Whenever I hear anyone arguing the con side of the gay marriage debate they inevitably come up with the following point; we’re in danger of redefining the word, ‘marriage’ and that would be wrong. ‘Marriage’, they say, is between a man and a woman; not a man and his dog or a woman and her woman, but a man and a woman – that’s what the word means and there the debate should end. People of the same gender can couple off, but don’t, whatever you do, call this marriage, because it isn’t – the dictionary tells us so.
This focus on the ‘definition’ puzzles me. Are these people guerrilla lexicographers fighting to preserve the English language from change? Is their beef really nothing to do with religion and sexuality at all and they would be equally irate with any change in the usage of any word? Do they think the dictionary is some holy book given to us by a higher being and we risk Its wrath if we try to undo Its work?
If so, they really should have a look at the word, ‘gay’. Initially it meant happy and carefree, then it came to mean homosexual and now it is starting to mean a bit naff. This last redefinition isn’t complete yet, just ask Chris Moyles who got a lot of criticism for using this usage, particularly from gays who, rather ironically in the context of this post, accused him of redefining the word, ‘gay’ (they should maybe hook up with the ‘marriage’ definition people, they’d have a lot in common).
Words change meaning; get used to it. People tell me that ‘ginormous’ isn’t a word, but if you say it or write it everyone knows what it means, therefore it is a word.
There is a more serious side to this point though. The anti-redefinition-of-the-word-marriage crowd suggest that homosexies should be able to conjoin in a way that is almost exactly like a marriage, but just isn’t called ‘marriage’. That then would be perfectly fair – separate, but equal – everybody happy.
Apart from me…
‘Separate, but equal’ was the argument that allowed segregationist policies to continue in deep south America prior to the civil rights movement in the ’60’s. I’m not, of course suggesting the anti-redefinition-of-the-word-marriage lot are in any way as bad as the white supremacists, but it’s the same principle.
I can see no other reason for wanting to label something differently other than wanting to treat it differently.