Cover Story

Marriage is multicultural

THAT'S JUST THE WAY THE WORLD WORKS: Whether it's North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, or Asia, heterosexual marriage is the rule, not the exception

Issue: "Marriage and the family," May 20, 2000

As an Asian-American, I see the current debate over the future of the family in our society as missing an important, essential perspective. As presented in the media, it's merely a debate between religious conservatives and secular liberals. Indeed, many in the media try to portray the Religious Right as trying to impose its religious beliefs on the rest of society. They paint a picture of religious conservatives with their Western traditional mindsets and their Judeo-Christian value systems, forcing their beliefs about the Bible on a society and a government that should be free of religious influence. This is particularly the case, they argue, on the issue of same-sex marriage. But is the traditional model of marriage and family merely a product of Western and Judeo-Christian thinking? Of course not. Marriage and family are universal institutions spanning all cultures and throughout all time. The traditional family model is the basic unit of all societies all over the world whether we are talking about North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, or Asia. As an evangelical Christian, I believe and affirm the biblical model of the family. But as an Asian-American, it is clear to me that the traditional family is not just a Western construct. The traditional family is an Asian construct as well-because it's universal. "It is by the great rite of marriage that mankind subsists the myriad generations," the philosopher Confucius said, around the year 500 B.C. Asian cultures have developed independently with very little Western influence for over 4,000 years of recorded history. With Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism among the major religions in Asia, Christians make up only a small percentage of the population and have little influence upon the culture. Yet the values prevalent in Asia are almost identical to the traditional family values that are being questioned in this country and being attributed to the influence of Western religions. In fact, since more than half (57 percent) of the world's population is in Asia, traditional family values are more accurately the product of non-Western culture, not Western culture, if seen globally. "The family, a primary unit of any social organization, was consciously cultivated in China perhaps more than any other country in the world, and achieved greater importance," wrote the Western sociologist Olga Lang in the 1940s. Husband, wife, Yin, and Yang
Certainly there is no single Asian culture. There is great diversity among the cultures in Asia-there are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai, and Malaysian cultures. Yet all of them affirm the traditional model of family-one husband, one wife, and children. The traditional family is seen as the foundation that organizes society. At the center is the marriage between a husband and a wife. And this is the picture the Taoists used to help explain their model of the universe. "Men and women are the roots of Yin and Yang," reads The Canon of Peace and Tranquility, an early classic of Taoism. "Based on one Yin and one Yang, Heaven allows both man and woman to exist and be sexually attractive to each other, therefore life can be continued." It's not the Heaven we Christians look forward to, but this quote shows how deeply ingrained the idea of male-female marriage is-any other combination would be unbalanced, unharmonious. And harmony in the home is emphasized in Asian cultures. That's why divorce is still relatively rare in Asian countries. In Japan, for instance, the divorce rate has more than doubled in the last 30 years, due to growing Western influence. Yet the rate is still less than half that of the United States. Since having children is so highly valued in Asian cultures, sex is important-but it is regarded as a private matter between a husband and a wife. Public expressions of sexuality are discouraged. Growing up, I knew my parents loved each other, but I never saw any physical displays of affection like kissing or holding hands. Relationships with the opposite sex were characterized with modesty in public. Premarital sex has always been prohibited. Until very recently in China, in fact, unmarried men and women were segregated from one another to prevent temptation. Adultery was certainly seen as morally wrong and would be a shame to the persons involved and their families. Historians find little reference to homosexuality in China. Certainly, the idea of a homosexual marriage was unthinkable. Of course, there were deviations from the ideal. Divorce, prostitution, homosexuality, adultery, and polygamy all existed in Chinese history. But they were always seen as the exceptions, not norms to be encouraged. They were tolerated, but with reluctance. In China's past, for example, polygamy was occasionally practiced, but only by the rich and the privileged. Confucius's follower, Mencius, pointed out the importance of the traditional model: "The root of empire is the state," he said. "The root of the state is in the family ... marriage is the basis for human morality." And that's why proponents of same-sex marriage have failed to win support from Asian-Americans. Gay marriage: made in America
Homosexual activists try to argue that traditional marriage is a Western construct, and they liken opposition to same-sex marriage to the kind of discrimination Asian-Americans have faced in the past. But Asian-Americans see through both of these lies. Decades ago, there were many laws in the United States that prohibited interracial marriage. An Asian-American man could not marry a Caucasian woman until the courts overturned those laws. Similarly, same-sex marriage proponents argue, there are many laws that prohibit a man from marrying another man. The Hawaii Supreme Court was ready to overturn that state's prohibition. But in 1998, the people of Hawaii voted 69 percent to 31 percent to support an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman only. This is especially significant because more than 60 percent of the population of Hawaii is Asian or Pacific Islander, and because of the high number of interracial marriages. The people of Hawaii were not fooled by the arguments made by same-sex marriage proponents. They know race cannot be changed and should not be discriminated against. But immoral behavior can be changed-and should.

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