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

Jason D

March 5th, 2008


Even without doing reasearch it seemed rather blind and simplistic to assert that marriage had never changed and that “one man, one woman” had lasted for centuries.

I’ve never read the bible, but even I know there’s polygamy in there, and that it’s practiced openly with no implied or direct negative judgement.

I think a lot of Christians take for granted that their values, beliefs, and worldview are universal and timeless. When in actuality a lot of the values they have developed pretty recently within the history of man.


March 6th, 2008

As Jason said, the Christian misunderstanding of what is “traditional” is pretty much par for the course. I work in a Christian setting and I am continually amazed by what people think it means to be a disciple of Christ. It doesn’t mean supporting fair trade and humane treatment of animals, but it does mean making sure certain people can’t get married, apparently.

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