Grotesque Anatomy
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
  Schulman on SSM: Civilization in Crisis
Eve Tushnet linked to this article by Sam Schulman opposing same-sex marriage.  I think the opening passage nicely sums up how fairly and even-handedly the author treats the matter:
The feeling seems to be growing that gay marriage is inevitably coming our way in the U.S., perhaps through a combination of judicial fiat and legislation in individual states. Growing, too, is the sense of a shift in the climate of opinion. The American public seems to be in the process of changing its mind—not actually in favor of gay marriage, but toward a position of slightly revolted tolerance for the idea. Survey results suggest that people have forgotten why they were so opposed to the notion even as recently as a few years ago.
Yeah, people couldn't have been convinced by argument that there was no good reason to oppose same-sex marriage; they must have simply forgotten why they were opposed in the first place.  "Well, I seem to remember I was against same-sex marriage, but I can't seem to remember why.  Guess I'd better just resign myself to slightly revolted tolerance from now on."  I'll have to check USA Today's site to see if they have any of their old surveys archived; I'd love to see how many people checked the "tolerant, yet slightly revolted" option.  Wait, that's funny:  This opinion piece from USA Today states that recent polling data shows increasing numbers of Americans opposed to same-sex marriage.  I guess they forgot that they forgot that they opposed same-sex marriage.

The rest of the article goes on to argue that allowing SSM will result in an "Antigone moment":
To me, what is at stake in this our ability to maintain the most basic components of our humanity. I believe, in fact, that we are at an “Antigone moment.” Some of our fellow citizens wish to impose a radically new understanding upon laws and institutions that are both very old and fundamental to our organization as individuals and as a society. As Antigone said to Creon, we are being asked to tamper with “unwritten and unfailing laws, not of now, nor of yesterday; they always live, and no one knows their origin in time.” I suspect, moreover, that everyone knows this is the case, and that, paradoxically, this very awareness of just how much is at stake is what may have induced, in defenders of those same “unwritten and unfailing laws,” a kind of paralysis.
To me, this sounds a lot like a natural law argument, something I don't have much sympathy for.  As I see it, laws are created by humans to serve their needs; humans do not serve unchanging natural laws.  (I also thought it was strange that Schulman thinks people have forgotten their reasons for opposing SSM but everyone simply knows that we are in danger of tampering with the very fabric of society.)

Schulman, like most opponents of SSM, settles the matter by begging it:  "[B]y definition, the essence of marriage is to sanction and solemnize that connection of opposites which alone creates new life."  (Well of course same-sex couples can't get married!  Look, the word 'opposite' is built right into the very definition of marriage!  Silly homosexuals!)  Schulman also conveniently sidesteps the thorny issue of childless opposite-sex marriages by simply stating "Whether or not a given married couple does in fact create new life is immaterial."   Sure, but only if the couple is heterosexual, right?  The fact that a homosexual couple could not create new life on their own generally receives a great deal of attention from SSM opponents.  But if a heterosexual couple is childless, for whatever reason?  Irrelevant!!

In a possibly revealing slip, Schulman refers to opposite-sex marriage as "an idea":
Their union is not a formalizing of romantic love but represents a certain idea—a construction, an abstract thought—about how best to formalize the human condition. This thought, embodied in a promise or a contract, is what holds marriage together, and the creation of this idea of marriage marks a key moment in the history of human development, a triumph over the alternative idea, which is concubinage.
This seems to be at odds with his opening claims that human beings are attempting to tamper with laws whose origins in time are unknown.  If traditional heterosexual marriage is simply an idea, why can't that idea be altered as society's (and citizens') needs change?  As Schulman points out, after all, "Circumstances have, admittedly, changed."

Also nice is Schulman's reliance on sexist stereotypes of masculinity to reinforce his position: "[A] man desperate to marry is often considered to have something wrong with him—to be unusually controlling or needy."  Schulman makes this enlightened point while arguing that men never feel incomplete without marriage the way that women do (in itself another nice stereotype:  "All women feel empty if they're not married!")  Perhaps Schulman's never run across men who genuinely want to settle down with someone—men who feel empty after years of unfulfilling dating—but they do exist.  Of course, in Schulman's view, such men must be "deficient" in some way.

But Schulman saves his most offensive comments for this bit:
Why should I not be able to marry a man? The question addresses a class of human phenomena that can be described in sentences but nonetheless cannot be. However much I might wish to, I cannot be a father to a pebble—I cannot be a brother to a puppy—I cannot make my horse my consul. Just so, I cannot, and should not be able to, marry a man. If I want to be a brother to a puppy, are you abridging my rights by not permitting it? I may say what I please; saying it does not mean that it can be.
That's right—Schulman just equated two members of the same sex wanting to marry each other with someone wanting to be brother to a puppy.  ("It's gibberish!  You people are talking nonsense!!  How can I reason with people whose words have no meaning?")  Without even getting into how many people do come to think of pets as family members, Schulman's argument here is mind-bogglingly bad (whether out of mere callousness or malice I have no idea):  No rights are lost if someone is told that they cannot be a brother to a puppy.  But when a same-sex couple is told they can't marry, there are substantive rights on the line—somewhere over a thousand, by one estimate.

Finally, Schulman sets out what he sees as the consequences of allowing SSM:
Severing this connection [between human beings and our animal origins] by defining it out of existence—cutting it down to size,  transforming it into a mere contract between chums—sunders the natural laws that prevent concubinage and incest. Unless we resist, we will find ourselves entering on the path to the abolition of the human. The gods move very fast when they bring ruin on misguided men.
Wow, now that's a slippery slope!  Not only will concubinage and incest naturally follow the adoption of SSM but the very destruction of humanity itself!!  All those underachievers who always pull out the same old hat about polygamy should be embarrassed.  Schulman puts them to shame.

At first I was annoyed that I bothered to read this piece.  But now I'm actually glad I read it:  I mean, this article can't be for real, can it?  This is probably from something like The Onion, right?  (Heck, this Sam Schulman is almost as funny as that Pope guy The Onion covered last week.)  Whew, you almost had me there, man!  But now that I get the joke, all I can say is:  FRIED COMEDY GOLD.
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