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Posts for April, 2008

Wrap-Up: Anthropology and the Same-Sex Marraige Debate

Jim Burroway

April 14th, 2008

As I said last week, I wanted to offer a few closing thoughts on Glenn Stanton and Patrick Chapman’s online debate on anthropology and same-sex marriage. (You can read them in order here, here, here, and here.) But first, I want to thank Glenn and Patrick for their eagerness to participate in this fruitful and substantive debate. I’m especially grateful to Glenn for his willingness to appear as a guest author on this web site. I am familiar with the same-sex marriage debates that he and John Corvino conduct across the country, and I hope someday they will come to my neck of the desert. Glenn and Patrick were very gracious to me and to each other in the emails we exchanged back and forth behind the scenes, and I look forward to more public and private discussions with both of them in the future.

In my closing thought, I’d like to touch on three things:

  1. The problem of language — How language itself influences how we see the world, and shapes how we communicate what we see.
  2. The difference between sex and gender — not everyone gets it, not even professional social scientists.
  3. And why anthropology? — How is anthropology relevant to the same-sex marriage debate?

The Problem of Language
When we speak, we typically try to speak precisely with a commonly understood language in order to be understood. But our very language can restrict what we’re able to describe. Either we don’t have quite the right word, or the phrases we commonly use don’t quite get there. Conversely, our language may influence how we see the world, as it is filtered through the words and expressions which come naturally to us. Let me explain.

I like Tucson. That’s a pretty simple expression. “I” — that’s me, the subject of the sentence — “like” — the verb, which describes the thing that I’m doing — “Tucson” — the direct object which receives the action. The course of action begins with me and comes to rest in the object which receives my affection. Duh, you say? Well, stay with me, because there’s a whole world of assumptions built into that tiny little sentence.

I like Tucson for many reasons. One reason it that it’s still something of a “Mexamerica” in culture and language because Anglos settled here relatively late in history. It’s also only sixty miles from Mexico, so it helps to know some Spanish.

And so in Spanish I say, Me gusta Tucson. The word order may appear to remain the same as in English, but that’s misleading. In short sentences like this in Spanish, the subject is routinely placed at the end of the sentence, not at the beginning. And direct object and reflexive pronouns (“myself, himself) always appear in front of the verb no matter what. This sentence actually says “Tucson pleases me.”

Notice the difference. In Spanish, this expression is always given in the passive sense. It is a restriction built into the language. In Spanish, it’s Tucson’s job to please me; it’s not up to me to like Tucson. If I didn’t like Tucson, an English speaker might ask, “What’s wrong with you? How can you not like Tucson?” But in Spanish, I suppose the more natural response might be, “What’s so bad about Tucson? Why doesn’t Tucson please you?”

As you can see, that simple little sentence in Spanish has a whole different world of assumptions, doesn’t it? I can’t help but wonder what other linguistic quirks in Spanish might support that wonderfully passionate yet que será, será culture, or to what extent our own language contributes to our driving sense of individualistic manifest destiny.

It’s not just grammar, but vocabulary too. We English-speakers haven’t traditionally enjoyed spicy foods like we do today, and our language hasn’t caught up with this new experience. We’re still trying to cram two very different meanings into the word “hot” and rely on context for understanding. Sometimes we have to ask, “Do you mean hot-hot or spicy-hot?” Not surprisingly, Spanish is way ahead of us: caliente is used to describe hot temperatures, and picante is spicy hot. These are two very different and non-interchangeable words. Use the wrong one, and you’ll look very stupid and possibly a little insane. The habanero salsa in the refrigerator is certainly not caliente.

Language itself is the result of a whole pile of social constructs – even with the simplest of things like how we like things (or are pleased by them) and how we sense our foods. It both reflects and defines our view of the world.

I was reminded of this as I was exchanging some casual emails with Glenn Stanton about the online dialog between him and Patrick Chapman. At one point he remarked:

But one thing I do find in this is regardless of how clear we try to be, we do end up too often talking past each other. I get accused in your reader’s posts of “just not getting it” but that is exactly what my friends say about Chapman. It is a perspective and position of life issue, I guess.

In many very important ways, he’s exactly right.

The difference between sex and gender
We often use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, but strictly speaking their definitions are critically different. We can’t fault too many people for confusing the two — I’ve abused those definitions many times myself, right here in these pages. So this exchange between Mr. Stanton and Dr. Chapman has been a great learning experience for me.

I don’t feel too bad about my confusion because many social scientists get tripped up by these terms as well. When the journal Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry issued their July 2002 special edition on gender and sexual identity, the editors realized that they couldn’t just assume that their professional readership would understand the distinction between sex and gender. That’s why the first article following the introductory editorial was Dr. Milton Diamond’s explicitly titled piece, “Sex and Gender are Different: Sexual Identity and Gender Identity are Different.” He wrote:

The term sex, since classical times, has been used to designate matters related to biology and medicine when male, female or bisexual were in context. Thus animals, including humans, are categorized dependent upon whether they either produce gametes as, or similar to, spermatozoa (males) or ova (females), or have parts of the reproductive system appropriate to the development of and delivery or reception of such gametes. … Classically, for humans, those individuals that had both male and female characteristics were called hermaphrodites. Presently the term intersex is preferred.

The term gender has generally been used in social or cultural contexts, in distinction from biological ones. This was particularly associated with language. The first known use of the word gender was listed as 1387 CE when T. Usk wrote “No mo genders been there but masculine and femynyne, all the remnaunte been no genders but of grace, in faculte of grammar.” This context for gender has been expanded so that since the 1960s or 1970s the word is often used as a euphemism for the sex of a human being but the intended emphasis remains on the social and cultural, as opposed to the biological. United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia, in an attempt to clarify usage of the terms has written “The word gender has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.”

Dr. Diamond and Justice Scalia have it exactly right. (Dr. Diamond goes on to note that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg continues to use “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. She defends it as a stylistic choice and nothing more.) I think Dr. Chapman was pretty clear in his distinctions between “sex” and “gender”; Mr. Stanton, less so. When Mr. Stanton said, “I think this new understanding of ‘gender’ is a cultural construct,” he’s mostly correct: it is a cultural construct, just as masculine and feminine are cultural constructs. And these cultural constructs arise because they represent concepts — sometimes new concepts — that we have to find ways of talking about.

But as Dr. Chapman, Dr. Diamond and the 14th century’s T. Usk demonstrated, this construct about gender isn’t a new one. But it is a confusing one, even for some very smart and educated people. I was confused by it, Justice Scalia understands it perfectly, Justice Bader Ginsberg either doesn’t understand or deems it insignificant, and even the highly educated readers of Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry needed to have their definitions calibrated so that the ensuing articles in that issue could make sense.

Now I suspect that most people who believe in absolutes might be skeptical of cultural constructs. But in a sense, they accept the idea every day (or at least every Sunday). It’s a core principle in Biblical hermeneutics that the cultural constructs of the day must be taken into account when interpreting Scriptures. I have on my bookshelves 25 volumes (soon to be 29) of InterVarsity Press’ Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, which I enthusiastically recommend. It’s chock-full of fascinating explanations of cultural constructs and historical context, and it provides an amazing window into the world of those ancient authors.

Cultural constructs are all around us, and they issue forth with every word we speak. Every time I say I really don’t like celery, people scrunch their face at me and ask, “What’s wrong with you?” That always startles me because there’s nothing at all wrong with me, but there’s clearly something terribly wrong with celery.

And so when we’re talking about gender and why we think it’s important, then we really need to be clear about it. The same is true for sex. But when Mr. Stanton offers different definitions of gender (“a much softer, less precise term than ‘sex'”), and Dr. Chapman emphasizes how societies construct gender when we were talking about same-sex marriage, then I do fear that the two sides are still talking past each other. We fall into the old habit of trying to use the word hot when we really need to use words describing caliente and picante.

Why Anthropology?
During the midst of Stanton’s and Chapman’s exchanges, I was fascinated by a post I ran across on another anthropology blog. I posted a brief excerpt that I want to return to here:

It’s a fascinating debate to me not necessarily because I am interested in definitions of marriage (though I am) but because of the way that anthropology is invoked by both sides as having authority on the subject. … Anthropologists: Do not despair! Someone still cares what we have to say. Anthropologists are seen to have the last word on human nature and therefore as potentially having knowledge that could settle debate on the topic. …

…To me what’s interesting is how a moral question appears to be disguised in these debates as a ‘scientific’ one, and therefore the real nature of the conflict gets displaced. [Boldface emphasis mine; italics in the original.]

Actually, when we’re talking about same-sex marriage, I don’t believe we are talking about a moral problem, but a political one. But I recognize that most opponents to same-sex marriage don’t see it that way. So we end up talking about morality and politics, and we often throw in developmental psychology, hormonal and genetic research, sociology and public opinion polls, and now anthropology. Of all these topics, it does seem to me that anthropology is an odd proxy in these debates. But this is where we are, so let me offer these thoughts.

It’s good to know that modern Western civilization is far from the first to grapple with the place of same-sex relationships in society. I was fascinated to learn about the Indonesian Bujis’ concept of calabai, calalai, and bissu as genders. Their gender construct is very different from our own — foreign even — even if their understanding of sex remains largely the same. But we’re not Bujis, nor do we consider the Tongan gender construct of fakaleitis or the Samoan concept of fa’afafine sufficient to describe our sense of ourselves in western culture.

We’re Americans. We like to define things for ourselves. We don’t find it pleasing to shoehorn our experiences into other cultures’ constructs. It’s very interesting to see how other cultures have dealt with the same issues that we have, but in the end our solutions will be ones most familiar to our own experiences, not those of the xaniths of Oman.

While gender is most certainly an important topic in our society when we talk about issues facing transgender people (for example), I think it is largely moot when we’re discussing same-sex marriage. And since some cultures around the world have accommodated same-sex relationships as a culturally sanctioned entity, then what we’re talking about is not all that groundbreaking. I just don’t think we will be creating different classes of gender to accommodate it as other cultures have, simply because we no longer ascribe sanctioned roles to particular genders. If we did, then we would very quickly come up with Mr. Stanton’s “6.5 billion different genders”, which would render the whole idea of gender meaningless both as a definition and as a concept. Because gender is still too vital a concept for other topics, I don’t see that happening. And besides, in 21st-century America it’s just not our way.

See also:
Wrap-up: Anthropology and the Same-Sex Marriage Debate
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

Round 2: Stanton Replies to Chapman

Glenn T. Stanton

April 4th, 2008

Editor’s note: Last week, we began a discussion on anthropological views of marriage, with special attention to its implications on same-sex marriage. Patrick Chapman, biological anthropologist and author of the forthcoming book, “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press: 2008) began the discussion. That post was followed by a response from Glenn T. Stanton, director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus On the Family and co-author (with Dr. Bill Maier) of Marriage On Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (InterVarsity Press: 2004). This past Monday, Dr. Chapman kicked off round 2 of the discussion, and today Mr. Stanton offers his rebuttal. I’ll return next week with some final thoughts.

I am happy to engage this discussion another round and am thankful to Box Turtle and Professor Chapman for their continued participation.

I see the headline on this exchange as “Anthropologist and Evangelical Researcher Disagree on Much”, which sounds like a good Onion headline. But I do believe this has been an opportunity to let two people with very different views carefully explain their positions and allow others to eavesdrop into and comment on the conversation. That is worthwhile. As we close this exchange, I want to thank Dr. Chapman for his clarity and kindness. And to Box Turtle for hosting the exchange in a very professional, remarkably fair manner. I say that with all sincerity.

Predisposed Bias?
Let me start by addressing an accusation he makes about Focus on the Family at the close of his last post. He says:

The organization, generalizing from Stanton’s methodology and the recent article that began our conversation, is more concerned about fitting anthropological studies into its predisposed bias than an honest appraisal and reporting of the research. (emphasis mine)

Actually NOT doing this is exactly what prompted me to write the paper under discussion. As I explained here in my first response to Chapman, I went to read leading anthropologists a few years ago on their explanation of marriage in light of gender and sex. Let me say this very clearly: I did not find what I went to the texts expecting to find. I went to this literature expecting to find and truly hoping to learn about the great diversity of gender-manifestations I always hear about from my many Women’s Studies friends.

I fully expected to have these anthropologists explain to me either the subtle or overt realities of how we in the West understand male and female are not so in other cultures. To that end, I anticipated they would employ great energy in explaining how our “he/she” categories don’t work in some/many non-Western cultures. But that is exactly what I did not find.

I found relentless talk about male/female and the only qualifiers offers were for 1) class differences for marrying couples in various cultures, and 2) the different tasks male and female perform in various cultures. But these were relentlessly about male and female together and absent of talk about “spectrums” of gender.

Even a full, careful read of a journal article on, as its title explains, “interpreting gender in Bugis society” (a society Chapman referred to as evidence in his first post) offers no explanation of anything but male or female (in either “sex” or “gender”) in the entire article. As previously noted, the article does mention what it calls “male transvestites” but only as a “very small percentage of the population.” If there are other genders among the Bugis, this anthropologist either failed to recognize them or failed to report it. Being a professor from University of Wisconsin, Madison, you think she would be keen to such subtleties if they existed. I understand they are quite sensitive to “heterosexism” at her institution. I will check out the Graham-Davies book that Chapman referred to on the subject.

This leads to perhaps our discussion’s biggest point, the “elephant in the room” that we are both feeling and describing different parts of.

Sex and gender
Chapman concludes from reading my response that I do “not comprehend the implications of, or difference between, sex and gender” and then proceeds to explain it to me. Goodness, anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to our national discussion on sex-roles over the past few decades gets the difference. My problem is I just don’t accept all the rhetoric that Gender- and Woman-Studies Departments accept and blather as established truth. I think this new understanding of “gender” is a cultural construct, which I will explain in just a bit.

Chapman then goes on to carefully explain to me that it is a mistake to assume that “all biological males are gendered masculine and all biological females are gendered feminine.” I know what the sentence means, but I don’t know what it means in practice.

Do you really believe that I think there are ways that all men and ways all women act? That is ridiculous. But equally ludicrous is the idea that it is silly-talk to speak of essentially-male or essentially-female qualities, even across cultures. If this were true, we would all need guides to point us to the males and females in cultures different from our own. When I travel around the world, I do this discerning on my own and have never had anyone correct me or had my supposed “ethnocentricism” embarrass me in a cultural faux pas. I have little trouble discerning who the men and women are, even when they are performing outside their “prescribed roles.” Please!

Let’s look at this more closely.

There are two sexes: male and female. I don’t see intersexed persons challenging this, as they are people who are “inter”…between the two, but typically identify relatively well as either male or female. This has been my experience with intersexed people I know. The Intersex Society of North America explicitly does not regard intersex as a third gender.

“Gender” is a much softer, less precise term than “sex”. If we use John Money’s classic, but new-fangled, definition of “sex is what you are biologically; gender is what you become socially”1 gender here is understood to mean how you see yourself and how society forms you with regard to your sex. Given this definition, I would posit that there are some 6.5 billion different genders, because to be honest, we all understand and express our sex in different ways. Let me speak from my experience.

I understand that I live out my maleness in ways very different than many males. In any given sports season, I could not come close to conversing intelligently about how the season is going. I have no interest in hunting, NASCAR or eating chicken wings at Hooters. However, I could tell you what is currently on display at the local museum or what was on Ovation last night. I am like Niles and Frazier Crane. My buddies kid me about this.

As far as household roles, a feminist literature professor, who I liked very much, tried to convince me that I lived by strict gender roles, whether I realized it or not. As proof, she asked me her discussion-ending gotcha-question. “Glenn,” she asked, “who cleans the toilets in your house?” I had to be honest. “My wife has seldom touched a toilet brush in her life.” I told her. I clean the bathrooms. Nor does she mop the floors. She cooks, and I do the dishes. She does the laundry. We both change diapers. We have women who work full-time here at Focus and Family and do so in plain sight without the slightest bit of recrimination from Dr. Dobson. Some of them are even vice-presidents and directors, oh my! Does this mean we are gender-benders?

Being or thinking this way does not mean we are either the least bit confused nor staunchly rigid on what masculinity and femininity are, but only that we recognize there are different ways to be genuinely male or female. But — and this is a huge one – the fact that there are no incarnated golden feminine or masculine archetypes in the world does not mean these two ways of being human don’t exist in real, discernible ways or that we can’t talk meaningfully across cultures about what male and female are, either in what were are physically, biologically and psychically.

This is my problem with this new use of the term “gender.” That it is used as a way to imply that male and female are no longer adequate terms to describe sex-based human experience. I don’t find this in my diverse life experience, nor did it appear to me, that the anthropologists I read did either.

Name-calling and other things…
I was struck in both of Chapman’s responses his ease and confidence in making conclusions for me about what I believe. Professor Chapman, I am many things, but I am neither a naïve realist nor an ethnocentrist. If I were, I would find no value in the work of the anthropologists, for their specialty is explaining to us differing human experiences in diverse cultures.

You also explain, ala Stephanie Coontz, that historically “love is irrelevant” to marriage. This is the silliest thing she says in a book full of silly things. If she wants to say that love has not always been the sole or primary force in marriage that it is today, that point is hard to dispute. But to believe that marriage has always been a relationship solely about either class-cohesion or -advancement or about the transfer of land or material goods is deeply mistaken. The human heart didn’t grow warm in just the past 150 years. It has always felt and reacted to love, rejection and developed jealousy. These have always played a part of human relationships, including marriage and parenting, because it is profoundly human.

Regarding Murdock’s writings and the word “typical” in relation to his explanation of family being “a married man and woman with their offspring.” I read this word to mean it is usually this, while some families are single-parented because of death or desertion and some do not contain children. The reason I came to such a conclusion is that he discusses these different family forms in his book, but not homosexual marriages. The good scholar that he is, he stated the typical and later discussed the atypical. He explained these atypical families as variations on the heterosexual family. I did encounter discussions of same-sex marriage as rare from other scholars, and I address those in my paper.

In the occasions that Chapman cites instances of “same-sex marriage” he explains that couples must represent both female and male social qualities, regardless of their biological sex. I don’t doubt these are socially legitimate marriages, but he explains, “Relationships must follow the heterosexual model” in Samoa. That is the very point I made and when I have encountered the rare instances of same-sex marriage in other cultures. So do we both agree that there are no examples in past human experience, in any culture, is something looking like homosexual marriage where men as men and women as women are allowed to marry each other, regardless of what their “gender” might be? If I understand Chapman’s posts correctly, the societies he mentioned do place gender restrictions here.

Children and Well-Being
Let me end with what I think is the most important point: what this means for children of tomorrow.

First, I did not say that children do better in two-parent homes than single-parent homes. You put those words in my mouth and denounced it as a non-sequitur because SS homes are two-parent. What I do say in many of my books is that children who grow up with their own mother and father do markedly better in every important measure of well-being, compared to their peers growing up in single, cohabiting, step- or divorced homes. Children in SS homes are not, but definition, growing up in homes with their own mother and father.

He mentions the Lamotrek as a society where “same-sex couples” raise children with “no evidence of harm to the children or society.”

Two questions here. 1) What does “couple” mean in this context, especially in your explanation of frequent change of residence in their culture? We have a similar thing in the U.S. with children increasingly being raised by their mother and grandmother in the same home. It happens in other cultures also. The “same-sex couples” in Lamotrek should be clarified. 2) Regarding harm, which you say didn’t exist, was any study done on how these children actually fare compared to children in other family forms? The book you cite was published in 1965 and sociology was just starting to look at how family formation impacts child well-being in the West. It is doubtful Alkire did such an analysis because of this, but also because it is not the anthropologist’s task to make judgments about the quality of what a culture does, but only what it does.

Finally, the numerous research reports coming from sociology and psychology indicating that father-love is more impactful in some important child well-being measures than mother-love does not imply that children with two fathers would do extra better. The fatherhood effect is not cumulative. Scholars who have done work on fatherhood and child development explain that fatherhood is consequential in many ways, but primarily as it contrasts with and complements motherhood in important and unique ways.2

It’s been fun.

Glenn T. Stanton

P.S. Just watched the woman-who-changed-via-hormone-
injections-to-present-as-a-man-and-is-now-pregnant-because-
she-still-has-her-uterus on Oprah today.

References:
1. John Money, “The Concept of Gender Identity Disorder in childhood and adolescence after 39 years,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 20 (1994): 163-77. [BACK]

2. Henry B. Biller, Father and Families: Paternal Factors in Child Development (Westport, CT: Auburn House, 1993).

John Snarey and George Vaillant How Fathers Care for the Next Generation: A Four Decade Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

Ross Parke, Fatherhood (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

David Popenoe, Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society (New York: The Free Press, 1996). [BACK]

See also:
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

Round 2: Chapman Replies to Stanton

Patrick M. Chapman, Ph.D.

March 31st, 2008

Editor’s note: Last week, we began a discussion on anthropological views of marriage, with special attention to its implications on same-sex marriage. Patrick Chapman, biological anthropologist and author of the forthcoming book, “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press: 2008) began the discussion. That post was followed by a response from Glenn T. Stanton, director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus On the Family and co-author (with Dr. Bill Maier) of Marriage On Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (InterVarsity Press: 2004). This week, Dr. Chapman replies and begins round 2 of the discussion.

The editors of Box Turtle Bulletin requested that Glenn Stanton and I continue our discussion about marriage. I recognize that Stanton is at a disadvantage in this discussion because I essentially have the “home-field advantage:” his comments will come under much greater scrutiny by Box Turtle Bulletin’s readers than mine. As such, I credit Stanton for his willingness to participate further. However, as an anthropologist I remain in disagreement with his “anthropological” assessment of same-sex marriage.

In a limited space and with limited time, it is difficult to address all of the issues raised in Stanton’s response to my critique. I am concerned about his unscientific methodology, disagree with his comments about the American Anthropological Association, find inadequate, given the context, his explanation for including Colin Turnbull’s biographical information, and find unconvincing his dismissal of anthropological authority: he does not consult artists when trying to rebut definitions of marriage! However, in this round of the discussion Glenn Stanton and I have agreed to focus attention on two important themes: the distinction between gender and sex and the definition of marriage.

Sex and gender
Upon reading Stanton’s response, I am of the opinion he does not comprehend the implications of, or difference between, sex and gender. Sex, a biological entity, and gender, the socially constructed roles we play in society, are not synonyms. The folk belief in American society, which recognizes only two sexes and two genders, is that a person’s sex determines his or her gender: all biological males are gendered masculine and all biological females are gendered feminine. Our language reinforces this “reality:” we say “he” and “she,” implying there are only two sexes and two genders. We have no pronouns for biologically intersex individuals (sometimes called hermaphrodites), or for individuals who are transgender. However, other societies do not necessarily accept our binary construct and interchangeable sex and gender categories.

In the initial critique, I described the five genders recognized by the Bugis of Indonesia.1 Unlike American society, which blurs the distinction between sex and gender, the Bugis separate biological sex (male, female, and intersex) from gender roles, creating the five gender categories. Stanton’s comment that the Bugis situation “Seems pretty binary to me and not very inventive when it comes to expanding the boundaries of the two genders,” demonstrates ethnocentrism: he imposes upon the Bugis an American understanding of gender, dismissing the Bugis’ recognition of the five genders being different. Contrary to Stanton’s belief, the calabai and calalai do not fit into the gender categories of man or woman and are not simply transvestites. While a calabai performs many tasks associated with women, it is the calabai who often provides economically for the husband: a calabai performs some tasks associated with women and others associated with men.

A compounding problem in understanding the difference between sex and gender is that heterosexuality is the most common expression of sexuality. As such, societies normally expect same-sex marriages to conform to the heterosexual model. This heteronormativity and the confusion between sex and gender help explain Stanton’s surprise or disbelief that the Bugis recognize five genders, and why he dismisses the nature of their same-sex marriages. I believe it also lends understanding to his comment that he has

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.

There are many individuals who are neither biologically male nor female; they are intersex. Unlike Mr. Stanton, I have met many intersex individuals and many individuals who are considered a third gender in their societies, including Tongan fakaleiti, Hawaiian mahu, and Native American two-spirit. That Stanton has yet to meet one of these individuals indicates to me that they are not comfortable “outing” themselves to him, that he is seeing people through a culturally-conditioned lens, does not accept that which does not fit his worldview, or that his social circle excludes individuals not fitting the socially prescribed categories.

Social construction of homosexuality
It is important to discuss the problems inherent in applying Western terms and concepts to non-Western cultures. We have a different worldview: the words and concepts we use to describe our physical and social environments are not consistent with the words and concepts others use. Generally speaking, when constructing sexuality Western society is concerned with the genitals. If a sexual pair has the same genitals, they are homosexual. If the genitals differ, they are heterosexual. However, most societies are concerned with the gender individuals perform, not the genitals. As such, there are often no recognized homosexuals in their societies, particularly if they accept gender-transformed marriages.

Our term “homosexual” does not fit the categories used in other societies for people who are same-sex oriented. While same-sex oriented individuals apparently exist in every culture, different societies channel them into different socially approved roles: how they construct “homosexuality” and how they categorize who we label “homosexuals” differs. Some societies prohibit the expression of same-sex attractions. Some societies accept it only if it follows a heterosexual gender model. Some societies view only the penetrated male as “homosexual:” the penetrating male is “heterosexual” because he is acting in a manner consistent with his gender norm. Meanwhile, American society is not accepting of gender transformation but is more accepting of egalitarian homosexuality, presumably because heterosexual relationships are commonly gender non-differentiated.

In Samoa there are no homosexuals; but there are fa’afafine. The fa’afafine are biological males who perform many of the tasks of women. However, unlike the gender category representing women, the fa’afafine do not necessarily dress as women and often perform traditional tasks of both men and women. Thus, the fa’afafine do not fit neatly into the gendered man or woman categories. They are a bridge between the two; they represent a third gender. Esera Tuaolo, a former Super Bowl lineman and author of Alone in the Trenches, explains how his American expression of homosexuality is not acceptable in his native Samoan culture because both he and his partner are masculine. While it is acceptable for a fa’afafine to have a socially recognized man as a lover in Samoa, it is entirely unacceptable for a socially recognized man to have another socially recognized man as a lover. Relationships must follow the heterosexual model.

Other Polynesian and Micronesian societies construct sexuality in a similar fashion. In these societies two biological males or two biological females fall in love, marry with full social recognition and acceptance, live together, raise children together, and are integrated into the kinship system. Martha Ward briefly discusses one such marriage in Pohnpei,2 while Alexandra Brewis discusses them on the island of Butaritari.3 Stanton will likely protest that these marriages include gender transformation, but this is irrelevant: the societies recognize the marriages as fully legitimate.

What’s love got to do with it?
Stanton demonstrates naïve realism, the assumption that every culture has a worldview identical to ours, when he demands that we provide examples of

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.

If other cultures construct sexuality differently than we do, we cannot expect to find exact equivalents to our expressions of marriage, heterosexual or homosexual. However, it is nonetheless possible to provide meaningful examples that fulfill Mr. Stanton’s basic requirements, as mentioned above with the examples from Pohnpei and Butaritari.

Stanton’s objection is that modern same-sex marriages lack strict gender differentiation. This objection is disingenuous because modern heterosexual marriages lack strict gender differentiation. Modern heterosexual marriages have no historical precedent: only in the last 50 years have they become common. Throughout history same-sex marriages mimic opposite-sex ones: that same-sex marriages in America do so once again is not grounds for banning them. If Stanton uses lack of historical precedent for gender undifferentiated marriages as the basis for rejecting same-sex marriages, then he must reject opposite-sex marriages.

Of interest, Stanton shape-shifts the definition of marriage. His report uses definitions from anthropologists that are inclusive of same-sex marriage because the central feature of marriage is the social and economic ties a marriage creates: biological sex does not matter. In the response to my critique he says: “as Christians, we define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. But biological connection is not a requirement.” If biological connection is not a requirement, then he has no issue with same-sex marriages provided one individual changes his or her performed gender. However, in his report he dismisses as legitimate gender transformed same-sex marriages, recognized by their societies as “one man with one woman.” Stanton then demands examples of same-sex marriage using falling in love, raising children, and living together as the important defining criteria for marriage. If these are the defining criteria for marriage, then most heterosexual marriages throughout history do not qualify. As historian Stephanie Coontz indicates, “not until the late eighteenth century, and then only in Western Europe and North America, did the notion of free choice and marriage for love triumph as a cultural ideal.”4 Historically, traditionally, cross-culturally, marriage is a social and economic union that creates social ties: love is irrelevant, in many societies biological sex is irrelevant, and in some societies even whether a groom is alive is irrelevant.

Stanton also demonstrates a strong predisposed bias. I mentioned that George Murdock’s definition of marriage, which Stanton uses in his report, omits the biological sex of the spouses. In response Stanton states that while Murdock does not specify biological sex when discussing marriage, he does so when discussing the family:

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.” 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.

However, Murdock does explicitly qualify his comment with “typically.” Such qualifications are common when modern anthropologists discuss marriage and families because each society constructs them differently and exceptions are inevitable. Furthermore, Murdock uses gendered terms, not terms relating to biological sex.

In addition, Stanton demonstrates ethnocentrism by requiring that marriage be defined on his terms: if a society recognizes same-sex marriages as equal to opposite-sex ones, he dismisses them because they do not match his definition of marriage. However, using his criteria, we must argue that no society in the world has ever had marriage.

We are family
Anthropologists find tremendous variation in how societies form families and households. Anthropologists working in the South Pacific have difficulty keeping track of households because the membership is constantly changing: children in particular frequently change residence. Of interest, one anthropologist reports that nearly 50 percent of children in Lamotrek were adopted.5 Same-sex couples typically adopt and raise children in these societies: there is no evidence of harm to the children or society.

Strangely, Stanton argues that same-sex parenting harms children because studies show that children do better in two-parent homes than in one-parent homes. The argument is a non sequitur: same-sex households are two-parent homes. The studies he uses do not compare two-parent same-sex households to two-parent opposite-sex ones and are therefore irrelevant to the discussion. Stanton’s personal example regarding his wife’s loss of her father when she was young is also a non sequitur. Her grief over the loss of her father is irrelevant to a discussion of two living same-sex parents raising children.

Of interest, Stanton says “Some of these studies indicated father-love was a stronger contributor than mother-love to important positive child well-being outcomes” (emphasis in original). This, of course, implies that children raised by two fathers in a same-sex relationship would fair much better than those raised in a heterosexual family. He argues:

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.

Opposing same-sex marriage does not prevent children from being raised in same-sex households: the 2000 Census reports over 25 percent of same-sex households have children. Focus on the Family’s opposition to same-sex marriage helps prevent these children from receiving the same financial, health, and emotional benefits children in heterosexual households receive: the opposition hurts innocent children. Stanton implicitly asserts that children with no parents, or with abusive parents, are better off than children with two loving same-sex parents, whose lives have been examined in minutia to ensure they will provide a healthy, stable, and loving home for any adopted children. Of tangential interest, but relevant to Stanton’s quote, Coontz references studies that indicate there is a 20 percent reduction in suicides by married women, a significant drop in domestic violence, and fewer murders of women in states with unilateral divorce.6 Apparently, divorce has its benefits.

Focus on the Family appears more concerned with its political agenda than its religious tenets. The organization opposes legislation benefiting children of same-sex parents. The organization wishes to restrict divorce, which has led to lower violence against women. The organization, generalizing from Stanton’s methodology and the recent article that began our conversation, is more concerned about fitting anthropological studies into its predisposed bias than an honest appraisal and reporting of the research. The organization deceives its readers and misrepresents a respected scientific organization: nearly one month later it has not corrected its claim that anthropologists agree with “traditional” marriage: the American Anthropological Association publicly stated the contrary in 2004.

References:
1. My discussion of the Bugis does not derive from the article referenced by Stanton, but from an ethnography by S. G. Davies, Challenging Gender Norms: Five Genders among the Bugis in Indonesia (Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007). [BACK]

2. M. C. Ward, Nest in the Wind: Adventures in Anthropology on a Tropical Island, 2nd ed. (Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 2005). [BACK]

3. A. Brewis, Lives on the Line: Women and Ecology on a Pacific Atoll (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1996). [BACK]

4. S. Coontz, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage (New York: Penguin, 2005). The quote is from page 7. [BACK]

5. W. H. Alkire, Lamotrek Atoll: Inter-island Socioeconomic Ties (Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1965). [BACK]

6. S. Coontz: 293. [BACK]

See also:
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

Glenn T. Stanton Responds to Professor Patrick Chapman

Glenn T. Stanton

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:

  • Trading snippy jabs with an opponent on the marriage question: 96 cents,
  • Engaging in spirited, thoughtful discussion on a deeply important and controversial issue with a serious opponent: priceless.

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 Methodology
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.

My Influences
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.

Miscellany
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.

Peace,

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.

References:
1. Susan Bolyard Millar, “On Interpreting Gender in Bugis Society,” American Ethnologist, 10 (1983): 477-493, p. 477. [BACK]

2. George Peter Murdock, Social Structure, (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1949), p. 1. [BACK]

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]

4. Cabrera, et al., 2000, p. 130. [BACK]

5. Rohner and Veneziano, 2001. [BACK]

See also:
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

An Anthropologist Critiques Focus on the Family’s “Anthropological” Report on Marriage

Patrick M. Chapman, Ph.D.

March 25th, 2008

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Patrick M. Chapman, biological anthropologist and author of the forthcoming book, “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press: 2008).

I was honored when Glenn Stanton, Director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, asked me to provide a critical review of his recent Focus on the Family report, “Differing definitions of marriage and family: comparing and contrasting those offered by emerging same-sex marriage advocates and classic anthropologists.” (PDF: 80KB/10 pages) I have had previous positive encounters with Mr. Stanton and appreciate his openness to professional criticism. I am also grateful that Box Turtle Bulletin offered to make our discussion public.

As indicated in the title, Stanton’s report compares and contrasts the anthropological understanding of marriage with definitions provided by various same-sex political advocates, apparently to undermine the case for same-sex marriage. I find the report significant for several, presumably unintended, reasons:

  • The appeal to anthropologists as the authority in understanding marriage;
  • The appreciation that marriage is primarily a social and economic institution, not a religious one;
  • The acknowledgment that same-sex marriage is traditional;
  • The recognition that Focus on the Family’s “one biological man with one biological woman” definition of marriage is flawed;
  • The admission that gay males are capable of stable, long-term relationships.

Allow me to elaborate on these points.

Appeal to anthropological authority
It is true that the same-sex marriage advocates quoted in the report do not use anthropological definitions. However, they do not claim to be experts and do not use their definitions to restrict other people’s access to marriage. As such, I am not very concerned with their definitions, particularly because the anthropological understanding of marriage, which is based on how it is expressed cross-culturally and over time, is inclusive of same-sex marriages. This is demonstrated in that many of the quotes Stanton provides avoid specifying the biological sex of the spouses. For example, Stanton references George Peter Murdock’s 1949 definition, suggesting marriage is “between a sexually associating pair of adults.”

While Stanton highlights that many same-sex marriage advocates do not employ an anthropological understanding of marriage, he neglects to mention this is also the case for those who oppose same-sex marriage. For example, Focus on the Family’s definition of marriage is contrary to anthropological reality. Many cultures throughout the world traditionally accept same-sex marriage; opposite-sex marriages are often arranged, not based on love, and polygamous. Polygyny, one man with more than one wife, is by far the most commonly preferred form of marriage; polyandry, one woman with more than one husband, also exists. In many societies that prefer polygyny to monogamy, the wife is often viewed as the husband’s property. This helps explain why polygyny is considered immoral in Western society: it often reduces women to the level of property.

What is particularly important with Stanton’s report is the recognition that anthropologists are the experts when it comes to understanding and defining marriage. As such, it increases the importance of the American Anthropological Association’s 2004 official statement condemning marriage amendments that exclude same-sex marriages from official recognition. Anthropologists recognize that same-sex marriage is one of the many legitimate forms of marriage practiced in cultures throughout the world. Stanton’s selective application of anthropology suggests to me that he is more concerned with Focus on the Family’s political agenda than promoting an honest, accurate, and representative definition for marriage.

The non-sanctity of marriage
In his summary of how anthropologists define marriage, Stanton states they are “informed by how marriage is largely universal, transcending culture, law, religion, time and social development” (I presume he refers to technological complexity here – all societies have a high development of social complexity, although not all are technologically complex). Marriage is largely universal, “transcending” the various aspects and dimensions of culture, but it is constructed differently by different societies. The forms marriage takes are varied, ranging from monogamous to polygamous, from same-sex to opposite-sex, and from same-states of being to differing-states of being: some cultures recognize “ghost marriages” where a living individual marries a dead one. Marriage often involves sexual activity, although this is obviously by no means a requirement. Anthropologists recognize marriage is primarily a social and economic union that serves many and varied purposes, evidenced by the various quotes Stanton provides.

I find it significant that Stanton specifies marriage “transcends” religion. Although marriage is sometimes incorporated into religious traditions and practices, it is not religious in nature, evidenced by religion’s omission in the definitions provided by Stanton. Thus, arguments promoting the “sanctity of marriage,” suggesting it is a religious institution with an inherently religious quality, are not supported anthropologically. This is a refreshingly honest acknowledgment from Focus on the Family.

Same-sex marriage is traditional
In the report’s appendix Stanton highlights one form of the same-sex marriages found in many traditional African cultures. The marriages are modeled on heterosexual ones in that one of the individuals performs the tasks of the other gender, and is often recognized as being the other gender by society. This situation is a common expression of traditional same-sex marriages throughout the world. Significantly, the cultures recognize the marriages as equal, using the same term for both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages.

However, Stanton argues the same-sex marriages “are not similar in nature or spirit of same-sex families being proposed today,” primarily because of the gender transformation component. Gender transformation is often necessary because traditional societies usually sharply delineate gender roles: men perform one set of activities while women perform a separate set. Thus, in order to have a properly functioning household in a same-sex marriage, a biological male must often perform the activities of a woman, or a biological female those of a man: same-sex households mimic opposite-sex ones. However, although an individual may perform the tasks of the opposite sex, and may even be identified as the other gender by society, the individual may retain gender qualities considered to be consistent with his or her biological sex: a male performing the tasks of a woman may remain masculine in other ways, and a female performing those of a man may remain feminine.

Modern American society does not strictly delineate gender roles: it is common in opposite-sex marriages and relationships for both men and women to contribute economically, attend to the needs of the children, manage the household, and so forth. Thus, modern American same-sex marriages and relationships once again mimic opposite-sex ones. Importantly, as historian Stephanie Coontz indicates in “Marriage, a History”, there are few precedents for the modern American expression of opposite-sex marriage. Therefore, if lack of historical precedent is to be used as justification for banning same-sex marriage, as Stanton seems to imply, then modern opposite-sex marriages should also be banned. Regardless, it is refreshing to have Focus on the Family finally admit that same-sex marriage is not a new phenomenon.

Gender and children
I assume from other Focus on the Family literature that Stanton raises the argument about the gender transformation because of the belief that children need parents of different sexes to become properly socialized: a belief that is flawed for several reasons.

First, gender does not inherently correspond to biological sex. Stanton acknowledges this in his discussion of the gender transformation in some same-sex marriages. A biological male is able to perform the gender of a woman and a biological female is able to perform the gender of a man. Of relevance, the Bugis of Indonesia recognize five genders: two of which are masculine, two feminine, and one androgynous. The Bugis allow marriage between two masculine individuals, two feminine individuals, a masculine with a feminine individual, two biological males, two biological females, and a biological male with a biological female, always provided the spouses belong to different gender categories: the androgynous gender is excluded from marriage.

Second, gender expression, as opposed to gender norms, is highly varied within a society and between societies. Gender is not binary: masculinity and femininity exist on a continuum. Even in American society there are some fathers who are masculine and some who are feminine, some mothers who are feminine and some who are masculine. Thus, there is no guarantee that opposite-sex parents will express the differing gender norms, or that same-sex parents will express only one gender norm. Furthermore, cross-culturally, gender norms for males and females demonstrate tremendous variation, highlighting that men can be protectors, providers, and nurturers, as can women.

Third, a child is neither socialized by, nor learns gender from only the parents. As acknowledged in Stanton’s report, marriage is an important component of a family, but the family includes more than just parents and children: there are also grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and sometimes even co-wives or co-husbands and their relations. In other words, families include both male and female. As such, children raised by parents in a same-sex, same-gendered marriage still have family members of different sexes and genders. Furthermore, the society at large plays a significant role in socializing a child into its gender norms. For example, any child who watches Disney movies learns the traditional American gender expectations for a male and female: a society’s gender expectations and instruction are impossible to avoid because gender is so strongly infused into society. Finally, in traditional societies that allow same-sex marriage, the couples raise children who demonstrate no social or developmental problems.

Interestingly, as demonstrated by his discussion in the appendix, Stanton effectively changes Focus on the Family’s “one biological man with one biological woman” definition of marriage to “one gendered man with one gendered woman.” However, once again this definition is not inclusive of the varied forms of marriage found cross-culturally. Regardless, I find it significant that because of the anthropological evidence, Stanton apparently recognizes that Focus on the Family’s definition of marriage is flawed.

Long-lasting relationships
In footnote 11 Stanton provides biographical information on the famous anthropologist Colin Turnbull. Turnbull, a “British-American” as Stanton calls him, had a 30-year homosexual relationship with an African-American man, both of whom died of AIDS-related complications. I find Stanton’s admission that Turnbull and his partner had a long-lasting relationship to be important because Focus on the Family often uses the supposedly “transient nature” of gay male relationships to justify banning same-sex marriage.

However, I ask of what relevance is the biographical information to Stanton’s report? The differing ethnicity of Turnbull and his partner is irrelevant: if the partner had been white or Turnbull black, I doubt Stanton would have mentioned it. That they died of AIDS-related complications is irrelevant: had Turnbull been a heterosexual who died of AIDS-related complications, I doubt this would have been mentioned. Certainly Stanton does not provide marital, racial, or death-related information for the other anthropologists he quotes. Turnbull’s sexual orientation is also not relevant. Perhaps Stanton mentions it because he incorrectly presumes that Turnbull’s argument implies the sole validity of opposite-sex marriages, and having a homosexual say this would supposedly add credence to Stanton’s unanthropological view of marriage.

However, this is not the case. Turnbull is correct in his assessment that being an adult normally includes making a living, being married, raising a family, and assuming “ritual” responsibilities that benefit society, the family, and the individual. Turnbull is also correct in stating that marriage has been an important or essential component in the continuity of societies and social orders. However, none of Turnbull’s comments indicate that only heterosexuals and opposite-sex marriage serve these purposes to the exclusion of homosexuals and same-sex marriage. So I ask again, of what relevance to the argument is Turnbull’s sexual orientation, long-term and interracial relationship, or manner of death? Regardless, I find refreshingly honest Focus on the Family’s admission that gay men are capable of having relationships lasting 30 years.

Concluding remarks
Finally, I would like to address the summary of the anthropological view of marriage provided at the start of Stanton’s report. All eight itemized points apply to both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages. Both types of marriage provide for the continuation of a people and culture. Both pair-bonds serve the good of the nuclear and extended families, and the larger community. Both focus on the rights and responsibilities of the family members. Both provide for the needs of children and adults. Both represent the complex relationships found in a community. Both are included in the near universal, yet varied expressions of marriage that transcend culture, law, religion, and time. Finally, the remaining two items on the list, which focus on the male and female components – issues related to gender, not biological sex – are as equally relevant for modern opposite-sex marriages as they are same-sex marriages.

As more cultures have been studied and data gathered, the anthropological understanding of marriage has altered over the past century, becoming more generalized and more inclusive. Drawing upon the available evidence, the American Anthropological Association condemns efforts to restrict marriage solely to opposite-sex couples.

I welcome Glenn Stanton’s report. In it Focus on the Family finally acknowledges anthropological authority in defining marriage, that “sanctity of marriage” arguments are not valid, the existence of same-sex marriages in traditional societies, that biological sex is not an important consideration in defining marriage, and that gay males are capable of long-lasting and stable relationships.

As an addendum, I call upon Focus on the Family to acknowledge they deceived their readers when they recently said anthropologists agree with the so-called “traditional definition of marriage” and issue a public apology and correction. They must honestly inform their readers that the American Anthropological Association has previously and publicly condemned attempts to exclude homosexuals from marrying, declaring that marriage, as defined cross-culturally, is inclusive of same-sex marriages. A failure to do so simply reaffirms the view that Focus on the Family is more concerned about its political agenda than its Christian identity.

See also:
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

Glenn Stanton Responds to CitizenLink story

Jim Burroway

March 18th, 2008

I received this email this afternoon from Glenn Stanton, explaining the events surrounding the recent CitizenLink change:

Yes, it looks like Focus on the Family did a sneaky bait and switch on the anthropology article that has been discussed at the BoxTurtle. And it would be a much easier world to fight the culture war in if everyone from the religious right were slippery tricksters and all homosexuals were sex-saturated profligates. But such is not the case, we are all not so easily pigeon-holed. Reality is far less exciting than accusation.

The original article was published before I reviewed it and I was disappointed to see the final piece online. It didn’t come close to communicating my work comparing the definitions anthropologists and leading same-sex marriage advocates use for describing and understanding what marriage is. I shared my concerns with the the CitizenLink editors and they welcomed my corrections. My main concerns were that the original article didn’t link to the whitepaper that the article itself was about. Ex-Gay Watch insinuated that the paper was cobbled together quickly to answer the complaints generated from the first article. Not quite. I worked on this research for quite a few weeks.

The original title — “Anthropologists Agree on Traditional Definition of Marriage” — bothered me for two reasons. One, I appreciate that no scientists in any discipline totally “agree” on anything. Two, “traditional” is far too imprecise a term to use when talking about marriage and family as a humanly universal phenomenon. Same with the conclusion attributed to me that “there’s a clear consensus among anthropologists” on what marriage is. Admittedly, “consensus” is a word that cannot be used in relation to any community of scientists. There is not even literal consensus among scientists on Newton’s Law, for goodness sakes. Science’s strength is it’s ability to constantly question. The editors kindly incorporated the changes I recommended. The second story reflects those changes. That’s the story. Sorry to disappoint the conspiracy theorists.

I have been invited by the editors of the BoxTurtle Bulletin to respond to a critique of my paper by a real-life anthropologist, which I am happy to do and look forward to a spirited and hopefully intelligent and informed exchange.

Yes, that’s right. Glenn Stanton and real-life anthropologist Patrick M. Chapman will be discussing Stanton’s paper, “Differing Definitions of Marriage and Family” (PDF: 80KB/10 pages) on this very web site. Stay tuned.

An Anthropologist Responds to Stanton’s Moving Target

Jim Burroway

March 14th, 2008

Focus On the Family may be trying to bob and weave through the sleight of hand of undisclosed re-writing, but their second effort isn’t much better. When they first changed the article, they left the original title intact (“Anthropologists Agree on Traditional Definition of Marriage.”) Since then, they changed the title to read, “Classic Anthropology at Odds with New Same-Sex Definitions of Marriage and Family.” When they keep changing their article to respond to ongoing criticisms, it’s hard to keep track of exactly what they’re trying to say.

Nevertheless, we contacted Dr. Patrick M. Chapman, a real live anthropologist and author of the upcoming book “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press, 2008), and asked him if he wanted to give Stanton’s latest rewrite a second look. When Dr. Chapman wrote his latest response, Stanton’s article still appeared under its original title. Here is Dr. Chapman’s response:

Focus on the Family Responds to Anthropologists
By Patrick M. Chapman, PhD

In a March 3, 2008 CitizenLink article, Focus on the Family suggested that “Anthropologists Agree on Traditional Definition of Marriage.” The organization was quickly rebuked by individual anthropologists and by the American Anthropological Association, the nation’s largest association of anthropologists. In his letter to Focus on the Family Damon Dozier, the AAA’s Director of Public Affairs, addressed “the gross misrepresentation of the position of the anthropological community on gay marriage.” Dozier added:

“I am alarmed and dismayed at this example of irresponsible journalism and deliberate misrepresentation of the anthropological community. In the future it is my hope that your organization will accurately and honestly convey and communicate the views and interests of the AAA, its 11,000 members, and the social science community at large.”

Presumably as a result of the criticism, Focus on the Family rewrote the article, retaining only the first two sentences but leaving the title and date unchanged. Despite having been informed of the official position of the anthropological community, Focus on the Family continues to deliberately misrepresent anthropologists. As Dozier told Focus on the Family, in 2004 the AAA released an official position statement indicating that anthropologists and the anthropological evidence do not support the supposedly “traditional” definition of marriage being used by conservative religious groups.

Instead, the rewritten article quotes Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton: “if you look at the work of leading anthropologists through the past century, one is struck by the consistent understanding of marriage and family as a social unit that brings together male and female.” Stanton references anthropologist Suzanne Frayser, who suggests:

“Marriage is a relationship within which a group socially approves and encourages sexual intercourse and the birth of children … Marriage is not usually a transaction confined to the bride and groom. It extends beyond them, to include members of their own families or kin group.”

While marriage is a means of regulating the birth of children, a couple does not have to give birth to a child in order to be considered married. Furthermore, Frayser does not mention the biological sex of the spouses. To explain why this is important, allow me to quote from the 8th edition of Conrad Phillip Kottak’s introductory textbook Cultural Anthropology. Kottak defines marriage as a “Socially approved relationship between a socially recognized male (the husband) and a socially recognized female (the wife) such that the children born to the wife are accepted as the offspring of both husband and wife” (emphasis mine). The husband is a “socially recognized male.” In other words, the husband is not necessarily a biological male, he portrays the gender of a male by acting like a man: the wife portrays the role of a female, whether or not the wife is a biological female. Kottak’s definition highlights that traditional marriages are often heterogendered, even when they are not heterosexual.

In Marriage, a History, Historian Stephanie Coontz discusses how in the last 100 years Western opposite-sex marriages have shed the traditional gender dichotomy. The roles of the husband as provider and wife as maintainer of the household are no longer rigidly separated. As such, opposite-sex marriages in Western society are now often homogendered: either partner can do the work traditionally assigned to either the male or the female. Not surprisingly, same-sex relationships once again mimic the opposite-sex ones: they are now homogendered as well. As such, if opposite-sex couples can enter into homogendered marriages, then why should same-sex couples be banned from marrying because they also have homogendered relationships, particularly when same-sex couples were often allowed to marry when they had heterogendered relationships?

Despite the reprimand from the AAA, Focus on the Family continues to misrepresent the anthropological community on the issue of marriage and also demonstrates a complete ignorance of anthropological concepts and evidence. They need to repent of their “deliberate misrepresentation” of the anthropological community and honestly state the anthropological consensus does not support Focus on the Family’s assumed “traditional” definition of marriage.

Dr Patrick M Chapman is an anthropologist and author of the upcoming book “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press, 2008).

Now An Entire Association of Anthropologists Disagrees With Stanton

Jim Burroway

March 7th, 2008

Focus On the Family’s Glenn Stanton has really stepped into it this time. In Monday’s CitizenLink, he claimed that there’s a “clear consensus” among anthropologists that “A family is a unit that draws from the two types of humanity, male and female.”

But as we quickly learned, anthropologists vehemently disagree on what Stanton claims they agree on. The University of California at Irvine’s Anthropology Chair Bill Maurer and Associate Professor Tom Boellstorff reviewed ten thousand years of human existence and concluded:

[T]here is not now, and there never has been, one single definition of marriage. Marriage may be universal; but what counts as marriage is not.

And Dr. Patrick M. Chapman, anthropologist and author of the upcoming book “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays wrote to Box Turtle Bulletin with this:

… [A]pproximately 75 percent of the world’s cultures view polygamy as the preferred form of marriage. Furthermore, anthropologists document that cultures on every continent, excluding Antarctica, have accepted and recognized same-sex marriages.

Now comes word that the entire American Anthropological Association has joined the act with this letter to Focus On the Family (Emphasis in the original):

Dear Sir:

My name is Damon Dozier, and I am the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Director of Public Affairs. In this capacity, I am responsible for the Association’s full range of government relations, media relations, and international affairs programs. Founded in 1902, the AAA—11,000 members strong—is the world’s largest organization of men and women interested in anthropology. Its purposes are to encourage research, promote the public understanding of anthropology, and foster the use of anthropological information in addressing human problems.

I write to address the gross misrepresentation of the position of the anthropological community on gay marriage in your March 3, 2008 Citizen Link press release, “Anthropologists Agree on Traditional Definition of Marriage.” In the release, Glenn Stanton, an employee of your organization who does not identify himself as an anthropologist, asserts that “a family is a unit that draws from the two types of humanity, male and female.”

In point of fact, the AAA Executive Board issued in 2004, the following statement in response to President Bush’s proposal for a constitutional amendment banning gay 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.

I am alarmed and dismayed at this example of irresponsible journalism and deliberate misrepresentation of the anthropological community. In the future it is my hope that your organization will accurately and honestly convey and communicate the views and interests of the AAA, its 11,000 members, and the social science community at large.

Damon Dozier
Director of Public Affairs
American Anthropological Association
2200 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22201
703.528.1902
ddozier@aaanet.org

You can read the full AAA Statement on Marriage and the Family here.

See also:
Now An Entire Association of Anthropologists Disagrees With Stanton
Another Real Anthropologist Speaks About Marriage
Focus’ Glenn T. Stanton Speaks For Anthropologists

Another Real Anthropologist Speaks About Marriage

BoxTurtleBulletin contacted actual anthropologists who surprisingly are able to speak for themselves. Here's another one.

Jim Burroway

March 5th, 2008

We’ve heard from Anthropology Chair Bill Maurer and Associate Professor Tom Boellstorff at UC Irvine on Glenn Stanton’s assertion of what “anthropologists agree” on about marriage. Now it’s Dr Patrick M. Chapman’s turn. He’s another real live anthropologist and author of the upcoming book “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press, 2008):

Anthropologists Reject “Traditional” definition of Marriage
By Patrick M. Chapman, PhD

A recent article from Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink suggests that “anthropologists agree on traditional definition of marriage.” This statement is true only if they reference what anthropologists consider traditional, not the Focus on the Family opinion that marriage is solely between one man and one woman.

The article also states “There are two definitions of marriage in today’s culture – one of them has been around for centuries; the other is brand new.” Once again, this statement is true. However, Focus on the Family is confused as to which definition has been around for centuries and which is new. Anthropologists, historians and sociologists all recognize the “one man with one woman” definition of marriage to be very recent and not representative of how marriage is or has been expressed throughout the world. For example, in Marriage, a History historian Stephanie Coontz documents the changes that occurred in Western marriages over the last few centuries. Her research demonstrates that what Focus on the Family calls “traditional marriage” developed over the last 200 years, reaching its current form only in the middle of the last century.

Anthropologists often define marriage as a social, political, or economic contract between two individuals and their families – this does not imply monogamy, as a man with five wives has five separate marriage contracts. In fact, approximately 75 percent of the world’s cultures view polygamy as the preferred form of marriage. Furthermore, anthropologists document that cultures on every continent, excluding Antarctica, have accepted and recognized same-sex marriages. For examples, the Azande of Africa used the same rituals and words for same-sex marriages as they did opposite-sex marriages; three percent of all marriages among the Nandi of Kenya were between two women; same-sex marriages were common in Micronesian cultures with the married couple often adopting children and raising them with no ill effects whatsoever.

In 2004 the American Anthropological Association, the largest association of anthropologists in the United States, issued an official statement opposing the proposed federal marriage amendment, indicating:

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.

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association strongly opposes a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

Suggesting anthropologists support Focus on the Family’s “traditional definition of marriage” is patently, unequivocally wrong.

See also:
Now An Entire Association of Anthropologists Disagrees With Stanton
Another Real Anthropologist Speaks About Marriage
Focus’ Glenn T. Stanton Speaks For Anthropologists