Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Tree's a Tree--Until It's Not

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum was recently asked why he thought marriages between people of the same sex would affect marriages between people of other sexes. Here is what he said:

Because it changes the definition of an intrinsic element of society in a way that minimizes what that bond means to society. Marriage is what marriage is. Marriage was around before government said what it was.
It’s like going out and saying, ‘That tree is a car.’ Well, the tree’s not a car. A tree’s a tree. Marriage is marriage. You can say that tree is something other than it is. It can redefine it. But it doesn’t change the essential nature of what marriage is. Marriage is a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of the benefit of both the man and the woman, a natural unitive according to nature, unitive, that is for the purposes of having and rearing children and for the benefit of both the man and the woman involved in that relationship.

What is Rick actually saying here when he says a tree is a tree and a marriage is a marriage? He is suggesting that there is a single definition of marriage that has been consistently used in the history of humanity. Any student of history (or psychology, or science, or a student of any other subject, really) would easily reject this statement. There are no absolute meanings, and there are no static social institutions that have kept the same purpose for all of recorded (and unrecorded) civilization.

Santorum makes a stupid argument. He makes an argument that is intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Interested in the history of marriage? You might want to check out this link, or this one, or even this one.  You might also be interested in E.J. Graff's book "What is Marriage for: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution."

A few highlights:

While in many (but not all) parts of the modern world marriage is a personal decision between two people, for much of recorded history marriage has been an arranged affair. We married not for love, not for companionship, but for family bonds. We married because our families arranged for us to do so, and we did so to build businesses, alliances, and economic security. There was little--if any--room for love or affection.

Did you know that during the Protestant revolution Martin Luther totally rejected the religious underpinnings of marriage? He declared that marriage is "a worldly thing... that belongs to the realm of government. The Puritans, who found there way here to the coast of New England, felt similarly. They asserted (and passed an Act of parliament) that "marriage [is] to be no sacrament." That was the beginning of our modern day secular marriages.

Check out the links above to learn more.

My point here is that a tree isn't always a tree. They evolve, change, and adapt to the environment in which they are living. What Santorum is really saying is that he values one particular understanding of marriage. It is an understand that is adapted to his values, his morals, and his way of seeing the world. The meaning of the word, and the institution, reflects the values of the meaning maker and the zeitgeist of the times.

It's just silly to engage in meaningless banter about a tree always being a tree, and a marriage always being a marriage, when the recorded history of humanity shows that what we consider a marriage has changed over time.

So here is my question: what are your morals and values? Why do you value one sort of marriage over another? Why is that important to you? How does it reflect the world you want to be in? How does it reflect the world that you want to create?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thoughts. I've grown up that marriage is between one man and one woman period. So it is kinda hard to view it any other way. But on that point that it would destroy marriage for two men or two women to marry I don't understand. What they decide to do I guess should be between them and what they believe IMO. But Hey what do I know, I am just a little graphic designer.