(Yes, I went with the oxford comma in that blog post title. What can I say? I’m a fan.)
So after a fairly quiet, stable year in the Clutterbuck-Cook household, the year 2014 has decided to whup us in the ass. As regular readers know, the first four months of the year have seen us trapped by the polar vortex, making the decision to move this summer, blindsided by the sudden death of my grandmother, the spraining of Hanna’s ankle, the death of my in-law’s elderly cat … not to mention a particularly busy winter/spring at the MHS, the Countway, and all of our regular life activities.
|Golden retrievers Addie & Josie swimming in Lake Michigan
(photo by Mark Cook)
We’re ready for a vacation!
Thankfully, we have one coming up next weekend in Brattleboro, Vermont — we’re already looking forward to the darkness and the quiet and the tasty foods to be found at the Brattleboro Co-op … not to mention the maple lattes from Mocha Joe’s and the popcorn from the self-service popcorn machine at Sam’s.
Meanwhile, here are some life updates from our recent adventures in what I like to call “adulting.” You know. That thing where you have to get up in the morning and leave the house to complete a series of tasks, some of which you look forward to and some of which you don’t.
- The new apartment search has started in earnest as spaces with July and August availability come on the market. We looked at, and put an application in for, one two-bedroom space last week that turned out not to be as cat-friendly as advertised. The landlord got cold feet on pets altogether and our agent was quite put out by the way he jerked us around. We agreed! The search will continue, and we know the right space is out there for us. When we find it, you’ll hear about it here (well, probably first on Twitter).
- We’ve had two library assistants turn in their resignation this spring, moving on to a new chapter of their professional and persona lives (congrats to you both!). They will be missed! Their recent/impending departures have meant that my work life has been consumed recently by scheduling and hiring tasks. I’m looking forward to our being fully staffed again.
- This year marked the first time Hanna and I got to file a joint tax return (yay for a post-DOMA world!), which I think actually ended up costing us a few hundred dollars more in taxes than we would have paid if the government refused to recognize our marriage — a few hundred dollars I was happy to pay. I just wish I could earmark it all to provide Medicaid coverage for newly-insured folks who are benefiting from Obamacare!
- Following the filing of taxes, I was able to renew my income-based student loan repayment plan at a slightly lower monthly rate (because they now take Hanna’s loans into account looking at our household financial profile). I said it on Twitter and I’ll say it again here: the education funding system is broken, but standing here and now amidst the rubble I sure am glad that government-funded loans with affordable repayment options have made my professional life possible — so yay big government!
- Last Thursday I attended the first of four sessions in a Homebuying 101 course offered free (thanks to HUD funding — yay big government!) by the City of Boston to prospective first-time home-buyers. This is purely exploratory at the moment, since Hanna and I plan to rent for another 3-5 years while we contemplate the pros and cons of buying. But I’m nerdy enough to find it interesting anyway, and the course also certifies us to apply to the city for grants toward a down payment and closing costs if we buy within city limits.
- Having presented my current research at the BC conference on March 29th, I am not returning to encyclopedia articles for the summer — on such topics as Phyllis Schlafly, Suburbia, and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws.
- Over the summer, I’m planning to use some vacation and comp time to experiment with what I’m calling Project Fridays — a day away from the library to pursue research and writing. It’s part of a socialistic plot I have to carve out meaningful life activities around wage-work over the next few years.
In the months before we got married, Hanna and I decided we were going to combine our middle names upon marriage:
- Elisabeth + Jane = Elisabethjane
- Anna E. J. Cook?
- Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook?
- Anna E. Clutterbuck-Cook?
- Anna E. Cook?
- Hanna and Anna Cook-Clutterbuck
- Anna and Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook
Things have all been a bit hectic since Wednesday morning, and what with one thing and another I’m just getting around to reading the full text of United States v. Windsor this evening. Scalia’s dissent is as wonderful as everyone’s been saying it is, and I feel the visual representation of his feels might look something like Paul Rudd’s hissy fit in Wet Hot American Summer (with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg standing by in the role of Janeane Garofalo, of course):
But all joking aside, there is another aspect to this landmark decision, apart from the opportunities for comedy and even just the straightforward legal-political victory which is the end of DOMA and the practical inequalities it enacted. And that is the fact that, as a bisexual woman married to my wife in the state of Massachusetts, there is something incredibly personal and incredibly powerful about reading a majority opinion written by the Supreme Court of the United States not only affirming my equal rights as a married citizen, but affirming our rights as sexual citizens not to be devalued because of our same-sex relationships.
It’s not like my marriage was somehow lesser, or invalid, while DOMA was still the law of the land. I don’t need the government to approve of my behaviors or relationship choices in order for me to feel like they were (are) the right ones for me.
But sociopolitical marginalization, cultural erasure, and silencing happen when our voices are not heard, or listened to, in the halls of power. The majority opinion in Windsor is one small instance of feeling myself fairly and fully represented — honored, even — in a document issued by the highest court in the land. So often, national debate on issues that have direct bearing in my lived experience — women’s health, sexism, student loans, labor rights, environmental sustainability — feel like they are discussed in some bizarre vacuum by people whose lives are vastly different from my own, and who have made no honest effort to understand (much less honor) what my life is like and what would make it better.
Then, every once in a while, someone (in this case a group of someones) with a great deal of power and authority hauls it up from their toes and produces something like this:
DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person. And DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities. By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect. By this dynamic DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives. (Windsor, 22-23; emphasis mine).
For a reminder of just how awesome — in the classical sense of the world — the use of such language is in relation to our rights as non-straight sexual citizens, go and read E.J. Graff’s personal-historical look back over the last half-century of political movement on other-than-heterosexual rights.
The court is far from perfect — as evidenced by its Voting Rights ruling on Tuesday — and the affirmation of queer folk as fully part of the national community is far from complete. But I am all for recognizing the gains as well as the losses, and this is — for all that we’ve become nearly blase about same-sex marriage these past months, cock-sure that DOMA was going to fall — this still is a pretty amazing, even breath-taking gain on the side of humanity.
|photograph by Laura Wulf|
Hanna and I worked out last night that this week marks the fourth anniversary of our officially becoming a couple, in that intimate, couple-y, sharing-a-bed-ahem sort of way.
I’m enough of a Supreme Court junkie to find it somewhat appropriate that this is also the week (and the day and nearly the hour) when SCOTUS will be handing down their rulings on the DOMA and Proposition 8 cases.
Here’s hoping we’ll be able to file a joint tax return next year.
Here’s hoping that after 10 o’clock this morning we’ll be one babystep (babyleap?) closer to queer folk being fully recognized as the legal and social citizens that we rightfully are of these here United States.
And then we’ll turn around and keep on working toward the next shuffle forward.
Welcome to part five of my live-blog reading of David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage (2007). You can read part one, part two, part three, and part four here.
Having sorted out what marriage is in chapters 1-5, we move on in the second half of The Future of Marriage to consider what marriage might be in the future. Chapter six (which we will look at today) considers the relationship David B. perceives between supporters of same-sex marriage and those who hope for the demise of marriage as a privileged social institution. Chapter seven outlines Blankenhorn’s key theory about marriage, and same-sex marriage specifically, which is that choices about marriage are choices between two competing “good” options (in Blankenhorn’s mind, the “good” of marrige equality and the “good” of protecting a child’s right to be parented by their biological mother and father). Chapter eight is, then, a call to arms as we are asked to “determine marriage’s fate.” This final chapter is also followed up by a rather odd appendix on forms of kinship which — among other things — perpetuates stereotypes about promiscuous bisexuals. But! All in good time.
Today we’re going to talk about those eeeevil lefty academics — specifically lefty lady academics; more on that later — who are critics of marriage as it has been historically practiced, and yet support marriage equality for same-sex couples. David B. is deeply troubled by what he reads a a disingenuous position on marriage, suggesting that it has damning implications for those who argue that granting same-sex couples equal access to marriage is, in fact, a conservative or pro-marriage-as-institution position. He writes:
Here is my dilemma: With every fiber of my being, I want to affirm the equal dignity of all persons and push for equal treatment under the law. Yet I’m also marriage nut. I’ve spent most of my professional life arguing that marriage is important and that children need mothers and fathers … I believe that my nightmare can…be expressed as a sociological principle: People who professionally dislike marriage almost always favor gay marriage, [and] ideas that have long been used to attack marriage are now commonly used to support same-sex marriage (128).
Basically, the short version of this chapter is: “While same-sex marriage, per se, is something I’d love to support when I look around at who’s supporting same-sex marriage rights, and their justifications for doing so, I strongly disagree with these individuals’ overall social goals. I suspect that they see same-sex marriage as a means to their nefarious ends — therefore I am deeply uncomfortable supporting marriage equality, though this conclusion makes me sad.”
|sad like John Lithgow in Footloose is sad…|
Once again, I feel like we’re having the cherry-picking problem. For all the fuss anti-same-sex-marriage folks make about “OMG I’m not bigoted!!” and “Being against same-sex marriage doesn’t mean I’m anti-gay!!” in many instances they seem very willing to paint the marriage equality folks with a massive Paintbrush of Indistinguishable Radical Threat-yness. I mean, yeah, sure, you’re gonna find people on the marriage equality side who see same-sex marriage as either a band-aid fix (“as long as we privilege married couples, everyone should have equal access to that privilege”) or as a radical challenge to the heteronormative regime — a queering of marriage, as it were, that will hopefully drive a stake through the heart of Marriage of the kind defined by David B. in the previous chapter. As someone who, actually, appreciates both of these arguments, I’m totally willing to own those contingents as playing for my team.
However, I would not make the argument that they’re the only players. We also have Gene Robinson and Andy Sullivan, to take two examples, making much more culturally and theologically conservative arguments for same-sex marriage. It’s not some either-or situation where — gotcha! — the “real” agenda of the marriage equality folks is somehow exposed. We have a range of different motivations here, a range of different personal “lifestyle” choices and political agendas. That we’ve all come together to push for marriage equality doesn’t mean these differences disappear. It just coalition building. That’s how politics works.
David Blankenhorn seems particularly incensed by one specific person who “professionally [dislikes] marriage” while supporting marriage equality: sociology professor Judith Stacey, currently teaching at New York University. She is the author of Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China (2011) and Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late Twentieth-century America (1990; 1998). Her own ethnographic research has focused on, for example, kinship patterns among gay men in West Hollywood, and the socio-political relationship between gay rights and rights for polygamous households in the U.S. and South Africa. She earned her M.A. in History from the University of Illinois, her PhD in Sociology from Brandeis, and has taught at U.C. Davis and the University of Southern California.
Why am I playing “who the fuck are you” here? Well, because David B. seems bent on discrediting Stacey through casting doubt upon her professional credentials — and by building her up as some radical feminist marriage-breaker — rather than taking on her critiques of marriage and grappling with them with any seriousness. “Search through all of her writings,” he scorns, “and you’ll find that she never met a divorce (or a divorce rate) she didn’t like” (131). He scoffs at the fact that her chaired position in contemporary gender studies at USC was endowed by Barbra Streisand (“I’m not making that up”!) — or perhaps disapproves of gender studies altogether, it’s unclear. Stacey, we’re told dismissively, “is an activist as well as an intellectual,” who seeks to “combine socialism with women’s liberation” (the horror!), and who in 1979 had an article published that “[cast] a friendly eye toward Communist China” (131). Judith Stacey’s vision of a more pluralistic future — one in which many forms of kinship are honored and included in the fabric of our society, rather than marginalized in favor of what historian Nancy Cott calls “monogamy on a Christian model” — is, indeed, Blankenhorn’s nightmare. One that he fears so much he actually calls it “Staceyan”!
When a feminist academic has a future anti-marriage regime named after her by a self-identified “marriage nut,” she must know she’s arrived.
Eclectic further thoughts on chapter six from my notes:
- David B. outlines fifteen arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, one of which is that “marriage removes the stigma of non-marriage” (140). I don’t have any major point to make here, I only want to point out that the fact that non-marriage is seen as a “stigma” in our society is one of the key reasons people like Stacey seek to deinstitutionalize (i.e. de-privilege) marriage as a state of being. David B., to my mind, never satisfactorily addresses the question of why marriage should be privileged over other forms of family formation. He just assumes it should be (and thus, “naturally,” always has been).
- He uses the word intrinsic a lot, as in supporters of same-sex marriage “say that some things that formerly were intrinsic parts of marriage no longer are” (140). Also the word natural, as in “Marriage as a man-woman bond is fundamentally a natural and social [not religious] institution” (159). Words like “intrinsic” and “natural” are red flags to me, falling into the pattern of thinking some historians term “common sense” thinking — that is, something that is so widely assumed in given culture that it doesn’t require explanation or justification, it’s just “common sense.” When David B. points out that “marriage is [no longer] intrinsically connected to sex,” (a debatable point, but for the sake of argument), what I see as an historian is a shift from one “common sense” paradigm to another — not some threat to a previously stable notion. By ascribing naturalness to his preferred way of understanding a phenomenon like marriage, he avoids having to explain or justify his beliefs — they simply are.
- He brings up the way some people seek to refine notions of monogamy and sexual exclusivity, so that perhaps one can be monogamous (“committed to one person”) while not necessarily being exclusive (“have sex only with that one person”). He terms this a radical disconnection, complaining that “until a moment ago, we had one idea … then we decided to split that idea into a sex part and a commitment part, separate and distinct … Over here is being committed. Over there is being exclusive. What’ll it be for us, honey?” (150). What strikes me is that to Blankenhorn this refining process is a distressing one (he actually uses the word “distressing” here). Whereas I think of such conversations as illuminating and important: what does a word like “monogamous” mean to each person or within each relationship? Isn’t it better to have those “What’ll it be for us, honey?” conversations than not have them? I, at least, feel like the fewer assumptions we make about how another person thinks — even someone we believe we know intimately — the better. I wonder why an activity which I greet with enthusiasm is one which David B. has such a negative reaction to?
- Returning to the subject of marriage definitions, this one rears its head again and again: “Marriage’s main purpose is to make sure that any child born has two responsible parents…” (153). If only he’d revise this to “[One of] marriage’s main purpose[s] is to make sure…” Then I’d totally be willing to co-sign the sentiment! The historical record shows, I’d agree, that marriage has functioned as a way to formalize parenting responsibilities (and thus children’s responsibilities, I might add) and inheritance rights across generations. But it is neither the only way human beings have enforced parental responsibility, nor the only functional purpose of marriage. The harder he pushes this as the central tenet of marriage, the weaker his pro-marriage case becomes.
- He derides the notion of separating civil marriage from religious marriage rites, asking rhetorically, “I don’t believe…that marriage will be improved by getting rid of any traces of religious influence, do you?” (161). This profoundly over-simplifies the case that the marriage equality folks are making to separate religious and civil marriage practices. In fact, teasing out civil from religious marriage would act to protect religious diversity in a pluralistic society. Currently, pro-same-sex marriage traditions (to name one pertinent example) are held hostage by civil marriage law that, in turn, was deeply shaped by a specific Christian notion of what marriage is and should be. To loosen this stranglehold of Christian conservatism from civil marriage law would be to protect the religious liberties of those of us whose faith does not, in fact, proscribe same-sex unions out of marriage’s bounds.
- “Call me overly sensitive,” he writes, “but I am bothered by the fact that public arguments in favor of gay marriage almost always include a dismissive denunciation of the entire history of marriage as a human institution” (161-162). Well, I’m not going to call him “overly sensitive,” I’m just gonna call him “factually wrong.” Unless by “almost always …a dismissive denunciation” he actually means, “some of the time, in certain situations, some scholars point to the inequalities of marriage as practiced historically in order to call for greater inclusiveness moving forward.” Am I critical of marriage as it was historically practiced? Well, yeah. I’m critical of a lot of history. Human beings have been pretty crap at lovingkindness toward one another. We are past (and often present) masters at the art of being violent, exclusionary assholes. I think he’s confusing “critical of the way human beings have practiced marriage in the past” with wholesale rejection. Again, you can surely find people who believe marriage as a social institution is beyond repair. You can also find many people within that camp who support same-sex marriage rights, as both a stop-gap measure in an imperfect world and as a step toward changing or dismantling a social institution they believe has been damaging to many lives. Their arguments are worth more than derisive rejection. They are also far from representative of people who believe same-sex couples should have the right to marry, and they are surely even further from representative of same-sex couples who are married. Since I venture to guess that — unless you’ve got some weird destroy-from-within guerrilla attack planned — most of us who get gayly married see the socio-cultural tradition of marriage as redeemable, as meaningful. We’ve chosen to marry precisely because marriage as an idea and practice is meaningful to us. So much so that we’ve gone to all of the trouble and expense of … marrying.
Welcome to part four of my live-blog reading of David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage (2007). You can read part one, part two and part three here.
We began The Future of Marriage by asking “What is marriage?” Despite acknowledging that “there is no single, universally accepted definition of marriage” (11; emphasis his), David B. seems hellbent on coming up with just such a definition. Without one, he seems to feel, all of our discussions about marriage law — and particularly the desire to be more inclusive in American society regarding what forms marriage and family might legitimately take — are specious.
So in chapter five, after our exploration of definitions he feels are too vague or over-inclusive, our romp through prehistory, and our case-study exploration of Mesopotamia and the Trobriand islands, we circle back around to the question of defining marriage. But this time rather than posing a question, David B. is offering and answer: the chapter title is “What Marriage Is.”
The chapter opens:
In all or nearly all human societies, marriage is socially approved sexual intercourse between a woman and a man, conceived as both a personal relationship and as an institution, primarily such that any children resulting from the union are — and are understood by society to be — emotionally, morally, practically, and legally affiliated with both of the parents (92).
This is David’s working definition of what marriage is. He goes on to argue that it is “a way of living rooted in the fundamental physiological and biochemical adaptation of our species … constantly evolving … [yet it] also reflects one idea that does not change: For every child, a mother and a father” (92).
This definition of marriage has obvious implications for the legitimacy of marriage in the lives of couples like myself and my wife: how does it include marriages within which no children are biologically procreated between the two spouses? how does it include marriages with children wherein the parents are of the same sex and/or gender? However, before we get to that part of David B.’s thought process (he does address those issues later in the chapter), I’d like to point out a few things about this definition qua definition.
- To claim that in all times and in all places there is one idea about marriage that does not change is an awfully big claim. Certainly, scholars are fond of grand claims; that doesn’t mean we aren’t also vulnerable to having our grand claims deflated when those claims rest upon a shaky scaffolding of evidence. And in this instance, the scaffolding isn’t a whole lot: a survey of contentious evopsych literature and two geo-temporal locations in which marriage was practiced in two very different ways, but both included childcare on some level.
- Following from the broad scope of the claim comes the fairly random/convenient selection of child-rearing as the core concept behind marriage. Based on Blankenhorn’s own examples,we could just as easily make the argument that the core concept of marriage was to regulate sexual activity, to formalize extended family relationships into the next generation, or celebrate the pair-bond of a couple by the larger community. All of these features were present in both cases, so why pick the mother-father-childcare option? To my understanding, most historians exploring the history of marriage and family life would identify a cluster of concepts and behaviors around which marriage circles, some aspects rising to the fore in certain eras or cultures, others in a different period among another group of people. I don’t think anyone (well, probably someone, but certainly not any mainstream theorist) would deny that for most cultures throughout history the provision of care for the young (and the elderly!) is an important feature of family life. And marriage has often been a vehicle for securing familial structures for the following generation(s). It doesn’t follow, however, that we can therefore reduce the meaning of marriage to parent-provision. We actually provide parents (and other care-givers) for children in multiple ways, only some of which involve marriage. Adoption, fostering, recognition of bastards, even prison, all have served to provide children with some sort of care (however lacking) until they are old enough to start earning their own keep.
- Finally, I just want to note this question of providing children with both “a mother and a father.” David B. clearly believes that children have a right not only to know their biological origins — that is, which two persons (and probably under what circumstances) provided the sperm and egg from which the child was formed — but also to be raised by both biological parents. This is a multi-level claim that I am uncertain can be adequately dealt with in the context of a conversation about marriage, since it raises issues that are not contingent upon marriage.
- We certainly have, in modern America since the 1970s, a strong tradition of privileging the right of a birth parent(s) with presumptive legal rights: unless a birth mother specifically surrenders her parental rights, and often the biological father a well, they are — barring proven abuse — the adults responsible for the welfare of the child. This is irrespective of any marital relationship between the two parents. So independent of marriage a child is entitled to their biological parents unless other provisions for parentage have been made. And even then, there is a strong movement toward ensuring a child access to the information surrounding their biological origins in instances where they are not raised by their biological parents.
- But David B. is going beyond the right of a child to know; he’s making the argument that children have a right to be functionally parented by both biological parents — and that marriage between the two bio parents is both the primary and the best vehicle for such an activity. I won’t argue with him that, in modern America at least, this is the dominant model for parenting. Statistically speaking, it appears that the majority of children are growing up in households in which the primary care-giving adults are also their biological and legal parents. Arguing that this is the best model, in a universal sense — the model most likely to result in child well-being — is a much more complicated discussion. Blankenhorn has, thus far in The Future of Marriage, not made a convincing case (or, really, any case at all) for the married bio-parent model being superior to all other models, and explained on what grounds such an argument might rest.
What are the implications of this definition of marriage for same-sex couples who are (or desire to be) married? And where does such a definition leave couples who are not planning (or are unable) to procreate and/or parent? Blankenhorn ignores the demographic of female-male couples who are not directly procreating (they still fit within his model of male-female parents in type if not in functional fact) and focuses on the case for same-sex couple inclusion within this definition of marriage. I’m not going to tackle every point he makes inthis chapter, but two facets of his argument struck me:
- He argues that “the leading proponents of same-sex marriage in the United States today … studiously avoid any implication that marriage is connected to sex. Instead, they insist that marriage is an abstract and radically non-physical ‘relationship’ that is separate and apart from, you know, what people do in the bedroom” (92). Ahem. Well, first of all, I gotta say my wife and I don’t always do it in the bedroom, but … wait, what? Did he actually just make the argument that LGBT rights activists have separated sex from marriage?? …. o_O. I think this is an example of fairly serious mis-interpretation if not intentional mis-construction of the pro-marriage equality case. Here are a few observations that spring to mind:
- Most egregiously, the charge that LGBT folks avoid speaking about sex in the context of their primary intimate relationships ignores the context of virulent and systemic discrimination we’ve experienced, historically, when we dare to speak about same-sex sexuality in public. I’m going to repeat that: Arguing that it is lesbian and gay couples and their allies who are primarily responsible for erasing “the bedroom” from definitions of marriage is an argument born of heteronormative privilege.
- How often do heterosexual couples talk about their sex lives in the context of public marriage-related proceedings? I recently came across a reference in another book on marriage to a (heterosexual) couple whose marriage vows had included the promise to be one another’s “lovers” — wording that many wedding guests had felt inappropriate to the occasion. I rather suspect this is a situation wherein David B. is holding such conversations to a double-standard of sexual transparency, suspicious that same-sex relationships are not sufficiently sexual to be considered marriages (which I have to say has got to be a first in terms of charges leveled at the queer community!) and thus we need to prove our sexual credentials in order to truly belong. While straight sex is just assumed.
- Wait … who exactly is making these arguments? I want names, dates, quotations, and citations. More than cherry-picked courtroom definitions (which are often designed to be flexible and contextual, because that’s how our legal system works), I want evidence that there’s some sort of systematic campaign on the part of same-sex marriage proponents to de-couple sexual intimacy from marriage.
- Finally, a word in support of my asexual friends and others for whom sexual intimacy is actually not a central component of their marriage relationship(s): Arguing that not all marriages include sexual intimacy is not equal to claiming that sexual intimacy is outside the bounds of marriage, or somehow not central to most marital relationships. For many, I daresay most, married people, sexual intimacy is (or has been, or will be) a component of married life. But that’s not the same as requiring sexual intimacy to be a part of married life. Just like procreation and/or parenting is a part of married life for many people (I think I saw a number recently that claimed about 80% of all married couples raise children together?) but isn’t a requirement to marriage. We don’t ask couples seeking a marriage license whether they are sexually active together and/or whether they intend to procreate. People who argue that sexual activity with one’s partner is not an essential part of marriage are likely arguing simply that: sex is not a required component of marriage. That is not the same as removing sexual intimacy from our cultural understanding of what many or most marriages encompass.
- Why all the angst over a “big umbrella” definition of marriage that can encompass many more (religiously- or subculturally- or even individually-specific) definitions within it? Because David believes that in order for marriage to be viable it must be a strong social institution with a widely agreed upon meaning. He writes: “I can never assume that another person shares my view … [a clear, centralized definition of marriage] establishes an ‘ought’ not just for me alone, but for everyone who is or wants to be part of the institution, including (I have good reason to believe) the person I will marry” (98). Excuse me while I get out the sad trombone … because this particular concern that we have definitions we can count on meaning the same thing to all people without actually clarifying with the people in question in so many words strikes me as a profoundly majority-culture presumption. Maybe it’s because I grew up in many ways a minority within a majority culture. My immediate family (and later myself, as an individual) differed in our values in many ways from the families and institutions around us. I never got to assume people held the same values I did. I always had to clarify, converse, ask. Communication is a good thing, and should be happening between partners as they decide whether or not to marry. To take David B.’s example (97-98), if “fidelity” to one person means only ever having sex with your marital partner, and to the other person it means the spouse being your primary relationship but includes sexual experiences with others — well, then you’ve got to discuss that and decide how to come to a meeting of minds and hearts on the subject (or go your separate ways). David B. seems to be rather appalled by this diversity in human relationship organization; I just see it as an opportunity for important clarifying conversation.
Welcome to part three of my live-blog reading of David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage (2007). You can read part one and part two here.
Following his introduction, defining his core question (“what is marriage?”), and a romp through prehistorical mating and family formation, David B. turns his attention to two case-studies, if you will, of cultures in which marriages serve an important role in family formation. We’re moving, in this case, away from the entirely speculative to slightly firmer ground, as the primary source material for early human civilizations is a bit more robust. In chapter three (“The River Valleys”), Blankenhorn draws on art and artifacts, and the work of historians and archeologists who study the ancient world. In chapter four (“The Trobriand Islands”), he turns to the work of ethnographers (from the West) who have studied the lives and culture of the native people of the the Kiriwina islands in Papua New Guinea over several generations, beginning in the early twentieth century with Bronislaw Malinowski’s work. We’ll return to chapter four below, but first let’s take a look at chapter three.
Chapter Three: “The River Valleys”
- This chapter opens with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and two plaques from lower Mesopotamia, circa 2000-1000 BCE. One plaque depicts a female-male couple in the midst of penis-in-vagina intercourse. The other shows a couple, clothed and facing one another in an intimate embrace. Blankenhorn’s interpretation of this plaque is one of an early image of social (rather than sexual) couple intimacy. I’m comfortable with that interpretation. What I’m less comfortable with is his dismissal of the sexually-explicit plaque, and others like it, as “almost pornographic,” (almost?) “as if intended for entertainment and (primarily male) sexual arousal” (43). I’m — what? First of all, I’d call a plaque depicting naked fun sexytimes as straight-up porn. I mean, I suppose you could quibble that the term is anachronistic, okay, but it’s certainly sexually explicit. And wherefore have we suddenly decided it was designed for “primarily male” arousal? Sounds to me like the lady in question is having a fairly good time — from David’s description, she’s on top/in front of the standing male partner, with her legs wrapped around his hips as she rides him. That takes initiative, and would be a fairly good angle by which to have one’s ladybits stimulated. So I’m not sure why the imagery suggests men only — except if you assume porn is an all-male preserve. Which in turn tells me something about your perspective on gender and sexuality.
- Exploring the Code of Hammurabi (circa 1750 BCE) and other ancient marital practices, David B. dismisses the notion of women being bought and sold as wives to be “nonsense,” and the notion of a “bride price” to be “misleading” (50). He contends, instead, that gifts were exchanged between families and therefore … equality! His point here is, I think, to push back against a narrative of marriage that some political activists and scholars, including many feminists, put forward which is that it is inherently an oppressive and patriarchal institution. The origins of marriage, some feminists conclude, is so corrupt that it cannot be redeemed as a social practice that embraces gender equality and diverse family forms. I have two thoughts on this push-pull undercurrent (which will resurface again, with more virulence, in later chapters):
- First, I think that David B. has an exaggerated sense of how widespread anti-marriage sentiment is in the present day. I think he’s cherry-picking again. Yes, obviously, you’re going to find scholars and activists who rail against marriage as tantamount to sexual slavery or indentured servitude. In some eras, and in some cultures, that charge holds more weight than in others. American women in the 1840s, for example, had a case to make that the laws of coverture — which legally erased their independent existence — were unjust, a violation of their dignity and worth as human beings. But America as a nation is one of the most pro-marriage cultures in the world, so the fact that he’s writing as if he’s discovered a great conspiracy of scholars to make marriage seem evil is kinda undermining his case. It cues into right-wing accusations of liberal bias within the academy which just aren’t all that persuasive without much more evidence than David B. provides.
- Second, I am concerned that his sense of marriage being under siege from some anti-marriage lobby is causing him to ignore certain historical evidence that doesn’t fit with his own desire for a history of strong marriage culture in the river valley cultures. History is complicated, and always a matter of interpretation on some level. Obviously. So he’s free to make the case that Mesopotamian marriages show signs of a more egalitarian principle than other scholars have argued. But he needs to make that case: acknowledging what other scholars in the field have said before him, and articulating where he thinks they’ve gone wrong based on the evidence. This chapter is full of vague references to “some scholars” and “others have suggested,” none of which references are directly footnoted (50). I know I’m a footnote-crazed historian, but I like my sources documented. And as a feminist, I’m also concerned that in the interest of his pro-[a certain vision of]-marriage agenda, he’s glossing over ways in which some marriage practices in some cultures over time have, indeed, been extremely patriarchal and have absolutely involved “bride price” tributes between families. To call the identification of such material exchange “nonsense” erases the experience of women whose marriages were (and in some cases continue to be) subject to such arrangements. He describes such non-egalitarian practices the “patriarchal distortion,” a turn of phrase that suggests the original, the real form of marriage (this river valleys model) was, in fact, gender-egalitarian. I’m unsure how this helps his case with marriage skeptics, since however pure the original model might have been, the derivatives still existed (and continue to exist) and are still frameworks for coercion. To erase the coercive forms from history is an act of violence toward those who had to live within them.
- Throughout this chapter, we see again the desire to come up with One True Definition of Marriage for All Time and in All Places, despite the earlier acknowledgement that there has never been one. On page 55, for example: “We moderns often seem to assume that couples long ago were not as emotionally aware as we are today … For almost all of humanity, marriage has always and in all places ‘really’ been about the male-female sexual bond and the children that result from that bond. That was certainly true in the two river valleys where this distinctive way of men and women living together became a vibrant public institution.” In my chosen field of history we like to quote L.P. Hartley: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently here.” This doesn’t mean we are incapable of understanding, on some measure, what human beings of hundreds, thousands of years ago might have experienced or felt. It does mean that we must always be aware of the dangers of presentism: the inclination to interpret the evidence of the past through the paradigms of the present. To some extent, presentism is unavoidable — but it is also important to acknowledge it as one of our limitations. I am hardly arrogant enough to imagine the people living in 1750 BCE were “not as emotionally aware as we are today.” But I am wary of assuming they were emotionally aware in the same way I am; that they made sense of the world in the way I would.
Chapter Four: “The Trobriand Islands”
Am I the only one who was disturbed by the fact that this chapter begins, “I am an old woman, a grandmother. I live on the island of Boyowa. I can tell you what you want to know” (69)?
See, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the fact that the one section in this book that imagines the voice of another individual in this manner is a situation in which we have a white, Western dude taking on the voice of a Papua New Guinean elderwoman.
“The Trobriand Islands” chapter is, like chapter three, another case study. The purpose of these two case studies together is to set us up for chapter five, in which we are given the outline of the One True Form of Marriage. By comparing and contrasting marriage as found in Mesopotamia and marriage on twentieth-century Kiriwina, Blankenhorn is hoping to “test the hypothesis that there is a core, cross-cultural there to marriage — that underneath all the astonishing diversity of custom, there is in fact a definable human universal called marriage“ (71).
So, well, first off two examples does not a “universal” make. Take any two examples of something, put them side-by-side, and pick a commonality: yay! we’ve found our common core. It’s enticingly simple, but ultimately sloppy. The universal that Blankenhorn ultimately comes up with involves tethering the male and female human to their offspring (more on that when we get to chapter five). But that core is shaky at best. For one, modern conceptions of biological parenthood — of key importance to David B. in 2007 (and many others still today) as they sought to continue excluding same-sex couples from marriage — simply don’t fit within the metaphysical realm of Trobriand traditions as David B. himself explains them. I am not a trained anthropologist, nor have I read any of the anthropologists whom Blankenhorn cites here. But according to his own narrative, the people of Kiriwina believe (or at least believed for many centuries) that human beings were created separate from sexual intercourse — that the souls of ancestors descended into the wombs of women when they were ready to be reborn. David glosses over this aspect of procreation and describes how male-female couples parent, and how they exist in a wider web of familial relationships … while maintaining that the key lesson to be derived from all of this is that marriage exists to provide human children with a mother and a father.
It’s just that … I could as easily take different lessons away from the contours of the society he describes. For example, I could argue that a society in which physical procreation is understood to be a metaphysical combination of lost soul and female procreative energy, a very different framework might exist to think about the ethics of assisted reproduction. I could argue that the interwoven system of extended family support — by which each male head-of-household not only provides for his children and his sisters’ children, but accepts support from his brother-in-laws as well — makes an argument for a more communal system of successful childcare (“it takes a village…”), as opposed to the isolated dyads of our modern Western society.
Blankenhorn’s focus keeps shifting from the practice(s) of marriage to the practice(s) of childrearing. I agree with him that both are aspects of how humans create kin and share the care and keeping of one another. However, I think his determination to extract from all of human diversity some sort of proof that the only and best way of doing this is through male-female bio-parent pairs is … well, both boring and destined to … “fail” is too strong a word. “Over-reach”? He looks at these “past is a foreign country” civilizations, sees marriage, and goes, “Aha! I know what marriage looks like, therefore …” but marriage — even the parenting aspects of marriage — have been quite different in days gone by. People of all classes fostered (or sold) their children into servitude in order to better their children’s lives (and/or their own), for example. Sometimes this was exploitative, but sometimes it was a canny way to get your children fed, housed, and educated. The result was that you — the biological parent(s) — were not the functional parent of your child.
On Kiriwina, to return to David’s example, a child’s uncle, not father, is understood to be their closest biological male relative. The father (whom we would understand as the biological parent) is the socially-accepted parent of a child not believed to be biologically related to him. Later in the book, David B. describes in shocked tones the way some same-sex couples seek to have both parents down as simply parents not adoptive parents or some other form of legal kin. Their argument is not particularly far away from the Kiriwina concept — it’s just that one instance fits tidily into Blankenhorn’s notion of marriage’s One True Form and the other doesn’t. So one gets described as an ingenious cross-cultural example of marriage’s universality … the other as a shocking deviation from the marriage plot.
Next we’ll tackle chapter five, “What Marriage Is.”
(I know; such a cliff-hanger!)
Welcome to part two of my live-blog reading of David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage (2007). You can read part one here. Even though the Family Scholars Blog has gone on hiatus, I have decided to complete this live-blog series (and the book!).
According to Blankenhorn’s introduction, the first five chapters of his book focus on a single question: “What is marriage?” (9). He argues that existing histories of marriage are either so narrowly focused as to “tell us little or nothing about marriage as a cross-cultural institution,” or overly-broad, necessarily “superficial and unsatisfying” in their attempt to provide a trans-historical narrative of a diverse institution. Not himself a trained historian, David B. does not attempt “a history of marriage, but [does] aim to capture the essence of marriage as a human institution” (10).
So as a historian — one who finds both narrowly-focused monographs and ambitious synthesis histories to be of value — I am naturally interested in Blankenhorn’s alternative approach: what sources does he use, what bodies of evidence does he draw on, and what analytic tools does he employ, to answer the question “What is marriage?” in a meta-historical, essence-seeking sense?
To begin answering these questions, let’s take a look at chapters one and two.
Chapter One: “What is Marriage?”
Chapter one, a mere 11 pages in length, seeks to establish that the status quo in marriage understanding is deficient — is too vague. In order to wrestle with the question of whether or not same-sex partners can or should be granted social and legal access to marriage as an institution, we need (David B. believes) an “adequate answer … a working definition of marriage for our time” (21). I have three observations about this opening salvo:
- David Blankenhorn’s sources, ranging as they do across time and space and context (Andrew Sullivan op-eds, E.J. Graff’s book-length history of marriage, legal decisions from the U.S. and Canada, a Mae West quotation…), are cherry-picked soundbites that don’t offer us any sense of the cultural specificity. In what historical or social context were these observations made? An opinion piece by a gay marriage advocate like Sullivan, for example, is a different type of source than is a quip by Mae West than is a court decision in a specific case, than is a journalist’s argument about the historical meaning(s) of a social institution. To pick out the one source I have recent knowledge of, David argues that E.J. Graff’s definition of marriage is, “a commitment to live up to the rigorous demands of love, to care for each other as best you humanly can” (12). This may be technically accurate, as a quote, but it is misleading. Graff actually lays out a detailed set of interlocking answers to what marriage has been for: it has been an economic arrangement, a sexual arrangement, a way to organize procreation and parenting, a way of creating kinship networks, and a way to exert social control over individuals through institutions (the church, the state). Using Graff as an example of modernity’s squeamishness over providing concrete responses to the question “What is marriage?” is a poor choice at best, and intentionally misleading at worst.
- Even if we were to accept that modern definitions of marriage are vague (historians might argue they are going through a period of flux — something marriage definitions have done before, and will no doubt do again), I find myself wondering what’s so bad about vague? Does that make marriage any less real to you and me? As you all know, I just went through the process of getting married myself. It didn’t feel vague. It felt concrete, it felt real. Hanna and I made specific promises — promises drawn from legal and religious tradition. We signed our marriage license paperwork and our own marriage contract. We had interlocking webs of meaning — religious, legal, social, political, historical — with which to make sense of what we chose to do. Just because Joe Schmoe down the street or Mary Smith up the hill might have radically different conceptions of what it means to marry, or be living out radically different married-life arrangements than Hanna and I are currently living, doesn’t make our marriage less meaningful or specific than if we were all living cookie-cutter replicas of one anothers’ lives. We live in a pluralistic society, and as long as people aren’t stabbing one another with olive forks, and are responsive when I shout out the window to turn-the-music-down-please, I’m pretty okay with that.
- Along those lines, I found myself thinking about E.J. Graff’s multi-strand approach to marriage definition(s), and I wonder why we need to reduce marriage to a single “working definition” in order to move forward. Marriage, as David B. acknowledges has never had “a single, universally accepted definition of marriage — partly because the institution is constantly evolving, and partly because many of its features vary across groups and cultures” (11). That’s certainly a statement I’d be willing to get behind! So why, then, are we immediately turning around to search for an “adequate….working definition”? Surely we might more usefully observe that there are a cluster of marriage behaviors or meanings that can be seen across many, if not all, marriage relationships historically and globally. Within that cluster of behaviors and meanings, some will be more constant than others, some will crop up in some cultures and historical periods only to fade away … and then to return. Some might be said to fairly reliably appear in most marriages — sexual intimacy, for example — although we would be inaccurate to say such a behavior was a requirement of marriage; very few cultures police their married members’ sexual activities and some people who marry never or cease engaging in sexual intimacy with one another (or altogether). This more fluid, descriptive approach may be entertaining and illuminating, without the strain of requiring such human diversity to fit into a single concept across all time and space.
The evidence base for chapter two is archaeological, anthropological, literary, philosophical, with a liberal dose of evolutionary psychology thrown in. I will admit to a strong bias against any theory that tries to account for human behavior through narratives of human physical evolution. Quite simply, as Blankenhorn himself acknowledges, human prehistory “is a time about which we can only speculate, based on sparse and fragmentary bits of evidence. Yet scholars have speculated on the subject for more than two millennia” (23). Given the dearth of evidence against which to reality-check one’s work, it’s all too easy to read into our pre-human ancestors and our bodies a biological determinism that — presto! — just happen to fit with our own dearly-held desires for what human society or human beings “naturally” are, or what we are “hard-wired” to do. It’s a situation ripe for confirmation bias. And obviously, cultural conservatives are not the only culprits: there have long been feminists arguing the case for a prehistoric matriarchy, and anyone who bases their case for queer acceptance on a “born this way” platform is standing on similarly shaky ground.
However, in this instance we’re talking about a narrative of prehistory that suggests that marriage was developed by humans “to increase the likelihood of survival and success [of] the infant human,” because human young “need a father and the human mother needs a mate” (35). It is because of this survival strategy (keeping male humans involved in parenting their young) that relational sex, rather than simple procreative sex, developed: “A lot more sexual intercourse among the humans, not so as to make a baby, but to make a couple to raise a baby” (35).
Which … okay. Like, if that’s the (pre)story you want to tell yourself? But human biology and human behavior interact in really complicated ways, as any responsible neuroscientist will tell you. This all makes for a great story (if you find that kind of gender-essentialist shit attractive, which I don’t, but we’ll get to that later) but it doesn’t really tell us much about how humans might best respond to their current environment. Because here’s the thing about evolution … it’s evolutionary. We keep on changing. So the way human societies worked in the past tells us about the past, not so much about the present and what our present-day needs and desires might be.
Two additional points before we close this post:
- I’m not trained in the fields of evolutionary psychology, human neurology, or prehistorical anthropology. However, it is my understanding that the theories that David B. uses to sketch out his prehistorical narrative are deeply contested by feminist scientists and others. Yet this chapter reads authoritatively — despite its opening caution about speculation. It reads, quite frankly, like the work of someone who has recently read some stuff in the field and is wowed by its arguments. There is little critical analysis of the researchers’ potential bias or the quality of their work. All of this gives me pause, and would give me pause even if the person was arguing for something I might philosophically be disposed to want evidence to conclude: for example that humans sexual variety was “hard-wired” or that early human males were “hard-wired” to wash the prehistorical dishes and offer to do the laundry when their prehistorical female partners were busy lactating for the youngins.
- Blankenhorn posits that the sexual division of humans (male and female) is “the primary division in our species,” and argues that long-term coupling created a “new way of living [that] bridged that divide” (30). I am skeptical on two levels about this assertion, which is presented as uncontested fact. First, I question whether sex differentiation is, in fact, the primary division of the human species. Certainly, in our modern world, sex (and its kissing-cousin, gender) feel like a primary division. But we could just as well imagine that rather than sorting by male/female we might sort by left-handedness and right-handedness. Or by skin tone or eye color or height or any number of physical characteristics. We have chosen to over-determine peoples’ lives through gender expectations. Second, I am uncertain what he means when he argues that coupling “bridged that divide.” Did it need bridging, particularly? Are female and male humans naturally at odds with one another? Would our agendas really be so dissimilar if we were not drawn to one another in sexual desire (setting aside, for the moment, procreation)? After all, other species have solved the care and keeping of infants problem in other ways: human females might have surrendered care of infants to the males (a la sea horses), or might have banded together to care for their young while keeping a few males on hand for procreative purposes (science fiction is rife with such scenarios). It is not a biological imperative that we exist heterosocially — only that we make arrangements to procreate sexually. And yet, we do. Presumably because we have more in common as a common species than we do differences as a species with two general sex-types and all the lovely variation that comes around and between.
Since I started guest-blogging for the Institute for American Values’ Family Scholars Blog back in January, I’ve been meaning to read IAV founder David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage (Encounter Books, 2007). To the extent that David B.’s views on marriage equality have shifted since he authored this text it’s outdated — yet it remains an influential text. Furthermore, David himself has affirmed that he still believes in his central argument in the text: that access to marriage as a civil right (one “good”) must be balanced with the rights of children to be raised by their biological male/female parents (another “good”). What he terms “goods in conflict.”
So I felt that it was important to get a book-length sense of where he is coming from, as I have from reading his colleague Elizabeth Marquardt’s One Parent or Five? study. So this morning at the local public library I checked out a copy of The Future of Marriage and sat down to read it with a cup of tea when we got home. I can tell right away I’ll need to live-blog it, or a review will never happen (too much to talk back to / about) so I’m going to put together my informal thoughts chapter by chapter.
Here are my notes on the Introduction.
- He makes the assertion that “marriage is fundamentally about the needs of children,” as opposed to fundamentally about the needs of adults (2). I’m curious to see how this argument plays out across the book for a couple of reasons. First, because I wonder why we need to set up such a dichotomy (children vs. adults … why not “marriage is fundamentally about the needs of human beings”?). Must it be an either/or? Second, if we were to accept that marriage, as a social institution, were “fundamentally” about the needs of children the question obviously arises as to the place in such a social institution for married couples with no children (and no capability for procreation and/or plans to parent). Regardless of the sexual orientation of those non-parenting couples, one wonders how we understand their marriages. This is obviously a very personal question to me since I am a married person without a) the capacity to procreate with my spouse and/or plans to become a parent.
- He introduces the “goods in conflict” framework, using the following example: “It is good to deter crime by punishing criminals; it is also good to forgive” (3). While he doesn’t explicitly say so, I assume he believes this to be a self-evident example of two “good” things. I’d point out that this is not necessarily the case: not everyone agrees that either a) punishment actually deters crime, or b) that it is always a good thing to forgive. Similarly, the two “good” things David suggests stand in conflict in the marriage debate are not always both seen as “good” goals. There are those who don’t believe in privileging bio-parent families, and there are those who don’t believe access to marriage for same-sex couples is a positive thing. So I will be interested to see how he speaks to this dis-unity on matters of social goods.
- Why choose marriage as a key social issue? This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I started writing for FSB, where participants across the political spectrum seem to take the notion mostly as read that marriage as a social institution isn’t only something we should all have the option to access, but also something which has broad social benefits. (The corollary to this is, of course, that marriage promoters spend a lot of time wringing their hands about peoples’ reluctance — at least the right peoples’ reluctance — to marry.). I obviously chose, in agreement with my wife, to become married. I do not, however, think of marriage as a blanket social good. I am skeptical of its powers for social betterment. If we are interested in enhancing the well-being of the greatest number of people, I don’t think marriage promotion is a very efficient campaign — nor do I like the way it overlaps so significantly with intrusive moralizing about peoples’ personal life choices (“settle” for a man — any man! — before it’s too late; marry your “baby daddy,” “take responsibility” for your pregnant girlfriend, etc.).
- I was struck by the repeated use of the term “marriage” where the broader notion of “family” might actually be more appropriate? For example, “[Humans] have devised an institution to bridge the sexual divide, facilitate group living, and carry out reproduction. All societies have this institution. They call it ‘marriage’ ” (5). I would have said, actually, that the institution in question is actually “family,” and that “marriage” is one tool in the toolbox for creating family. It strikes me as a peculiarly American/Western way of conceiving of family — as something that could be reduced to (or at least centers around) the married pair. In other times and places, the married pair has been subordinated to other familial structures.
- Does marriage “bridge the sexual divide” (5)? And what does that even mean? I actually suspect it means that the state of being married is society’s way of ensuring that men and women (those oh-so-different creatures!) must learn how to co-exist. I suspect this because it’s an argument I’ve heard from sexual conservatives who preach gender complementarity. If we don’t force hetero young people into “opposite”-sex pairings, what will the world come to!? Women and men won’t know how to communicate or co-exist any more! For obvious reasons, I am skeptical that it is only through a normative culture of marriage that the differently-sexed members of our humans species would learn to get along.
- David B. refers to the notion that marriage is “a commitment between two people … an intimate, caring relationship … an expression of love” as “inadequate” (9). Rather than “inadequate,” I might have picked “flexible,” or “big tent,” or “pluralistic” (although one could quibble about the last, since it actively excludes more political-transactional notions of what marriage is for). It is interesting to me that David finds such general notion of marriage to be disturbing — surely it leaves us all room to flesh out the particulars of our own family lives and values? To get too rigidly prescriptive about what marriage means for all people would be to define many people who currently marry out of the state of marriage. Which is not to say I don’t, also, have boundaries in mind for what marriage is and is not — but I think my line in the sand for actively policing those boundaries for other peoples’ relationships falls in a very different place from David’s. I will be interested to learn more about where his boundaries are (or were, circa 2007).