Traditional Marriage

So today in a horrid class that I am taking, the professor told us that people who say that tradition is a reason for preventing same sex marriage dont understand history. He told us that in the past, if my brother married a woman I would be prevented from marrying her sister, or if my sister married a man I would be prevented from marrying her sister. Since these are allowed now, obviously same sex marriage should be allowed. This seems a fallacy to me because in neither of these examples was anyone marrying a person of the same sex. The way I understood the traditional marriage argument was not that marriage hasn't changed in the last 6000 years, but that while same sex relationship have existed for a long time, same sex marriage has never been permitted. Now my understanding may be flawed because I dont argue in favor of same sex marriage and so never hear the arguments against it (other than my own obviously and I dont use the traditional marraige argument). So I ask you my liberal readership, do people actually argue that marriage has not changed ever and so we shouldnt change it now, or is my professor a quack?


scarlet panda said...

I don't think it's a tenable argument that marriage has not changed ever. But your professor isn't a quack--I'd say the most common argument against same-sex marriage is that it would violate centuries of tradition about what "marriage" means.

It seems like your professor may be saying this: Tradition is a common argument against same-sex marriage. But people who use tradition as their primary argument should probably have pointed out to them that a lot of things that are traditional about marriage have been changed. (Bans on interracial marriage, bans on married women owning property, etc.) Thus, maintaining tradition is not a sufficient argument for preventing changes to marriage. So, if they want to stop this change, they had better have some other reasons too.

Fishfrog said...

It seems like you might be misrepresenting your prof's position. As SP said, his changing tradition point is a valid rebuttal to people who say that tradition favors hetero marriage. However, it is not an argument FOR gay marriage, just a response to an argument against gay marriage.

Arfanser said...

I never misrepresent anything.

As an update, SP and I continued this conversation a little in person yesterday. She could not (maybe because the professor started talking and she had to be quiet) rebut the argument that across time and regardless of what iteration of marriage was practiced, gay marriage was not allowed. This is the tradition that is refered to in the traditional marriage argument.

warm fuzzy said...

In many native american tribes, there were people who were transgenered or gay, etc. They were give a place of honor - called "two spirit beings," anthropologists often refer to them as "berdache." "two sprit beings" who were physically women, may marry women; those who were physically men, may marry men. That's a whole lot of tradition.

I remember learning about this in my studies, and although I don't have time to find the best links, but this page offers many. http://www.coreymondello.com/Berdache.html

Matt said...

There's a wikipedia entry on same gender unions, and they do have some historical precedent.

The ancient Greek paradigm is common - there's a mentoring relationship between an older man and a younger man, but it contains varying degrees of sexual involvement and romantic attachment. See, for example, Plato's Symposium and the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades. (Boston marriages are an exception. It's a 19th century term for 2 cohabitating women. Think Kate and Allie.)

While these relationships are not marriages as we now know them, the male female relationships of the time were not marriages as we have them now.

I respect tradition to the extent that it provides continuity or stability in society. However, when there's something that's unjust about a tradition, we shouldn't hesitate to get rid of it. A good example of this is slavery, which has a long tradition but is morally reprehensible.

While I don't think that the injustice in the gay marriage case reaches the level of slavery injustice, I still think that the benefits of having gay marriage outweigh the disadvantages.

scarlet panda said...

A tradition argument goes like this:

a. It's better to keep doing things the way we've done them in the past.
b. We've always or sometimes done X in the past.
c. Therefore, it's better to keep doing X.

The force of this argument depends on the strength of premises (a) and (b).

Premise (b) is very strong in this case. The world has virtually always (until the last few years, at least) seen marriage as heterosexual. So the tradition argument has more force than it did in those cases.

However, I'm not sure how important that is, since I think that we as a society have basically rejected premise (a) when there are countervailing considerations of justice. When justice weighs against tradition (allowing interracial marriage, allowing married women to own property, etc.), the way we've done things in the past just isn't that important.

Did we allow interracial marriage because the past tradition of banning it wasn't that strong? I don't think so. We decided tradition wasn't as important as justice. Same here.

I think the real disagreement here is over whether there's a countervailing consideration of justice.

Arfanser said...

I dont know. My main question at the beginning of all of this was not whether the traditional marriage argument holds weight. It was starting with the assumption that winning this argument decides the greater issue, then does traditional marriage argument hold enough weight on the side against gay marriage to win. I believe the answer to this question is yes. There is an incredibly strong argument that gay marriage has never been allowed. I never tried to claim that gay relationships did not exist and even socially accepted gay relationships exist in the past. Now before you go nuts, let me make more clear something that I didnt think I needed to. In my mind, any argument based solely on tradition does not hold enough weight by itself. Even if marriage was strictly between a man and a woman exactly as the far right pictures it at this moment imagines it for time immemorial, that is not enough weight for me to make a decision. There needs to be a reason for doing something currently in order to keep doing it.