Friday, May 11, 2012

Now for some facts and perspective on “redefining” marriage

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There’s been a lot of talk about marriage lately, so I figured it would be nice to have a little refreshing on the history of this particular institution. Here MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell with a bit of perspective:

Transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

Transcript via MSNBC:

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: Opponents of marriage equality are trying to Rewrite the history of marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Interracial marriage is now legal. That happened as recently as 1967. It was illegal when my parents got married. My dad is white. My mom is black. So marriage has always been redefined, what is legal and under the law in marriage.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: No, marriage has always been the union of a man and woman. That definition has never changed for over 5,000 years of human history. What we are talking about here is changing the very core definition of marriage.

O'DONNELL: That definition has never changed for over 5,000 years of human history. OK. Let's start with the 5,000 years. That is not a randomly picked number. That is what Tony Perkins believes is the entirety of human history. There is no human history beyond 5,000 years, because Tony Perkins believes there was no planet Earth more than 5,000 years ago . There was no universe 5,000 years ago. Tony Perkins believes that 5,000 years ago, Adam and Eve began wandering through the Garden of Eden, 5,000 years ago. That is what Christian fundamentalists believe. It is what Mitt Romney appears to believe when he says that marriage is 3,000 years old. But human history is much more than 5,000 years. Human history, that is to say the history of people who look like us, who walk like us, who talk like us, run like us, throw things like us, get angry like us, smile like us, and love like us -- that history is at least, at a minimum, 250,000 years old.

Stephanie Coontz, an historian of marriage and author of "Marriage, A History," told us today what Mitt Romney and Tony Perkins say about the history of marriage is, quote, "particularly amusing to an historian." She has found that marriage has existed since man's earliest days, at least 250,000 years ago. And she says in those good old days, quote, "very frequently, these marriages were arranged." The modern idea of marriage for love and the possible defiance of parental arranged marriages is only about 200 years old. As far as the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman throughout human history, before the 1700s, the most popular and most proven marriage type was one man and many women, many women. In human history, one man and one woman is a very recent behavioral evolution. Tony Perkins would know this if he would just read his beloved Bible more closely. Exodus Chapter 21, "if a man marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free without any payment of money." See, the Bible thought of everything. First Kings Chapter 11, "King Solomon had" -- I will say this slowly -- "700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines." Again, this is something Tony Perkins does not know because it is hidden in the top secret volume, in some places available only in hotels, called "The Old Testament." The Profit Mohammed had several wives. And polygamy is still practiced today and legal in some Islamic countries. And in possibly the hippest place on Earth, Tibet, there were even some instances of women marrying many men, from Medieval times right up to the 20th century. And if, as Tony Perkins and Mitt Romney insist, marriage has always meant one man and one woman, why did the federal government find it necessary to outlaw polygamy twice, once in 1862 with the Moral Anti-Bigamy Act and then again in 1882 with the Edmonds Anti-Polygamy Act. And if, as Tony Perkins and Mitt Romney insist, marriage has always been one man and one woman, why was Utah required to outlaw polygamy in order to become a state? And if marriage has always been the union of one man and one woman, why was Mitt Romney ever forced to answer a question about polygamy?

ROMNEY: I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy.

O'DONNELL: And that's from a man whose great grandfather had five wives. Now it seems Mitt Romney can imagine something more awful than polygamy . And that something is opening up what we have just shown to be the highly changeable institution of marriage to my two guests from last night, Lenny Gerber and Pearl Berlin , who have enjoyed 45 years of a loving life together.

LENNY GERBER, 45 YEAR SAME SEX RELATIONSHIP: Nothing will change the 45 year bond that we have.


GERBER: We have had -- we have the most remarkable bond. We think in part it's because we -- as Pearl was saying to me in the last day or two, she says, our core values are so much the same. We have never done a ceremony. And we're not going to until we can do one legally and hopefully here with our family and community.

Or, for those of you who prefer nifty graphics:

My transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []
Genesis 2:24

-wives subordinate to their husbands
-interfaith marriages forbidden
-marriages generally arranged, not based on romantic love
-bride who could not prove her virginity was stoned to death

Genesis 38:6-10

-widow who had not borne a son required to marry her brother in law
-must submit sexually to her new husband


Abraham (2 concubines), Gideon (1), Nahor (1), Jacob (1), Eliphaz (1), Gideon (≥ 1), Caleb (2), Manassah (1), Solomon (300), Belshazzar (> 1)

Deuteronomy 22:28-29

-virgin who is raped must marry her rapist
-rapist must pay victim's father 50 shekels of silver for property loss

Genesis 16

-man could acquire his wife's property including her slaves

Numbers 31:1-18, Deuteronomy 21:11-14

-under Moses' command, Israelites kill every Midianite man, woman and child; save for the virgin girls who are taken as spoils of war
-wives must submit sexually to their new owners

Lamech (2 wives), Essau (3), Jacob (2), Ashur (2), Gideon (many), Elkanah (2), David (many), Solomon (700), Rehaboam (3), Abijah (14), Jehoram, Joash, Ahab, Jeholachim, Belshazzar

Exodus 21:4

-slave owner could assign female slaves to his male slaves
-female slaves must submit sexually to their new husbands

Of course, the point isn’t that all of these types of unions are wrong, such as with polygamy and even incest*. It’s just dishonest to claim that the current societally accepted definition of marriage, be it five years old or five thousand, is the only one that has ever existed and can ever be applied to everyone, everywhere.

(via Joe. My. God. & @todayspolitics)

Edit (05/11/12 9:14 PM ET) – The original transcript mistakenly spelled Stephanie Coontz’s name “Koontz”. Fixed. (via Rob F)

* One’s personal squeamishness is not reason enough to legislate against it, and as long as proper consent is given and precautions against inbreeding are taken, I can’t see any problem with it.