Andrew Belonsky

A Progressive Definition of Marriage, Circa an 1895 Botanist

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | August 02, 2010 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: definition of marriage, Leo Grindon, marriage equality

Marriage. It's a word and a concept that has endured the test of time, and inflamed more than a few culture wars.sexualityofnature.JPG

Despite the fact that we humans have been grappling with nuptials for multiple millennia, we still can't quite put our finger on what "marriage" actually means.

Funny, then, that I should stumble upon an 1895 book called Sexuality of Nature, by the botanist Leo Grindon, and find the most superb, progressive definition of marriage I've ever read.

The 1890s are not known for their progressive attitudes toward sex. It was during this time, The Victorian Era, that psychologists, political scientists, and other social detectives were attempting to dissect sex. It was also during this time that a fairly unknown botanist named Leo Grindon penned the book Sexuality of Nature, in which he wrote this marvelous observation:

Nature is a system of nuptials. Everything in creation partakes either of masculine or feminine qualities; -- animals and plants, earth, air, water, color, heat, light, music, thought, speech, the sense of the beautiful, the adaptation of the soul for heaven, -- all exist as the offspring or product of a kind of marriage. Restricted commonly to the institution of wedlock as it exists among mankind, the word "marriage" rightfully holds a meaning far wider.

Though huge blockquotes like that above totally turn me off, I could not resist reprinting Grindon's words.

So often we hear the right wing decry the "homosexual" assault on marriage. As Grindon would most likely point out, however, such social groups have a decidedly narrow definition of the natural, universal coalescence of two beings. Marriage is not between a man and a woman; it is between two complementary entities which can breed an entirely new being, species or sentiment.

As Grindon says, "Everything, in a word, that vies charm to social existence, everything that makes a happy home, everything that is fragrant of affection, -- has its life and being identified with the heavenly privilege of sex."

I have no idea what Grindon, who was straight, married to a woman and writing under wholly heteronormative conditions, would say about gay rights. If his writing on plants is to be believed, however, he would whole-heartedly approve and use his incredibly forward-thinking politics to educate the right wing just how universal marriage can be, and why we need to celebrate it in all of its forms.

Yes, Grindon used a male/female dichotomy as his theoretical basis. His remarks, however, suggest a belief that everything, regardless of projected gender, came from a marriage of some sort. "Everything," he insisted, "that gives charm to social existence, everything that makes home, everything that is fragrant of affection, -- has its life and being identified with the heavenly privilege of sex." Sex, contrary to what social conservatives would like you to believe, produces more than just children. It produces love, creativity and hope.

But perhaps I'm wrong. It's happened before. What do you think, Projectors? Would Leo Grindon approve of same-sex nuptials? Read his entire book here.

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Thank you for sharing this, as it is a truly beautiful quote. However, I look at the Constitution of the US and see beauty also, and I see equality. The right would likely view this and say, "Oh well, it does not specifically specify 'gay' interactions."

Thanks again for sharing this beautiful find, and I will most definitely have to read into this piece more.

Just for the sake of being a curmudgeon (and having been burned by 'marriage') ? There are many species - admittedly primitive and spineless - that self-propogate. There is no marriage involved, yet beauty exists just the same. I'm just sayin', is all.....

I was glad to read this, for Grindon also backs up my analysis of the original meaning of the word "sex" as used in Title VII, a word which has a completely different meaning today, as I discussed in my recent legal article.

Today we use "sex" to refer to anatomical structures, but prior to the twentieth century, the word could not be used to
refer to one specific physical or anatomical trait. Rather, it was an essentialist
reference to one’s group affiliation, with concomitant physical, psychological,
behavioral, and social characteristics. The idea that physical sex characteristics were separate from social sex characteristics was unknown. It is similar to our modern conception of ethnicity. (pp. 597-8)

As Grindon says on page 7: "'Sex' the separate qualities or natures..." And that is why "Man seeks woman, because she is pre-eminent in affection, which is in him subordinate; woman welcomes man, because he is pre-eminent for understanding, which in her is relatively less." (Page 9).

It's when he gets to rocks marrying that I started to wonder about him.


Let me not to the marriage of true minds Let me not declare any reasons why two
Admit impediments. Love is not love True-minded people should not be married. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds, Which changes when it finds a change in circumstances,
Or bends with the remover to remove: Or bends from its firm stand even when a lover is unfaithful:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark Oh no! it is a lighthouse
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; That sees storms but it never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark, Love is the guiding north star to every lost ship,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Whose value cannot be calculated, although its altitude can be measured.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Love is not at the mercy of Time, though physical beauty
Within his bending sickle's compass come: Comes within the compass of his sickle.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, Love does not alter with hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom. But, rather, it endures until the last day of life.
If this be error and upon me proved, If I am proved wrong about these thoughts on love
never writ, nor no man ever loved. Then I recant all that I have written, and no man has ever [truly] loved.
Billy Shakespeare

I want to go back to Grindon's male/female dichotomy. I'm not so sure he'd share our view of marriage equality so much as be one of those "only when it results in procreation" types with lines like:

"Nature is a system of nuptials. Everything in creation partakes either of masculine or feminine qualities."

That seems pretty black and white and really goes to the whole yin-yang argument that "two parts need to fit together" that completely ignores the fundamentals of actual sexuality, gender roles, and sexual orientation.

It's easy for people who work with other living organisms to put our understanding of gender on them. Plants aren't male and female, but botanists describe them as having male and female parts. But, if you think about it, when every plant can have both parts, it's more about reproduction than it is about sex (as in sex/gender).

But I was thinking more along the lines of Bil, too, that Grindon seems to be talking (were he placed in a contemporary context) about masculine and feminine needing to be together, one man/one woman sort of thing.