One of the most repeated arguments against allowing people of the same sex to marry is that this will involve a “redefinition” of marriage. This is a nonsensical argument.
When a gay couple announce they’re getting married and to expect a wedding invitation in the post, their friends and family do not stare uncomprehending into the middle distance. They know precisely what is meant. No amplification, extrapolation, contextualisation or further explanation is required. “Marriage” has a universal meaning which is universally understood. In contrast the language around “civil partnerships” is bureaucratic, legalistic and sucked dry of any of the romance and sentiment we imagine being fundamental to the meaning of the word “marriage”. What’s more, it doesn’t roll comfortably off the tongue and it sits uncomfortably with our existing lexicon.
Granting gay couples marriage equality will not change the linguistic meaning of marriage; it will simply apply it where – for too long – it’s legal meaning has been out of step with the reality of people’s lives.
But what of the ‘legal meaning’. This of course has changed quite considerably over time with little of the fuss exhibited today. The status of women has changed and this is recognised in marriage. Symbolically, this is witnessed by the fact that many Church of England vicars do not require a women to pledge “obedience” to her husband during a religious marriage ceremony. In many places where the same “redefinition” argument is rolled out, marriage between people of different races or religions was once illegal. Was marriage “undermined” when it was “redefined” to allow this?
On that subject, was democracy itself “redefined” when the franchise was extended to women? Was it “redefined” when it was extended to all regardless of race and religion in some countries? Ironically, opponents in of marriage equality in the UK have claimed the government is acting “undemocratically” in pushing ahead with it’s plans to end the ban on same-sex marriage. Now that is a redefinition. Since when has it been ‘democratic’ to deny equal rights to all a country’s citizens – particularly when their enjoyment of those rights does not impinge on anyone else’s rights?
Let’s face facts. In spite of their weasel protestations to the contrary, the various religious coalitions are not arguing in favour of preserving the institution of marriage from “redefinition. Their real argument is that they think gays are sinful and/or filthy and they’re disgusted by them. They want to hurt them, if they can. This is evidenced by the fact that the same coalition in one form or another has opposed every single legal reform and/or repeal concerning gay people. They opposed the legalisation of homosexuality; they opposed first the lowering of the age of consent for gays and then the equalisation of the age of consent; they opposed allowing gays to serve in the military; they opposed allowing gay partners to enjoy next-of-kin status; they opposed gay people being given frank and honest sexual advice; they opposed allowing gay partners to adopt children, including the children of their own partners; they opposed the repeal of Section 28; they opposed anti-discrimination law applying to gay people in the workplace; they opposed non-discrimination law in the provision of goods and services (when this included gays); they opposed civil partnerships (which they now apparently ‘support’ as ‘far enough’).
They are liars. They’re not concerned about marriage and they’re not concerned about linguistics. They simply hate gay people and see any social, legal or cultural advance by gay people as a very bad thing.
In spite of this hatred, it is the precise opposite that really defines marriage: love. This will win the day.