A Matter of Semantics

I was discouraged a few weeks ago after the California Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8. While it looks likely that the court will not rule in favor of civil rights for the LGBT community, things are looking up in other parts of the world for marriage equality. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that marriage is a civil right for same sex couples. The Vermont Legislature overrode Governor Douglas’s veto of the marriage equality bill in that state. Same sex marriage was legalized in Sweden.

Friends and acquaintances have suggested to me that perhaps we should be fighting for civil unions for all couples, ending state-sanctioned marriage altogether. It’s a nice idea, and it supports the separation of church and state, if you subscribe to the idea that the word “marriage” means a holy union sanctioned by God. However, this seems like an even bigger undertaking to me than simply fighting for marriage equality for all couples. Trying to enforce a paradigm of civil unions, no matter what the gender of the couples involved, would work in the US about as well as converting us all to using the metric system did back in the 1970s.

We can debate the merits and drawbacks of what we’re going to call our committed, consensual, adult, two-person family units and whether the state should recognize us as married couples or civilly unionized couples. Cultures and languages evolve naturally, and like it or not, marriage is the dominant paradigm. Additionally, the anti-gay activists will oppose any protections for same sex couples whether they’re called civil unions or marriages, so the struggle remains the same.

It is how people live and speak about their day-to-day lives that ultimately gives shape to our identities and our family units. Same sex couples live in the world as opposite sex couples. We have careers and families, and we are productive members of our communities. Our parents, friends, siblings, and neighbors respect us and count on us. Some of us are vulnerable and need protections of the state like any other citizens. The people of the United States believe in fairness and equality. In the fight for marriage equality we are on the right side of history, and we will one day win our civil rights and be able to legally marry.

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