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Same-sex marriage: In the beginning there was the word

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Rick Horowitz
August 5, 2010

Has he had problems with “same-sex marriage”? You bet he has. The whole idea has made him squirmy.


Actually, not the whole idea. Not the same-sex part—the marriage part.


And really, not even the marriage part—the “marriage” part.


The word itself. It’s the word itself that kept getting in the way.


Let other people mount their soapboxes to rail against the supposed destruction of the social order. The rejection of biblical injunctions. The celebration of Satan and sinfulness.


Those were never his concerns. The social order, he understood, is always being upended. There are plenty of passages in the Bible that make today’s readers—most of them, anyway—cringe. And sinfulness? When it comes to sinfulness, he was quick to admit, heterosexuals take a back seat to no one.


(Or had we forgotten what goes on in some of those back seats?)


No—the way he looked at it, he and his fellow heterosexuals had some serious work ahead of them, cleaning up their own acts, before they could even think about casting that first stone at anyone else.


But it bothered him anyway. As a writer, the word bothered him.

He liked to think of himself as a thoughtful writer. A precise writer. When he placed a word on a page, or on a screen, he wanted it to be the exact word he wanted, to convey that exact bit of information or emotion or color. The exact word, rather than some not-quite-right word.


He knew nuance, he told himself. He did shadings. So how could he take this word—“marriage”—that had for so long meant just one thing, and accept its being stretched all out of shape to accommodate something altogether different?


His was a writerly objection.

The pairing off of gay people bothered him not at all; he’d known same-sex couples all his adult life. The pairing off didn’t even bother him when it came fully accessorized with rings, with tuxedos and veils, with official-looking seals on official-looking documents.


But couldn’t they find some other word for it?


Which is why he grasped, for a time, at “civil union.” “Civil union” could solve his problem, couldn’t it? If it sounded a bit sterile—well, he could live with that. It would get the job done, wouldn’t it? And most important (most important from his writer’s perspective, at least), it would preserve the meaning of that other word. The word—“marriage”—that had for so long meant just one thing.


Until he began to notice that it hadn’t.


Hadn’t meant just one thing, that is. There were blissful marriages and stressful marriages. Marriages of the heart and marriages of convenience. Marriages for the thrill and for the money. Arranged marriages and accidental marriages. Marriages of equals and marriages of subjugation. Childhood sweethearts and May-December marriages. Marriages with children and without children.


Marriages of…


The word “marriage” already encompassed each of those. All of those. Surely, he realized, it could handle some further stretching. In fact, he realized, when you came right down to it, same-sex marriage wasn’t “something altogether different” at all.


What else he began to notice: How much the word itself mattered to those who wanted to bring themselves, and their relationship, within its borders. Within its blessings.


Who was he to object to that desire? And on linguistic grounds, no less. It was time—it was past time—to set his writerly objections aside.


It was time to write in praise of committed love.


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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