Box Turtle Bulletin, the blog that previously published a letter from Bill Maurer and Tom Boellstorff responding to a statement from Focus on the Family that there is anthropological consensus as to the definition of marriage, is currently hosting a debate about the matter. Patrick Chapman has posted a lengthy response to a ‘white paper‘ by Focus on the Family’s Director of Family Formation Studies Greg Stanton. It’s a fascinating debate to me not necessarily because I am interested in definitions of marriage (though I am) but because of the way that anthropology is invoked by both sides as having authority on the subject. As Chapman writes: “What is particularly important with Stanton’s report is the recognition that anthropologists are the experts when it comes to understanding and defining marriage.” Anthropologists: Do not despair! Someone still cares what we have to say. Anthropologists are seen to have the last word on human nature and therefore as potentially having knowledge that could settle debate on the topic. The typical ‘pro’ gay marriage stance in relation to anthropology is to emphasize the diversity of world cultures and to emphasize that human nature exists in and as this diversity or adaptability. The typical ‘anti’ gay marriage stance emphasizes the fact that nothing quite like gay marriage has really been seen before in the ‘anthropological record.’ To me what’s interesting is how a moral question appears to be disguised in these debates as a ‘scientific’ one, and therefore the real nature of the conflict gets displaced. If in fact some tribe somewhere had/has a custom literally called ‘gay marriage,’ where two men or two women and their families celebrate their union through ritual and exchange, do we imagine that that would convince Focus on the Family of the validity of the institution? I actually think that these arguments are, at the core, about the moral legitimacy of modernity — and I think our very own Oneman has brilliantly guided discussion on this matter previously here at SM.