It Pisseth Me Off
Please pardon my use of old English to express my anger at the current Proposition Eight trial going on in L.A. I’m not angry at the trial. Trials on the justice and validity of same sex marriage will continue ad nauseum. Eventually, the majority of our fellow citizens, and the courts, will recognize bigotry for what it is. But, it will take time.
What I’m angry about is the unfounded presumption that marriage is, always has been, and eternally will be, divinely dictated as between a man and a woman. It’s as if the God who created Adam, created him in a tuxedo, with a bow tie, and a carnation in his lapel. Eve, came forth in a long white dress, a lace veil and a dozen white roses on her arm.
What ever happened to the Garden of Eden and our prototypical grandparents running around with fig leaves?
If the supporters of Prop 8 are right, marriage is divinely ordained for only a man and a woman and has been so since the beginning of time, then the Bible is wrong. Or, at least, Adam and Eve’s wedding was never recorded in holy writ. But, the good side is, if the Garden of Eden was the site of the first wedding (unrecorded) at least Cain and Abel and the rest of Adam’s offspring were legitimate. That should make the religious right breathe a sigh of relief.
I have real problems thinking the current understanding of any issue is divinely ordained and immutable. It just doesn’t jibe with history.
John Boswell, Yale professor of history, in his 1980 book, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, and his later volume, The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, pulls the rug from under man-woman marriage as an eternal fixation. Boswell argues, on the basis of ancient texts and analysis of early church liturgy, that the Roman Catholic Church prior to the twelfth century evinced no special concern toward homosexuality. In fact, the Church had, on occasion, celebrated love between men and developed liturgies for such celebrations. Not surprisingly, his books stirred controversy.
In a more recent book, The Invention of Heterosexuality (1990), Jonathan Ned Katz, a New York historian of human sexuality, suggests heterosexuality as the dominant sexual ethic is of relatively recent origin.
Like most of my peers, I’ve always seen homosexuality and heterosexuality simply as a given. I accepted without critical scrutiny, “…the common notion that the distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality has been a timeless one.” I’ve never thought of these sexually charged terms as evolving constructs dependent on economic, geographic and sociologic forces.
Katz points out the term homosexuality debuted in Webster’s Dictionary in 1909 as, “a morbid sexual passion for one of the same sex.” The term heterosexuality wasn’t coined until 1868 and finally made it into Webster’s in 1923. It was defined as “a morbid sexual passion for one of the opposite sex.” Early on, heterosexuality and homosexuality were both defined in terms of their morbidity, e.g. as diseases.
Prior to the start of the twentieth century, the term heterosexual was used only in medical papers. The first use of the term was in Germany in 1868.
Heterosexuality, in the early references, referred to specific pathologic behaviors associated with an “overwhelming drive toward the opposite sex.” To be heterosexual in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century, was to be pathologic. “In much of the discourse of the time, the heterosexual was still a deviant figure, since it signified a person unconcerned with the old sexual norms.”
In this period, the societal focus of sex was on procreation, not pleasure. Actually, in the New England colonies, and in the eras preceding Plymouth Rock, all agrarian societies wanted and needed progeny. As long as there were children to help milk the cows and farm the land, no one was too concerned about what they did sexually. The evolution of heterosexuality from pathology to a stable sign of normal sex took decades.
In the early part of the twentieth century, however, with the industrialization of America, sex for pleasure became a growing force. Heterosexuality began to lose its pathologic connotations. Katz says, “… by the end of the 1920s, heterosexuality had triumphed as dominant, sanctified culture.”
“…An official, dominant, different-sex erotic ideal—a heterosexual ethic—is not ancient at all, but a modern invention. Our mystical belief in an eternal heterosexuality —our heterosexual hypothesis—is an idea distributed widely only in the last three-quarters of the twentieth century.”
As a kid growing up in Allentown struggling to understand my own sexuality, I bought completely into the heterosexual hypothesis— heterosexual equals normal; homosexual is abnormal. Historically, that doesn’t wash.
I hope during the LA Prop 8 trial, and the ones following, judges and juries will become familiar with the work of Boswell and Katz. I hope they’ll overcome the pressure to endorse pseudo-eternal standards which continue to disenfranchise the different part of God’s creation.
John Siegfried, a former Rehoboth resident who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, maintains strong ties to our community and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.