Gay rights campaigners need to stop talking about same-sex marriage.
I don’t mean they should abandon their fight to secure equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, which seems reasonable to me. But they should stop using the word ‘marriage’, which is guaranteed to raise hackles among traditionalists, and which currently appears prominently on the website of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
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’s one of the tenets of good communication – and many people, when they hear the word marriage, think first of a religious institution.
The biggest objections to gay unions are clearly religious. That’s what makes President Bush’s threat to introduce a constitutional amendment to ban such unions seem both extreme and inappropriate, given the separation of church and state. Most laws are designed to prohibit behaviour 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.
Meanwhile, the people who are defending 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 inflicting its offspring on the world.
Other opponents include the Catholic Church, which issued a proclamation condemning gay marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples, demonstrating a complete lack of either irony or self-awareness by claiming that gay adoption is ‘doing violence’ to children. I’m not a parent, but if I was I would be a lot happier leaving a kid with gay friends than with 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 is editor of www.holmesreport.com