Judge Walker's over turning California's Prop 8 has spawned a number of articles with some interesting justification for heterosexual marriage and why it should be left alone. Bill Lyndsey has done a wonderful job of critiquing Russ Douthat's musings in the New York Times. This piece of Douthat's argues that marriage is really about leveling the sexual playing field and protecting the gene pool by reducing the predation of some males and preventing women from pursuing only powerful males.
I was still trying to assimilate this view of marriage when I came across the same sort of argument in the Christian Science Monitor. The author, Sam Shulman takes the 'alpha' male argument even further by insisting marriage exists to protect and defend women from heterosexual male predation. The following is an extract:
Marriage is about defending women
Among the many different versions of marriage in human history, very few of them have supplied the high-minded qualities that the plaintiffs feel is their right. The vast majority of marriages in the past, perhaps a majority even now, were dictated by families, clans, holy men or magicians, and enforced on the bride and groom by social pressure, enforced if necessary with brutality and violence.
Marriage is a necessary defense of a woman’s sexuality and her human liberty from determined assault by men who would turn her into a slave, a concubine – something less than fully human. Human communities need to give women some additional degree of protection – through law, custom, religious decree, or sacrament – generally some combination of all three, neatly summarized by the plaintiffs, who demanded the sacred and the eternal from the state of California. (And for most of marital history these noble goals were accomplished by making the woman contractual property--something a bit less than fully human.
Of course, marriage’s power to protect women is far from perfect, but no human institution is. Parents, too, sometimes do awful things to their children.
Unions of men and women are unique
That’s why it has never occurred before to lawmakers (or any human society of which I am aware) to offer marriage to pairs of lovers that happen not to include a woman, or that involve only women and not a man. (Educate yourself. Try a google search and you might be unpleasantly surprised.)
Relationships that involve a man and a woman are a matter of public concern in a way that other relationships are not. Of course, single people and gay people can be parents, and their equality with married couples as parents can and should be crafted by legislation.
Walker asserts that Prop 8 is motivated partly by “a belief that same-sex couples are simply not as good as opposite-sex couples,” and concludes that the law’s intention is to enact “a moral view that there is something ‘wrong’ with same-sex couples.”
The fact is very nearly the opposite. Heterosexual relationships need marriage because of inferiority: the physical inferiority of sexual defenders to sexual attackers and the moral inferiority of male sexual attackers. (If I were a heterosexual male I might be just a tad bit offended with this line. Talk about reductionist.)
Marriage is not about couples or lovers – it’s about the physical and moral integrity of women. When a woman’s sexuality is involved, human communities must deal with a malign force that an individual woman and her family cannot control or protect.
Modern marriage is only the least worst version of marriage that has emerged from all this – but it is still necessary for women. What protects women, ultimately, is that marriage laws and customs confer upon her independence something extra – dignity, protection, sacredness – that others must respect. And if this quality can be bestowed upon anyone, even those not in intersexual relationships – it reduces, even dissolves its force.
Marriage can't be reduced to esteem
That’s why so many – even the most secular, gay-admiring, civil-rights-conscious among us – feel that something more is going on with the movement to turn marriage into a device to give couples self-esteem – or, in Walker’s terms, status in society.
For Walker, the state of California has an overriding interest in ensuring that a same-sex couple should feel good about themselves. Walker and others are certainly right to want straight people to have a positive view of homosexuals – I want this, too.
But hard as it is for Walker to believe, most of us who prefer to leave marriage (with all its defects) as it is are not concerned with homosexuality at all.
We are merely voicing a sensible desire to preserve an institution that recognizes and protects the special status of women. If marriage becomes a legislative courtesy available to everyone, like a key to the city, it will be women who will lose.
I admit I was stunned when I read this piece yesterday. I am still stunned this morning. Am I now to believe that marriage isn't really about pro creation, it's about protecting women from the predations of the big bad alpha wolf? Or is it as Douthart implies, protecting beta males from being sexually excluded by the big bad alpha wolf? Are these writers admitting to some sort of atavistic male fear about other males and projecting it on marriage and women? Could it be that they are admitting that Western mores are designed to control the predation of alpha males and give status and meaning to other males? To perhaps give these 'lesser' males a sense of 'self esteem'.
Maybe I really am just a little too far out on the margins, but these new arguments for the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage are mind boggling. Or maybe it's I just don't understand this kind of male psyche, and if that's true, I don't see how complementarity between the sexes can exist in any meaningful sense. How does a woman compliment the agenda of a partner they don't understand? Any good therapist will freely admit what breaks up most marriages is that the two people entering into the marriage are operating from very different agendas as to what their marriage means to them and as to how it will play out. Many times those agendas are hidden from the individual until they are faced with a situation which conflicts with the hidden agenda. In these situations one finds healthy complementarity is not dependent on gender roles, it's dependent on self awareness and communication.
If this is the new strategy around which heterosexual marriage will be defended, the culture warriors need to drop it in a big hurry. Reducing marriage to predatory control is about as reductionist as it gets. Might just as well have the animal control people conduct marriages and be done with it.