It’s just a word

Marriage. All the drama over one word. The people in power are missing the point that both sides of this debate are actually seeking entirely different things. On the one hand, there are those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman as defined in The Bible and wish to defend that. Then there are those who believe it to be an issue of Equality and Civil Rights and want the definition under the law to be changed. Both sides sometimes meet in the middle and agree that gay couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, but the sticking point always ends up being over calling it “Marriage” under the law, so The Church owns or controls that word. I think I missed that memo.

Points used to defend changes being made to the Marriage Act by those in power are that Marriage is defined as being between one man and one woman, as written in The Bible (an unverified Religious text that only has any power if the reader believes it to be true). The other, is what is contained in the Dictionary (a definition created by the law which is now outdated since it was originally based on the Religious traditions of said text above).

The argument put forward by Conservative citizens and Politicians who oppose gay marriage is often along the lines of, “if it’s about the rights and it’s not about the word, then why do gays have to call it marriage?”. It might not be about the word itself, but it’s about the meaning that word has come to have in wider society and that those equal rights should apply regardless. A gay couple can’t refer to their significant other as their husband or wife if they are not married. Well, they could, but underneath it all they would still feel like it is a fraudulent claim because they have a Civil Union.

In a society built around marriage as being the ultimate and aspirational form of love and commitment, then why can that word under the law not also be applied to same sex couples? Why are gay people not allowed to call their relationship a marriage like everyone else when it has become the accepted term used to describe a committed and loving relationship? At the heart of this is a failure to recognise that Marriage under the law and marriage as a Religious ideal are two different terms and they can co-exist and do not need to be defined in the same way.

As recent as 1967, interracial marriages were illegal in the United States, so how can same sex marriage be seen as any different? More to the point, why is it that 44 years later we are still debating on whether it should be allowed? Although the Civil Rights Movement in the US and the Gay Rights Movement started at the same time, they have clearly not progressed at an equal pace – no wonder people are frustrated!  

The cause of all this is the misinformed belief that being gay is a lifestyle choice. I don’t consider myself a militant gay man and I rarely go marching or take part in parades, but if I hear someone try and tell me or someone else that being gay is a choice I can’t help myself. It’s probably the one thing that bothers me the most, because I am not one of those people who is out-and-proud. I find it to be an isolating burden at times and have often wondered who in their right mind would want to choose a life where they are treated like an outcast in society and denied the same basic human rights as everyone else? Not me. The sooner that people realise being gay is not a lifestyle choice, that it’s not some kind of rebellious act against society or the realm of the disenfranchised and know it’s built in facet of our body chemistry, the better. Love her or hate her, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was certainly a loud and bold statement to everyone in that regard.

Religious institutions fear that legalising gay Marriage would degrade it in the eyes of the Lord. Well, the people I know don’t want to get married in Church, why would anyone want to do that when the Religion itself opposes who they are as people? We can’t change the way we were born. Surely those who believe in The Bible believe that God created us all and that above all else, was and is about love and acceptance. Why, then, is the law allowed to be upheld when it clearly contradicts that notion of love and acceptance based on someone’s interpretation in a chapter of a Religious text? Not all Christians share that view, and it is certainly wrong to be completely vilifying of people who have such beliefs. There are many people who are both gay and believe in God, but there are those who spoil it for the rest and unfortunately they seem to be the ones who end up in high positions of power.

Also, there are some Conservatives who object to corporations having power over government policies and changing or bending the law and to them I ask this question, “is The Church claiming to own the laws surrounding Marriage and having an influence on it any different to big corporations doing that?”.

You may have seen interviews with Michele Bachmann recently, she could become the Republican party’s nominee for President of the United States next year. Bachmann is married to an (allegedly) closet homosexual man who runs a clinic to turn gay men straight. It’s hard to believe that such clinics still exist, let alone that someone who runs one and doesn’t think gay people with children should be called a family, has reached the stage where she has been elected into office. If such a person becomes the most powerful person on Earth and the first female President, I guess the Mayans must be right and we can only hope for the ground to swallow us all up Roland Emmerich style.

At the end of the day, Marriage under the law and Marriage as a Religious ideal are completely different things, they just happen to share the same word. Sure, it’s just a word, but everyone has the right to use it.

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About Chaz Harris

Chaz Harris is a writer and award-winning filmmaker based in Wellington, New Zealand.
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4 Responses to It’s just a word

  1. espressonist says:

    Hi Chaz, given civil unions have effectively neutered (for now) any push in NZ for full marriage equality, I’m guessing this post is inspired by campaigns in Australia and the US? Despite a clear majority of Australian’s supporting gay marriage, there’s a truly vociferous bunch of haters over here that almost make Bachmann and Perry look moderate (http://www.smh.com.au/national/anger-over-rally-to-ridicule-gay-marriage-20110816-1iw1e.html).

    • Chaz Harris says:

      yes, it’s okay in NZ because the Civil Unions are kind of the same, but it’s still not marriage is it? I do think it’s crazy that it’s not legal in Sydney with it being the gay capital of the Southern Hemisphere…

  2. Tash says:

    Totally agree, 100%, of course, but the Black Civil Rights movement did start quite a bit earlier (in the late 19th century) than the gay liberation movement (the 50s at the earliest, but mostly accepted to be around 1969), as well as having progressed more quickly, possibly because no-one can deny that people are born black 🙂

  3. 1930dancer says:

    i think everyone is equal and nobody should be considered better than anyone else..we come into this world with nothing and go out the same way…sexual orientation,colour,etc does .matter…what matters is everyone should treat people in the way they themselves would like to be treated…

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