On Marriage and Sacredness

Over the years, I have made an offbeat, sociological argument regarding same-sex unions: that supporters would have an easier climb in securing equal rights for same-sex unions if woman-woman and man-man unions had unique names for each. Something other than marriage. Recent events have got me thinking about that again. Tina Dupuy at Crooks and Liars posted Suzie Sampson’s (The Tea Party Report) on-the-street interviews in the wake of President Obama coming out in support of same-sex unions. Sampson hit on the same solution:

Gay Marriage – Obama Comes Out for Love. Do You?

“The word marriage has a connotation,” an Amendment One supporter insists (more on connotation later). “They can have the same right, but not the same name,” says another man. When Sampson suggests pronouncing same-sex unions as “marry-äzh,” both are immediately fine with that. Why? When gay marriage opponents argue that “that’s not what it means,” or insist that marriage is between a man and a woman, it is often dismissed as a thin cover for bigotry. But is there more to it than that? What’s in a name?

On April 11, David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt (originally from NC) of the Institute for American Values in New York City and supporters of California’s “Proposition 8,” penned an op-ed for the Raleigh News and Observer opposing North Carolina’s Amendment One, writing:

In the California “Prop 8” case, David felt that he could testify on behalf of traditional man-woman marriage in good conscience, in part because California some time ago passed domestic partnership legislation to extend legal recognition to same-sex couples. He argued in favor of domestic partnerships, more commonly called civil unions, while also insisting that marriage, because of its unique role in uniting biological, social and legal parenthood – a great gift to our children – is its own institution, deserving of its own name, and should remain, as it has always been, the union of a man and a woman. [emphasis mine]

I submit — and the examples above suggest — that there is something more subtle going on than equal rights vs. bigotry in the argument about the definition of marriage. Blankenhorn says he supports equal rights for same-sex unions. But he opposes using marriage to describe them. Now, the horse is out of the barn on whether or not to use the term marriage in advocating equal rights for same-sex couples. The We Do campaign, for example, is built around having LGBT couples ask local Registers’ offices for marriage licenses. In part, because there are legal differences in how the federal government treats marriage nationwide as opposed to other legal, state-sanctioned arrangements. That’s an issue blogger Bob Hyatt of Portland, Oregon’s Evergreen Community addressed recently:

The State needs to get out of the “marriage” business. It should recognize that as long as it uses that term, and continues to privilege certain types of relationships over others this issue is going to divide us as a nation, and is only going to become more and more contentious. We need to move towards the system used in many European countries where the State issues nothing but civil unions to anyone who wants them, and then those who desire it may seek a marriage from the Church.

In past conversations, however, my suggestion (as a political strategy) about not using the word marriage in the fight for equality, or about inventing unique words for same-sex unions, was dismissed as relegating same-sex unions to second-class status. That puzzled me. Why worry about the verbiage as long as the legal rights and privileges are the same? Perhaps — and maybe few on either side consciously recognize it — this fight is over something more, something beyond the legal definition of marriage: sacredness.

Not that definitions don’t matter. Words mean something. Echoing the U.S. Supreme Court, Mitt Romney says, “Corporations are people, my friend,” and it sounds ludicrous. One hears people argue that marriage is only a union of one man and one woman. It is historically a male/female union, sure, but not necessarily involving only one of each sex. How many wives did Solomon have? 700? We have special words for multiple, opposite-sex unions: polyandry, polygyny, polygamy, etc. But not for describing woman-woman or man-man unions.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page