Same-sex Marriage, Polygamy & Apes
I was reading an old issue of First Things (Aug/Sept 2008). The Texas polygamist case was still raging and Richard Neuhaus (along with Lionel Tiger, whom Neuhaus quotes extensively) had some pithy commentary:
[The Texas polygamist case is] a real tragedy on several scores, not least being the forcible separation of some four hundred children from their mothers. And it came just at the time of that California ruling that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. I’ll get to the connection in due course. Lionel Tiger, an anthropologist at Rutgers, notes that the Texas affair has attracted a phalanx of lawyers, judges, law enforcers, and psychologists. He writes: “Those responsible for coping with this astonishing disaster would be well-advised to add a primatologist to the team. The fact is that, despite all the blather about faith and freedom of religion, the men operating the various compounds in question are behaving in virtually the same manner as countless dominant males in countless primate troops observed over the years. The essence of the case is that the men who control the politics of the group (as well as the hapless women and children who live there) have used junk theology about heaven, hell, paradise and salvation to maintain their unquestioned access to all females of reproductive age (or younger). That’s the reproductive fantasy of any adult male primate.” Tiger writes that the victims of these bizarre arrangements include also young men who are effectively disenfranchised because they pose a threat of competition to the older primates and are therefore forced to leave the communities “to become hopeless, ill-schooled, misfits in the towns of normal life.”
He adds this: “One of the triumphs of Western arrangements is the institution of monogamy, which has in principle made it possible for each male and female to enjoy a plausible shot at the reproductive outcome which all the apparatus of nature demands. Even Karl Marx did not fully appreciate the immense radicalism of this form of equity.”
As for the connection with same-sex marriage, one of the key questions in dispute is whether we should as a society abandon male-female monogamy. To do so is to change marriage from a legally recognized and reinforced social institution into any form of affective relationship. The celebrated academics who signed a while back the statement “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” are very explicit in endorsing “polyamory,” meaning relationships of any number of persons of one or both sexes legally recognized as marriage. The more “moderate” proponents of same-sex marriage deny that that is what they want but have failed to come up with any convincing reason why that is not what same-sex marriage, in principle and in fact, means. The California and other courts that engage in the usurpation of political decisions about the meaning of marriage are, as Lionel Tiger suggests and whatever their intentions, on the side of the most powerful adult male primates. Too easily forgotten in this dispute is the fact that the triumph of monogamy was chiefly a triumph for women and children.
(emphasis mine. SDJ)