If it’s Monday it must be time to respond to a Sunday Courant piece aimed at FIC. Or, at least, that is my understanding of whom Coontz is referring to:

Claims of historical fact about marriage can be proved true or false, and three of the historical claims made by opponents of same-sex marriage in Connecticut are demonstrably untrue.

Here are the claims that she claims we’re making:

First is the claim that the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman goes back thousands of years. Second is the claim that the Judeo-Christian heritage has always seen marriage as a sacred relationship that must be defended above all others. Third is the claim that marriage has endured for thousands of years without change.

Taking the charges in reverse order, I don’t recall our ever saying that marriage has endured “without change” and a search of our web site produced nothing to back up Coontz’s claim that we did. To be sure, we have noted that most societies through history have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and no society prior to our lifetime ever approved same-sex “marriage.” Coontz offers no response to the latter point, preferring instead to rebut a claim we never made.

Coontz’s claim about pro-family references to the Judeo-Christian tradition apparently rests on Old Testament mentions of polygamy–as if this is news to us. On the other hand, her claim that marriage wasn’t made a sacrament until 1215 AD certainly would come as news to the Catholic Church. Did she get that out of a Jack Chick comic book?

But the most eye-poppping of all Coontz’s attempted rebuttals comes in response to the fact that the one man-one woman definition of marriage goes back thousands of years. Rather than merely noting historical instances of polygamy, Coontz claims that polygamy was “[t]he most commony approved form of marriage in the past [emphasis added].” 

Maggie Gallagher refuted this howler last year in a piece titled–appropriately enough–Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Marriage* But Were Afraid to Ask Stephanie Coontz:

12. True or False: “The preferred form of marriage through the ages has been between one man and one woman” (taken directly from Coontz’s quiz).
True. Four out of five of the great religions that gave birth to large complex civilizations (encompassing the vast majority of people ever born) have had monogamous marriage systems. And while polygamy has been common in many tribal societies, almost every known society throughout the ages considers marriage a male-female sexual bond with procreative implications. “The unique trait of what is commonly called marriage is social recognition and approval . . . of a couple’s engaging in sexual intercourse and bearing and rearing offspring” (Kingsley Davis (ed.), Contemporary Marriage: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Institution). Professors Margo Wilson and Martin Daly write in Evolutionary Psychology, Public Policy and Personal Decisions:

Marriage is a universal social institution, albeit with myriad variations in social and cultural details. A review of the cross-cultural diversity in marital arrangements reveals certain common themes: some degree of mutual obligation between husband and wife, a right of sexual access (often but not necessarily exclusive), an expectation that the relationships will persist (although not necessarily for a lifetime), some cooperative investment in offspring, and some sort of recognition of the status of the couple’s children. The marital alliance is fundamentally a reproductive alliance.

And that some heterosexual couples are sterile is irrelevant. What matters–as noted by Maggie in “What Marriage Is For”–is that traditional marriage can provide something to society that cannot be provided by other arrangements:

How to reconcile the needs of children with the sexual desires of adults? Every society has to face that question, and some resolve it in ways that inflict horrendous cruelty on children born outside marriage. Some cultures decide these children don’t matter: Men can have all the sex they want, and any children they create outside of marriage will be throwaway kids; marriage is for citizens–slaves and peasants need not apply. You can see a version of this elitist vision of marriage emerging in America under cover of acceptance of family diversity. Marriage will continue to exist as the social advantage of elite communities. The poor and the working class? Who cares whether their kids have dads? We can always import people from abroad to fill our need for disciplined, educated workers.

Our better tradition, and the only one consistent with democratic principles, is to hold up a single ideal for all parents, which is ultimately based on our deep cultural commitment to the equal dignity and social worth of all children. All kids need and deserve a married mom and dad. All parents are supposed to at least try to behave in ways that will give their own children this important protection. Privately, religiously, emotionally, individually, marriage may have many meanings. But this is the core of its public, shared meaning: Marriage is the place where having children is not only tolerated but welcomed and encouraged, because it gives children mothers and fathers…

Some who criticize the refusal to embrace gay marriage liken it to the outlawing of interracial marriage, but the analogy is woefully false. The Supreme Court overturned anti-miscegenation laws because they frustrated the core purpose of marriage in order to sustain a racist legal order. Marriage laws, by contrast, were not invented to express animus toward homosexuals or anyone else. Their purpose is not negative, but positive: They uphold an institution that developed, over thousands of years, in thousands of cultures, to help direct the erotic desires of men and women into a relatively narrow but indispensably fruitful channel. We need men and women to marry and make babies for our society to survive. We have no similar public stake in any other family form–in the union of same-sex couples or the singleness of single moms.

7 Responses to “Stephanie Coontz’s Courant Op-Ed”

  1. on 20 Mar 2007 at 6:42 amSteve

    A classic example of liberal elitism run amok. I could have guessed her profession even if it wasn’t printed on the bottom of the page. Marriage wasn’t a sacrament until 1215? What? Maybe they don’t teach how to google in some colleges.

    And people wonder why we homeschool… Sheesh.

  2. on 21 Mar 2007 at 8:19 amJohn

    I can suggest to Steve that he do his own homework before he dismisses the history cited by Stephanie Coontz. On page 196 of EJ Graff’s book titled What Is Marriage For? she recounts the same ecclesiastical history mentioned by Stephanie Coontz.

    “It was not until 1215 that the Church finally decreed marriage a sacrament–the least important one, but a sacrament nonetheless–and set up a systematic canon law of marriage, with a system of ecclesiastical courts to enforce it . . .” Graff, p.196.

    As to our state’s history, the Connecticut case of Gould v. Gould stands for the uncontested proposition that the institution of marriage in Connecticut has been governed by secular state control since at least the early 1600s. In Connecticut clergy only have power to officiate at weddings by virtue of the state’s permission—as do judges and justices of the peace.

    Check the reading list for your homeschooled children. They may be missing some important history.

  3. on 21 Mar 2007 at 8:22 amDave

    Indeed, as it relates to marriage, the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) merely prohibited the practice of clandestine marriage. It for this reason that we see the tradition of “banns of marriage”, which are customarily announced in church for three Sundays preceding a wedding to publicy inform the congregation of the upcoming ceremony as follows:

    I publish the banns of marriage between (Name of party) of the Parish of…….. and (Name of other party) of this Parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is for the (first, second, third) time of asking.

    I’m surprised that Coontz didn’t try to claim the later timeframe of 1563 as being the onset of true Christian marriage as we know it today, for it was at that time that the Council of Trent finally decreed that it was required for marriages to be performed by a priest and before two additional witnesses.

    However, I have a word or two for the bogus arguments raised by Coontz as to the timeframe of the sacrament of marriage. They come directly from our Church, through the 24th session of the Council of Trent:

    If any one saith, that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelic law, (a sacrament) instituted by Christ the Lord; but that it has been invented by men in the Church; and that it does not confer grace; let him be anathema.

    Or let “her” be anathema, as the case may be. Marriage as a sacrament within the Christian faith was instituted by Council on Contemporary Families, an organization that deliberately seeks to undermine conservative famliy values and advocates for a broader view of what constitutes a family … with articles in support of same-sex marriage and parenting by gay and lesbian couples. Just like matter and anti-matter, there’s FIC and CCF. Small wonder that Coontz is a media darling of the Left, including the Washington Post in recognizing her book \”Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage\” as one of the Best Books of 2005.

  4. on 21 Mar 2007 at 9:08 amSteve

    Thanks for the suggestion John. May I suggest that you read the council itself before passing judgment. I’ll save you (and Miss Koontz) the arduous Google search:

    ps. You might want to add this one to your kids reading list. They won’t read it in public school.

  5. on 21 Mar 2007 at 9:11 amBrian

    Coontz’s (and E.J. Graff’s) reading of church history does indeed show a woeful misunderstanding about the nature of doctrine in the Catholic Church. Just because the church formally defined marriage as a sacrament at a certain date (the 1215 date is the date of the Fourth Lateran Council), does not mean it was not a sacrament before that date. The Catholic Church did not just wake-up and “weigh in” on the sacramentality of marriage, but had been speaking of it since apostolic times. The formal definition merely made clear and binding what the church already believed. Therefore marriage was a sacrament prior to 1215, it had just not been formally defined so. You can take or leave that explanation, but at least honestly present the nature of what the Catholic Church calls the “development of doctrine.”

    For more on the history of marriage in the Catholic Church, don’t bother with E.J. Graff’s or Coontz’s polemical screeds but go to some source that actually presents the teaching of the Catholic Church. For example, the online New Advent Encyclopedia. Also, for an important work on the Catholic understanding of the development of church doctrine, see John Henry Newman’s classic On the Development of Christian Doctrine.

  6. on 21 Mar 2007 at 12:49 pmDave

    It looks like my earlier posting got partly eaten and mangled by the blog scripting, so here is a correction for the tail end:

    … Or let her be anathema, as the case may be. Marriage as a sacrament within the Christian faith was instituted by CHRIST THE LORD. That’s at least 2000 years of tradition, if nothing else!

    Keep in mind that Coontz is a founding member of the Council on Contemporary Families, an organization that deliberately seeks to undermine conservative famliy values and advocates for a broader view of what constitutes a family … with articles in support of same-sex marriage and parenting by gay and lesbian couples. Just like matter and anti-matter, there’s FIC and CCF. Small wonder that Coontz is a media darling of the Left, including the Washington Post in recognizing her book “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage” as one of the Best Books of 2005.

  7. on 21 Mar 2007 at 12:51 pmDave

    Just an off-topic request … maybe someone can clarify how to post with embedded URLs, because my links all got squashed on the earlier posting.

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