Using the term obscures the hidden agenda
The definition of marriage is being debated because confusion about love, human sexuality, marriage and family has obscured its true meaning and purpose. This confusion has created many obstacles to witnessing the truth about marriage in the non-religious language required for public policy debates. And as discussed in Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: a Guide for Effective Dialogue, some of the difficulties are unwittingly self-inflected.
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Worst among offenders are the terms “same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage.” Surprisingly, these designations lead to even more confusion, and actually harm efforts to defend marriage. They create vulnerability to attack and put people hopelessly on the defense. It is critical to break the habit of using these terms and expunge them from our vocabulary. Additionally, it is a term that must be resisted and disputed because it misrepresents what is at issue.
‘You know what I mean’
|As Pope Benedict XVI said, “without truth, [love] falls
prey to … emotions and opinions.”
Defending marriage requires using language that reveals the truth.
"Using the term "same-sex” or “gay-marriage" we communicate what we are for by saying what we are against. "I'm opposed to ‘same-sex marriage’ –you know what I mean (I'm for marriage)." People who agree with you will know what you mean, but an increasing number of people with a different understanding of marriage won’t.
Most people don’t know what you mean and that number is increasing. Not only does the term fail to contribute any insight about the truth of marriage, and will likely lead to awkward discussions about what you have against the happiness of same-sex couples, using the term actually misrepresents what the issue is about.
No such thing as ‘same-sex marriage’
When people are advised not to use the term "same-sex marriage," many assume it’s because marriage between two women or two men is impossible. But that’s not it. Furthermore, saying “same-sex so-called marriage” doesn’t alleviate the harm of using the term.
This term, which doesn’t exist in the law, leads people to falsely conclude that the issue is only about whether same-sex couples should be permitted to marry. In order for same-sex couples to marry, the definition of marriage must be changed in ways that remove all authority to promote the unique value of men and woman marrying before having children; a dangerous direction for society and the common good.
Civil marriage has always been assumed or implied to be between a man and a woman in the law. States that have added provisions to their statutes or constitutions that protect marriage clarify its definition by adding language along the following lines:
|In reality, marriage is the only civil institution that unites kids with their moms and dads.
"Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognized or valid."
To accommodate same-sex couples marriage must be redefined as follows:
"Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognized", becomes
"Marriage between two persons is recognized."
People often do not realize this unless the words are laid out because the issue has been presented as, “Do you favor gays and lesbians getting married legally?” rather than, “Do you favor redefining marriage to permit gays and lesbians to marry legally?” There is a big difference. Since marriage between a man and a woman creates the only civil institution specifically geared to unite children with their mothers and fathers, redefining marriage eliminates that institution. It no longer exists in law. Redefining marriage does not lead to two different kinds of marriage existing side by side in the law.
|Language like “marriage-equality,”
“freedom to marry,” and “same-sex
marriage,” are geared to provoke emotion
about participation of same-sex couples in
marriage. But it hides that participation is
not possible without eliminating the only
institution that unites kids with their moms
The hidden agenda
As Yale law professor and gay rights advocate William Eskridge wrote, redefining marriage “involves the reconfiguration of the family, deemphasizing blood, gender, and kinship ties.” That is what redefining marriage is about, but when we frame the issue as “same-sex marriage” we are unwittingly complicit in the charade that it is all about same-sex participation in marriage. This is an intentional tactic by our opponents, who often say, "We don't want to change marriage, we just want to participate in it." But that’s not true, is it? As author Masha Gessen, a gay rights advocate has said, “Fighting for ‘gay marriage' generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage.”
|Political strategists seek terms favorable to voter attitudes about fairness and justice. They use terms like “freedom,” “choice,” "equality,” “rights” – real or fabricated.|
As long as we make marriage a referendum on gay participation by using the term “same-sex marriage” instead of focusing on the consequences of redefining it, we’ll lose. For the first time in United States history, the voters in the 2012 approved ballot measures in three states—Maryland, Maine and Washington. In each, the ballot question was about allowing same-sex couples to marry. But in every case the fine print redefined marriage. In Washington, gay rights advocates fought successfully to remove the words “redefine marriage” from the ballot summary on the grounds it would prejudice voters against the measure if the truth were known.
I’m not a bigot!
If you are not concerned about the fact that the “same-sex marriage” term misleads people about the issue, consider that using the term can lead people to misunderstand your position and motivation as being discriminatory. What are you for and what are you against? Is it your priority to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, or is it to preserve and promote the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads?
|When presented with
arguments for redefining
marriage, think, in reality,
"What does this have to do
with the only institution that
unites kids with their moms
The current attack on marriage, and the breakdown of marriage resulting in increased children living in poverty and fatherless homes both have the same root cause. Most people have come to believe that marriage is merely the public recognition of a loving committed relationship for the benefit of adults. Redefining marriage enshrines that misunderstanding in the law. Reminding people that marriage not only unites a man and a woman with each other, but with any children born from their union, provides an alternative way of looking at its reality.
Then, what should I say?
Instead of using the term “same-sex marriage,” use “redefining marriage” in its place. Our reason for opposing the redefinition has nothing to do with homosexuality. We are against it because it eliminates the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads.
Words are powerful, and by default, changing the definition of marriage changes the institution itself. Redefining marriage has serious consequences that its proponents want to keep hidden.
Don’t become confused by bait and switch tactics. To see through the false premises embedded in their arguments, ask yourself the question, “What does this have to do with the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads?” If the argument diverges into same-sex parenting or relationships between loving adults, the answer to the question will reveal the subject changed from marriage, the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads.
|Not every married man and woman have children, but every child has a mother and father.
ASK: Do we need an institution that is specifically geared to unite kids with their moms and dads? Yes, or no?
If no, then why not?
Instead of struggling to defend marriage, ask those proposing to redefine it to justify their position. For example,“Do we need an institution that is specifically geared to unite kids with their moms and dads?” If yes, the conversation is over. If no, then the question is, “Why not?”
When people respond, “People who marry aren’t required to have children,” remind them, “Not all married people have children, but every child has a mom and a dad.” Ask the question again and insist on an answer.
The debate about marriage policy must be focused on the reality of marriage and the consequences of redefining it. But this discussion will never happen if the focus remains on “same-sex marriage” (or the permissibility of marriage between same-sex couples) rather than the proposal to redefine marriage. Work on breaking the habit of using terms that mislead and gently encourage your friends and family members to do the same.
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This article is based on insights from Getting the Marriage Conversation Right, a Guide for Effective Dialogue by William B. May, president of Catholics for the Common Good Institute. The booklet, published by Emmaus Road Publishing, is available through bookstores and on Amazon.com.
“…a clear, concise and convincing presentation on the importance of marriage and its true meaning.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Washington, DC
"William May has analyzed the marriage crisis with the skill of a surgeon.”
Bishop Emeritus Gilbert Sheldon, Steubenville, OH
“… should be in the purses, pockets and backpacks of all Catholics as we seek to promote marriage for the common good.”
Bishop David Zubik, Pittsburgh