PAUL HOLMES: Advocates of same-sex unions don't help their cause by being wedded to the term 'marriage'

Gay-rights campaigners need to stop talking about same-sex marriage.

Gay-rights campaigners need to stop talking about same-sex marriage.

I don't mean they need to back off of their fight to secure equal rights for gay and lesbian couples. That seems to me a perfectly reasonable demand. But they should stop using the word "marriage," which is almost guaranteed to raise hackles among traditionalists, and which currently appears prominently on the website of GLAAD, for example. What gay-rights advocates want is the right to have their unions blessed by the state the same way heterosexual unions are, a change that would grant them a level of economic and legal security they do not currently enjoy. But words are important - that is one of the tenets of good communications - and many people, when they hear the word "marriage," think first of a religious institution, not a civil one. (There are, of course, gay and lesbian couples who'd like the right to be married in church, but that is - or should be - a separate battle, fought within their respective religions, not on the national political stage.) The biggest objections to gay unions are clearly religious. That's why President Bush's threat to introduce a constitutional amendment to ban such unions seems both extreme and inappropriate, given the separation of church and state. Most laws are designed to prohibit behavior that harms other people - everything from murder to environmental pollution. Consensual homosexuality has no victim, except (we are told) the Christian god, who finds it offensive. Whether he needs or is entitled to constitutional protection is questionable, to say the least. Meanwhile, those who defend a more exclusive definition of marriage are forced to adopt some pretty strange positions. Democratic Presidential contender John Kerry, for example, came up with his own narrow view of marriage: "Marriage is an institution between men and women for the purpose of having children and procreating." That's a definition that excludes not only gays and lesbians, but also the substantial portion of the heterosexual community that has no intention of having offspring. Other opponents include (surprise) the Catholic Church, which issued a proclamation condemning gay marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples, displaying a complete lack of either irony or self-awareness by claiming gay adoption is "doing violence" to children. If I was a parent, I'd be a lot more comfortable leaving a kid of either gender with gay friends than a Catholic priest. Changing the terminology of the debate is not going to appease those dogmatically opposed to homosexuality, but it should lay the foundation for a more rational discussion of the issues.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of

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