  If you’re still around and making comments I’d be interested to get your thoughts on the following (no issues if that’s not the case).

1. It doesn’t surprise me that your article got the reaction it did.  You’re writing into a contest that by its nature is primarily political, not intellectual.  It’s going to be read by those already engaged as seeking to achieve a political outcome rather than as raising issues for consideration.  My hunch is the web-site it was posted on wouldn’t have helped its reception as anything other than propaganda for one ‘side’.

In my view, articles like yours work best on those like us on this site who agree with your conclusion and might find ourselves recasting some of our arguments in light of your work.  And with people who aren’t completely emotionally locked into one side or the other and want to think hard about the issue (a pretty small group, in my opinion).

2. It is possible that the response of the defenders of gay marriage has something more than typical hermeneutics of suspicion at play.  Your article is so ruthless in its demolishment of romantic notions of marriage (and, I suspect, as a corollary notions of romantic love) and placing kinship as the essence of explaining marriage that it makes disciplined heterosexuality ‘as basic to human existence as gravity’.  The effect of the argument is to say that homosexuality is so alien, so extrinsic to what enables humanity to function that it cannot even be mapped onto basic sexual categories such as licit/illicit, and virginity.  You are restating, in more sophisticated garb, the homophobic notion that male-female polarity and reproduction are fundamental to marriage, and rejecting the idea that ‘all you need is love.’ (I’m trying to put the argument more from the other side’s point of view, how they’d see it.)  The fact that you clearly state your strong support for substantial liberation of homosexuals beyond what they currently enjoy could, in light of the implications of the argument, be seen as disingenuous at worst, and cold comfort at best.  (“So he wants us liberated, but thinks human society is so inherently homosexual that we are effectively irrelevant to something as basic as gravity.  Yip-pee.”)

3. I couldn’t work out from your article whether you’d endorse or attack Kant’s definition that marriage is a contract between two partners for the sexual use of each other’s bodies - an aspect of property rights.  I figured that your argument would lend to either a very strong rejection or a considered acceptance of the definition, but I couldn’t work out which.  I’d be keen to know if you’re interested in indicating.  I loathe Kant’s definition, but would be interested to find out your take on it.

Anyway, at the risk of sounding syncophantic, thanks again for such a stimulating argument.

May 28, 6:13 am | [comment link]
20. Mark Baddeley wrote:

ahem.  Last paragraph, last sentence of point 2 needs a change so as to not reverse my intended meaning:
(“So he wants us liberated, but thinks human society is so inherently heterosexual that we are effectively irrelevant to something as basic as gravity.  Yip-pee.”)

May 28, 6:29 am | [comment link]
21. Sam Schulman wrote:

Mr. Baddeley, your paragraph 2 chills me to the bone, because I am sure you are correct - when I run my eye over the hostile comments with your explanation in mind, it saves the appearances almost completely.  It’s interesting to see how the consciousness of gay people has changed over the last decade.  I started writing on this them in 1998-99, in little essays in a NY alternative paper called NYPress, which, oddly, was not ultraleftist, and when they were republished online, I used to get deeply grateful emails from gay readers for writing of their condition with so much understanding and insight and so little bigotry.  But as the poet says, mankind cannot bear very much reality.
Speaking of which - Kant.  I revere his understanding of human consciousness, and of what we can and cannot ever know, but I find every other aspect of his thought, particularly his ethical and social writing, merely ordinary.  Of his contemporaries who have thought about such things, I much prefer Hegel’s passages in the Philosophy of Right, corrected a bit by Schopenhauer’s meanness.  But as I was modestly and incompetently trying to find a way of saying what is common to all marriage - from the Trobriand Islanders who pretend there is no link between coitus and pregnancy, to the West African tribes that encourage brides to sleep with their husbands younger brothers, to the marriages of Wagner and Cosima and Jen and Brad we enjoy today, - Kant’s curiously Mohammedan/Rabbinical view of marriage is no shock.
Another recommendation - the lead review in the 22 May TLS is of a wonderful sounding book by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mothers and Others, about the immense differences in how we humans and the other large primates take care of infants - we are the only ones of the great apes who can be relied upon not instantly to kill an infant if the mother lets go of it for a second - babies cannot be passed around at all; while we are the only ones of the great apes where the mother is capable of abandoning the infant.  The result thinks Hrdy is a much faster rate of reproduction - a surviving infant every two years per mother during childbearing, instead of 6 years at best for lady chimps, gorillas and ourang-outangs.  I regard this sort of thing as random story-making, but at least in the review’s account, titled “Pass the Baby,” it sounds wise and charming - and apt to me, who am enjoying the second week of life of my first son, after 4 daughters.  I tell my friends that Kierkegaard’s father and I were the same age at the birth of our sons - and look how well that worked out for SK!
Thanks again for your wisdom and ability to soothe.

May 28, 11:05 am | [comment link]
22. Katherine wrote:

I am, as usual, late to this party, but I thank Sam Schulman for an excellent article and commenters for a very interesting discussion.

While I am a Christian, and that adds a dimension to my view of Christian marriage, it is clear to me that if marriage is to survive in the West it must be defended with secular arguments.  The “what’s good for humans” applies to all creeds and ethnic groups, while “what God commands” is more specific to particular faith groups.  I think God commands what is good, and so I don’t see a dichotomy, but for those who do not recognize God, the “good” is the argument they can deal with.  It’s very clear that the main sufferers from the “sexual revolution” have been women and their young children.  Give me the bond of marriage any day compared to the slavery of that “freedom.”

Perhaps because of the Jewish connection I am reminded of that lovely song in Fiddler on the Roof in which the father asks his wife of so many years, “Do you love me?”  These days we hope to start out “in love” when we marry, but what’s more important is that we end up there, in love, not infatuation.

And as a side comment, Mark Baddeley, you have helped me to finally understand frequent T19 commenter “John Wilkins,” who usually chimes in to say that marriage is all about property.  Must be Kantian.

May 28, 1:14 pm | [comment link]
23. Paula wrote:

I also thank you for joining us here, author Sam Schulman.  You do have a message that is needed today, and I hope you find a wide audience.  The resistance you have encountered is an index of how MUCH the message is needed; the more the ancient imperatives really penetrate us moderns—striking to the heart—the more kicking and screaming, perhaps!  You may have planted a seed of truth in some of those detractors.  That is something to pray for.

May 28, 3:44 pm | [comment link]
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