Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Semantically Separate but Equal

Semantics are a bitch. They create such schisms in today’s world that have polarized the populations of the earth into those for or against (insert issue here). Most recently, the issue of the fundamental civil right of two persons to form an official civil union in the eye of the state has made its way to the US Supreme Court. Wait, you say, that right already exists. Ah, this is where semantics enter the game. Try this fragment: “the fundamental civil right of two persons to marry in the eye of the state.”  The above statement sounds perfectly fine also, but when you change that to “the fundamental civil right of two persons of the same sex to marry in the eye of the state,” shit hits the proverbial fan. But what if you were to say “the fundamental civil right of two persons of the same sex to form an official civil union in the eye of the state”? Confused? So is the rest of the world.

First, a little history. The concept of marriage is as old as society. The word is more recent, Middle English originating from Latin 1 2. Before the word marriage was coined, union was the oft used term. A union is a binding of people, things or ideas to a common goal. Marriage at its beginning meant basically the same thing, but the roots of the word come from the words for woman and man. Marriage, as we understand it, is end result of the traditional ceremony that joins two people via an appropriately vested religious figure. Now, throw homosexuality in the mix and, again, shit hits the proverbial fan. That’s because religious teachings tell us that it is “an abomination for one man to lie with another as he would a woman” 3 and that marriage is a sacrament designed to produce new little children of God through the sanctioned sin of sex between heterosexuals 4. Therefore, an abomination in the eyes of God simply cannot be married under God. Hence why so many people are opposed to gay marriage.

However, we are also taught that “all things, great and small, are God’s creations” and that we should “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Archbishop Gregory Aymond sums this up pretty well: “People of the same sex attraction, we love them as God’s people, we want to be in community with them, but we very much disagree on marriage for people of the same sex.” 5 So, if I understand this correctly, homosexuals were created by God and Jesus said to love them. But it’s not cool for them to marry because marriage involves sex and procreation, which is an abomination and not physically possible, respectively. Well, that’s quite understandable in a religious way. As a non-religious person, I can even respect your position in as much as it’s a core belief and you’re sticking to it.

My first concern with this whole hullabaloo is that one set of people is denying another set of people the right to a legal union. My second concern is in the semantics: by using the word marriage, the question of civil rights is taken out of the courtroom and into the church. Marriage is a civil union with the extra step of being blessed by God. Using the term “gay marriage” is offensive for people who believe in the traditional meaning of the word marriage, generally Christians, who will fight to keep the sanctity of this meaning. I really wonder, had it been coined as “gay union,” if there would not be such uproar over the issue. Think about it: the LGBT community is simply asking for the same civil rights as any civil union between two people. They’re not asking for God Himself to bless these civil unions, just the courts. Where’s the civil harm in that?

Ah, the harm is the fact that we live in a country that people insist is Christian founded and governed, even though the original Constitution was very careful not to promote one religion over another. 6 7 8 Then they insist that allowing gays a legal civil union will destroy the institution of marriage, by calling it marriage, and harm their children. Instead, this should be taken as an excellent learning tool. We can teach our children that love really does conquer all. That freedom is worth fighting for. That everyone can be happy. But most importantly, we can teach future generations to respectfully disagree with another person without denying their civil rights.

We as a people have no right to deny another person their rights because we don’t agree with who they are. I believe one day all people will have equal rights, but as history has shown us, that equality doesn’t happen instantly and certainly not without a fight.


3 Leviticus 18:22
4 tp://
6 (First Amendment)
7" (section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment)