Thursday, May 16, 2019

Same-Sex Marriage is Not About "Marriage Equality," But About the Definition of 'Marriage'

(Holland State Park, Michigan)

(I want to keep this ball in play. And, I'll be speaking on this two weeks from now in New York City, and then in late June in Wisconsin.)
Time to lighten up about this, at least as we discuss. To have a civil discourse about same-sex marriage means laying aside ad hominem abusives and other logical fallacies of irrelevant premises. So here we go!
The current gay marriage issue is not really about “marriage equality.” “Marriage equality” is a euphemism. It’s actually about “marriage redefinition.” The issue is about the definition of “marriage.”
Pro-gay-marriage advocate John Corvino seems to define “marriage” like this:
“Marriage is the institution in which people live out the commitment … to have and to hold; from this day forward; for better or for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish; until death do us part.” (Corvino spends many pages defending why he is not thrilled about defining the term. See Corvino and Maggie Gallagher, Debating Same-Sex Marriage (Point/Counterpoint), p. 41. This is an excellent book to read to see the legal arguments from both sides.)
But note this. If “marriage” is what Corvino seems to think it is, then of course there is no problem with same-sex marriage. And the issue is not “marriage equality,” since by definition any persons (two or more, which Corvino admits) can make and live out this kind of commitment. Anyone meeting this definitional criterion has a “right” to be married. Of course!
Perhaps it's like this. "Tennis" is defined as a game in which two or four players strike a ball with rackets over a net stretched across a court. Given this definition, Jane has a right to play tennis, as does John. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with the right to play tennis. "Tennis equality" follows from the definition of "tennis." Given the definition, any debate over "tennis equality" is irrelevant.
In the Supreme Court decision Judge Kennedy said that, "In forming a marital union, two people become greater than once they were." If marriage is understood this way then, by definition, marriage equality is a non-issue. "Two people" means any two people, irregardless of their gender. (And why only two?)The key is changing the definition of "marriage." Because if "marriage" is defined as a union between a male and a female, then "marriage equality" is no more an issue than the right of a football player to score points in tennis by kicking a ball through a goal post.
But if “marriage” is legally defined as between a man and a woman, then of course the “right” to be married is reserved for opposite sex partners who make the stated commitment. It would then read this way: “Marriage is the institution in which a man and a woman live out the commitment…” If “marriage” is defined this way, then same-sex partners have no more legal right to be married than a 10-year-old has a legal right to vote. The 10-year-old should not complain that voting is being "denied" to them, since legally they have no right to vote. 
The issue is not really about “marriage equality” or denying people the “right” to be married. The discussion stands or falls on the definition of “marriage.” The question “Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry?” is like, legally, the question “Should 10-year-olds be allowed to vote?” If Corvino is correct and we change the legal definition of “marriage” then of course, legally, same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. But talk about "marriage equality” is only relevant and irrelevant on whatever definition of “marriage” we take.
Here's an imaginary dialogue:
X - Gays cannot be denied the right to marry!
Y - But if "marriage" is legally defined as between a man and a woman, then gays are being denied nothing.
X - Then we must change the definition of "marriage" to include gays.
Y - If that happens then gays will be denied nothing again, since by legal definition they have the right to marry.
As Princeton’s Robert George et. al. state: “What we have come to call the gay marriage debate is not directly about homosexuality, but about marriage. It is not about whom to let marry, but about what marriage is. It is a pivotal stage in a decades-long struggle between two views of the meaning of marriage.” (Girgis, Sherif; Anderson, Ryan T; George, Robert P. What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, p. 1)