Marriage by Any Other Name is Still Marriage

Jason Dulle


It does no good to give homosexuals the same benefits as married couples, but simply call that package by a different name.


On October 24th 2004 President Bush took a step backward in his campaign for traditional marriage, departing from the Republican platform when he told Charles Gibson of ABC that he supports civil unions:

I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that's what a state chooses to do so. … I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. … States ought to be able to have the right to pass laws that enable people to be able to have rights like others.

I'm afraid Bush strained at the gnat and swallowed the camel, conceding the whole debate without recognizing he has done so. Evidently he believes the fight for marriage is over the word "marriage," rather than for its exclusive benefits and social approval.1 Bush is not alone. Other supporters of traditional marriage are just as confused about the essence of this fight.

After the MA Supreme Court ruled Massachusetts' marriage laws unconstitutional because they did not include same-sex couples, the MA Senate was forced to rewrite the marriage laws. Trying to "preserve marriage" the Senate proposed Senate bill No. 2175 entitled, An Act Relative to Civil Unions, which would give same-sex couples all the attendant rights of marriage, but call the institution a "civil union" rather than "civil marriage." The Senate sent a copy of this bill accompanied by an order posing the following question:

Does Senate, No. 2175, which prohibits same-sex couples from entering into marriage but allows them to form civil unions with all 'benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities' of marriage, comply with the equal protection and due process requirements of the Constitution of the Commonwealth and articles 1, 6, 7, 10, 12 and 16 of the Declaration of Rights? (emphasis mine)

On February 3, 2004 the Court concluded that this bill did not meet the requirements of the Constitution because giving the two identical packages of benefits different names "continues to relegate same-sex couples to a different status," "assigning...same-sex couples…to second-class status."

In her dissenting comments to this decision, Justice Sosman noted that

both sides appear to have ignored the fundamental import of the proposed legislation, namely, that same-sex couples who are civilly "united" will have literally every single right, privilege, benefit, and obligation of every sort that our State law confers on opposite-sex couples who are civilly "married." Under this proposed bill, there are no substantive differences left to dispute -- there is only, on both sides, a squabble over the name to be used. … As a result, we have a pitched battle over who gets to use the "m" word.

Sosman recognizes what Bush does not: the absurdity of haggling over the mere word, "marriage." The fight for marriage is centered on preventing the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and all the attendant benefits that accompany such recognition. Arguing over the name by which same-sex unions will be called, rather than against their legal recognition in the first place is like trying to purify the air of a burning building rather than trying to squelch the fire itself-you may clean the air, but in the end you lose the building.

Unfortunately the MA Senate did not recognize this, for in another section of their order they described the purpose of the bill as to provide "eligible same-sex couples the opportunity to obtain the benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities afforded to opposite sex couples by the marriage laws of the commonwealth, without entering into a marriage…." This is like saying "You can be employed at the same place we're employed, work just like we work, make the same money we make, get the same health insurance we get, but you will not have a 'job.' "

The Legislature thought this word-game would preserve "the traditional, historic nature and meaning of the institution of civil marriage." They seem to have forgotten that the traditional and historic meaning of marriage is centered on its purpose (the creation and nurturing of children), not its form (one man, one woman for life). The form marriage has taken reflects society's judgment concerning how to best manage marriage's purpose.2

So long as the purpose of marriage is clear, its form necessarily follows, and that form necessarily excludes same-sex couples.3 But if we lose sight of marriage's purpose, the only thing left to defend is its form. And that is not an easy task because the traditional form of marriage is logically tied to its purpose. Apart from its purpose the traditional form of marriage is unprincipled and rather indefensible. So when the purpose of marriage is not front and center in this debate, it's easy to see how someone like Bush can support giving the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples so long as the name "marriage" is reserved for heterosexuals.

This thinking is wrong-headed. We must recognize the fact that the government is not in the business of regulating private relationships. The only exception is marriage. Why does the government provide social approval and support for this institution, and this institution alone? There is only one reason: they are interested in perpetuating society (an ability exclusive to heterosexuals). Apart from its vested interest in children, there is no good reason for the government to regulate any private relationships. If homosexuals cannot produce children, why should the government be interested in their relationships?

What we have happening today, however, are homosexuals demanding that the State recognize their relationships as equal to heterosexual relationships and give them benefits equal to marriage, even though their relationships do not serve the same purpose as marriage. If the relationships are not equal, on what grounds must we treat them as such? Homosexual relationships have nothing to do with the purpose for which civil marriage is enacted; therefore, homosexual relationships are not entitled to any of its rights/benefits, nor to its name. That is why the Republican party is opposed to both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

So the debate over same-sex marriage is not over who "owns" the word marriage, but whether same-sex unions should be given the benefits of marriage without actually qualifying for them. Since same-sex unions do not fulfill the purpose of marriage, they do not deserve any of its benefits, yet alone its name. To give same-sex unions legal recognition and social endorsement of any kind, and under any name undermines the institution of marriage, and the argument for marriage's traditional form. As The Family Research Institute of Wisconsin said, "Giving relationships that are something other than one man and one woman all the legal rights of marriage, but calling them by some other name, completely undermines the institution of marriage…."4 At the end of the day marriage by any other name is still a marriage.


Related Articles:

What is the Definition of the "Definition" of Marriage?
"I Now Pronounce You Man and Man?": An Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage
Homosexuality and the Bible
The Same-Sex Marriage Debate: Who Has the Burden of Proof?
Arguing Against Homosexuality: A Response to Challenges From a University of California Professor
Dialogue With a Homosexual
What Single-Parenting Can Tell Us About Same-Sex Parenting
Arguing Against Homosexuality


1. This is not to say words do not matter. J. Budziszewski made this explicit when he wrote:

Words must square with things. Things do not change natures just because we change the words by which we refer to them. We might decide to call dogs "cats," but we would not thereby succeed in turning dogs into cats, because dogs and cats are different kinds of realities. In the same way, we might decide to call same-sex liaisons "marriages," but we would not thereby succeed in turning these liaisons into marriages because they too are different kinds of realities.
You might think that if what I say is true, and the characteristics of things are not changed by the words that we use for them, then it makes no difference what words we use for them. Not so. It does make a difference. Although we cannot change dogs into cats, we can confuse ourselves by calling dogs cats. In the same way, although we cannot change same-sex liaisons into marriages, we can confuse ourselves by calling them marriages. [J. Budziszewski, "The Illusion of Gay Marriage" Philosophia Christi 7 (2005): 45-52; available from; Internet; accessed 22 August 2005]

2. Justice Cordy, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (2003), dissenting.
3. Because they cannot procreate without the aid of someone of the opposite sex. Same-sex couples are necessarily parasitic on those of the opposite sex if they wish to rear children.
4. October 6, 2004, in response to a Louisiana State judge's overruling of the September 18th vote for a LA constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage and civil unions.

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