Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ask An Anthropologist about Marriage

In the articke Ask An Anthropologist about Marriage, Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley, commented that the counsel for the Prop 8 supporters "should have asked an anthropologist. "

Anthropologists always have a lot to say about marriage, given kinship is, after all, one of our historic, signature issues. "And that gives us something to say about the core claim by counsel for Prop 8," said Professor Joyce.

Especially when the counsel used the term "the age-old definition of marriage."
Professor Joyce said: "To an anthropologist, that sounds remarkably quaint. Whose age-old definition? Globally, the cultural tradition being argued is one among many..."  And she quoted from a statement by American Anthropological Association in 2004 which was inspired by a call for a constitutional amendment to enshrine that definition,
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.
There are plenty of ethnographies upholding this statement. As John Borneman and Laurie Kain Hart wrote in the Washington Post  in 2004,
What, then, about restriction of the legal bond of marriage to a man and a woman? Does marriage have to be heterosexual? The human record tells us otherwise. While the model of marriage is arguably heterosexual, the practice of marriage is not. In a broad spectrum of societies in Africa, for example, when a woman's husband dies, she may take on his legal role in the family, and acquire a legal "wife" to help manage the domestic establishment. This role of wife is above all social, and not contingent on her sexual relations. These societies, which practice heterosexuality, take this woman-woman marriage as commonsensical; they recognize that above all marriage functions socially to extend and stabilize the network of care.
In the end, she concluded: "If you are going to make a claim about universal human relations-- ask an anthropologist."

To read the full article, please click here.

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