Monday, August 6, 2007

24 - Answer(s): Part 2

Q: Karyn Graves - Do other countries have as big of an issue with gay marriage as we do over here? Do they have laws about it?
A: I’m going to start my answer to this question with a bit of a lecture on etymology. I intend to dedicate an entire chapter in my book to the subject of words, their definitions, and their commonly understood meanings. I find the topic to be both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because the evolution of the meanings of words says a lot about our culture. Frustrating because that same evolution can make civilized discussion of important issues impossible.

Let’s start with some definitions, because unless we agree on language we can’t have a conversation. The first thing to understand with this issue is that there is no such thing as “gay marriage”. The word “gay” is commonly understood to mean a person who is homosexual. The definition of “homosexual” is a person who achieves sexual satisfaction with a person of the same gender. The definition of “marriage” is the union of one man with one woman. Note that this definition also covers a person having multiple spouses; each pairing is technically still the union of one man and one woman. I’m not going to get into a discussion of why that is the definition, nor will I waste time trying to rationalize. I simply state that the definition of the word “marriage” is “the union of one man with one woman.”

Because of these definitions the term “homosexual marriage” is rendered meaningless. How can you have a “marriage” (the union of a man and a woman) between two people of the same sex? It’s impossible.

Strawman Alert: “Oh, so you’re opposed to two happily committed gay people living together, huh? HOMOPHOBE!” Folks, read what I wrote. Did I say that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to live together? No. What business of mine is it who lives with whom? Furthermore, did I give any indication of my feelings towards homosexuals? No. What does it matter what I think about homosexuality? I'm just a man with a keyboard. It’s precisely this irrationality and ad-hominum thinking that makes discussing this issue hard. So let’s all just keep cool and rational about this.

I’ll turn the question back around: Why do homosexuals want the word “marriage” to be redefined? I don’t have an answer to that question, and won’t presume to speak for the homosexual community. If I were forced to guess I would say that the re-definition is being sought after to make homosexuality more “normal”. In the end, I believe that words have meanings. If we want to create a new institution to recognize the union of two people of the same sex, then that new institution should be given its own word.

With all of that out of the way I can finally get to your question. In order to fully answer it I must first outline how other nations deal with homosexual marriage. The information that follows was taken from ReligiousTolerance.org. There’s a lot more there, but this quick summary will serve my needs well.

Holland expanded their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples in April of 2001. Belgium did the same in January of 2003. Canada instituted homosexual marriage starting in the province of Ontario in June of 2003, and in July of 2005 it had become federal law. Spain passed a law allowing same-sex couples to marriage in June of 2005.

These are the only countries (along with South Africa) in which homosexual marriage is enshrined in law. There are other nations which allow civil unions, including England, France, and parts of Australia. For a complete picture of the world-wide state of homosexual marriage, see the Wikipedia article here. Among other information, I particularly liked the world map they provide.

On the other side of the tolerance coin, nations that follow sharia law (the law of the Islamic faith) have no tolerance for homosexuals. Nations that follow this include Saudi Arabia and Iran. Homosexuality is illegal, and punishable by death (typically by stoning). In a sense, that is how they deal with homosexual marriage.

The wording of your question also points to an underlying tension in American society. There is indeed a “problem” with homosexual marriage, but it’s a distinctly American problem. Let me explain, starting with a statement that some may disagree with: America is not a bigoted, racist country. Does this means that the country is free of bigots and racists? Of course not. But the society of America as a whole is a very tolerant one. Part of the problem with this discussion is that unrelated issues are being blurred together. Americans as a whole are tolerant of homosexuality. That is a private sexual issue. That tolerance of homosexuality, however, does not extend into the public realm of marriage.

How the issue is being handled is also very un-American. The decision whether or not to redefine marriage is not being handled by the American people, but rather by a group that I will call “the elite”. By and large, Americans do not like to be told what to do by anyone, especially people whom they see as not representative of their views. By attempting to force homosexual marriage on the populace through the courts, the activists have sewn the seeds of their undoing. Already there is a substantial backlash to this, and it will grow over time.

So how will this issue be ultimately resolved? I have no idea. That’s a subject for another question.