I don’t consider myself a supporter of gay marriage (even though I will effectively be voting for gay marriage this fall) largely because that institution has long served to bring together two people of different genders in a lifelong sexually exclusive union. I have mentioned this notion in numerous blog posts and devoted these two pieces to the topic.
I base my understanding on the institution on my studies of mythology, psychology, anthropology and history. Up until the end of the last century, all organic cultural marriage rituals involved each spouse performing different gender-specific acts. When cultures which defined same-sex unions as marriage, they required one of the union’s partners to live in the guise of the opposite sex and among that gender-defined community, prohibiting him (or her) from performing the roles of his biological gender. (Or otherwise they called it something other than marriage.)
Yesterday, my friend David Benkof (with whom I disagree on many issues related to the marriage debate) comes forward with research that language itself supports this notion of gender difference. He writes that, “Dr. Jay Jasanoff, the chairman of the linguistics department at Harvard [has] never encountered any language without a specific word for mother and a separate word for father.” David has collected further observations from linguistics professors who agree with Dr. Jasanoff, all languages have a gender-specific word for each parent. I encourage you to check out his post.
While David would have us Californians vote in favor of the proposed fall initiative on marriage, I would rather remind you of what Jonathan Rauch’s comment (which I referenced yesterday) that honest advocacy of same-sex marriage “requires acknowledging that same-sex marriage is a significant social change.”
If we’re going to debate gay marriage, let’s do so honestly (as Jonathan does). Gay marriage does represent a significant social change and a redefinition of marriage, or perhaps it might be better to say an expansion of the traditional definition. Whereas once it was limited to different-sex couples, now we’re considering whether to include same-sex couples as well.
And should we do so, we must bear in mind the responsibilities which inhere in this ancient institution.