There is nothing more interesting today than reading the dissenting views of the Supreme Court justices on the case of United States v. Windsor which negated a section of the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). Antonin Scalia wrote a vitriolic dissent that had amazing language blasting his fellow justices. In his concurrence, Justice Alito, joined by Clarence Thomas, tried to give us an anthropology lesson, stating that (p. 14),

While modern cultural changes have weakened the link between marriage and procreation in the popular mind, there is no doubt that, throughout human history and across many cultures, marriage has been viewed as an exclusively opposite-sex institution and as one inextricably linked to procreation and biological kinship.

Sorry guys, but that is not even close to the truth and if you are using that in any way to bolster your case, you lose. I’ll make it easy for you: you don’t have to even read an anthropology text, just look it up in Wikipedia which actually gets the range of pre-Christian marriage types somewhat correct.

Here’s the point: all you need is just a few examples of how the Western form of marriage—one formed by “romantic love” between people of opposite sexes— is not the norm across time or cultures. Different cultures have always had a different take on how to form unions between individuals, groups, humans and spirits, the living and the dead. You have to love the description of men in India who marry a plant!

“Marriage,” however you define it, is not a universal institution. Never has been. Christianity has tried, in its worldwide efforts, to make marriage uniform and in its own image, but humans do not in any sense “naturally” form the bonds of monogamous opposite-sex relations that Christianity requires.

Every first year anthropology student learns about different types of marriage and kinship. Polygamy (one man marries several women, common until recently among Mormons and still common in some parts of the world); polyandry (one woman marries several men); monogamy (one sexual partner for the duration of the marriage), serial monogamy (one sexual partner at a time), and open marriage (agreement of partners in a marriage to have additional sexual partners). It goes on and on, so how is it possible that a Supreme Court justice (or two or three) does not know this?

I wanted to scream in 2011 when the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, claimed that teaching students anthropology was a bad use of resources. “We don’t need them here,” he stated. He wanted to redirect funds to learning in science and technology. That would give us lots of technologists and scientists that end up believing things like the Supreme Court justices: bogus information on how human act and believe and understand their worlds. That does not make for good technology that can be useful to these very same human beings.

All these guys could use a lesson in anthropology. As an article in Mother Jones explains, Scott and other politicians who are calling for the same gutting of a liberal arts education have a clear reason for it:

That, in the end, is perhaps why Scott’s really out to kill anthropology and the liberal arts: As opposed to conservative-friendly disciplines like economics and business management, liberal arts produce more culturally aware and progressive citizens, inclined to challenge ossified social conventions and injustices. Eliminate cultural and social sciences from public colleges, and you’ll ultimately produce fewer community organizers, poets, and critics; you’ll probably churn out more Rotarians, Junior Leaguers, and Republican donors.

Or, you’ll churn out more ossified Supreme Court justices who never learned the first lesson of anthropology: that every culture approaches its task of how to organize the world in a different way and from these cultures we can learn a lot about how we, ourselves, could act.


From Mother Jones: