Re: :: Celibacy: Everyday Presentations

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Mon, 8 Jan 1996 12:41:10 -0700

On Mon, 18 Dec 1995, Michael Ashkenazi wrote:

> Re the "spouse" question of homosexual partners. It seems Lief is
> somewhat behind the times. In quite a few countries (Sweden, Denmark,
> Israel, and I believe elsewhere, homosexual partners are recognized
> LEGALLY as spouses, e.g. as having a material and continuing interest in
> their partners, including social benefits. It would seem that the
> definition Lief is citing is worded in such a way that it automatically
> proscribes homsexual partners. In fact, even the term "spouse" is
> misleading. British law and its derivatives, have a term
> "common-law-spouse" which refers to continuous cohabitation without
> ritual sanction, and which legally grants "spousal" rights. There is no
> question of celibacy there, the contrary is true.
> Michael Ashkenazi

"Marriage" can take many forms, depending on how it is defined, and/or
what the intent is in concluding the marriage contract. Leslie White
(1959:99) observes "(1) marriage is, or may be, primarily an alliance
between groups of kindred; and (2) so important is this mutual-aid
compact in the conduct of life that society cannaot afford to allow it to
be terminated even by death. Certain religious groups, notably the Roman
Catholic Church in our own culture, strive to preserve the ties
established by marriage by refusing to sanction divorce.

"Enduring sexual unions among subhuman primates have become
sociocultural mechanisms in human society. Sometimes they have legal
significance almost exclusively, e.g., as a means of acquiring title or
claim to property, or as a vehicle of inheritance. Cases of
adventuresses marrying Indians who had suddenly become rich through the
disvoery of oil come to mind here. In the cultures of the Northwest
Coast of America, where titles and rank play such an important role in
social life, a man may marry another man's leg or arm as a means of
acquiring a title which he may pass on to his son. In west Africa a
woman may marry another woman or women, i.e., perform the same ritual--
including payment of bride price-- that would take place in marriage
between a man and a woman; she becomes the father of children born to
this union. In India a person may marry a tree or even an inanimate

White's only references are:
Franz Boas, "The Social Organization and Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl
Indians," _United States National Museum Report-, 1895, p. 359
M.J. Herskovits, "A Note on 'Woman Marriage' in Dahomey," _Africa_, vol.
10, pp. 335-341, 1937.

White, Leslie A. 1959. The evolution of culture. New York: McGraw-Hill
Book Co.

Evans-Pritchard (1951:108-109), however, provides more information on
'woman marriage' among the Nuer:
"What seems to us, but not at all to Nuer, a somewhat strange
union is that in which a woman marries another woman and counts as the
pater of the children born of the wife. Such marriages are by no means
uncommon in Nuerland, and they must be regarded as a form of simple legal
marriage, for the woman-husband marries her wife in exactly the same way
as a man marries a woman. When the marriage rites have been completed
the husband gets a male kinsman or friend or neighbor, sometimes a poor
Dinka, to beget children by her wife and to assist, regularly or when
assistance is particularly required, in those tasks of the home for the
carrying out of which a man is necessary. When the daughters of the
marriage are married he will receive for each a 'cow of the begetting'
and more beasts if he has played any considerable part in the maintenance
of the home. ... A barren woman...if she is rich she may marry several
wives. She is their legal husband and can demand damages if they have
relations with men without her consent. She is also the pater of their
children, and on the marriages of their daughters she receives 'the
cattle of the father', and her brothers and sisters receive the other
cattle which go to the father's side in the distribution of
bridewealth. Her children are called after her, as though she were a
man, and I was told that they address her as 'father'. She administers
her home and herd as a man would do, being treated by her wives and
children with the deference they would show to a male husband and father."

E.E. Evans-Pritchard. 1951. Kinship and marriage among the Nuer.
Oxford: Clarendon Press

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

There are people who will help you get your basket
on your head because they want to see what is in it.
-- African proverb