Warren misstates marital history

The Saddleback pastor repeats convenient oversimplification of marriage history.

Published December 19, 2008 6:36PM (EST)

If you haven't had a chance to read our own Mike Madden's fine reporting and analysis on the Obama-Warren controversy, it's good stuff. One statement from a video Rev. Rick taped in support of California's Prop 8, as partially quoted by Mike in the piece, really aggravates me.

That quote is this: "We should not let 2 percent of the population determine to change a definition of marriage" -- that definition being one man and one woman for life, of course, as he states moments earlier in the video -- "that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years."

This is simply not true. Different cultures have supported different definitions of marriage, to include the following, ahem, deviations from the pastor's purported pristine, 5,000-year tradition: polygamy, marriages involving children and/or forced marriages, marriages for dowry, divorce and remarriage, and now, increasingly, same-sex marriage.

Sure, some of the above deviations from the mythic, Ozzie and Harriet norm do, technically, involve just one man and one woman (or in the case of children, one man and one girl). But Warren's clearly intends to imply the voluntary, adult, non-coerced, loving, biological or maybe adoptive child-bearing, straight, monogamous version. To even hint that this model has obtained, only and everywhere, for five millenia is a lie. From a pastor's goateed mouth, no less.

I'm sorry, but when people talk in categoricals, and those categoricals are false, and those false categoricals are used to fashion a revisionist history, such people become immediately suspect -- period. If you heard the testimony of a budget analyst say the United States has always run a deficit, every year, would you trust that person's word about next year's budget projections, or anything else?

If Warren wants to claim that one-man/one-woman marriage has predominated, and that it is the majority preference, and that it is the only way to procreate biologically (and that's no longer technically true either, btw) . . . well, OK, that's fine. But mischaracterizing history, including very recent American history (damn those inconvenient Mormon polygamists!), is irresponsible.

Frankly, a nuanced argument would not only be more legitimate, it would be more powerful because of that added legitimacy. But true believers shudder at nuance. The world is always easier in blacks and whites.

And that means no grays -- and no gays -- allowed.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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