A structuralist pseudo-history of the homosexual controversy and marriage.
So, you think marriage is sacred? That's nice, have fun with it. What? You think that you can take the rights of marriage from someone else? How do you plan to do that? Laws? Sit down boy, I have a secret to tell you.
If you lived in the United States during 2003-4 you have probably heard the phrase "The Sanctity of Marriage" tossed around like a campaign slogan. The reason for that is that it is a campaign slogan, unofficially. There is currently a movement in American politics seeking to ban Homosexual Marriage on the national level. This is in reaction to some counties having allowed homosexuals the rights to marry. Many might ask, "Why do we care if homosexuals wish to get married?" and some might say, "Homosexuals have the right to equal protection under the law." This seemingly straightforward case is terribly complicated, however, because lawmaking has far less to do with the law than one might think.
Background on the Homosexual Controversy
There has always been a certain degree of fiction to the law. A law violator who does not violate any mores or folkways is unlikely to be persecuted, or in any way punished, for said offence. Likewise, a person breaking said mores and folkways will likely be punished without the aid of the law. The situation in America has to do with three major things. First it has to deal with racism. Racism is no longer officially acceptable in the United States, but still goes on to a medium degree. Physical violence against minorities is now an offence rare enough that it makes the news almost every time it happens. Though this is hardly an acceptable practice, it is far better than the daily and public lynchings that occurred earlier in American History. Racism is learned in the home to some degree, but the most powerful influence in the perpetuation of racism is the peer group. What this means for us is that, as time passes, the degree of racism present in upcoming generations will be diluted as minorities grow and are allowed to assimilate into society. Sound nice? It doesn't apply to homosexuality in the same way.
Homosexuals do not wear homosexual signs (usually), and as a result people who hate homosexuals (commonly called homophobes, though it seems to be a rather improper term) are given a distinct impression of homosexuals as a subversive group within society. This is, of course, completely unsubstantiated, but something does not have to be substantial to affect history. Homosexuals cannot "assimilate" into American Society because they are identified solely by that trait which makes them what they are. This is similar to the position of the second-generation Japanese-Americans present in the U.S. during WWII. They had completely internalized western values but were being discriminated agianst simply for being Japanese, not for being deviant. Basically, homosexuals will not gain acceptance gradually over time by default as they are already as fully integrated into the American culture as is possible.
The second thing being considered is freedom of religion. No, there is not a legal issue with freedom of religion; there is a social one. Historically, whenever anyone goes anywhere for freedom of religion, what they really want is freedom to have everything their way. This is the case with the majority of English settlers in America. Ever since the first colonies developed in North America, Protestants have been getting everything they wanted on the vast majority of issues. At first it was because they were the only ones there, but now it is because they make up the largest part of the voter base. They reserve the right to not be offended. This is a nearly irreconcilable situation in the mainstream. Though some small splinter churches have come to accept homosexuality, the mainstream religion is dead-set against it. The general population, as a whole, has had the tendency to consider its freedom of religion to extend to the rights to enforce that religion upon others. This is not likely to change in the near future.
Another force at work here is power. Two kinds of power are at work; the quest for political power, and the power to enforce your will upon others. The Unites States is notorious for both. As a nation they have mistreated Africans, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, Mexicans, Catholics, Arabs, the poor, and women at varying times in their history. Homosexuality is no different. As with all the previously listed discriminations, anti-homosexuality is also being justified with family values. They are operating by setting up their opponents in the absurd strawman position of anti-family in modern times. In earlier times they simply considered the offending race to be filthy and vile. Both tactics are being used to different extents here. The Republican party, as a result of a bit of a backlash against them over what has turned out to be a military action based on false intelligence, has picked up a new campaign issue. By denying homosexuals the right to marriage, the Conservatives should gain a fighting chance at the Whitehouse for the next term. This exercise of power rests also on the general public. A difference between the previous discriminations and the current one is one of time. Technically it is a similarity. It is no longer socially acceptable to call someone a "nigger" in mixed company in most places, and many of the slurs pertaining to Japanese and Chinese have lost much of their potency altogether. However, the word "Queer" seems to roll off of the tongues of modern Americans with startling regularity, and with no social reprimand. Basically, it is still okay to hate homosexuals, and homophobia is the last socially acceptable domain of the bigot.
Pseudo-History of Marriage
Marriage has existed in nearly every society for as long as anyone can tell, but we aren't really talking about the love between a man and a woman, we are talking about plays for power. Marriage has been a political tool, tying tribes or nations together. It has been a way to bring together two families to a mutual benefit. Marriage has been a way to obtain land, or to make one's fortune. Marriage has not, until modern times, really had a great deal to do with love, but that isn't the point anyway. We are talking about official marriage after all.
The concept of state-sponsored weddings has been present as long as there was a feudal or more advanced system present to support its use for the aforementioned power plays. In our cultural ancestors, medieval Europeans, marriage was a binding and unbreakable contract between a man and a woman, ordained by the church and state, and glorified by God... Except that it wasn't. In medieval times there was no distinction between your brother and your brother-in-law. You were considered to be blood related to all of your relatives by marriage, and to their relatives by marriage. Calculations for incest were taken back seven generations. If you shared a great great great great great grandparent with someone you could not legally be married, and if your sibling were married to someone who is married to someone who shares a great great great grandparent with your potential mate, then you could not legally be married. It sounds pretty tough, but in reality no one really cared. If you wanted to marry someone all you had to do was not look up your ancestry, or if it is already known, get a dispensation from the pope. With this in place, overwhelming obstacles were bypassed allowing the crowned heads of Europe to marry whomever they pleased as long as it benefited them and the church financially. This, however only applied to nobles.
Commoners were not required to have a civil wedding. In fact, in order to be married to someone under the eyes of God, no matter who you were, all you had to do was look that person in the eye and say "I take you for my wife" or "I take you for my husband" then you could go straight home and have sex and God would approve. It is not until the mid-to-late 1600's that the concept of the Church wedding was introduced into to general population. In fact, during Shakespeare's lifetime the commoners were adjusting to the new requirements. The new system instituted a fee on marriage, which technically precluded many people from becoming married and, theoretically, would prevent them from having children. Of course, it doesn't really work that way, they had children anyway, and no one thought twice about it.
As it seems, the institution of marriage as we know it has a history of approximately three hundred years. The ideal of institutionalized marriage has a much longer history, and that history is filled with church-sponsored incest, political manipulation, war, and the subjugation of the peasant class. There is, however, an enduring history of marriage as the union between two people for love. It is seldom written about and never had any real effect on history. It is the case of two peasants who loved each other and said so, and lived happily ever after. Ironic that the U. S. Government is trying to prevent homosexuals from having the single thing most responsible for the destruction of marriage: the contract.