“Redefining Marriage”

Welcome to Big Gay January! This month I’m going to be focusing on a lot of GLBTQI stuff to see how that influences my writing. (And also because I’m in a very gay mood lately) Probably mostly GLB stuff because that’s what I’m most familiar with 😉

So, one of the huge success stories of the GLBTQI movement in the USA has been its push for gay marriage- namely that it has scared the jesus out of the conservatives1 that are pretty freaked out that this push could actually succeed. There’s talk in conservative circles of offering everything but the kitchen sink- ie. equitable civil unions and non-discrimination protections. Which is good. Clearly our queer sisters and brothers across the Pacific have shown us that if your position is sensible and consistent, pushing as hard as you can for what you really want redefines the “compromise” position.

So, what tactics have the social conservatives come up with to halt the march of progress? Well, they talk about “redefining” marriage. I’ve talked about the myth of marriage being an unchanged institution before, but there is some technical correctness here- when social conservatives talk about marriage being between a man and a woman uninterrupted for thousands of years since its inception, they are mostly correct. The assumption, bigoted though it was, was that sex between men (lesbians need not apply, because nobody knew or apparently cared that you existed for a lot of that time) happened only because of lust, and thus it was somehow inherently sinful. How this is different from normal sex is anyone’s guess. Now, while they are largely correct that marriage has always been between men and women since it started and until now2, they are incorrect to say that it has never been redefined and that they are right to oppose marriage equality on those grounds. Marriage has had countless redefinitions. Firstly, we stopped viewing it as a transaction where a father paid a suitor to take care of his daughter, and viewed it as a partnership between two independent and equal adults. In short, we injected feminism and equal rights into marriage. That was a redefinition, and if you oppose marriage equality on the grounds of redefinition, you ought to also be working just as hard to reinstate marriage as a financial transaction and revoke equal rights for women. And we all know that’s not a position you can afford to admit support for.

Oh, but wait, we’re not done. We’ve also got the miscegenation laws from America, and similar taboos and informal laws that have happened throughout history to prevent interracial marriage. Surely if marriage is to remain a consistent, unchanging contract, we should also reinstate the idea that marriage is to be restricted to people of the same race. We wouldn’t want that sort of social progress rubbing off, either. We’ll also ignore the convenient genetic advantages of mixing disparate gene groups. (Which is pretty much what a “race” is. Humans don’t actually have enough genetic variation for distinct breeds the way some other species do.)

Oh, and we’re still not done. We’ll have to abolish marriage as a contract for legal privileges and rights, too, and return it to merely being a declaration of love and a promise of fidelity, like I mentioned earlier.

Oh, and one more thing: Even if all that doesn’t change your mind, there was a limited period of same-sex couples being recognised as married in ancient Rome. Is it really redefining an institution if we’re just reinstituting it in a way the ancients practiced? While this isn’t exactly smoking bullet stuff, it still very much muddies the water on the accuracy of the “redefinition” argument, and perhaps relegates it to more of a dog-whistle for ignorance and contempt of homosexuality than a legitimate contention.

So, while I accept that people can say that marriage equality redefines marriage, and I even accept that they can be ridiculous enough to think that this is a bad thing, I do not accept that they can cherry-pick just gay marriage from the list of times we’ve redefined marriage and then say “Okay, we’re ignoring all those other changes.” If one redefinition is wrong without further justification as to what makes it special, then they’re all wrong.

1 Sadly, they are mostly Christians, and thus extra-vulnerable to having Jesus scared out of them. Don’t ask me why he puts up with manifesting that way.
2 Canadians are my heroes with awesome accents for ending their marriage equality, and Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, (who were first) and South Africa also deserve credit for the same, but most relevant props go to Norway, whose law legalising same-sex marriage is getting royal assent today. WOOO! 🙂

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