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).


March 14th, 2008

right on, dr chapman. i look forward to reading your book.


March 14th, 2008

If I had the time, I would so go through that PDF research paper, find the contact information on each (living) anthropologist cited, and see if they support the paper’s conclusions.

Maybe everyone here could take one name from the PDF and look it up… I’ll start with the name cited in the article.

Dr. Suzanne Frayser:

(From , which also has her phone number)

Once we get all the contact info we can ask them what they think.

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