The Worst Thing About Sam Schulman

My fellow progressives, I would like you to meet Sam Schulman, author of this atrocious article about gay marriage (found via the Feministing community). Unlike those silly, silly religious folk, Mr. Schulman has a completely rational, not at all ridiculous argument against gay marriage! You see, according to Sam Schulman, The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage (that is actually the title of the article. I am not making this up) is not that it defies divine law, but that it doesn’t perform the essential roles that marriage plays in maintaining the kinship system.

Note to Mr. Schulman: next time you use the kinship system as the foundation of an argument, you might want to ensure that your understanding of kinship is not 2000 years out of date! Just a suggestion.

In order to defend his argument, Mr. Schulman describes “four of the most profound effects of marriage within the kinship system”, which are not at all archaic and creepy. Observe:

The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood–and sexual accessibility–is defined. Again, until quite recently, the woman herself had little or nothing to say about this, while her parents and the community to which they answered had total control. The guardians of a female child or young woman had a duty to protect her virginity until the time came when marriage was permitted or, more frequently, insisted upon. […]

This most profound aspect of marriage–protecting and controlling the sexuality of the child-bearing sex–is its only true reason for being, and it has no equivalent in same-sex marriage.

You heard that right. Same-sex marriage is bad because it will interfere with society’s ability to control female sexuality! And we all know that if women’s bodies cease to be treated as a commodity to be traded, society will collapse. Well, I guess the intersection of misogyny and homophobia isn’t purely theoretical after all.

But that’s not all that Mr. Schulman has to say! Oh no, gay marriage also interferes with society’s ability to tell us that certain sexual behaviours are superior to others:

Sexual intercourse between a married couple is licit; sexual intercourse before marriage, or adulterous sex during marriage, is not. Illicit sex is not necessarily a crime, but licit sexual intercourse enjoys a sanction in the moral universe, however we understand it, from which premarital and extramarital copulation is excluded. More important, the illicit or licit nature of heterosexual copulation is transmitted to the child, who is deemed legitimate or illegitimate based on the metaphysical category of its parents’ coition.

Now to live in such a system, in which sexual intercourse can be illicit, is a great nuisance. Many of us feel that licit sexuality loses, moreover, a bit of its oomph. Gay lovers live merrily free of this system. Can we imagine Frank’s family and friends warning him that “If Joe were serious, he would put a ring on your finger”? Do we ask Vera to stop stringing Sally along? Gay sexual practice is not sortable into these categories–licit-if-married but illicit-if-not (children adopted by a gay man or hygienically conceived by a lesbian mom can never be regarded as illegitimate). Neither does gay copulation become in any way more permissible, more noble after marriage.

Whatever would we do without social norms shaming us into unhappy marriages, or into feeling guilty about sex between two consenting adults who happen not to have rings on their fingers? Society would fall apart, I tell you! Why, we wouldn’t even be able to tell children born to unmarried parents that they are “illegitimate” and therefore worth less, or something! (Wait, didn’t the French Revolution do away with that? Now I’m confused.)

Also, maybe my family is really weird or something, but I’m in a long-term heterosexual relationship, and they don’t think that my partner is stringing me along, or feel the need to pressure him into making an honest woman out of me. They’re mostly just happy for us. I guess this means the decline of civilization has already started. I mean, two people in a happy, monogamous but decidedly non-marital relationship? Scandalous!

You may think that after this parade of idiocy, Mr. Schulman has run out of completely nonsensical things to say. Then he hits you with this gem:

But without social disapproval of unmarried sex–what kind of madman would seek marriage?

Apparently Mr. Schulman has such a low opinion of men that he thinks that, were it not for Victorian-style social pressures, no man would ever wish to express his lifelong commitment to someone he loves. If that’s not misandry, I don’t know what is.

Also, apparently being unmarried means you’re not an adult, or something:

Marriage usually takes place at the beginning of adulthood; it changes the status of bride and groom from child in the birth family to adult in a new family. In many societies, such as village India and Jewish Chicagoland, a new bride becomes no more than an unpaid servant to her mother- and sisters-in-law.

How romantic! And also sort of racist.

In contrast, gay weddings are rather middle-aged affairs. My impression is borne out by the one available statistic, from the province of British Columbia, showing that the participants in first-time same-sex weddings are 13 years older, on average, then first-time brides-and-grooms. This feels about right. After all, declaring gay marriage legal will not produce the habit of saving oneself for marriage or create a culture which places a value on virginity or chastity (concepts that are frequently mocked in gay culture precisely because they are so irrelevant to gay romantic life). But virginity and chastity before marriage, license after–these are the burdens of real marriage, honored in spirit if not in letter, creating for women (women as modern as BeyoncĂ©) the right to demand a tangible sacrifice from the men who would adore them.

I guess 95% of the North American population didn’t get the memo about saving oneself for marriage. Unless when Mr. Schulman says “in spirit if not in letter” he means “not at all, ever”.

He also apparently never considered the possibility that same-sex couples are getting married later than opposite-sex couples because they weren’t legally allowed to get married for most of their lifetimes. And personally, I’d rather see people getting married older, once they’re really sure that they’re ready to commit, than as soon as they reach adulthood, in order to prove that they’re grown-up or something.

He also goes on for a while about how gay people don’t form kinship ties with their in-laws, and therefore gay marriage leads to incest or something. And then there’s this:

Few men would ever bother to enter into a romantic heterosexual marriage–much less three, as I have done–were it not for the iron grip of necessity that falls upon us when we are unwise enough to fall in love with a woman other than our mom.

Oh dear. I could write a doctoral thesis on everything that is wrong with this sentence. I guess at least we now know why he’s so obsessed with the incest taboo.

And here’s what will happen if those gay people start tainting the “burden” of marriage with their gosh-darned egalitarian partnerships:

There is no doubt that women and children have suffered throughout human history from being over-protected and controlled. The consequences of under-protection and indifference will be immeasurably worse. In a world without kinship, women will lose their hard-earned status as sexual beings with personal autonomy and physical security. Children will lose their status as nonsexual beings.

That’s right, ladies! Men have been treating your bodies as their personal property for all these years in order to protect you! In fact, rape results not because men think women are property and they deserve access to our bodies at all times, but because gay people want to get married! Also: pedophilia. Nice fear-mongering there, but no.

Overall, Schulman’s analysis of marriage is pretty grim. At no point does he portray it as something that people might actually want, as a means for two people to express their commitment and solidify their partnership. For Schulman, marriage is simply men trading in their “dream of gratifying [their] immediate erotic desires” (again, I really am not making this up) in order to gain full control over one woman’s body. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that these wonderful kinship structures he goes on about are the things that many of us call patriarchy or kyrarchy or everything that is wrong with society, and are actively working to dismantle through means completely independent of (though, of course, favourable to) gay marriage. If you ask me, a shift in the definition of marriage from an exchange intended to stabilize patriarchal kinship structures to a loving partnership between equals can only be beneficial to everyone.

Except Sam Schulman, but he’s not invited anyway.

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  • margosita  On December 13, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    LOVE this. Nice take-down- funny, witty and on the money. :)

  • Rob F  On December 13, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    When Schulman’s article came out in May, me, Shakesville, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and Sadly No!, (at least) all discussed Schulman’s misogynist screed.

    But at least Schulman’s honest about how wingnuts want to use marriage to control women. The fact that Schulman has been married three times (a href=””>cite) is especially unsurprising in light of this.

    • Brett K  On December 13, 2009 at 6:54 pm

      I guess considering when the article was written, it was inevitable that someone in the feminist blogosphere would have got to it before I did. I couldn’t help but mock anyway, though.

      BTW, I am thoroughly enjoying your blog right now. Mind if I link to you?

      • Rob F  On December 13, 2009 at 9:54 pm

        No, I don’t mind. Link me all you want.

  • Sarah  On December 15, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    How on earth did this man find THREE seperate women willing to put up with him long enough to get married?

    THAT, my friends, is the real mystery.

  • For Gay Marriage Facts  On June 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Hey there outstanding blog! Does running a blog similar to this require a lot of work?
    I have no understanding of coding but I was hoping to start my own blog
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  • denise  On July 9, 2013 at 2:04 am

    im doing a case study on on this guy for my government class, i couldnt believe the audacity of this guy, i seriously considered changing the topic because of the sexist ass he is but ive done too much research already, you should check out theodore b. olsen, he very eloquently expresses why same sex marriage should be leagalized.
    i loved your comments, super funny


  • By The Clitorium on September 13, 2010 at 1:19 am

    […] sexuality!” assumption and tried looking up this Sam Shulman dude. Up popped another article, The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage. My inclination to give him the benefit of the doubt […]

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