Arguments against equal marriage: #4 Just use a different word from “marriage”
This argument usually goes like this: “If you really must allow legal status to these relationships, fine. But at least use a different term for them, like “Civil Union” or “Domestic Partnership.” Because traditionally, the word “Marriage” has always referred to a one man/one woman relationship. And we’d like to keep it that way, because, well, a man/woman relationship is different, and furthermore, implies a sanctified relationship.”
We have already dealt with the “sanctity” argument. And we’ve already looked at the “differences” argument and shown it to be a smokescreen for something else. But it returns here in a slightly different guise, because the underlying preoccupation tends to rear its head over and over, pretending to be different arguments. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But first, there’s one other little matter to clear up: the claim that “marriage” has always been defined as a “one man/one woman relationship.” In actual fact, the term has also referred to a “one man/several women” relationship. This definition has not been confined to one country or one religious group, either; polygamous marriages have existed in Judaism, in Islam, in Hinduism, in Mormonism, from China to India to Arabia to North America, and throughout all centuries.
So already the definition of “marriage” isn’t nearly so cut-and-dried as it’s made out to be in this argument. These objectors are already playing with the definition, and picking-and-choosing which parts of the historical definition they favour, and which ones they’ll quietly slip under the rug. Not a single one of them ever seems to argue FOR the “one man/several women” formula, even though it, too, has been one traditional definition of marriage.
Nor do these people argue for another “traditional” form of marriage: the financial or business transaction whereby the bride is a means to an end — usually financial gain for the groom’s family — and where the bride is essentially a piece of property herself, passed from one family’s ownership to another’s. Most of these objectors do not argue for this type of business/marital transaction, nor for the long-standing tradition of arranged marriage.
They are very particular about which marriage “traditions” they actually want. What they actually mean by “traditional definition of marriage” is “marriage as it is practised by men and women in modern North America and Europe.”
Okay, then. What tends to make a marriage, as most people think of it in modern North America and Europe? Most of what makes a relationship a “marriage” rather than a “platonic room-mate” situation has to do with how the relationship functions.
A marriage tends to be a relationship of commitment, nurturing, support, sharing, in both sickness and health, and in good times and bad times. Sex is involved, but is only part of the complete relationship. A marriage frequently involves complete families, with children and pets and mortgages, taking out the garbage and doing the dishes, and even the white picket fence. There is usually some element of shared values, interests, and goals as well.
Now. What part of that description cannot possibly apply to two men living together, or two women living together, but can only-and-exclusively apply to the very selective man/woman combination that these objectors favour?
Logically, one must surely say, if it walks like a marriage, looks like a marriage, and quacks like a marriage — it’s a marriage. Those who watch a gay or a lesbian couple functioning in this way — functioning in the identical way to a heterosexual marriage — and yet don’t want to call this relationship a marriage, have got to be thinking of a marriage as something else. Their definition of what is “essential” to the definition of marriage cannot possibly include all that love, commitment, nurturing, shared goals, daily living, and the picket fence. Because gays and lesbians can — and do! — do all of that, as much as any heterosexual couple can and does.
So what other possible difference can there conceivably be, to make the heterosexual relationship a “marriage,” but the homosexual relationship a “domestic partnership”??
Oh. Oh no. Not that again??
That is the only possible difference. Thinking exclusively about genitals again! It’s the genitals that make the marriage — not the commitment and the love and taking the kids to school and paying the bills and planning for the family’s future. All of that, apparently, is superfluous. If two male sets of genitals are bumping together, then according to these objectors, this is nothing like a heterosexual marriage — even if 99.999% of everything else functions identically!
These people concentrate on the word — “marriage” — the surface, the superficial externality — to the exclusion of ALL OF THE CONTENT in the relationship. All the content of the relationship is nothing. All that matters is the genitals.
Have you ever heard of anything more shallow and superficial than that? And those anti-gay heterosexuals — obsessed with sex again. Perhaps they really ought to see a therapist about that little problem.
So. The “use a different name” argument? Ludicrous. Doesn’t stand scrutiny at all. Toss it out the window.
Arguments against equal marriage: #5 Equal marriage could change society drastically