Prop 8 and DoMA: Defining Marriage Isn’t the Issue

My colleague at LA Progressive, Carl Matthes, makes a great point. While all of these people are bandying about trying to determine what the definition of marriage should be, they really should look at the definition of another word — equality.

After the election, a close liberal friend of mine, who happens to be Jewish, said that she and her husband went to the dictionary to check the definition of the word “marriage” to help guide their vote on Prop 8. They wanted clarification on how marriage is defined. I assume they felt that by defining marriage clearly, this would give them direction for granting equal rights to gay men and lesbians.


She said her dictionary defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. (As does my older Webster’s dictionary.) She then asked, “I wonder how your Oxford English Dictionary (OED)  defines marriage?” So, for those who like to swallow their sense of equality with a big dose of dictionary, I submit the definition of “marriage” from volume IX of the XX volume OED which reads, “The condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between married persons; spousehood, wedlock.” Spousehood? And, no mention of man or woman. Those English must have known something which must have gotten lost in translation on the trip across the Atlantic. And, for those who like to play word games, notice the word “or” between husband or wife and not the word “and.” Oh, there could be two wives? Two husbands? A female as husband or a male as wife? My mind is reeling with possibilities.

I then thought that a better place to look in the dictionary for guidance on how to vote on same-sex marriage would be the word “equal.” My OED says that equal means, “Identical in amount; neither less nor greater…having the same measure, number, value, intensity, etc.” So, in the context of constitutional equality, I would expect to see next to the definition of equality a picture of Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. Maybe in my friend’s dictionary there would be a picture of Strom Thurmond or Rush Limbaugh.

Not a lot of wiggle room with the word “equal.”

For years, people have told me that I need to compromise on the matter of the state permitting legal marriage for the GLBT community. Accept second-class citizenship in the form of civil union, they say — it’s good enough. Many gay and lesbian people do accept the diminishment meekly in the interest of peace. Good on them. Civil union is not equal, so it cannot be good enough. Ever. Grown-up people can and should compromise whenever possible, and on any other issue, I certainly am willing to make allowances or take less than I truly require or want. But not when it comes to equality: As the Supreme Court ruled a half-century ago, separate but equal isn’t equal. We are either equal or we are not. This nation claims to offer equality under secular law for all. Therefore, equality, in a legal or non-theocratic sense, cannot be compromised.

Look it up:

equality (noun) – i kwóllətee, ee kwóllətee

equal (noun) – i kwól, ee kwól

MSN Encarta: 

state of being equal:  rights, treatment, quantity, or value equal to all others in a specific group
* full equality under the law


the quality or state of being equal (of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another; identical in mathematical value or logical denotation; equivalent – like in quality, nature, or status c: like for each member of a group, class, or society)
* provide equal employment opportunities>

Merriam-Webster Law Dictionary:

the quality or state of being equal: as 1. : sameness or equivalence in number, quantity, or measure 2.: likeness or sameness in quality, power, status, or degree

the state or quality of being equal; correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability; equal – as great as; the same as (often fol. by to or with); like or alike in quantity, degree, value, etc.; of the same rank, ability, merit, etc.; evenly proportioned or balanced; uniform in operation or effect; adequate or sufficient in quantity or degree; having adequate powers, ability, or means; impartial or equitable

American Heritage Dictionary:

The state or quality of being equal


the quality of being the same in quantity or measure or value or status

Unless one wants a theocracy, nope, you won’t find wiggle room here. Equal is equal, period. The United States and all but two states in the union do not provide equality for all. I don’t care how religious one claims to be — no decent person should accept inequality. Frankly, I don’t see how they could. And if the US is supposedly the greatest, fairest nation on the planet, it should act like it and acknowledge the full equality of all its citizens.

8 responses to “Prop 8 and DoMA: Defining Marriage Isn’t the Issue

  1. In California Domestic Partnerships and Marriages ARE equal under the law.

  2. No, civil marriage is superior. Sorry, but separate but equal is NOT equal. Equal is equal, which means only marriage will do unless hets can be restricted to unions. The hets and homos have to have the same thing for equality to exist.

  3. You should try reading California law before making such assertions. Per the California Family Code Domestic Partners have ALL the same rights, privileges and responsibilities under the law as spouses do.

    Prop 8 denied queers the state’s public acceptance of them, that is all – and you can;t legislate acceptance. In fact trying to override the will of the electorate again is just going to hurt the queers when it comes to acceptance.

  4. I have read the law. The SCOTUS is clear – a separate designation is unequal on its face. And then there is the disgusting matter of requiring a distinct desgination under law for homosexuals. This is being done clearly for discriminatory purposes and goes against the spirit of the constitution.

    Why are you arguing for something separate?

  5. I don’t really care if the solution is a separate one or not. I care about not letting a small group of unelected officials overturn the the will of the electorate. I also care about maintaining the purpose of America’s laws and the form of its government.

    All the legislature and the judiciary can do is try to ensure that all peoples are given equal protection under the law. California Family Code provides that for homosexuals in regards to “marriage” rights. Any attempt by homosexuals to use the courts to overturn the electorate in this matter is both a gross crime against democracy and a useless gesture since it gains them NOTHING under the law.

    This is all about homosexuals wanting the state to grant them acceptance – and probably to get the state to ram that acceptance down other people’s throats. That won’t work and is a piss poor excuse for trying to defy the will of the electorate.

    Frankly, if the CA State Assembly hadn’t violated the existing California laws (Prop 22) by pushing AB 849 when they did this whole argument would have never happened. They tried to legislate public acceptance without regard to legal necessity and Prop 8 was the result. There’s a growing public acceptance for gay marriage – which is good – so they should have waited a bit to push the issue – or better yet, campaigned to overturn Prop 22 first and let THAT go to the people.

  6. That is the job of those unelected officials, though. Sometimes the will of the people is WRONG. If “interracial” marriage was left to a popular vote, I wonder what would have happened to my parents, to my marriage… Actually, I don’t wonder — we would all be criminals. Popular will should win the day in most cases, of course. But the judiciary was created for the purpose of protecting an unpopular minority from the tyranny of a bigoted majority. You should not be able to take people’s rights by a popular vote — the people can not be trusted on the matter of deciding who gets privilege under law. I’m sad to say that, but it is true: they cannot be trusted to do what is moral and just. This is about civil marriage, not religious marriage — punishing nonbelievers under secular law on the basis of certain religious opibnions is totally evil and unjustifiable. Thank God for the courts — without them, my life would be far worse.

  7. According to Husband = “a married man, esp. when considered in relation to his wife.” Wife = “a woman joined in marriage to a man; a woman considered in relation to her husband; spouse.” I think you’re going to have trouble winning the definition game.

  8. Not necessarily. The California marriage license (pre-Prop 8) allowed “husband,” “wife,” and “spouse.”

    spouse – either member of a married pair in relation to the other; one’s husband or wife.

    from the American Heritage dictionary
    spouse – A marriage partner; a husband or wife.

    [both connote equivalency]

    In terms of marriages in your church (the fact that they’re legal too is a privilege, like its tax exemption), husbands and wives are served. Your branch of God’s house will not be defiled.

    In terms of marriages at the courthouse, spouses, husbands, and wives are served. The courthouse is the arbiter of the civil law, which is secular. It is wrong for one group of citizens to vote away rights for another based on religious view under secular law.

    All we’re demanding is equality – civil marriage by the justice of the peace and willing clergy. Your brand of religious marriage is all yours; discriminate at will within your faith group.

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