Doing the Math – Approximating the Boring Truth

(Last little update: it may not be clear to the casual reader that I do know that the math isn’t even part of the argument, that, in fact, any reasonable moral argument won’t be based on a show of hands of the living and the dead. I’m just spelling out how preposterous the claims are even on their own utterly illogical terms. It’s kind of like the persistent claim that the Inquisition did in several times the population of Europe at the time. Not to mention the irony of appealing to ancient practice to justify something all but universally condemned by ancient practice. This is ridiculous on so many levels I just picked one – math – and had at it.)

Here’s another bit of flotsam that drifted my way via the anti-social media of the interwebs:

The claim, attributed to no one in particular but spoken in the voice of an aboriginal American, is: millions of gay marriages were performed by aboriginal Americans over hundreds of years in the US (“this soil”). Happily,this claim is subject to a little objective analysis.

It would seem that this claim is not true.

We will not here dispute the most disputable aspects of this claim, which is the equating of all of a presumed 130 different tribal ‘same sex marriage’ ceremonies with ‘marriage’ under American custom and law, nor call for some sort of back-up on the claim that 130 tribes had effectively the same aboriginal practices, and some account of how those practices are known to us. I merely note that most of what we know of most of the tribes comes from times long after their lives had been thoroughly disrupted by Europeans and European diseases, and that naming 130 different tribes suggests that the tribes were, you know, different, not so homogenous that we could make blanket claims that they were in fact all the same – which is what the poster is claiming. Making state of nature claims about their customs based on what was told to questioners at least a century or two after that presumed unspoilt state had been destroyed, and assuming those customs are essentially the same over time and space, is at least questionable.

(And who, exactly, does not consider people with same sex attraction sacred? I know I and my family and friends and church do. It’s almost like the reader is supposed to feel browbeaten and ashamed instead of looking at the actual claims. But enough – )

Instead, let’s do some math. Let’s start by stating a few assumptions:

– 1% – 2% of the population of the US identify as lesbians or homosexuals; we will assume for purposes of this analysis that those percentages represent some sort of natural level, and use 1.5%;

– only a tiny fraction of Americans who identify as gay want to personally get married. We’ll use 10%, a very high number in based on what actually happens in states where this practice is legal;

– The most common estimate of pre-European American Indian population in the US is about 7 million. (High estimate for all the New World is about 100M, but about 50M seems a more popular number among professional aboriginal population-guessers, with the bulk of those living in Central and South America.);

– the population was largely stable – pretty much 7M from century to century. We do this to grossly simplify the math, and it’s as good a guess as any since we don’t know otherwise;

– 50 year life expectancy – probably a bit optimistic, but it makes the math easy and shouldn’t affect the results too much;

So: at any one time, there would be 1.5% of 7M “gay” Indians in pre-Columbian America: or about 100,000 gay Indians.  With a 50 year life expectancy, the population would completely swap out, on average, twice a century.

But it take (at least) 2 to make a gay marriage. So, if 100% of gay Indians married other gay Indians one to one,  then, at any one time, there would be about 50,000 gay Indian married couples, or about 100,000 per century.

But using current behavior as a guide, it seems only a small percentage of gays in America – or anywhere else – actually want to get married. Using 10%, over any one century, our remarkably forward-thinking aboriginal Americans performed maybe 10,000 same-sex marriages per century.

Therefore, to support the claim that aboriginal Americans performed “millions of same-sex marriages for hundred of years” on “this soil”, we’d need to be talking about tens of thousands of years. The earliest Americans seem to have shown up around 15,000 years ago; so, if they had immediately reached a stable population of 7M (unlikely) and immediately begun stamping out gay marriages at the rate described above (no evidence), then about 1.5M aboriginal American gay marriages would have been performed in total up to today on “this soil”.

Which is less than “millions”.


Now, of course my assumptions may be wrong. But the beauty here is that I’ve spelled them out, and anyone can see what I did, and challenge or accept or modify any of the assumptions and come up with another answer. And then we could have an actual informed discussion! Not, you know, a knew-jerk tribal smirk-fest. How cool would that be?

Finally, it is curious that aboriginal American customs are held up as the epitome of enlightenment – some times. So far, we haven’t heard about how we should reconsider our taboos against splitting people’s heads with sharpened stones or ritually beating and flaying alive little girls, even though those practices were customary among certain tribes. At least, we have not yet begun those discussions out loud.

(Minor correction: the poster does in fact refer to all of North America – so, if they intended that to include Mexico and Central America , then the numbers might work IF – huge IF – there’s any reason to believe that the Aztecs and Mayans took time off from human sacrifice and wars of conquest to perform lots of gay marriages. Which I kinda  doubt. )

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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