As the Supreme Court is expected to rule on same sex marriage this week, my sister recently asked what I felt would be the next cultural lightning rod. At the time I rattled off a number of social mores believed to be on the chopping block of tolerance, but as I thought more this current renovation of matrimony will not be complete should the court rule to federally legalize same-sex marriage. (I’m convinced it’s pretty much a done deal and a teeny part of me insists, in the face of high divorce rates and the ‘shack up’ culture, it may just be the best thing for the institution.)
If we map the route leading to this point we see its appearance with an abandoning of the age old doctrine that sex is reserved solely within the bonds of marriage; once this corner stone had been removed the way was now paved for cohabitation to become socially acceptable. With its foundation now dismantled and quite frankly one important benefit of marriage dismissed – namely sex – the floodgates of criticism were open to question marriage’s very necessity.
With marriage now viewed as optional, attention next turned to its nature. As homosexuality came further out of the cultural closet along with our friends and family, the idea that marriage should be permitted only between man and woman came front and center. Viewed as a social injustice that our gay siblings or coworkers aren’t afforded the same right to marry, the shift in public sentiment has been swift and pronounced.
Yet it’s naive to think that this advance on marriage will suddenly end with a favorable court ruling. With traditional marriage now redefined, it’s unlikely that the armies of modernism will pack up and go home. It’s not far fetched to imagine their sites next leveled on the basics of human bonding. Who is to say that romantic relationships should be reserved only for couples; what of three, five, even eight consenting adults or by its less contentious name – community marriages?
This type of thing won’t begin so brusquely as a simple call to legalize polygamy, that’s still too icky for most. The message will be calculating, far more crafty, and supported by mountains of “scientific research”.
Last week a CNN Opinion piece, Face it: Monogamy is unnatural was just such an example. The author, Meghan Laslocky, sets forth her argument with this bold statement,
“Many are quick to label a person who strays from his or her marriage or relationship as a “cheater,” but it’s really not that simple. It’s time for our culture to wake up and smell the sex pheromones: monogamy is not natural for many, or probably even most, humans.”
Ms. Laslocky’s assertion focuses on the animal kingdom; she says, “Biologically, we humans are animals”.
It’s there she looses me.
The foundation of her argument is this; since animals aren’t monogamous there is no reason to believe humans should be. She sites the lovebird and prairie vole as exhibits A and B. Once the darlings of monogamy in the wild, research now seems to indicate even they can’t keep it in their pants. I find two facets of her article interesting; first that she compares the complexities of human relationships to a parakeet and rat; the other, did Ms. Laslocky apply a similar denominator when choosing her husband?
She goes on to write,
“Human monogamy is influenced by many factors. Instead of pointing fingers or acting morally superior toward those who stray from marriages, we should recognize that strict sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration.”
I can remember (even with three stiff screwdrivers) my wedding day and the conviction behind my vows. Infidelity and divorce where not on my marital radar; having experienced neither growing up it was never seen as an option. Even at the age of twenty-eight, which emotionally speaking is the equivalent of a nineteen year old girl, I understood commitment and fidelity as a conscious choice. And I certainly didn’t question my ability to remain so because my dog humped all of our neighbor’s legs.
Cheating in a marriage, on an exam, or during tax time is always a deliberate act. Granted emotions are at play urging us in certain directions, but what keeps us out of caves – and prison – is a capacity to not act on those impulses. I once had a dog that ate its own shit and would shag the open end of any five-gallon bucket; are we seriously going to serve up pigeons and penguins as scientific proof to the unreasonableness of human monogamy?
Better yet, are we prepared to ride this adulterous horse all the way across the stream? Since baboon’s sleep around and that now lends justification to our infidelity, why not any number of unsavory behaviors. If I choose to stab a guy at the bar for flirting with the Queen would I be afforded the same benefit of doubt since I’m merely protecting my territory like walruses on a beach?
Contrary to Ms. Laslocky’s desire, infidelity really is that simple. Monogamy is a choice and a reflection of our character and morality, a symbol of who we are as the higher species. Any attempt to rationalize unethical behavior through biology, especially that of a rodent, makes us the animal.
One final and amusing note, while she declares her belief that infidelity is a byproduct of genetics and DNA and therefore outside of our control, she felt compelled to reassure readers of her own virtue. She concludes her article,
“One’s perspective on monogamy is not necessarily an indicator of one’s personal practices. Many people have incorrectly assumed that because I’ve read, thought, and written about the problems with human monogamy that I am myself promiscuous. For the record, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Makes me wonder if she truly believes her own argument. Deep down I think she knows as well as the rest of us, infidelity may be induced by many things – your cat isn’t one of them.