Maurer & Boellstorff respond to Focus on the Family

The gay blog Box Turtle Bulletin responded to an article at Focus on the Family’s ‘Citizenlink’ claiming anthropological consensus as to the definition of a family: “A family is a unit that draws from the two types of humanity, male and female… Those two parts of humanity join together, create new life and they both cooperate in the legitimization of the child, if you will, and the development of the child.” BTB’s Daniel Gonzalezs contacted Maurer for a response from an ‘actual anthropologist’:

Since its beginnings as a scientific discipline in the 19th century, anthropology has documented the historical and cultural variability of marriage and family forms. From ghost marriages to “female husbands” to polyandry, polygamy and cousin marriage, the cultures of the world exhibit incredible diversity in how they manage the universal problems of cultural transmission and the reproduction and care of the next generation. Indeed, Lewis Henry Morgan, one of the field’s forefathers, documented hundreds of distinct kinship arrangements. For over a hundred years, anthropologists have continually surprised themselves and other Western observers with the diversity of family and marriage arrangements deemed sacred, valuable, and morally necessary for the reproduction of society. The American Anthropological Association, the oldest and largest professional organization for anthropologists, affirms this diversity and noted its support for gay marriage in 2004-05. In fact, the Association requires academic recruiters who advertise with its service to state whether they provide benefits to same-sex partners and whether they forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It does this because the scientific evidence is on its side: there is not now, and there never has been, one single definition of marriage. Marriage may be universal; but what counts as marriage is not. The current American political debate is thus quite parochial when seen from the point of view of 10,000 years of human history.

For more information: American Anthropological Association; on the gay marriage debate, see this link.

Bill Maurer
Professor and Chair
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine
President, Association for Political and Legal Anthropology

Tom Boellstorff
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine
Editor-in-Chief, American Anthropologist, and
Former co-Chair, Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists

7 thoughts on “Maurer & Boellstorff respond to Focus on the Family

  1. Not that it should be a surprise, but the initial article on Citizenlink is bizarre. The author suggests that, if you subscribe to the ‘traditional’ notion of family (supposedly sanctioned by professional anthropologists), you may be labeled a bigot. And as a bigot you might be subsequently ostracized from other professional fields: being a doctor, social worker, etc.

    My head hurts by the illogic of it all.

  2. Overall, I was impressed by the Maurer response, but I do have one rhetorical concern. “It does this because the scientific evidence is on its side:” I’m not sure that this appeal to scientific authority added anything of value to the argument being made. Anyone else catch this? What is (the) scientific evidence? Who decides what constitutes such evidence? And does it really exist in this case?

  3. I think by ‘scientific evidence’ they are simply pointing to the enormous diversity in types of kinship and marriage in the ethnographic record.

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