Gay Marriage, Rick Warren, and Chinigchinich

The Orange County Register printed a letter today (not yet online) by one A. Trujillo Escareño of Tustin arguing marriage has historically been between a man and a woman "even amongst aboriginal people." This is a talking point the Yes on Prop. 8 sexual Know Nothings have repeated again and again, a mantra repeated by no less a figure than Saddleback Church head Rick Warren. "For 5,000 years, every culture and every religion - not just Christianity - has defined marriage as a contract between men and women,” Warren emailed his followers.

Silly boy! Don’t you know how to craft a logical argument? By using "every," you set up your argument for easy debunking. To make your statement false, all opponents have to do is find just one counter-example—even if homo-haters toss it aside as an anomaly, it still dismantles the narrow, moronic argument.

To say that all cultures have forever defined marriage as between a man and a woman is provably false, and I don’t even have to whip out a National Geographic special on Papua New Guinea or ancient Central Asian buggers. Nope, all one has to do is find a copy of one of Orange County’s greatest publications: the 1933 edition of Chinigchinich.

The book remains the only full ethnographic treatment of the Juaneños at the time of the Mission system and was written by Father Gerónimo Boscana in the early 1800s but not published until 1846 as an addendum to Alfred Robinson’s Life in California. I reviewed an affordable reissue of the book earlier this year, a story that garnered a surprising amount of mail. One loyal reader told me than an even better reissue existed—the Malki Museum at the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning sold a reprint of the 1933 edition.

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A bit about the 1933 Chinigchinich, and then we’ll get to the point of this post: it was a revisit of Boscana’s manuscript and Robinson’s translation by J.P. Harrington, an acclaimed Indian ethnographer with the Smithsonian. Even better, Harrington added copious end notes—155 pages worth, when the original manuscript was 73 pages long! Published by Santa Ana College’s Fine Arts Press (one of the county’s original book publishers) this Chinigchinich became an instant classic, with gorgeous WPA-style color illustrations and binding. But the Fine Arts Press published only a few hundred copies, and the book quickly became a collector’s edition. In 1978 and again in 2005, the Malki Museum Press republished Harrington’s Chinigchinich and finally made it accessible to the public. It’s a bit pricey--$65 for a linen hardcover, $125 for a leather-bound one—but worth every peso.

I had a book signing yesterday in Palm Springs, and decided to stop by the Malki Museum to buy a copy of this better Chinigchinich. Not only did the antiquarian in me demand the print issue, but I needed Harrington’s version to rectify a problem. In a chapter about the Juaneño’s marital customs, Boscana noted that men did in fact marry each other. Here’s the excerpt in its entirety:

One of the many singularities that prevailed among these Indians was that of marrying males with males, which has been spoken of by Father Torquemada. It was publicly done, but without the forms, and ceremonies already described in their marriage contracts with the females. Whilst yet in infancy they were selected, and instructed as they increased in years, in all the duties of the women--in their mode of dress--of walking, and dancing; so that in almost every particular, they resembled females. Being more robust than the women, they were better able to perform the arduous duties required of the wife, and for this reason, they were often selected by the chiefs and others, and on the day of the wedding a grand feast was given.

To distinguish this detested race at this mission, they were called "Cuit," in the mountains, "Uluqui," and in other parts, they were known by the name of "Coias." At the present time, this horrible custom is entirely unknown among them. I was told by a missionary from the Mission of St. Domingo, in Lower California, that he once enquired of several Indians, from the plains of the river Colorado, if in their confines, were to be found any of the Coias? he replied that they were once very numerous, but a serious plague visited them, many years back, which destroyed them all--unfortunately the time when this great event transpired, they could not tell, as they possessed no idea, whatever, of chronology.

Boscana obviously detested this custom, but what struck me about his description—at least through Robinson’s translation—is the facile use of “marriage” to describe it. Had Robinson mistranslated Boscana? Or was there a specific context to this term? By getting Harrington’s Chinigchinich, I hoped to settle this niggling but important historical nugget.

Harrington does indeed add two end notes to this passage. End note #150 dealt with the etymology of the above words, which meant “transvestite”—a man dressed as a woman, but still very much a man. The following end note was attached to the passage, “A missionary from the Mission of St. Domingo,” but concerned itself only with the location of this Baja California mission.

There are many other examples of men marrying men through human history, but I won’t concern myself with those. And I won’t even bother arguing with the Yes on Prop. 8 side about the proposition. Instead, I urge this: please stop using your exclusivity argument regarding marriage and heterosexuality—it just doesn’t fly. And Warren—heavy lies the crown, is all.

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