March 26th, 2008
Editor’s Note: Yesterday, we published Dr. Patrick Chapman’s critique of Glenn T. Stanton’s white paper, “Differing definitions of marriage and family” (PDF: 80KB/10 pages) Today, we are proud to present a guest post by Glenn Stanton in response to Dr. Chapman’s critique. Glenn T. Stanton is the director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus On the Family. He is also the co-author (with Dr. Bill Maier) of Marriage On Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (InterVarsity Press: 2004).
In considering this exchange with Professor Chapman, I think of that popular VISA commercial, but with a different spin:
That is how I feel about this exchange and I am thankful for Box Turtle’s invitation to engage Professor Chapman on my paper comparing definitions of marriage and family used by anthropologists with those used by same-sex marriage advocates. I also greatly appreciate Dr. Chapman’s thoughtfulness and civility of response. As he said, we have exchanged notes in the past and I have enjoyed and benefited from those interactions.
Allow me to begin by explaining my intentions in writing my original report and the methodology I employed in that work.
My work at Focus on the Family affords me the privilege of being able to study, speak and write on why the family matters to human thriving. I have been doing this full-time for the last 15 years. I approach this question sociologically, theologically and anthropologically. One of my tasks is to help ensure Focus on the Family “gets it right” on what we say about why the family is important. Now, we will never “get it right” from everyone’s perspective, but we do want to make sure we don’t say incorrect or irresponsible things. To that end, we try to read widely, studying the leading thinkers in a particular field. We seek to learn from them and see how they inform, challenge or oppose our unapologetically evangelical Christian perspective. We often make adjustments based on reading and interactions with these scholars, strengthening, changing or dropping certain arguments. In this, I rarely make use of anything but academic books and professional journal articles, and when possible, develop relationships with these scholars. I also try to draw from thinkers respected on both sides of an issue. If I find widely respected sources that challenge my thesis, I try to make the reader aware of that. This, I hope, is reflected in my present paper under discussion.
Having said that, this comparison paper had two influences. First, the impetus for my paper was David Blankenhorn’s excellent comparison between the definitions of marriage used by anthropologists and SSM advocates in his important book, The Future of Marriage. I was intrigued enough by this comparison that, standing on the shoulders of his work, I explored further.
Additionally, when I was doing research in 2003 for my book, Marriage on Trial (w/ Dr. Bill Maier), I was interested to see how anthropologists understood marriage and parenting across cultures in light of the two streams of humanity: male and female. I took to reading the works of leading anthropologists on the topic and was profoundly struck by what I didn’t find. I expected to find explanations of various cultures that confounded and challenged the binary male/female dyad. I did not find this.
What I found was a relentless explanation of marriage and family consisting of male and female as the core of new families. It did not find observations and explanations of multiple genders, nor did I find broad discussions of different forms of marriage that did not include both male and female. In book after book, article after article, I found discussions of how male and female are central to family in diverse cultures, and how they negotiate family and social life in different ways. An example of this is found in a leading journal article on gender in Bugis society, which Chapman informs us has five genders (!). Susan Bolyard Millar in the opening sentence of her piece explains, “When the Bugis of Indonesia interact in public, the men are generally treated with deference by the women.” And the rest of the article discusses the interactions of these two groups….two groups. Two genders and the only diversion from this is a reference to the calabai who are male transvestites….men who dress as women. 1
Seems pretty binary to me and not very inventive when it comes to expanding the boundaries of the two genders. I hear this “there-are-many-genders” and “gender-is-not-binary” talk every month when I do a same-sex marriage debate on some college campus. Funny thing among all these students who try to hip me to reality: I have never met anyone who wasn’t either male or female or didn’t present themselves with easily discernible male or female qualities. Out of the eight different genders one student told me about, you would think I would have the privilege of meeting at least one of these non-male/female folks. I wait for that day. In the meantime, I went to the anthropologists, who were unable to introduce me to such a person.
What the Comparison Revealed
So, I set out to write a paper showing how anthropologists, at least from my reading, do indeed recognize the fundamental nature of male and female in marriage and family across human cultures. In my research of reading the brightest lights in anthropology on social structure, all I found was male/female dyad talk. Compare this with the leading voices of same-sex marriage advocacy who just simply define marriage with no mention of male or female whatsoever. The absence is stunning. Chapman said these SSM advocates “do not use anthropological definitions.” I don’t expect they would, but the two ways of defining marriage and family have nearly no overlap at all. These advocates create wholly new, foundation-less, experience-free definitions of marriage, acting as if these nouveau definitions are basic, something everyone has always understood as a genderless union between any two or more people. The contrast in definitions between the two communities is not simply one of academics on one side and generalists on the other, but was as stark as any two groups I have experienced. That is all I desired to demonstrate in the paper, that and nothing more. I think that is clear from the paper itself.
But What About the AAA?
Professor Chapman stakes a great deal on the American Anthropological Association’s 2004 statement in support of same-sex marriage, offering that as a debate stopper. First, it should be noted that this statement from this academic organization was not academically motivated, but rather developed in response to President George Bush’s support for a Federal Marriage Amendment. I have little problem with such groups making political statements, but they should issue forth from previously established positions. That is not the case here. I find no indication of the AAA talking up this issue in any form before Bush’s statement. Was it only worth addressing when it became a political issue?
And this very short statement by the AAA makes no reference to any of the “available evidence” that Chapman refers to. You simply have to take their word that the data exists, which seems contrary to the discipline of academic rigor. If there is so much evidence, why not give the reader of the statement the slightest breadcrumb trail to follow? I could find only one short article there (Linda Stone’s) explaining how the anthropological record could be read as to support same-sex marriage. The others are merely op/eds written by AAA members. These were written after the original statement appeared. You would think a serious academic organization would have more to offer a curious, investigative reader.
There are additional concerns I have with the AAA statement, such as it shifting anthropology from a descriptive discipline to a prescriptive, but we can leave that for another day.
Who is Authoritative on Marriage?
Chapman says that Focus on the Family finally “acknowledges anthropological authority in defining marriage” and “that ‘sanctity of marriage’ arguments are not valid.” That is a pretty “binary” way of seeing the discussion. We believe that many disciplines have a voice in helping us understand and practice marriage and one does not eclipse another. If I wrote a paper on how marriage is portrayed in the history of art as a union that binds male and female, which I have dabbled at, could we say that I think artists are the only authoritative voice? Please! I am merely saying artists are a good voice because they uniquely report how people live, just as anthropologists do in their own way.
Before I close, let me address a scattering of Chapman’s other comments.
First, he seeks to correct me in that many of the anthropological quotes I employ “avoid specifying the biological sex of the spouses” and he offers an example from George Murdock (who, by the way, is “Elvis” among anthropologists who study family forms and social structures). To this end, Chapman quotes Murdock that marriage is a relationship “between a sexually associating pair of adults.” Yes, Murdock uses that gender-unspecific phrase in his explanation. But if you continue reading Murdock a few lines down, you get to the quote that I use, where Murdock explains that family “consists typically of a married man and woman with their offspring.” 2 So he is specific, and there you have it again, that nagging male/female thing, without reference to or qualification of these other elusive gender couplings.
He also says in my recognizing the rare occurrences of woman/woman marriage, I “effectively change” Focus on the Family’s “one biological man with one biological woman” definition of marriage. There is nothing to change. For starters, as Christians, we define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. But biological connection is not a requirement. Also, while we believe that male/female monogamy is the ideal marriage arrangement, no one can miss that many cultures practice polygamy, which leads to women being treated as objects to be collected. On this, Professor Chapman and I agree.
Additionally, Chapman states a few times that “many cultures throughout the world traditionally accept same-sex marriage” while offering no evidence of any of these cultures, just like the AAA. He does mention the Bugis having many genders and marriage being restricted only to those of “different gender categories.” But Millar’s work, which I referenced above, speaks only of male and female among the Bugis and Chapman informed us that the Bugis indeed have restrictions on same-gender marriage.
Has Homosexual Marriage Ever Existed in a Culture?
I have noted the absences of specifics from the professionals, but my paper does refer the reader to specific examples of woman-woman marriages, as the anthropologists call to them. But these are very unique and rare marriages arranged to serve the purposes of the heterosexual family and the community. They cannot be called homosexual in that the unions are strictly pragmatic – to provide offspring to the contracting woman – and are not emotional or sexual. The same is true for the Native American berdache, which neither of us has addressed in this exchange. When we examine these supposed “same-sex” marriages existing in human experience, there is always more to the story. Contrary to the AAA, I find no corresponding reference to true homosexual, culturally-approved marriage in the anthropological record, similar to the unions we are discussing today, where two men or two women fall in love, marry under the embrace of the community and its mores, set up a home and raise children together and both are accepted as part of the larger kinship group. I would be interested in learning of one.
Are Mothers and Fathers Merely Optional?
The most concerning of Chapman’s remarks are those that imply that male and female are able to perform the tasks of mother and father interchangeably, or that other extended family members can effectively replace a mother or father. This is certainly not true in heterosexual fatherless homes, and it has yet to be proven that mom’s lesbian lover can effectively replace a father, regardless of how caring and kind she might be.
If any person in any family has a belly-button, they also have a mother and father somewhere. And a wealth of research flowing from our nation’s three-decade experiment in fatherlessness strongly indicates that it is nearly impossible to replace the necessary influence and contributions a father makes to healthy child-development. 3 In the hundreds of studies I have read on this subject, I have not seen one which explains that the love of another family member can replace the contributions a father makes, no matter how vested and caring the love. My wife lost her father at age nine. The super-abundant love of her mother and sisters was a treasure, but could not replace the hole her absent father left in her life. In addition, the journal Child Development explains, “A review of the survey literature reveals no evidence that nonresident father involvement benefits children.” 4 Drive-by fathering is not fathering.
An analysis of over 100 studies on fatherhood and child-development outcomes found that having a loving and nurturing father was as important for a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother. Some of these studies indicated father-love was a stronger contributor than mother-love to important positive child well-being outcomes. 5
The breadth and strength of this research on the irreplaceable influence of fathers for healthy child development is what compelled the Clinton and then Bush Administrations to both develop and execute smart federal programs to encourage greater father involvement in the United States. The research revealing that children who grow up without their fathers — regardless of the resultant family-form — face a number of serious life challenges was too great for either Administration to ignore.
Unfortunately the legalization of same-sex marriage would not help us connect more children with their fathers, but often do precisely the opposite. This is one of the leading reasons why Focus on the Family opposes same-sex marriage, along with no-fault divorce and policies that tend to encourage out-of-wedlock child-bearing.
With that, I offer sincere thanks to Box Turtle and Professor Chapman for the nice and thoughtful exchange.
Glenn T. Stanton
PS. My mention of Colin Turnbull’s life story was simply to illustrate that he was not an anthropologist who was boxed-in by a “heterosexist” view of life and living in Virginia in his mixed-race relationship made him keenly aware of this issue of injustice.
3. Michael E. Lamb, “Fathers: The Forgotten Contributors in Child Development,” Human Development 18 (1975): 245-266.
Paul R. Amato and Fernando Rivera, “Paternal Involvement and Children’s Behavior Problems,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (1999): 375-384;
Ronald P. Rohner and Robert A. Veneziano, “The Importance of Father Love: History and Contemporary Evidence,” Review of General Psychology 5.4 (2001): 382-405;
Natasha J. Cabrera, et al., “Fatherhood in the Twenty-First Century,” Child Development 71 (2000): 127-136. [BACK]
Round 2: Stanton Replies to Chapman
Round 2: Chapman Replies to Stanton
Glenn T. Stanton Responds to Professor Patrick Chapman
An Anthropologist Critiques Focus on the Family’s “Anthropological” Report on Marriage
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