Is it possible all the fuss over same-sex marriage is essentially about semantics, or is it the inevitable result of the entanglement of church and state as University of Wisconsin student Kevin J. Mack points out in his recent op-ed piece in The Daily Cardinal titled Separate Church, State in Same-Sex Marriages?
One definition Dictionary.com ascribes to the term "semantics" is the study of linguistic development by classifying and examining changes in meaning and form. The meaning and form of the term "marriage" appears destined to undergo some changes despite ongoing attempts to codify its traditional definition with controversial legislation.
Mack suggests that church and state are hopelessly intertwined over the issue of marriage, and if they weren't, much of the disputation would dissolve. His solution is for the state to remove itself from the marriage business, and instead simply "recognize" couples - and confer appropriate legal rights upon them - according to its own criteria. Churches would, of course, be allowed to continue marrying whomever they want under whatever criteria they choose to impose.
Maybe the real dilemma is over 'ownership' of the construct of marriage itself. Churches seem to want control over who decides what a marriage is. Some applications of the term, however, are strictly secular - or civil - in nature. When we submit our tax returns to the IRS, the filing status "married filing jointly" refers to a legal status not a religious status - a status conferred upon us by the state. It would seem that if churches have complete control over who is married, the IRS may have to come up with a whole new set of filing status labels. Civil union filing jointly perhaps? Only for these purposes, the term "civil union" would necessarily apply to those considered married by churches as well.
Religious marriages are recognized by the state because they have met certain state-imposed criteria. If churches want to restrict recognition of religious marriage to that of a man and a woman, they are, of course, free to do so. It would be unreasonable, however, to attempt to deny states the right to perform strictly secular or civil marriages of same-sex couples.
While the definition of marriage that prevails would likely prove symbolic, it would be a capitulation to religious interests if marriage were to be legally defined as a union between a man and a woman, thus allowing them to define not just marriage, but whether or not we are an ideological melting pot. This would no doubt be a victory for the forces of intolerance and discrimination.
Perhaps Kevin Mack is correct: church and state need to be cleansed of the influence each has in the affairs of the other regarding marriage. Without this disentanglement, it may all indeed be just a matter of semantics.
2 years ago