Defining Marriage

31 August 2011

RICK PERRY, Presidential candidate and Governor of Texas, recently signed a pledge with the National Organization for Marriage. Too many folks, he says, are breaking tradition in their definitions of marriage, and he promises to set them straight with a Constitutional Amendment. It may seem curious to publish a definition in the United States Constitution when a dictionary is the more standard venue. But Governor Perry has more in mind than just teaching vocabulary. He doesn’t like gays using the word “marriage” to describe their relationships, and he doesn’t want the government to bless gay relationships as marriages.



If you think hard enough about the definition of a word, you always run into a philosophical problem.  What objective standard sets the definition?  What is the thing’s true essence?  What is the thing really?  Pursue the chain of thought far enough past the bounds of caution, and down you go into the rabbit-hole of metaphysics, tumbling headlong through the strata of history to try and understand what a marriage really is.  You land in ancient Greece.  And finding nowhere in these depths of time a toga-wearing academician who can show you the Eternal Definer of All Definitions,  the Platonic Form of Is-ness Itself,  you climb back out again to adopt a more practical approach.  You build a safety rail around that ontological abyss and grant that there is something arbitrary in every definition.  Definitions are made up by people, and marriages are what people make them.



It is presumptuous and offensive for the governor to define marriage for everybody.  But worse still is the implication that gays don’t belong in polite society.  We don’t like a politician who says you’re either too poor or too old or too Muslim or too brown or too gay to count; that you’re no good to your country, that you’re what’s wrong with your country.  Overalls Nation is out to fight the politicians who run you down, and to prove that this is your country. And even if it has knocked you down a hundred ways because of who you are, you can take pride in yourself and in your way of life.





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