My friend recently wrote a blog post about his uneasy tension between what he feels is legally right and what he feels is morally right about gay marriage (synopsis: He thinks it’s morally wrong, but legally speaking the government should make it available for everyone, regardless of his feelings). The common thread among the against-gay-marriage comments is that we should allow civil unions for gay people, but just leave marriage for the religious people.
I used to be a big fan of this compromise myself, since I saw two sides desperately unwilling to budge, and this was a compromise, some kind of middle ground. However, over time I’ve come to realize what this little bit of semantic juggling — calling it civil unions instead of civil marriage — is.
It’s semantic slavery.
“Is there a legal difference between a civil union and a civil marriage?” my author friend asked as we talked about this later in the day.
“Yes,” I responded. “A civil marriage is for a man and a woman. A civil union is for whatever with whatever. It’s the only legal difference, but it speaks volumes.”
Let’s be honest. If Christians (because it has been mostly Christians who have been incredibly vocal about this issue) really felt that this word change was an appropriate solution, then (a) it would have been hastily adopted ten plus years ago when it first came up, and (b) we could have easily solved the problem by having a Super Secret Christian Meeting and declaring we replace all instances of the word marriage and use the made-up word egairram instead. Ha, we would sneer admist the cigar smoke and dark lighting in the backroom of an Itallian restaurant in New York City. They can have their marriage, but they can’t have their gay egairrams!
No, this is a ridiculous idea, because we all know that Christians are not opposed to the vocabulary issue of gay marriage, but the very principle of gay marriage itself. Still, this has become an increasingly popular solution amongst Christians — civil unions, a half-way compromise, is the answer! But they are not.
First, why the increased popularity? Because of this:
Gay marriage is quickly becoming an acceptable thing, and opposition is dropping over time. In short, in our post-modern, enlightened society, people who oppose gay marriage are being labeled as bigoted, and honestly, even conservative, sometimes-fundamentalist Christians bristle at the idea of being labeled bigoted. The nerve.
Because of this, you can’t openly oppose gay marriage anymore. We saw what happened to the Mormons who supported Prop 8 — the death threats, the hit lists, the blacklisting and protests and vandalism. If this is what it means to stand up for what I believe, no thank you, sir. Thus, the civil union solution gaining traction in the Christian community. It’s the perfect solution! Gay people get all the legal rights of marriage, but we get to keep the word marriage all to ourselves (as if that was the problem in the first place). And we all go home happy!
Except this “solution” is intellectually dishonest.
To fully answer my friend’s question, why does the difference between civil marriage and civil unions speak volumes?
The same way that whites only and blacks only bathrooms speak volumes.
Suppose we have two public restrooms. Both are architecturally the same. Both are furnished exactly the same. Both are sanitized and functional exactly the same. For all intents and purposes, they are identical, cloned bathrooms.
Except one has a “whites only” sign and one has a “blacks only” sign.
Suddenly, the bathrooms are definitely not the same.
What the proposition of instituting civil unions over civil marriages does is institute the idea of “separate but equal” all over again, except this time it’s not blacks and whites, but the straight community versus the queer community. There is no such thing as separate and equal, especially in the Christian community. Let’s all be honest — in our minds, civil unions are not the same as civil marriages because civil unions are not as good. They’re not as legitimate. It’s the old issue all over again — we don’t think homosexual relationships are as real, as legitimate, as honest and right as heterosexual relationships, and we want to codify this in law. This isn’t a compromise — it is proposed capitulation for the other side disguised as semantic splitting hairs coupled with some good old fashioned Christian mercy and American compromise-making. Otherwise, we would not have a problem making the jump up from civil union to civil marriage, if they were really the same thing minus the fact that we used a thesaurus for one of them. In a religion where Christ urges us to be one, we understand all too well what separation really means.
So let us not engage in these sneaky semantic gymnastics. If you’re against gay marriage, say so. If civil union is really, for all intents and purposes, the same as civil marriage, then why not just call it civil marriage? What’s in a name?
Apparently, all the difference in the world.