As I sat down to write this blog, I wasn’t completely clear about my opinion on gay marriage, not because of my own feelings about homosexual love, but because I wasn’t sure what “marriage” truly means. I know how I define marriage. And I’ve heard others define it. But, at the end of the day, none of us is the ultimate source. The dictionary is.
Years ago, when I worked at Howard University, the school gave former student Sean Combs (formerly known as Puff Daddy, and currently known as Diddy) an Alumni Achievement Award. Many people opposed this decision. Combs never graduated from the university, so they believed that the administration changed the rules because of Combs’ wealth and fame. Even as an employee, I didn’t understand the rationale … until I looked up the word “alumnus.” I thought it was synonymous with “graduate.” But it actually means a graduate or former student of a specific school. So, Combs was, in fact, a Howard University alumnus.
Years later, I heard an individual describe to a judge a series of circumstances that were perceived as stalking. After listening to the account of the incident, the judge opened a dictionary, looked up “stalking,” read the entry aloud to the courtroom, said the situation didn’t fit the definition, and dismissed the case. You see, the dictionary is relevant to the law. Laws are, after all, a bunch of words, so the definitions of those words are of the utmost importance.
“Marriage” is also a word – one that people often define differently, based on their religious beliefs, upbringing, culture, personality, experiences, etc. It’s also a word about which people can get quite passionate. Those who oppose gay marriage are often quick to define it, insisting it means a “holy union between a man and a woman.”
Not being one to take someone else’s word for it, I logged onto dictionary.com and looked it up for myself. Marriage is defined as … drum roll, please … “the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.” But wait, there’s a second definition: “A similar institution involving partners of the same gender.”
It occurred to me that dictionary.com might have amended their definition in response to the current dialogue and laws pertaining to gay marriage. Wondering what the older, more established definition of marriage might be, I picked up The American Heritage Dictionary (Third Edition – published in 1994).
Printed dictionaries can be harder to amend as a result of social or legal pressure and changes. The definition: “A legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife” or “a close union.”
In my humble opinion, individuals – and religious institutions, for that matter – can define marriage however they see fit. But the law, like the dictionary, is supposedly objective, and represents people with different viewpoints. The words that comprise our laws are not cross-referenced with holy texts or public opinion, but with the dictionary. And the dictionary says that two people can be considered married if they have a close union. I guess my opinion has been formed. “People” can certainly include two men or two women.
Even if marriage was strictly defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, I would like to see same-sex couples have the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. And I am not sure how them having anything less would help or hinder me.
A Powerful Person accepts other people. I am certainly willing to accept people and their sexual preferences. Their sex lives and romantic partnerships are their business, just like what happens in my bedroom is mine. And if you have a beef with gay marriage, your issue may not be with the legislators, or even gay individuals. It might be with the dictionary publisher.
What do you have to add? I am sure you have something powerful to say.
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