Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Semantics of Gay Marriage

According to a poll published by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press last week 57% of Americans now favour “allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal agreements with each other that would give them many of the same rights as married couples, a status commonly known as civil unions.” This number is up from 45% from the same poll in 2003. This means that a majority of Americans now support civil unions for gays and lesbians. The interesting thing about the poll is that is also found that a majority of Americans (53%) oppose gay marriage. In the last year, support for civil unions has grown the most amongst the 53% who oppose gay marriage.
Proponents of civil unions often stress that they offer all the benefits of a marriage and it is only the name that is different. And yet, according to this poll, if the same rights are called a marriage rather than a union they are no longer supported.
One reason for this semantic issue is that these people believe marriage to be a religious union and since a lot of mainstream religions believe that homosexuality is wrong gays and lesbians should not be allowed to marry. However, they don’t question heterosexual atheists who want to commit to each other and get married, or ask them to refer to their marriage as a “civil union” because they don’t conform to certain religious beliefs. So why should they ask the same of gays and lesbians? The fact remains that in modern secular societies marriage is no longer simply a religious institution. There are very real legal, social and economic benefits to getting married. Giving gays and lesbians these rights in the form of “civil unions” smacks of the same bullshit hypocrisy that saw African-Americans regarded as “separate but equal” not so long ago.
I’m not asking for the right to be married in a church. While I might not like the discriminatory stance some churches take to gays and lesbians, I can accept their opinions and beliefs. All I’m asking for is the right to call my civil marriage a marriage, like so many heterosexuals do.
I don’t want to gain an important civil right only to be reminded that I wasn’t good enough for the real deal whenever I reference my marital status. In a startling display of insensitivity last week, The Sun and The Daily Mail referred to Kevin McGee as Matt Lucas’ “ex-husband” (yes, including the quotation marks) when he committed suicide. During the course of my googling for this blog post I also found the BBC at it in December 2006 when the couple “wed” (again, quotation marks are theirs) and celebrated their “marriage.”
The message is clear. Any relationship I have will never be as good as a heterosexual one and certainly never worthy of a true marriage, whatever that is. Someone has decided that a “marriage” is a heterosexual privilege and one more way to mark gays and lesbians as different and unworthy. It’s only a word, but no one knows better than the LGBT community how much words can hurt. Fags and dykes can’t get married but gays and lesbians can have civil unions.

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