The current matters involving same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court of the United States notwithstanding, I believe it’s not a matter of if, but when same-sex marriage becomes legal throughout all, or much of the country. Apparently right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh agrees.
As far as what “the people” want, polling numbers show it trending in the direction of legalization even amongst groups such as evangelical youth. And sooner or later youth will ultimately help usher in the change as their voting numbers increase over older generations.
But that doesn’t mean the needs of those against should be disregarded completely. While I do think the rights of same-sex couples trumps any argument to the contrary, there is a way to grant same-sex couples the rights of their hetero counterparts and preserve the institution of marriage. And no, I am not talking about civil unions.
What I am talking about is creating a new institution. Or more simply, a new word. A word that means marriage. A word that carries with it all of the rights and privileges of marriage. But a word that is not marriage.
Sound crazy? Well, there is already precedent in our language for such differences. We have different pronouns to delineate gender. We have different words to describe ethnicities. We have different words for sexuality– gay, straight, heterosexual, and homosexual. When we say two people engage in heterosexual or homosexual sex, there is no confusion as to what we are talking about.
We delineate in our language for clarity not to discriminate.
Here is perhaps the best example. In the Jewish religion, when a boy turns thirteen he is said to become a man. In preparation for the leap into adulthood, the boy studies and reads from the sacred text, the Torah. This occasion is ritualized in a ceremony called a Bar Mitzvah. As unfair as it may sound, girls cannot be Bar Mitzvahed. It is a right of passage only for boys.
However, before you start drawing up the protest signs, you should know that when twelve year old girls turn thirteen they too have a right of passage laid out before them to become a woman. It is called a Bat Mitzvah. Basically, you take out the “r” in Bar and replace it with a “t”, making it Bat, and you’ve got the same thing.
The different spellings and pronunciations immediately identify if the ceremony is for a boy or a girl.
I am suggesting a similar solution for same-sex marriage. This solution allows each side to get what they fundamentally want the most. Same-sex marriage gets the full equality it deserves. And those on the other side get to keep the institution of marriage between a man and a woman. Never to be confused as being otherwise.
And again, this word play is consistent with how we delineate gender and sexuality linguistically already.
This may not be the final resolution the anti-same sex marriage camp hoped for, but it can be a way to salvage something—the “sanctity” of marriage, and provide a dignified path to letting go and moving on.
Given the presumed inevitability of same-sex marriage becoming legal, a fair question may be, what is in this for the gay community? First, a new institution has the possibility of being equal but also distinct. Something the gay community can make its own. Second, presumed inevitability is not a guarantee, nor will it necessarily occur tomorrow. It could still take time, maybe years, before full legalization comes to fruition.
Even with its ultimate passage that doesn’t mean that the other side wouldn’t fight to overturn it. Once legal, overturning it may be doomed to failure, perhaps, but it would still require effort and angst to defend against the attempt.
Ideally, the suggestion of a different name can speed things along in terms of passage, and satisfy enough people that it puts this issue to rest permanently once it does.