I have the solution to it. The solution did not originate with me, I’m only channeling it to you. But then that raises the question of origins and originality, which must certainly be left to another post (or no post).
I’m not going to tell you the solution yet. This, of course, might make you want to scroll down to the bottom of the post, in the same way that I still want to flip to the end of a novel before I’m halfway through it. However, the solution lies not only at the end, but in the path towards it.
Anyways, before the solution, we need to define our terms.
Defining Our Terms
“Gay” – This one’s easy. Used to mean happy, now means homosexual.
“Marriage” – This one’s hard. And it’s contextual. Exploration…
Different people mean different things when they say “marriage.” Some religious people (Buddhists excluded, by the way…watch for an upcoming post on why I’m not a Buddhist) think about God in reference to marriage – they use words like “sanctity” and “covenant” and “holy” and “union.” Among those religious people – even within Christendom – opinions vary about whether homosexuals ought to be granted the term “married.” That’s a fine debate, but it’s not actually pertinent here, for the other sphere in which “marriage” is a commonly employed term is the legal one. We’ve heard enough news and talk radio (or signed enough papers) to know what marriage means in a legal sense – your legal spouse gets to do special things like inherit all your money when you die, and visit you in the hospital right before they inherit all your money. They also get legal guardianship of the kids. And then there are the various insurance benefits and tax perks that come from having a legal spouse. And the word “marriage” – or some form of it – is ALL UP IN these legal dealings. To a lawyer, “marriage” might mean something completely different than it would to a priest.
And that makes me wish we were simply more linguistically original in our little country. We use too few words for too many things. Especially “love,” and “marriage.” But I regress…
What’s Causing All The Fuss
Now, “marriage” in the legal sense is what all the hubbub is about. Most recently, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has indicated that his state’s legislature has the voting capacity to move forward on a legalizing-gay-marriage bill.
And so the movement to legally embrace gay marriage continues its slow spread across the fruited plains. It’s wrong for the country. But not for the reasons most frequently mentioned in emotional comment-boxes and internet forums.
The debate is not about the first definition of marriage I mentioned above; it’s about the second. It’s about whether the government will give gay partners the right to hospital visits, insurance benefits, tax joint-filing, and so on.
But it’s that “g”-word that’s the whole problem. Well, that combined with the “m”-word. More clearly: Government should not be involved in marriage! Here’s what I think happened. In America’s 18th- and 19th-century Christian-morality-dominated society, it was simply presupposed that marriage would be reserved for heterosexual couples. So no one minded a bit, or felt a need to divide church from state, or define terms, or anything, when the government got its fingers all up in the wedding cake. It should have had its hand smacked…or worse.
“Marriage” should have been left to the people who cared about it, and to the various communities who defined it how they wanted. The word should never have been tied to legal situations such as income taxes and inheritances.
Get the government out of the marriage business altogether. Let churches marry people as they see fit, and let “marriage” (and “husband” and “wife”) mean whatever the churches (or community centers, or atheist clubs, or whoever wants to use the word) say it means. That’s how language works anyways – understood within a community; government doesn’t get to write definitions.
Then, we ought to have a simple (ha!) legal system in place that allows for all the legal privileges that are currently bestowed on married couples, but it ought to be called something different, like “legal partners.” Yeah, that sounds lame enough to put on a government document.
So then, when you make introductions at a party, you could say things like “And this is Mary, my wife and legal partner.” Or you could leave out the second part. Or the first part. Your option (also perhaps your punishment later). Or you could marry one person, and make another person your legal partner. Or you could stay a bachelor (or maiden) your whole life, and still have a legal partner, just for the sake of finances and having a friend visit you in the hospital.
“Nathan,” you might say, “are you really chalking up the whole gay marriage debate to nothing more than semantics and language games?”
“‘Nothing more than…’?!” I might exclaim. “Language is..is..well, huge! Language and mis-communication are at the root of some of the greatest conflicts in history! Haven’t you ever read of the Tower of Babel…or been married?” And surely you have at least done one of those. Maybe both, if you’re lucky like me.
Language charges our emotions; certain words (or the lack thereof) can evoke unbelievably powerful responses from others. And the word “marriage” is one of those: it’s a great word, just stretched too thin across too many arenas. “Like butter spread across too much bread.” (name that great book/film)
So yes, I do think it’s about language largely. That, and the age-old theme of “too much government intrusion.”
Props to Ron Paul for being an influential genius, and to Anthony Chelette, for midwifing this idea with me. Not its first birth, not its last…