I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now why so many people are against gay marriage but for civil union. I understand people who think homosexuality is a sin against God and I understand people who think it’s icky — I disagree with them, but at least they’re comprehensible. I also understand people who have no problem with homosexuality personally but are opposed to it because they want to win the next election (that, I suspect, covers both sides of the aisle). But there are a lot of people who seem to wish that gay couples could have the legal rights of marriage so long as it’s not called marriage.
My best theory is that somewhere in the nation’s subconscious, the phrase gay marriage is one giant trademark dilution. The fear is not that legalized same-sex marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, but rather that it legitimizes a different consensus meaning of the word itself. Let that take root and in a few years you’ll say your son just got married, only to be asked “Congratulations! Boy or girl?” (First they take the word queer, then they take the word marriage — next thing you know we’ll only be left with our prepositions!) That’s the only explanation I can think of for bringing charges against clergy for “solemnizing a marriage without a license“. It’s like Hormel trying to stop people from calling unsolicited email “spam,” because it destroys the sanctity of salted pork. (In fact, Hormel is pretty cool about the whole thing.)
If this feeling rings true in your heart, I have a suggestion. Quickly, while the language is still in flux, make a preemptive grab for the qualifier. The whole civil union vs. marriage argument is a dead-end, because the word marriage has been written into too many laws, regulations and court decisions. However, the race for the word civil marriage is just now being run, and could be just the compromise everyone is looking for. Definition-wise, civil marriage means a marriage in the eyes of the law, but it also specifically says nothing more. It’s like saying “my partner and I” when you don’t want to say the person’s gender or marital relationship. Get the phrase to be used for same-sex and otherwise new-fangled marriages and the current meaning of the word marriage won’t get diluted, same sex couples get their legal rights, and best of all it won’t affect anyone in the Bay Area one whit ’cause we’ve been using the word “partner” instead of spouse for years anyway. Everyone goes away happy, except the people I mentioned at the top that I don’t agree with anyway. What could be better?