Monday, November 17, 2008

Prop 8 and DoMA: Defining Marriage Isn't the Issue

My colleague at LA Progressive, Carl Matthes, makes a great point. While all of these people are bandying about trying to determine what the definition of marriage should be, they really should look at the definition of another word -- equality.
After the election, a close liberal friend of mine, who happens to be Jewish, said that she and her husband went to the dictionary to check the definition of the word “marriage” to help guide their vote on Prop 8. They wanted clarification on how marriage is defined. I assume they felt that by defining marriage clearly, this would give them direction for granting equal rights to gay men and lesbians.


She said her dictionary defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. (As does my older Webster’s dictionary.) She then asked, “I wonder how your Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines marriage?” So, for those who like to swallow their sense of equality with a big dose of dictionary, I submit the definition of “marriage” from volume IX of the XX volume OED which reads, “The condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between married persons; spousehood, wedlock.” Spousehood? And, no mention of man or woman. Those English must have known something which must have gotten lost in translation on the trip across the Atlantic. And, for those who like to play word games, notice the word “or” between husband or wife and not the word “and.” Oh, there could be two wives? Two husbands? A female as husband or a male as wife? My mind is reeling with possibilities.

I then thought that a better place to look in the dictionary for guidance on how to vote on same-sex marriage would be the word “equal.” My OED says that equal means, “Identical in amount; neither less nor greater…having the same measure, number, value, intensity, etc.” So, in the context of constitutional equality, I would expect to see next to the definition of equality a picture of Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. Maybe in my friend’s dictionary there would be a picture of Strom Thurmond or Rush Limbaugh.

Not a lot of wiggle room with the word “equal.”

For years, people have told me that I need to compromise on the matter of the state permitting legal marriage for the GLBT community. Accept second-class citizenship in the form of civil union, they say -- it's good enough. Many gay and lesbian people do accept the diminishment meekly in the interest of peace. Good on them. Civil union is not equal, so it cannot be good enough. Ever. Grown-up people can and should compromise whenever possible, and on any other issue, I certainly am willing to make allowances or take less than I truly require or want. But not when it comes to equality: As the Supreme Court ruled a half-century ago, separate but equal isn't equal. We are either equal or we are not. This nation claims to offer equality under secular law for all. Therefore, equality, in a legal or non-theocratic sense, cannot be compromised.

Look it up:

equality (noun) - i kwóllətee, ee kwóllətee

equal (noun) - i kwól, ee kwól

MSN Encarta:

state of being equal: rights, treatment, quantity, or value equal to all others in a specific group
* full equality under the law


the quality or state of being equal (of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another; identical in mathematical value or logical denotation; equivalent - like in quality, nature, or status c: like for each member of a group, class, or society)
* provide equal employment opportunities>

Merriam-Webster Law Dictionary:

the quality or state of being equal: as 1. : sameness or equivalence in number, quantity, or measure 2.: likeness or sameness in quality, power, status, or degree

the state or quality of being equal; correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability; equal - as great as; the same as (often fol. by to or with); like or alike in quantity, degree, value, etc.; of the same rank, ability, merit, etc.; evenly proportioned or balanced; uniform in operation or effect; adequate or sufficient in quantity or degree; having adequate powers, ability, or means; impartial or equitable

American Heritage Dictionary:

The state or quality of being equal


the quality of being the same in quantity or measure or value or status

Unless one wants a theocracy, nope, you won't find wiggle room here. Equal is equal, period. The United States and all but two states in the union do not provide equality for all. I don't care how religious one claims to be -- no decent person should accept inequality. Frankly, I don't see how they could. And if the US is supposedly the greatest, fairest nation on the planet, it should act like it and acknowledge the full equality of all its citizens.


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Chad T. said...

You quoted, "I submit the definition of “marriage” from volume IX of the XX volume OED which reads, “The condition of being a husband or wife..." then "And, for those who like to play word games, notice the word “or” between husband or wife and not the word “and.”"

Well of course they are going to use the word "or." A person cannot be both a husband and a wife at the same time. Even after a sex change, it would still be an "or."


two crows said...

thanks for this post.

"separate and equal" didn't work for education and it sure wouldn't work for marriage. when you assign a different term for 'some' people it's very easy to begin narrowing the rights that go with that different term.

having a different name for their marriages insures they will remain 2nd class citizens which, of course, is the point of the bigots in the first place though they'll never admit it.
there's that, at least, they're somewhat ashamed of their hatred.