You say tomato...

The battle over the word "marriage" when applied to relationships between people of the same sex is semantic dispute, but one with enormous importance. Unfortunately, the public debate has been less than clear about the stakes. Herewith a "debate" constructed from two views of the matter.

A good friend of mine forwarded me a column by NBC reporter David Schuster in favor of the legal recognition of same—sex marriage. Following are excerpts from that column (in italic type), and my response to Schuster's positions (in regular type) that I sent back to my friend.  

Schuster states:
I adore my family and consider them to be the best part of my entire life. And I'm absolutely convinced that "marriage" fosters social cohesion, emotional security, and economic prudence.  That's why I'm baffled as to why we would keep such an institution away from anybody. (I'm not talking about "religion—sanctioned marriage," I'm referring to the civil institution of marriage—the kind that involves a "state—sponsored" license.)

This is a semantic dispute, but one many consider important. Most marriage traditionalists feel it's vital to reserve the word 'marriage' for procreation—oriented or procreation—potential relationships, such as those that occur elsewhere in nature. To that segment of the society, such semantic distinctions are not only important, they are absolutely essential. That's why many on the so—called 'anti—gay marriage' side are perfectly comfortable with the idea of civil unions, which would confer on homosexual couples all of society's rights and recognitions, without tromping on the word 'marriage' itself. But the 'pro gay marriage' crowd seems intent on obtaining not just the legal societal rights, but also the formal annoitment as well. They see the word 'marriage' as not just symbolic of achieving a set of privileges, but as an egotistical or emotional triumph of sorts. 

The fact is, the couple down the street... whether they are straight or gay, has no bearing whatsoever on my marriage or yours. 

Again, the traditionalists feel as if the formal certification of 'marriage' for other relationships DOES indeed devalue the notion of marriage. If anything can be declared to be anything, does the original label carry any weight? If every student who showed up to class received an 'A' irrespective of academic accomplishment, does the achievement of straight A's mean anything any longer? If every soldier who served in the military in any capacity, for any length of time, regardless of responsibility or achievement, was awarded the Medal of Honor, what meaning would that medal carry?

This traditional faction believes that marriage is something to be aspired to seriously, from the time of youth, to be taught to their children, as in, 'One day, when you grow older, you'll meet a special person and decide to get married, and raise a family...' That's the traditional outlook. If same—sex couples are given official 'marriage' recognition, then the biologically—based, centuries—old notion of opposite—sex marriage and the imparting of family values to children as they become older is threatened in the eyes of traditionalists. So Schuster's contention that it '...has no bearing whatsoever...' is incorrect. It has a huge bearing on those who believe in the traditional convention.

Gay marriage could only undermine or delegitimize straight marriage if it were a real alternative. 

Again, this is incorrect. Same—sex marriage deligitimizes conventional marriage in the eyes of traditionalists by its very existence, by conferring society's approval onto homosexual marriage when the majority of our society doesn't want such legitimacy to be granted. Like it or not, agree or not, the traditional view of marriage—regardless of Schuster's wishes—is held by the vast majority of the American public, as proven by the not—even—close 11 for 11 rejection of same—sex marriage referenda on State ballots. It won't even pass in Massachusetts when it finally gets on the ballot in 2006, according to all the current polls.

The traditionalists contend that this is not a matter for the courts or the government, as was the abolition of slavery or bringing about racial equality. It is the traditionalists' contention that the laws of Nature govern all people—including the right to personal freedom, the right to be treated as equal human beings regardless of skin color, and the notion that the word 'marriage' connotes the natural union of male and female into a bond rooted in the furtherance of the family. For them, the word 'marriage' is not a mere transitory legal contrivance, but instead, a description of the most basic—and important—of Nature's laws.

Any intelligent and logical thinking person must know that gays are not going away.  So why not coax these human beings into traditional values?

Is it Shuster's contention that homosexuals don't espouse 'traditional' values and must therefore be 'coaxed'? Most people would consider traditional values to be generosity, kindness, helpfulness, integrity, honesty, reliability, a solid work ethic, responsibility, courtesy, respect, and consideration. These are values that are independent of sexual orientation, are they not? It is not a cause—and—effect situation. Simply bestowing recognition with an arbitrary word—in this instance, 'marriage'—will not coax a person or a group of people into any specific set of behaviors, any more than calling an electrician a surgeon suddenly qualifies your local wire stripper to perform heart transplants. An extreme example, perhaps, but illustrative of the fact that one can't, in Shuster's words, 'coax these human beings into traditional values.' It is the individual that exhibits values, not the group. There is good and bad in people from all walks of life, and societal labels and classifications have nothing to do with it.

Marriage reinforces a healthy social trend... and it provides stability.

In the end, it boils down to the fact that the two groups are fighting over the implied legitimacy of the word 'marriage.' The traditionalists aren't out to deny the homosexual community of any civil rights. They'd be happy to confer those rights under the banner of a new parallel concept, Civil Unions. The homosexual community is not looking merely for societal rights (or else they'd be happy with Civil Unions)—they want the victory of semantics above all else, but will not admit that publicly.

Most importantly, the 'pro gay marriage' group views any truly honest, logical discussion of the actual motivations of the two sides to be discriminatory, close—minded, and intentionally hurtful to homosexuals. To them, any discussion or intellectual disagreement is simply labeled as 'gay bashing' or 'homophobic,' and no position contrary to their own is considered by them worthy of further deliberation.

The battle over the word "marriage" when applied to relationships between people of the same sex is semantic dispute, but one with enormous importance. Unfortunately, the public debate has been less than clear about the stakes. Herewith a "debate" constructed from two views of the matter.

A good friend of mine forwarded me a column by NBC reporter David Schuster in favor of the legal recognition of same—sex marriage. Following are excerpts from that column (in italic type), and my response to Schuster's positions (in regular type) that I sent back to my friend.  

Schuster states:
I adore my family and consider them to be the best part of my entire life. And I'm absolutely convinced that "marriage" fosters social cohesion, emotional security, and economic prudence.  That's why I'm baffled as to why we would keep such an institution away from anybody. (I'm not talking about "religion—sanctioned marriage," I'm referring to the civil institution of marriage—the kind that involves a "state—sponsored" license.)

This is a semantic dispute, but one many consider important. Most marriage traditionalists feel it's vital to reserve the word 'marriage' for procreation—oriented or procreation—potential relationships, such as those that occur elsewhere in nature. To that segment of the society, such semantic distinctions are not only important, they are absolutely essential. That's why many on the so—called 'anti—gay marriage' side are perfectly comfortable with the idea of civil unions, which would confer on homosexual couples all of society's rights and recognitions, without tromping on the word 'marriage' itself. But the 'pro gay marriage' crowd seems intent on obtaining not just the legal societal rights, but also the formal annoitment as well. They see the word 'marriage' as not just symbolic of achieving a set of privileges, but as an egotistical or emotional triumph of sorts. 

The fact is, the couple down the street... whether they are straight or gay, has no bearing whatsoever on my marriage or yours. 

Again, the traditionalists feel as if the formal certification of 'marriage' for other relationships DOES indeed devalue the notion of marriage. If anything can be declared to be anything, does the original label carry any weight? If every student who showed up to class received an 'A' irrespective of academic accomplishment, does the achievement of straight A's mean anything any longer? If every soldier who served in the military in any capacity, for any length of time, regardless of responsibility or achievement, was awarded the Medal of Honor, what meaning would that medal carry?

This traditional faction believes that marriage is something to be aspired to seriously, from the time of youth, to be taught to their children, as in, 'One day, when you grow older, you'll meet a special person and decide to get married, and raise a family...' That's the traditional outlook. If same—sex couples are given official 'marriage' recognition, then the biologically—based, centuries—old notion of opposite—sex marriage and the imparting of family values to children as they become older is threatened in the eyes of traditionalists. So Schuster's contention that it '...has no bearing whatsoever...' is incorrect. It has a huge bearing on those who believe in the traditional convention.

Gay marriage could only undermine or delegitimize straight marriage if it were a real alternative. 

Again, this is incorrect. Same—sex marriage deligitimizes conventional marriage in the eyes of traditionalists by its very existence, by conferring society's approval onto homosexual marriage when the majority of our society doesn't want such legitimacy to be granted. Like it or not, agree or not, the traditional view of marriage—regardless of Schuster's wishes—is held by the vast majority of the American public, as proven by the not—even—close 11 for 11 rejection of same—sex marriage referenda on State ballots. It won't even pass in Massachusetts when it finally gets on the ballot in 2006, according to all the current polls.

The traditionalists contend that this is not a matter for the courts or the government, as was the abolition of slavery or bringing about racial equality. It is the traditionalists' contention that the laws of Nature govern all people—including the right to personal freedom, the right to be treated as equal human beings regardless of skin color, and the notion that the word 'marriage' connotes the natural union of male and female into a bond rooted in the furtherance of the family. For them, the word 'marriage' is not a mere transitory legal contrivance, but instead, a description of the most basic—and important—of Nature's laws.

Any intelligent and logical thinking person must know that gays are not going away.  So why not coax these human beings into traditional values?

Is it Shuster's contention that homosexuals don't espouse 'traditional' values and must therefore be 'coaxed'? Most people would consider traditional values to be generosity, kindness, helpfulness, integrity, honesty, reliability, a solid work ethic, responsibility, courtesy, respect, and consideration. These are values that are independent of sexual orientation, are they not? It is not a cause—and—effect situation. Simply bestowing recognition with an arbitrary word—in this instance, 'marriage'—will not coax a person or a group of people into any specific set of behaviors, any more than calling an electrician a surgeon suddenly qualifies your local wire stripper to perform heart transplants. An extreme example, perhaps, but illustrative of the fact that one can't, in Shuster's words, 'coax these human beings into traditional values.' It is the individual that exhibits values, not the group. There is good and bad in people from all walks of life, and societal labels and classifications have nothing to do with it.

Marriage reinforces a healthy social trend... and it provides stability.

In the end, it boils down to the fact that the two groups are fighting over the implied legitimacy of the word 'marriage.' The traditionalists aren't out to deny the homosexual community of any civil rights. They'd be happy to confer those rights under the banner of a new parallel concept, Civil Unions. The homosexual community is not looking merely for societal rights (or else they'd be happy with Civil Unions)—they want the victory of semantics above all else, but will not admit that publicly.

Most importantly, the 'pro gay marriage' group views any truly honest, logical discussion of the actual motivations of the two sides to be discriminatory, close—minded, and intentionally hurtful to homosexuals. To them, any discussion or intellectual disagreement is simply labeled as 'gay bashing' or 'homophobic,' and no position contrary to their own is considered by them worthy of further deliberation.