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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Should Marriage Be Redefined?

An essay by Fortune Cookies

The one constant in the definition of marriage is simply the joining of two entities to become a combined unit. In requiring marriage to be contingent upon the parties meeting certain gender specifications, the definition is then changed to suit an agenda.

Should Marriage be Redefined?

Are gays and lesbians asking for marriage to be redefined, or are conservatives calling for a redefinition by adding gender stipulations to its constitutional definition? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the definition of marriage is varied, and includes the following:

  1. The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife.
  2. The state of being married; wedlock.
  3. A union between two persons: same-sex marriage.
  4. A close union: "the most successful marriage of beauty and blood in mainstream comics" (Lloyd Rose).

(American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000)
Clearly, this dictionary does not stipulate that marriage is only applicable when the two parties are of opposite gender. Dictionaries will vary in their definitions as will personal interpretations. However, the one inference that repeats is "to unite in a close, usually permanent way. " (Webster's Dictionary, 2008, American Heritage Dictionary, 2000, Oxford Online Dictionary, 2008) Therefore, the most logical conclusion to reach is that people who demand a constitutional amendment to define marriage as "one man and one woman," are redefining the word for everyone.

There are many arguments against gay marriage. Here, we will discuss the most prevalent and popular claims against marriage for same sex couples and examine the fallacies behind them. The primary call to action against same sex marriage is the proposition that marriage should be defined as "one man, one woman." Does justice not demand that if the straight community can not show a compelling reason to deny
the institution of marriage to gay people, it should not be denied? (Eskridge, 1996) Such nebulous declarations, without any solid moral argument behind them, are hardly compelling reasons. They seem to be more of an expression of prejudice than any kind of real argument. The concept of not denying people their rights unless there is a proven, compelling reason to deny them is the very basis of the American ideal of human rights.

It is well documented in American history that African American slaves who married were not married "Until death do us part, "rather, "Until death or distance do us part…" (Racha- Penrice, 2007)The American government did not recognize such unions, and allowed slave owners to sell a husband to one man and his wife to another. Families were torn apart at the auction block day after day. Not until after the Civil War, when marriage was redefined, were blacks allowed the right to legally marry in the United States. Thus began the fear based, ideological campaign to protect the white race from marriage to other races. A flurry of states passed laws to outlaw interracial marriages, and some states even banned interracial intercourse. (Racha- Penrice, 2007)

Similar bans, already in existence throughout the United States, did nothing to slow the growing fears of racial mixing. From the late nineteenth century and throughout the early twentieth century, fourteen states, primarily in the West, extended the ban to include marriages between whites and Asians. Twelve states extended these segregationist prohibitions to include marriages between whites and American Indians. By 1913, forty one states or territories had enacted such laws, and had included in them, a prohibition of couples from leaving their home states to travel to other states that did not have such marriage bans. (Zinn, 2005)

In the mid-twentieth century, the tide began to turn against race-based marriage bans. Nazi laws forbidding Jews from marrying non-Jews were discredited along with many other expressions of state racism. The General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which cited the "right to marry" as one of the fundamental rights of humankind. (U.N. General Assembly, 1948)

Nineteen years later, in 1967, the historic Supreme Court decision was made in the case of Loving v. Virginia. It proclaimed that the ban on interracial marriage was "designed to maintain White Supremacy" and therefore, unconstitutional. In denying the right to marry the person of one's choice, the fundamental civil right to marriage had been denied. Later, the Court even extended the right of marriage to prisoners, citing the civil right as one that could not be denied to any person. (U.S. Supreme Court, 1967)

Still, the argument is often made that same sex marriage would threaten the institution of marriage. This is a contradiction, in and of itself. Allowing people to commit themselves to each other regardless of gender, is not a threat to marriage. When homosexuals are allowed to marry, they are less likely to attempt heterosexual marriage first, just to fit in with society's norm, causing them to be matched with an incompatible partner and possibly raising children in a loveless home, only to end in divorce. Further, studies have shown that children of divorce are more likely to have failed marriages themselves. (Sterkle, 1987) Denying gays the right to marriage contributes to the divorce rate, rather than protecting the institution of marriage.

Gay marriage has been legal in Denmark since 1989. A proposal now exists in the Danish parliament to allow adoption rights and church weddings, which are currently prohibited. Most other Scandinavian countries have followed suit.

Full marriage rights have existed in many Dutch cities for several years, and was recently made legal nationwide, including the word "marriage" to describe such unions. Opposition to the Danish law was led by the clergy, much the same as in the United States. A survey conducted at the time revealed that 72 % of Danish clergy were opposed to the law. (Graff, 1996) It was passed anyway, and the change in the attitude of the clergy there has been dramatic, a survey conducted in 1995 indicated that 89 % of the Danish clergy now admit that the law is a good one and that it had many beneficial effects. Some of which include reductions in suicide, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and in promiscuity and infidelity among gays. (Kendall, 2007) Far from leading to the destruction of western civilization, as some critics have warned, the result of gay marriage in Scandinavia has actually been civilizing and strengthening, not just to the institution of marriage, but to society as a whole.

The argument that marriage is a sacred institution is biased in design and based on the assumption that the state has the responsibility to "sanctify" marriages - a fundamentally religious idea. This is an example of one set of people trying to enforce their religious doctrines upon others. In this instance, it is an attempt to do so through weakening the separation of church and state, by undermining the Bill of Rights. (Sullivan, 2008) Although this is not a new concept in American politics, the attempt itself opposes the foundations, the very fiber of the First Amendment - one does not truly have freedom of religion if one does not have the right to freedom from religion as well. The only marriage affected by two people marrying, is the marriage being entered into by the two people marrying each other.

Historically speaking, the word marriage originally identified a merger between two families. It was a type of trade. Essentially, marriage identified the barter of one man's daughter, in exchange for another man's livestock, crops, or other valuables. It could be argued that marriage was already redefined by churches, to be a sanctimonious event, and again redefined, by corporations to indicate a merger of businesses. It was certainly redefined in the Post Civil War era, in order to grant former slaves their fundamental civil right to marry and be happy. Once again, in the 1960's, the definition was changed to allow persons of differing races the right to marry each other. Without this word's definition periodically being altered throughout our history, our current president elect, Barack Obama's mother and father would not have been allowed to marry. In many states, his mere conception would have been illegal, with a penalty of felony charges stemming in a sentence of one to five years imprisonment.
There are many who argue that allowing same-sex marriage would create an environment in which churches would be required to perform ceremonies for same sex couples against their religious beliefs. This simply is not true. Today churches already have the right to refuse marriage to any couple, for any reason. They can deny marriage to a couple because of a large age disparity, a difference in religious backgrounds, or even for being of different races. There is nothing in any marriage law, existing or proposed, that does or would have the effect of requiring any church to marry any couple they do not wish to marry. Couples would continue to do as they always have: they get married by a Justice of the Peace, in a Mayor's Court, or have a family member or friend who has obtained a license from the state marry them. Same sex couples are simply asking for the same opportunity.

To many people, the word marriage connotes various ideas that are not readily identified in a dictionary. The church sanctions a holy matrimony, while the courts legalize a civil matrimony. Corporations marry each other when entering a merger, to form a larger, more formidable business. The joining of two parties to become one, to be better together, to help each other, and to stay together permanently, is the core meaning of marriage. This basic human right has been sought after in civilization for centuries.

Denying homosexuals the right to marry deprives them of thousands of legal rights that married heterosexual couples freely enjoy. (Kendell, 2007) Among these rights, at the state level are hospital visitation, control of burial and funeral arrangements for a partner, inheritance rights and insurance benefits, just to name a few. At the federal level alone, the General Accounting Office has identified over one thousand provisions that heterosexual married couples enjoy, including social security benefits and federal tax exemptions, that would be granted to same-sex couples if they were allowed marriage.

Our government was set up as an institution whose goal is the preservation of the rights of its citizens. By upholding the ideological or philosophical prejudices of one group, our government is failing to protect another group's basic human rights. Rights which are defined by the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It proclaims, "…No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Is marriage being redefined? Yes, and it matters more today than ever before. There exists a precedent of redefining marriage throughout human history, without which many of today's marriages would be null and void in earlier contexts.

As humans inhabiting an ever changing world, we too must adapt. An engineer will say that the bridge that does not bend with the wind is destined to crumble and fall. So too, it goes with ideologies. Our founding fathers defined our country as a place where all men were created equal, and endowed with an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. It is an infringement upon this very pursuit, if two consenting adults are denied the right to marry. The arguments supporting gay marriage outweigh the negatives. Strong family units strengthen society. Tolerance for differences diffuses strife and fosters a closer knit community. Church and state separation do not preclude working relationships between the two. The realization that we are all human, all one race and one world brings us to the conclusion that we can all live together in empathy, peace, and with our chosen partner in marriage.


Columbia Law Review, April 1999. [Social Norms and Judicial Decision-making: Examining the Role of Narratives in Same-Sex Adoption Cases. Lexis-Nexis 3/27/01]

Eskridge, William Jr, The Case for Same-Sex Marriage, ( 1996). p. 96 The Free Press, New York

Graff , E.J. What is Marriage For?, 1996. [The Challenge of Same-Sex Marriage, Praeger Publishers, Connecticut 1999 p175]

Kendell, Kate. "The Right to Marry, the San Francisco Experience, and Lessons

Learned." In Defending Same-Sex Marriage, volume 1, "Separate Bu Equal" No

More, edited by Mark Strasser. West Port, CT: British Library Cataloguing, 2007.

"Marriage." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Retrieved from downloaded 10/02/2008

Meyer, Cheryl L.; "Legal, Psychological, and Medical Considerations in Lesbian Parenting," 2 Law & Sexuality: A Review of Lesbian & Gay Legal Issues 237 (1992)

Penrice, Ronda Racha (2007), African American History for Dummies, pp. 207-218. For Dummies, 2007

Sterkel, Alisa; "Psychosocial Develpment of Children of Lesbian Mothers," Gay & Lesbian Parents 75, 81 (Frederick W. Bozett, ed., 1987)

Sullivan, Andrew. The New Republic, 5/8/00. ["Why 'civil union' isn't marriage." downloaded 10/02/08]

U.S. Supreme Court, LOVING v. VIRGINIA, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), retrieved from , downloaded 11/10/2008

United Nations General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, internet source, retrieved from , downloaded 11/02/2008

Zinn, Howard.(2005) A People's History of the United States 1492-Present pp 171-190. New

York: Perennial, 2005.

5 cookies cracked:

fiwa said...

This is so well written. Seriously - that should be published somewhere.

Newt said...

Very nice job. My husband and I have this belief: If marriage is so damn sacred and godly between only a man and a woman then divorce needs to be outlawed and infidelity needs to be criminalized.

Fortune Cookies said...

fiwa - thank you!! This is from my research paper I just completed for my writing class...I'm still awaiting a grade :/

Newt - Thanks so much! I must say I agree with you and Hubster. I still don't get how the group who advocates polygamy was the same group to convince the majority that same sex marriage is so wrong.

fiwa said...

I can't believe you would get anything less than an "A".

Robin said...

Thanks for sharing, Angie. Nicely done. I'm consistently amazed about how people get their panties in a bunch about (a) things that don't impact them whatsoever; (b) bits and pieces of information - taking things out of context (i.e. health care reform). Ugh. Like my momma said, common sense isn't very common.