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Rant #281
(published June 8, 2006)
Briefly on What's Wrong with Gay Marriage
by David Erik Nelson
As the president announced this week to again renew his War on the Moral Depravity that is Same-Sex Marriage I'm reminded of a strange little crab-like statue depicting a male in repose with an ardent female, having sex; owing to the exceptional number of arms and heads, I'm lead to believe that this sex might be fourth-dimensional in the Futurist/Cubist sense. The statue was like this one:

The statue I saw was in the Field Museum, in Chicago, up in the halls dedicated to Tibet and her Buddhism, displays which have remained largely untouched for 30 or 40 years. It was labelled as a yab-yum. "Yab-yum" is a male-female pair (generally depicted in coitus) that represents the union of compassion and knowledge. Interestingly, the male symbolizes compassion and the female knowledge, which is a bit of a reversal of our normal notion of the qualities men and women epitomize. The image stuck in my craw because a few months earlier I'd been teaching my history students about Jung's and Freud's break-up in 1912, and subsequently about their two different models of the human mind, and we got to talking about archetypes. One of the prominent archetypes Jung proposed was "syzygy," or "contrasexual pairings" that occur in dreams and throughout our artistic and mythic vocabulary (Adam and Eve, Husband and Wife, Mother Church and Holy Father, Jesus and Mary, Jesus and the other Mary, etc.) To Jung, the syzygy represented the union of and communication between conscious and unconscious minds (as a side note, the union between artistic and analytic minds—the literal union between left and right brain hemispheres—the corpus collosum, is thicker in women than in men. Knowledge.)

Where I'm going with this should be suitably obvious: We know that for most of human history marriage has been about property, that romantic love never entered the picture until the rise of the middle class in the 1700s, that various models of raising a child work equally well with comparable results. Intellectually, where folks are getting panty-bunched on the issue of gay marriage is a mystery. But I don't believe the freak-out is happening on an intellectual level at all.

The truth: I'm married, and the notion of marriage, of mine, and those of my family and friends, resonates in me, a great low fundamental that makes me quiver in harmony. I'm fine with gay marriage; I'm ashamed that my state (the great State of Michigan) passed a constitutional ban on it (Why don't we have a constitutional ban on beating your kids? Or smoking tobacco? Or polluting the lakes and waterways that constitute our only tourist attraction and near-to-last remaining industry?)

Nonetheless, in my heart, below my heart, gay marriage makes me sad; the idea of a gay marriage makes my heart feel empty. This shames me a bit, but nonetheless is true. Probably this only proves that I'm not gay, and thus just don't understand. But I think that the President (who is male, who is a self-proclaimed "compassionate conservative") feels that hollow sadness, too, and I think that disconcerting twinge is what he's railing against with his hysterical amendment.

With our compassion (which literally means "to suffer together"), I don't believe the president and I are reacting to anything rational or logically useful. We're reacting to the deeper thing, to the archetype. What folks are reacting to when they abhor gay marriage has nothing to do with marriage, per se, or even with sexuality, and everything to do with archetypes: We honor the syzygy, the yab-yum as symbols of the wholeness of our nature, conjunction without the loss of identity. Bush hates gay marriage because it disturbs the archetype.

Think about Plato's "Symposium," about the wagon-wheel people that we were, that we believe we were. Think about saying "my better half." Think about saying "you complete me."

This is why marriage keeps changing its role in human history: because it isn't about the role, it's about the vision of a man and woman together, its about the archetype. Marriage today is nothing like marriage in the Holy Land in 1000 BCE; the only reason we give it the same name is because it has central to it the same symbol, the archetype, the syzygy, the yab-yum, the union.

And why is the archetype so important? I dunno, save for that I know that all archetypes are important, because they are the basic blocks in our head, the blocks that notions themselves are made of.

And, besides, there's functionality to this archetype: I'll make babies because it feels good, right? But I'll also masturbate or fuck booties and armpits and muddy, gushy stumps because it feels good. That isn't enough. But way down, in the assembler code of my consciousness, there is a hunger for completeness, and that completeness, that full communication, that union, is defined, in that little arch-symbol, as a man and woman having sex. This is where the hardware meets the software: an idea that was stumbled upon via genetic drift and mutation, and guaranteed the success of that species, and so spread throughout the population. This is why we'll never stop: because against all rationality we hunger to pair and babify. Our mechanism has come to believe that it is a lock missing a key, and that the key is coupling. Love isn't about love, it's about fulfilling the archetype.

Folks against gay marriage aren't really aghast at gay marriage, they're being disturbed because of the violation of one of the basic building blocks of the human psyche. This is what we're talking about when we're talking about love.

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