In the last post, we heard from from John Trandem, interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition. If we were to legitimize same-sex marriage, he said, “how would we .. be able to exclude [marriage between] two men and two women or three men or three women…?”
Marriage between one man and one woman, he pointed out, has two things going for it that these other variations do not: biology and tradition.
The last post was about biology. Now let’s talk about tradition.
We can presume that when conservatives in America cite “tradition” they mean Judeo-Christian, or biblical, tradition. This is the tradition on which conservatives like to say our counry was founded. Okay, then.
Like the argument from biology, the argument from biblical tradition has a nasty way of curling back to bite those who trot it out.
For starters, biblical tradition is firmly rooted in polygamy. The Bible mentions two wives of Moses. Abraham had an unkown number of concubines (second-class wives) in addition to his wife, Sarah. I won’t mention Solomon, who had 700 wives, because the Bible does say that kings should not get carried away like that. His father, king David, was a monk by comparison, having only 7 wives, plus maybe a couple of others that are in dispute.
But what could be greater evidence of the polygamous root of Judeo-Christian tradition than the fact that the very 12 tribes of Israel descend from Jacob’s four wives?
The predominantly Mormon state of Utah was not allowed to join the United States until it agreed to outlaw polygamy. Where were God’s culture warriors when this abridgement of biblical norms was being foisted on patriotic Americans?
In addition to wives and concubines, Hebrew men were free to have sex with their slaves. In the chapter of the Bible that immediately follows the Ten Commandments, we find God’s regulations for sex slavery. A man could sell his daughter to a fellow Hebrew, who was then under obligation to continue to have sex with her (presumably so she could have the honor of bearing children) even as he married additional women. Alternatively, he could sell her back if she did not “satisfy him” or he could give her to one of his sons if he chose.
Now there’s a nice family value: Have sex with your servant-girl and then give her to your son for more of the same.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife gave him a hard time for fathering a child by his housekeeper, where was the outcry from conservatives? (The outcry against his wife, I mean.) Why didn’t traditionalists support Arnold as he upheld the proud biblical tradition of impregnating one’s servants? He was even a Republican, for cryin’ out loud! It’s shameful how people won’t stand up for the Bible.
No study of the wondrous variety of marriage arrangements in the Good Book would be complete without mention of the final, glorious act of Moses, the great Law-Giver of Judeo-Christian tradition. This was to direct the distribution of 32,000 virgin war-captives to his soldiers and sundry others. As recorded in Numbers 31, these girls were parceled out exactly like the cattle that were also taken as “plunder and spoils” of war. It is stated at least 4 times in this chapter that Moses did all this in accordance with God’s direct command (verses 25, 31, 41, and 47).
Numbers 31 does not tell us whether any of the virgins got to update their Facebook status from “plunder” to “wife.” We can only hope. If they did, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 gave God’s instructions for how the Hebrew men were to arrange the marriage — and terminate it at will if the girl whose parents and brothers had been slaughtered by her new husband’s army does not manage to “please him” sufficiently.
We have all been horrified by ISIS’ enslavement and plunder of women in recent months, or Boko Haram’s practice of capturing girls and marrying them off to their soldiers. Why won’t advocates of “traditional marriage” speak up and tell the rest of us that ISIS and Boko Haram are acting exactly as God commanded in the Bible?
Never mind; I know the answer to that one. It’s because it’s bad when Muslims do it, but God’s righteous judgment when those in our spiritual tradition do the same thing.
By the time of the New Testament, the Jews were subject to Rome and were in no position to wage war and get wives by capturing them. However, polygamy was still practiced among both Jews and early Christians. In fact, it was pagan Rome that finally outlawed the practice.
So maybe it is Roman tradition that opponents of same-sex marriage really want? Probably not.
Maybe tradition is not all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe we’re better off thinking for ourselves.