As some of you know, I have my social networking profiles for my life in general and then I have social networking profiles just for my family and people I knew when I was a child. I keep these things separate because my family would have problems with much of what I do, including my activism, sex life and job. I sometimes try to share my views, though, with these same people in order to (hopefully) influence them in a positive way. Thus, they get a pretty toned-down version of me than those that read this site, do, but they get to hear some similar viewpoints. When I address them, I try to be non-confrontational and I don’t tell them about my work, that I’m bisexual or even about the activist activities I’ve been involved with. They think I’m boring, but opinionated. Here is a recent attempt at educating them that I thought might be useful for some of you to use as well. I know of lots of people who have expressed a desire for articles and references that are not as aggressive as what is readily available on the internet so they can share them with their peers. As long as you remember to cite me, Sophie Hirschfeld, when you use it, I encourage you to keep it as a resource to help yourself share ideas with people that you feel need to hear the same things (that is, assuming you think it is a good piece).
There Are No Rational Reasons to be Anti-Gay
I know some of you aren’t going to like this just based on the subject alone. Please, bear with me. I would like for you to read my full argument before you judge and dismiss it.
Many centuries ago in our culture and not terribly long ago in other cultures, property rights, inheritance, sexual access and various related issues were handled in a much simpler fashion. While there were inadequate accommodations for many situations, there were also more liberal accommodations for things that are not commonly considered now.
The Kwakwaka’wakw practiced a form of marriage that answered problems with inheritance and property rights by allowing a man with no heir to marry another man’s body part, such as their arm. This establishes a relationship between the two men that is familial in nature, where their property is treated as that of a married couple, but where the men may have wives and live their lives with marital agreements with others.
The Nuer, a people of the Upper Nile in Sudan, answer the same problem in an entirely different manner. They performed what is known as a ‘ghost marriage.’ This arrangement takes place after a man with no heir dies. In need of an heir, a woman marries him and is awarded financial compensation to her and her family as if it had been a normal marriage ceremony. According to all property rights, inheritance and kinship rules of the culture, she is the wife of the deceased. In order for her to bear children and fulfill her duties as a wife, she has a surrogate husband who lives with her and stands in for all related male roles.
These same people, the Nuer, allow for a type of marriage known as woman-marriage, in which a woman may take on the role of a man in all social respects and may marry a woman. Her social roles, including trade and food-obtaining activities are all like that of a male from her culture. She also inherits from her father’s fortune and pays a bride-price for the woman she marries. She may employ a surrogate male in order to ensure she has heirs.
The Northern Alaskan Inuit once practiced various forms of polygamy. Alongside the types of polygamy that most are familiar with, Polygyny and polyandry, they also practiced what was known as co-marriage, in which the same-sex partners in the group were treated as brothers and sisters while the opposite sexes in the group would be sexually intimate to varying degrees. The children from these relationships were considered siblings and kinship ties grouped the children under all of the parents. This relationship type allowed the larger groups more protection and a larger social circle so that they could better survive in harsh environments as they traveled and while they settled.
From polyandrous marriages amongst the Nepalese and Toda to “two-spirit” people (homosexuals and other sexual variants) recognized by various Native American tribes, marital variation has clearly been existent for much longer than the one man-one woman belief system that has been reinforced in the last two centuries.
So what is the point? The point is, the most common marital arrangement that most are familiar with is not representative of the whole of history or of the World’s cultures. As a result, ‘traditional’ marriage has a wide variety of incarnations and it is not unreasonable to recognize them.
Right now, many states across the nation are celebrating Gay Pride Month. I’m not going to tell you all that you should celebrate it or even care, but what I do ask that you care about is what I saw as I observed these events. I saw families, struggling to gain what most of the population has a right to. I saw lovers wanting to guarantee that their significant other could visit them in a hospital if they got sick or keep the lease on their homes should their loved one die. I saw people wanting to deal with matters of inheritance, social belonging and, especially, love before the law and society the same way that millions of people do every day. I saw these people fight for it and mourn over the fact that they’re still being denied these basic things.
When considering what I wanted to say here, I looked back to things I remember being told when I was younger, back when my world was so much smaller, and I searched for the reasons why I had been taught the things I had about homosexuality. I remember the general message of fear and the hatred that was spread amongst my peers over this very subject. I want to address some of that as well.
1) When I was young, I was told that gay marriage would somehow harm marriages in general. That Gay Marriage contradicted the things that marriage stood for and some people even jokingly said, “Gays can marry! They can marry the opposite sex like the rest of us can!” – Not a very funny or even productive joke, really. What better way to drive a stake farther into the heart of a conflict than to make fun of and smear a social outgroup’s basic desires? The reality is, there is absolutely no evidence that Homosexual marriage will do any harm to marriage in general, whatsoever. In fact, the one man-one woman laws themselves have done more damage than allowing homosexual marriage ever could. The sad side-effect of the one man-one woman laws was that it resulted in the restriction of marriage for anyone who had any sexual ambiguity. People who had chromosomes that didn’t match their physical sex; people who were hermaphrodites and other ambiguous sexual forms and even those who had other chromosomal disorders were unaccounted for in the one man-one woman laws because they are often born neither as a male or as a female, or they are in some transitional state. Since they were unaccounted for, their unions were questioned and sometimes put on trial.
2) The Argument from Nature: This is an actual logical fallacy. It is a fallacy for a very good reason. The argument regarding Gay Marriage goes like this: Gays can’t reproduce with one another, thus, their union is unnatural and should not be allowed by law. The thing is, nature doesn’t dictate law. In fact, our society would still be living in pre-history were nature all hat we ever used to dictate how we govern ourselves. The very stone arrows that were such a defining moment in our history, that allowed us to hunt more effectively and survive better and easier, launching us forward into new elements of culture and eventually into modern civilization is not a ‘natural’ thing. Our methods of sterilizing our meals, before we eat them, and eliminating germs that would otherwise kill us is not a ‘natural’ thing. Nature doesn’t provide us with computers, diet soda, stovetops, Hats, fashion design and the written language – we get those elements of our culture due to our on ingenuity and progress. Nature is, quite frankly, a really crappy social designer. Aside from nature being a crappy social designer, the Argument from Nature is a lie. The reality is, there are plenty of examples of homosexuality in nature. In mammals alone, homosexuality is fairly common. In fact, before heterosexuality ever existed, asexual; homosexual (even if they were ‘homosexual’ simply because there was only one sex) unions are what many species used to reproduce. Heterosexuality is actually an evolutionary addition that allows for more efficient diversification, but it is not necessarily the way of nature.
3) Religion and the Gays: It was really always the case that the biggest thing behind my family and peers objecting to gay marriage was religion. I can understand people adhering to religious beliefs and making decisions based on that. However, the moment one’s own religion is interfering with the lives of others when those others are not harming anyone, I have to object. There is a good reason why there is a separation of church and state in this country; there is a good reason why we are not governed by religion and why we say that our own rights end where another’s nose begins. That reason is because religion is, also, a poor social control and religion motivates mistakes quite frequently. Remember the crusades? The Thirty Years War? The modern miseducation of Africans regarding sexual safety (which has significantly contributed to the spread of the AIDS virus)? The French Religious Wars? The Reconquista? And, especially, the last thousand years of conflict in the Middle East over Israel? When it comes to religion as a governing force and social decision-maker, it sucks. It may be how you, as an individual, make decisions (and the discussion over that is irrelevant here and can be saved for another day), but en masse, it has done horrible things. If religion is your argument against homosexual marriage, perhaps you should withdraw that one and simply apply it to yourself and not your fellow humans. Nobody is asking you to go against your religion and become homosexual – they are just asking to be homosexual with the same rights that you have.
One final note: If we were a more advanced, socially upright culture, marriage would not even be a feature within our laws and government. We are equipped with the means to alter laws according to the needs of society in ways that can address matters of inheritance and social ties. In terms of the necessity to address property rights and inheritance, marriage is obsolete. For the sake of social ties, though, it is not. Thus, a more sensible approach to marriage would be to eliminate it from the lawbooks entirely and to allow the sub-social groups that we have to deal with it within religious and social circles that may disallow or allow according to their own mores without interfering with the rights of those outside their ingroup.
But we don’t have that advanced, upright culture, as of yet. Thus, as long as marriage is a part of our laws, it should be accessible to all consenting adults, in the manner which they choose.
P. S. If you need references for the information in this article, please email me. I haven’t had a chance to type out the bibliography. I hope to do so soon-ish, but am unsure when I will fit it into my busy schedule.