The Definition of Marriage

California's Assembly Judiciary Committee and its Senate Judiciary Committee are holding hearings today to consider drafting a resolution suggesting that state's Supreme Court overturn Prop 8. A hue and cry went out across the "traditional marriage blogosphere" last week (Freedom to Marry week) and this weekend with the goal of packing as many bodies and voices as possible in front of the state capital in Sacramento.

The tug-of-war between the two sides in this emotional debate hinges on clashing studies (each side is quick to discredit the other's; you have to look at the studies themselves to decide which have scientific weight), anecdotal evidence, and very often an acquired or intrinsic sense of which side is "right." It is hard to change minds, in either direction. It is not impossible.

One basic slogan of the Yes-on-8 voters and supporters centers around "not redefining marriage." I'd like to ask: which definition is being protected? "Marriage" has more than one definition. It has about 10, actually. For each definition that specifically includes "man and woman" there is a definition describing something more universal and, you could say, natural. (Go look up the definitions for that one if you don't like my choice of adjective. I assure you - it fits.) You can see some of those "marriage" definitions here.

The meaning of a word, any word, changes over time. (Hey, look at the word "gay.") "Freedom" has taken on many nuances and shadings in the short history of this country alone. The word "slavery" continues to adapt itself with dark panache. Even when words' definitions remain static, they take on new meaning constantly. "Voting" took on drastically new connotations between 1850 and 1880, and again between 1910 and 1920. "War" has acquired a new emotional and cognitive timbre over the past six years, as it did in the 1940's and the 1970's. It is not in the nature of words or of language to remain the same because it is not in the nature of the human world to stay in one place or in one state of being for very long.

Nietzsche believed that "[t]hat for which we find words is something already dead in our hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking." That's a bit, er, bleak, but I agree in this: in that words are only symbols of realities our hearts and minds are straining to grasp, so how can we expect those symbols to remain stagnant? We are evolving and growing, as individuals and as a species, all the time, and part of the growth occurs in language.

Let us evolve. Let marriage grow.


  1. LOVE this.
    And you, of course.
    Which is good, because if I didn't, I'd have to hate you. Sheesh.

  2. Well said.... this country needs to keep moving forward and progressing. Otherwise we will be walking around, dragging our knuckles while the spaceships whiz by.

  3. Aha!

  4. I lose. I wrote "capital" when I meant "capitol." BAD grammar snob, BAD!


  5. Lovely topic. I still have so much trouble with those who say that gay marriage would diminish the sanctity of their own marriage. I can't imagine anyone's marriage changing the significance of my own.

  6. I agree, Marielle. There are so many logical inconsistencies to pick apart in the anti-same-sex marriage arguments. First among those, for me, is the one you mentioned. I have yet to see a cogent, persuasive argument (not that it would probably persuade me anyway; I mean, let's be honest) as to how two gay men or lesbians getting married remotely affects, in a meaningful way, the marriage between a man and a woman.

    Another "pro-traditional marriage" argument which makes my jaw drop to my non-existent spats is the one that invariably invokes some version of "you got your government in my rights!/you got my rights in your government!" argument - what I like to call the Fucked Up Reeses Argument. *HOW* would passing constitutional amendments to prevent gay marriage SUBTRACT from government?


Get rude, get deleted.