As an Anthropologist and Sociologist who has devoted her adult life, passion and career to the study of human culture and human organization / how we function as societies, the topics of gender and family and kinship are ones that I have studied with some rigor. Likely more than most (save the professional scholars).
This whole issue that has arisen (thanks to fried chicken sammiches) of late has gotten my wheels spinning: namely because it seems that the argument is focusing on morality or free speech. What I think we tend to forget in our bubble of social opinions is the context from whence the definition of marriage in our culture came…and the context of marriage and relationships throughout history. So many arguments about what defines a family and, quite frankly, pretty myopic arguments.
We all have a right to believe what we want. But my inclinations as a scientist always take me back to the need to objectively collect as much data as possible and eschewing my ethnocentrism (my preconceived notions about right and wrong based on my own insulated cultural experience) before coming to a conclusion.
It is in this vein that I hope to shed some light for whomever is interested on the sociocultural history of marriage and the anthropological perspective. Since Anthropology IS the study of humans, I thought it the most appropriate objective perspective.
In 2004, The American Anthropological Association issued a statement regarding their position on the definition of marriage, as a response to inquiries about the legitimacy of same sex marriage:
The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.
Here are some articles worth reading about the topic of marriage:
From the May 2004 Issue of Anthropology News, entitled: Gay Marriage and Anthropology. This article discusses historical examples of the definition and role of marriage and kinship over time:
Here is a paper from Yale Law School on the history of Same Sex Marriage that also spans many centuries and cultures
Here is another scholarly article with several Anthropological definitions of marriage that have emerged over time:
And finally, the Wikipedia compendium on marriage with all sorts of colorful examples and perspectives:
I encourage everyone, regardless of their point of view on any topic to “seek first to understand, then to be understood” (Thanks again Mr. Stephen Covey). It is only by this pursuit of understanding that we can effectively co-exist. And we can’t help but co-exist…