“’Live Free or Die’ isn’t just the official motto for a great state. As the 62nd Republican National Committee Chairman, I think it’s a mantra our party should live by.” So begins Kel Mehlman’s call for the GOP not to “strip citizens of their right to marry,” speaking of HB 437, which would repeal the recent extension of marriage to homosexual unions in New Hampshire. It is a noble sentiment to wish greater freedom for all citizens, and I whole-heartedly back that sentiment – but at the same time, to frame the debate over gay marriage as freedom versus non-freedom is to grossly misunderstand what the debate is even about, and to miss exactly why it is that so many people are against gay marriage.
The first great misunderstanding is that anyone is “prevented” from marrying. Setting the definition of marriage as heterosexual in nature in no way prevents gay men from marrying women (gay or straight) or lesbians from marrying men (gay or straight). The law is no respecter of persons; it doesn’t single out any group.
The second great misunderstanding is that the law prevents homosexuals from marrying those they love. In fact – in a sense – it is homosexuals who prevent themselves from loving who they can marry. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not suggesting it is their fault, but in the same way it is not the fault of the state that some people are unlucky enough to find they love someone who is unmarriageable. At the time of this writing, I am single and not currently in love with anyone. I can’t marry the one I love, either. Is this the fault of the state for not allowing me to be married as an individual?
The third great misunderstanding is that anything is being prevented at all. The debate isn’t over whether homosexuals should be allowed to date, kiss, share finances, live together, or throw “wedding” parties; the debate over marriage is whether the people of the community (via the state) should recognize these unions as marriage. The choice is not between “freedom to marry” and “restricted freedom to marry;” the choice is between “freedom to not recognize” and “forced recognition.” I believe that homosexuals should be free to marry, but I also believe that the people should be free not to recognize “marriages” that do not conform to the very concept of what marriage is all about.
If the debate were only about money – that is, tax filing status and insurance coverage – homosexuals would be happy with civil unions, but some of them insist on redefining marriage itself, not just at the state level, but throughout society. We have already seen this happen in other states and in other countries. Ultimately, the debate is over free speech.
To call marriages and homosexual unions by the same name is confusing. Granted, they are similar in some respects, and I personally believe that good may come of both – but that doesn’t make them the same thing. I would even go so far as to describe both as loving relationships, but I won’t call any homosexual union a marriage. The two things are far too different. That said, I don’t believe in regulating speech; I don’t wish to make others use my terminology under penalty of law. In the same way, I would appreciate it if others’ terminology wasn’t forced on me. If we aren’t able to use separate words for them at the state level and in the legal code, which is one venue through which we as a community communicate, how can we ever have a functional society? If you think the wrangling in court over the meaning of words in contracts is bad now, it will be worse if we have to remember that marriage will have a different meaning in the law than in common usage. The next step is likely to be regulation of our speech. I have already seen it suggested that calling the marriages of gays “gay marriage” is akin to saying gays having lunch or parking cars are having “gay lunch” or “gay parking.” It’s time to repeal gay marriage now before this problem gets any worse.
Redefining words can have long-reaching and unforeseen consequences:
Should multi-billion dollar corporations be recognized by the state as churches so they can receive tax-exempt status? Should corporations be recognized as people for other purposes?
Should couples that wish it be able to enter “marriage” contracts with expiration dates? If they go in expecting it to fail, is it really a marriage?
Should unions of three or more be considered marriages? What of “armies of one”?
Should we call parent-child unions, sibling unions, and friendships all marriages? What of someone who wishes to “marry” a pet? A car? A house? A fence? A passing comet? The Declaration of Independence?
We already have states that fly the confederate flag while claiming it has nothing to do with endorsing slavery. Should states be able to endorse slavery by redefining the word to be synonymous with patriotism?
Should drug dealers be recognized by the state as produce vendors so they can operate legally and perhaps even benefit indirectly from farm subsidies?
Should car manufacturers be able to get gas-guzzlers and hybrids alike defined by the state simply as “cars” so that there may be no distinction made between them in regulations meant to promote higher gas mileage?
Should rolling and walking be called by the same name so as not to humiliate wheelchair-bound individuals? How would one of these individuals explain over the phone why they can’t use the stairs to someone who has never met them?
If you like cheeseburgers, but can’t stand eating hamburgers without the cheese, how are you to explain this to the cook if a minority group has dictated that all burgers are burgers?
The difference between traditional marriage and gay marriage is like the difference between dill relish and sweet relish: almost opposites. Yes, one can still use suffixes like “traditional” and “gay” to separate them, or by paying more attention to the context, but how long will it be before we are told we can’t do that either? If those pushing for gay marriage had any respect for the distinction, they wouldn’t try changing the definition of marriage in the first place. This is why creating a new word to replace traditional marriage while ceding the word marriage to homosexuals will not work as a lasting compromise. Once words lose their agreed upon meaning, society ceases to function.
Perhaps in the end it is still worth it. Perhaps in the end it is best to keep the extended definition of marriage. I may not have convinced all of you, but can you all at least understand why some of us would find redefining words annoying?
I would like to suggest a compromise. If we were to call traditional marriages “marriages,” gay marriages by some other term, and both of them fell under the same category of institutions known by some other term (perhaps unions?), would this be acceptable to 95% of the American population?
Hi, I'm Dan. I like chocolate, hiking, and politics.