“Traditional” marriage

Pugnacious ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott urged a “no” to same-sex marriage to help “stop political correctness in its tracks“. Instead, the government’s postal survey found 62% in favour and 38% opposed, and so demonstrated strong Australian support for political correctness.

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Cheap shot (Abbott in red)

Tony Abbott deplores the “long march of the left through our institutions”. As he also told a group opposed to equal marriage in New York recently: “It’s not just the loss of Christian faith”; the politically correct also promote the “slow erosion” of “Western civilisation”.

How wrong could he get! But let me just explain here that the end of traditional marriage is a good thing.

Firstly, even professed proponents no longer really want traditional marriage; they want little more than “what I like to think is traditional marriage”.

In a pastoral letter entitled Don’t Mess with Marriage, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference defend specifically “traditional marriage”. However, among many errors and omissions, the Bishops fail to mention that traditional marriage has included gold ring-wearing priests having “married” the church. The tradition for nuns “marrying” Jesus dates back at least as far as St Catherine of Siena, who saw herself as a bride of Christ, after a vision of the infant Jesus giving her a wedding ring.

Until late in the nineteenth century in Australia, traditional marriage meant depriving a wife of property rights (and she became property herself). In 1969, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission lifted the general female award minimum wage, but out of deference to men as the “traditional” breadwinners to only 85% of the male wage. The patriarchal marriage was so sacrosanct until recently that police remained reluctant to intervene in a “domestic”.

Historically, marriage has been highly diverse, including polygamy. But let us concentrate on the tradition of child brides. As recently as 1942, the state of Tasmania raised the minimum legal age of marriage from 12 to 16 for girls, and from 14 to 18 for boys, and Tasmania led the other states on that. The Australian Marriage Act of 1961 still allowed girls of 14 or 15 to marry in “unusual and exceptional circumstances”, although that provision was amended in 1991.

Such traditional marriages might now be illegal, but religious “conscientious objection” is so strong that a few such weddings are still performed surreptitiously in Australia.

Tony Abbott’s former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin recently fulminated on Fox News against the silence of “feminist warriors” on these child brides. Blaming the politically correct’s hesitation to criticise other cultures, Credlin said that “in other faiths, we call it paedophilia, but not when it comes to Islam”. But how post-fact could Credlin get?

Worldwide, an estimated more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. That includes massive numbers of Christians. Especially in Africa, Christian-predominant nations still encourage child brides. UNICEF figures show 16% of Ethiopian women aged from 20 to 24 were married before 15, and 41% before 18. In the Central African Republic (where 80% of the population are Christian), 29% were married by the age of 15, and 68% by 18. (For comparison, 3% were married under 15 in Iran, and 5% in Iraq.)

In the US, the statutory minimum age varies between 13 and 17, depending on the state. However, 25 states have not set minimum ages, instead relying on the “traditional” minimum – taken to be 12 for girls and 14 for for boys.

Many American Christians defend child brides, arguing that the girls are of child-bearing age, and, anyhow, Mary was probably 14 when she carried Jesus. Such claims were reasserted recently to defend Judge Roy Moore, the Republican’s fundamentalist Senate candidate now accused of harassing and sexually assaulting girls as young as 14. He is said to be socially inept, and in his early 30s notoriously haunted a shopping mall in search of a young bride.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently reported that between 2000 and 2010 as many as 250,000 children got married in the United States (“children” being aged 17 or younger).

Kristof interviewed Sherry Johnson, who was raped by both a Pentecostal minister and a parishioner, and gave birth to a daughter when she was 10. A judge approved the marriage to end the rape investigation, telling her, “What we want is for you to get married.”

“It was a terrible life,” Johnson recalls. Married at 11, she missed school, and spent her days changing nappies, arguing with her husband and struggling to pay expenses. She ended up with nine children, and periodically abandoned by her husband.

Proponents of “traditional marriage” have to accept that conservative Republican states tend to have higher proportions of sexually-active school students, teenage mothers, users of prostitution, married “swingers”, and divorce.

As to strongly Democrat states, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone wrote in Red Families v. Blue Families (2010):

the most visible representatives of blue family values [that is, the politically correct] bristle at restrictions on sexuality, insistence on marriage or the stigmatization of single parents. Their secret, however, is that they encourage their children to simultaneously combine public tolerance with private discipline, and their children then overwhelmingly choose to raise their own children within two-parent families.

Additionally, Democrat states tend to be wealthier and better educated, and, as Kristof wrote a couple of days ago:

So the deeper problem seems to be the political choices that conservatives make, underinvesting in public education and social services (including contraception). This underinvestment leaves red [Republican] states poorer and less educated — and thus prone to a fraying of the social fabric.

Australian right-wingers, including Tony Abbott, claim to uphold “the traditional stance of the centre-right in the English speaking tradition”, which is “to be pro-market and to be socially conservative”.

To translate, Abbott-style conservatives are proudly both neo-liberal (cutting social services, and undermining public health and education), and wanting to prop up the ensuing disaster through the promulgation of fundamentalist religious values, plus  divisive fear-mongering, and dog-whistle politics.

Such “no” leaders are sexually obsessed. For example, in Don’t Mess with Marriage, the Catholic Bishops warn against, among other consequences, “sex-education classes that teach the goodness of homosexual activity” (as opposed to teaching “the badness” or perhaps “evil” of homosexual activity?).

But basing “traditional marriage” on reproductive sex hardly works. Most immediately, other animal species successfully procreate without any tradition of marriage. In turn, embracing childless heterosexual marriages leads to shaky generalities about the “potential” for procreation. The Bishops want an institution, “open to the procreation of children”. The real concern therefore must be the social control/licensing of procreation.

For sexually-preoccupied conservatives, meals don’t matter (or don’t matter enough).

If we take marriage basically to be an institutional foundation for meal-sharing, it is then ideally a core commune of equals.

That explains, for example, the main problem with child marriage: juveniles are typically ill-equipped emotionally, educationally and financially to form an equal partnership, seeking “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” together.

Even the Bishops have a sneaking appreciation of marriage’s gastronomic basis, declaring that the union is “centred around … the wellbeing of the spouses”. Admittedly, the union also aims towards “the generation and wellbeing of children.” But, even in that requirement, “well-being” still counts.

In a little more detail, the Bishops accept:

Each marriage, from its beginning, is the ‘foundation-in-waiting’ of a new family and each marriage-based family is a basic ‘cell’ of society. Families also provide the social stability necessary for the future by modelling love and communion, welcoming and raising new life, taking care of the weak, sick and aged. The principal ‘public’ significance of the marriage-based family is precisely in being the nursery for raising healthy, well-rounded, virtuous citizens.

Once the Bishops have added something about marriage establishing a “nursery for, and household for sustaining, healthy, well-rounded, virtuous citizens”, even they might one day vote “yes”.

Note: I wrote previously about the “habitually divisive” Tony Abbott’s close relationship with the openly gay Christopher Pearson. As Abbott said: “Christopher was the aesthete; I was the athlete; he was a reformed Maoist and I was a lifelong conservative. Yet he had made it his mission to take me under his wing.”

4 thoughts on ““Traditional” marriage

  1. i wish i had this a couple of weeks ago. we were doing a discussion in the equality of marriage issue in my french class. i researched the history of marriage going right back in civilisation to homeric and classical times. Interesting subject. great piece of work!

    Like

  2. Hi Michael and thanks ,

    Steve and I have been watching old episodes of Foyle’s War-our NBN crashed so back to DVD’s-yet another NBN horror story! A week ago, the plebiscite results announced; in Foyle’s War a black American soldier and a white English woman meet and intend to live in the States as a couple after his discharge from the U.S. army, they are curtly informed that in 20 U.S. States they could not be married and I assume not accepted.

    Like

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