Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Talking heads on TV are not always right. Words mean what they mean now to the people who use them.

Last week I heard some self proclaimed expert saying that marriage had always and everywhere been between a man and a woman with the purpose of providing long term stability for the raising of children. Of course, that ignores the billion Muslims who believe that marriage is between a man and up to four wives. It also ignores a minority of Muslims who believe in temporary marriage, which is neither for the raising of children nor for the long term. It even ignores that more than a billion Catholics who believe that marriage is a sacrament, and that the people who go through a civil marriage are not married in the eyes of God.

Things they are a changing!

More than half of American marriages end in divorce. There has been a demographic transformation and women have fewer children on average than they did in the past; the U.S. fertility level is now at about the replacement level. More children are being raised by single parents. While in the past many people lived in extended households with several generations sharing the same home, that is less frequent now. Whatever marriage may have meant in the past, it seems to mean something else now.

source: University of Maryland
How the Question is Asked

Clearly the word "marriage" is English and social scientists studying non-English speaking cultures use terms in the languages of those cultures. Equally clearly there are differences in the connotations of similar concepts in different cultures. For example, there are differences among cultures in acceptance of extramarital relations. The responses get translated back into English stripped of their cultural connotations.

I wonder also whether the definition involves legal or community acknowledgement of a marital relationship. U.S. law recognizes common law marriage even in the absence of a marriage certificate or ceremony. Often couples live together without ceremonial endorsement of the relationship; sometimes unmarried couples live together longer than it takes for married couple to end their relationship in divorce.

One wonders if those social scientists would have asked about gay and lesbian relationships, and whether they would have been given accurate answers had they asked. If the question had been asked and answered factually, would the relationship have been termed "marriage"?

So I wonder how that spokesperson could have been so sure what "marriage" had always meant. Or that it had always meant the same thing to different people. Or why he thought that what the term had meant in the past is what it means now, or what it will mean in the future.

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