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"Gay Marriage" or "Same-Sex Marriage"?

I don't have a strong preference for either formulation, and I've certainly used both in blog posts and in other contexts. Neither is wrong or offensive, as Eugene notes. But in most contexts, if forced to choose, all else being equal, I opt for gay marriage.

I do so for two reasons. First, "gay" is shorter and thus easier to type than "same-sex" (3 keystrokes versus 8). It's also less clumsy in many applications, especially if you append some qualifier, like "anti-" or "pro-", to the phrase, as often happens when you're keeping score in the debate. The only easier choice would be "SSM", clearly preferable to "GM", which makes it sound like the argument is about an automobile manufacturer. But depending on context SSM can be too au courant and too informal.

Shortness would not be an advantage if you had to sacrifice much clarity to get it. But I don't think you do sacrifice much clarity in this case by opting for "gay marriage." Eugene is probably right that same-sex marriage is descriptively more precise in the sense that two people of the same sex, regardless of their orientation, are united in marriage. But purely as a matter of communicating effectively, I think people understand what you mean by "gay marriage" without getting lost in distinctions about whether the spouses involved might in rare instances be bisexual or the speaker might intend to refer only to two gay men. "Gay" in "gay marriage" refers to the marriage, not to the spouses, who are in a gay marriage regardless of whether they're bisexual. And while "gay" has come to be associated with homosexual men more than homosexual women, in the particular phrase "gay marriage" I think people understand we're talking about two men or two women. These are judgments — sacrificing a bit of clarity to gain a bit of brevity and avoid clunkiness — about which reasonable people can disagree.

There's a second reason why I have a slight preference in most instances for "gay marriage" over "same-sex marriage." The debate is about many things: marriage, tradition, families, morality, religion, public policy. But it is also about gay people. Much — not all — of the opposition to gay marriage arises from deep opposition to homosexuality itself. Much of the support for gay marriage comes from people deeply committed to equality for homosexuals and who see marriage as an important piece of that larger project. Gay people are the ones overwhelmingly affected by the fact that two people of the "same sex" can't marry. In this sense, "same-sex marriage" subsumes them in a debate that is, in very important respects, about them. If you don't believe me, try having a debate with someone about the issue (on either side) without one or both of you making references to homosexuality. The debate is centrally about both gays and about marriage, so "gay marriage" seems the substantively better fit to me.

"Gay marriage" thus captures something about the historical and cultural significance of the debate, about the arguments for and against, that "same-sex marriage" tries to sanitize. As an example of this effort to sanitize, consider the first pro-gay-marriage decision, from the Hawaii Supreme Court in 1993, which actually has a footnote explaining its preference for the term "same-sex marriage" over "homosexual marriage." The footnote ends by observing that "parties to a same-sex marriage could theoretically be either homosexuals or heterosexuals." I always smile when I read that: please, please, this decision really has nothing to do with those people. Casebooks and court decisions ever since usually refer to it as "same-sex marriage."

Interestingly, the preference for "same-sex marriage" is also shared, for very different reasons, by two groups at opposite ends of the debate. On one end, there are ardent opponents of gay marriage who claim that the debate is not about homosexuals at all and who see it as politically unwise to appear to be "anti-gay." On the other end, there are queer theorists and social constructionists who reject even the categories "gay" and "straight." There's no doubt most academics writing in this field prefer "same-sex marriage."

I'm also not sure which way the respective phrases cut politically. It would be interesting to know whether "same-sex marriage" or "gay marriage" draws more opposition in polling questions that are otherwise identical. My hunch, and it's only a hunch, is that "gay marriage" excites somewhat more opposition because it more directly refers to homosexuality.

Mostly I look forward to the day when we simply call it marriage.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "Gay Marriage" or "Same-Sex Marriage"?
  2. Gay Marriage or Homosexual Marriage?
Randy R. (mail):
You say tom-ay-toe, I say tom-ah-toe.
7.25.2007 9:55pm
Brett Bellmore:
My only objection to the phrase is that MY marriage is "light hearted and carefree", and if I refer to it, properly, as "gay", people will think my wife is a guy. Couldn't the male homosexuals seize on some old bit of Greek literature, like the "lesbians" did, instead of confiscating one word after another, and leaving them behind drained of all meaning when they're done with them?

I wonder which word they plan to destroy next, after they're done with "gay"?
7.25.2007 10:38pm
SeaLawyer:

Randy, let me guess...
You're not gay and are personally unaffected by the topic?


That was good for a laugh.
7.25.2007 10:39pm
Jerry F:
On the one hand, one could label homosexuals as "sodomites" or "f**s"; these are clearly terms that reflect disapproval of homosexuality. On the other hand, one could label homosexuals as "gays" or "queers"; those (at least today) are clearly words that reflect a celebration of homosexuality. I prefer the term homosexual as the more neutral term, which suggests neither acceptance nor condemnation of homosexuality. Importantly, when homosexuals ask to be called "gays" or whatever other term they prefer, they are not asking for a neutral, "unbiased" term, but rather for a term that embrace what they are. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that; in a sense, every political group wants to refer themselves by using positive terminology, so there is nothing odd with the fact that homosexuals would refer to themselves as "gays", just like pro-abortion liberals want to refer to themselves as "pro-choice."
7.25.2007 10:46pm
J_A:
Jerry

You can either call people what they want to be called, or not. Politeness and civility require that you use their preferred name, unless you have a good reason not to, or just don't want to be polite. Do you have a good reason not to be polite to gays, or to homosexuals?

So just like anti-abortion conservatives want to refer themselves as "pro-life", using a positive terminology, instead of "anti-choice", gays want to be called "gay", as opossed to the clinical "homosexual". Unless you are homosexual, you really shouldn't impose your preference on them.
7.25.2007 11:07pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The footnote ends by observing that "parties to a same-sex marriage could theoretically be either homosexuals or heterosexuals." I always smile when I read that: please, please, this decision really has nothing to do with those people. Casebooks and court decisions ever since usually refer to it as "same-sex marriage."

If a gay man and a gay[*] woman marry each other (it happens) would you think it is equally dissembling if they referred to it as a different-sex marriage instead of a straight marriage or a heterosexual marriage?

[*]Apparently when I wasn't looking gay has come to imply both homosexual and male, so that usage is incorrect and impossible.
7.25.2007 11:18pm
jb (mail):
"Same sex marriage" is a much better phrase to describe the phenomenon of two persons of the same sex marrying than "gay marriage" for one clear reason: it is accurate and unambiguous. There are many homosexual persons who, for any number of reasons, are married to persons of the opposite sex. It would even be possible for a male homosexual and a female homosexual to be married to each other. This would be perfectly legal and absolutely not what we commonly understand to be "gay marriage," yet what could be more "gay" than the marriage of two homosexuals?
7.25.2007 11:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
Brett:"I wonder which word they plan to destroy next, after they're done with "gay"?"

I don't know. I'll have to get the Gay Central on the task. I know that they are quite busy right now, as they are trying to figure out how best to destroy marriage in the US.

I suspect, though, that their response will be that "queer" used to a word that meant odd, or out of the ordinary. Then gay bashers came in and used it as an insult against gays, thereby destroying it's true meaning.

So I guess we'll stop using gay when you stop using queer.

(And don't get me started about those hard workers at the fudge factory working around the clock to ship and package fudge around the world for your enjoyment. They don't like the fact that people like you have made their business the butt of many jokes).
7.25.2007 11:31pm
SeaLawyer:

(And don't get me started about those hard workers at the fudge factory working around the clock to ship and package fudge around the world for your enjoyment. They don't like the fact that people like you have made their business the butt of many jokes).


Wow there is some good comedy on this thread tonight.

What this conversation all boils down too is the fact that when it comes to speech Americans can do just about anything they want. We can make up new words and change the meaning of existing words. In the end whether you call it homosexual marriage gay marriage or same-sex marriage the argument is still the same no matter what you call it.
7.25.2007 11:55pm
Randy R. (mail):
Jerry F: "Importantly, when homosexuals ask to be called "gays" or whatever other term they prefer, they are not asking for a neutral, "unbiased" term, but rather for a term that embrace what they are."

Hmmm. I would love to see the scene at your Thanksgiving when one of your relatives, perhaps a nephew, or a daughter, comes out and tells you he or she is gay, or maybe a co-worker at the next office party, or your wallpaper hanger.

Oh no, I can't say that you are gay, dear one, Jerry replies, because that would imply acceptance, and I certainly don't want to imply that. I'll just call you a homosexual, and we'll shake on that, okay? Best to stay 'unbiased.'
7.26.2007 12:04am
Codger (mail):
I agree with Brett: one should never use the term "gay" to refer to homosexuals or bisexuals because it's a perfectly good English word than means nothing of the sort.

It's an ironic use, to be sure, because homosexuals are anything but 'gay' in the traditional sense of the word, but it impoverishes our language to toss off a valuable word because a tiny subgroup (3% max) has decided to claim it. Rubbish! Tosh!
7.26.2007 12:09am
Randy R. (mail):
You know Brett, I reread your statement: " [why do gay men] confiscate one word after another, and leaving them behind drained of all meaning when they're done with them? "

It made me think -- this is not only how gay men treat words, but other gay men as well. Love 'em, drain 'em, leave 'em.

Methinks Brett knows more about gay life than he's letting on....
7.26.2007 12:10am
Toby:
Randy

The last person who came out to me, told me he had realized that he was homosexual [his words]. Shall I call him back and say his outing was not sufficient because it did not meet the standards of *your* neighborhood?
7.26.2007 12:11am
Randy R. (mail):
Codger: "It's an ironic use, to be sure, because homosexuals are anything but 'gay' in the traditional sense of the word"

Codger has obviously never enjoyed the beauties of musical theater, not to mention Oscar Wilde. What a sad, crippled soul....
7.26.2007 12:12am
Randy R. (mail):
No, Toby, you should have bitch-slapped him. I certainly would have.

Then I would take him to a good drag show.
7.26.2007 12:14am
Codger (mail):
Randy wrote:

I would love to see the scene at your Thanksgiving when one of your relatives, perhaps a nephew, or a daughter, comes out and tells you he or she is gay, or maybe a co-worker at the next office party, or your wallpaper hanger.

Oh no, I can't say that you are gay, dear one, Jerry replies, because that would imply acceptance, and I certainly don't want to imply that. I'll just call you a homosexual, and we'll shake on that, okay? Best to stay 'unbiased.'


Dear fellow, the only possibly appropriate responses to such a declaration are "Indeed" or "Thank you for sharing that" or "I daresay" - followed by an immediate and deft change of the subject.
7.26.2007 12:16am
Codger (mail):

Oscar Wilde. What a sad, crippled soul....


Oscar Wilde was indeed a sad and tortured soul, though a genius.

And musical theater... you're thinking of "Springtime for Hitler" perchance?
7.26.2007 12:22am
arturo fernandez (mail):
It would be interesting to know whether "same-sex marriage" or "gay marriage" draws more opposition in polling questions that are otherwise identical. My hunch, and it's only a hunch, is that "gay marriage" excites somewhat more opposition because it more directly refers to homosexuality.

I disagree. Those who oppose what I like to call "gay marriage" do so because they feel it theatens THEM. Using the word "gay" goes some way, I think, to calming their fear that it's about them--it's about gay people. "Same sex" more invites them to imagine themselves caught in such a marriage, so they would have an instinctive negative reaction to it. Notice that the more careful opponents never use the term "gay marriage".

This is true as long as the word "gay" remains non-offensive. Nowadays straights use it to distinguish themselves from what they are not; they no longer use it to offend. Those inclined to offend opt for other words.
7.26.2007 12:27am
Randy R. (mail):
Too bad Codger hasn't considered some of the new meanings and phrases that we gays have ADDED to the language. We've taken tired old words and brought them to new heights of fancy. How about:

Fierce!
Fabulous! (That's the new F-word, if you didn't know)
Glam
Cosmo
Crusing
Trick
Troll
Twink (Short for Twinkie)
Queen

Now for phrases you'll never hear from a straight man, certainly not Codger:
I feel like i'm living in a Hollywood movie!
All I need on vacation is a bikini and an evening gown.
This is supposed to be a vacation, not an endurance test.
I feel like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure
What a dump!
I hate cheap sentiment
I'm on vacation and I expect to be constantly entertained
Why is everyone acting so rude?
I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore
For a moment, I thought you were amusing, but now you are getting on my nerves.
He has a nice basket.
We just want coffee and dessert.
I will NOT be ignored.
You look so "today."
I'm just full of surprises!
I like that outfit better each time I see it.
I like that trashy look.
What about MY needs?
Welcome to my nightmare.
Please stop talking: it's interfering with my daydreaming
Please, don't embarrass yourself.
When you speak of this, and you will, please be kind
I've always relied on the kindess of strangers

(With a hat tip to "How to Say Fabulous in 8 Different Languages" by Mryglot and Marks)
(Special points to those who know which are movie quotes!)
7.26.2007 12:28am
Randy R. (mail):
Oscar Wilde was most certainly not a tortured soul. He had a hard time after conviction to hard labor for two years, of course, due to the ridiculous judge. But his plays are some of the wittiest ever written, and he certainly lived life to the max and enjoyed every moment of it.

The sad soul was yours, for saying gays are anything but gay. Anyone who has such a cramped view of a whole group of people he has never met I feel quite sorry for.
7.26.2007 12:31am
Perseus (mail):
Judge Posner: "[E]ven in a tolerant society the life prospects of a homosexual--not in every case, of course, but on average--are, especially for the male homosexual, grimmer than those of an otherwise identical heterosexual, a conclusion that lends an ironic touch to the appropriation of the word gay to mean 'homosexual'--usually male homosexual" (italics in original, Sex and Reason, 307).
7.26.2007 1:42am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
I don't know, it sounds to me like "same-sex marriage" is a marriage where two people go through the "same" sexual motions again again, like robots, in a monotonous and dreary and repetitive way. "Honey, let's have the same sex we've been having and will always have, without anything new or different. What do you say?"

And "gay marriage" is no good either, because lesbians often don't consider themselves "gay". Even if they did, it would kind of imply that only two people of the same sex can be happy and gay in a marriage.

How about we just call it a civil union?
7.26.2007 2:02am
Randy R. (mail):
Judge Posner? Ah, yes, another old straight man who claims to know just everything about everyone.

"How about we just call it a civil union?"

Or better yet, let's just use Prof. Carpenter's suggestion and just call it marriage. After all, when two black people get married, we don't say they have a black marriage. When two Chinese people get married, we don't say it's a Chinese marriage. (you know, 'black' was a perfectly good word. It meant a color. Then these people came in and took it as a word for their own, draining it of ALL meaning. They didn't ask MY opinion! Now I can't use the word black without people thinking that I'm refering to those colored folk, when I really mean the color that Henry Ford said I could get my Model T in. It's just poppycock, if you ask me.)

So when two gays or two lesbians get married, let's just call it marriage and be done with it.
7.26.2007 2:22am
Randy R. (mail):
Ah, I posted too soon without doing my research. Mea culpa.

I should have known that Perseus took Posner's comments out of context. Posner's book actually is quite sympathetic to gays, and advocates for eliminiating discriminatory laws against us.

When he says that gays lead a somewhat grimmer life, he was referring to the fact that society, even in tolerant ones, make gays less likely to be accepted. Therefore, the root problem of our supposedly grimmer life is not because we are inherently a gloomy people (unlike, say the Russians)(Hey, it was a Russian who told me that one!), but because of they way society treats us.

Posner gives the example of the Netherlands, a society far more open than ours in 1994, when the book was published, and notes that even there, gays are afraid of coming out.

Well, 1994 is a world away from today. The open tolerant society that Posner envisioned simply didn't exist anyway at that time. Today, our society is far more open than he could have imagined at the time, and more importantly, more gays have come out since then.

The bottom line? Both the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Pschycology Association have concluded, after reviewing years of studies dating back to the 1960s, that gay people are not inherently mentally ill any more than any other segment of society, and that the root cause of any problems has more to do with the way they are treated in society than any other cause.

In other words, any gay man has an equal chance of being happy and well adjusted as any straight man, once society is factored out of the equation.

This, of course, is a truth that Christainists and gay bashers hate to acknowledge, because they just have to come up with some reasons to justify their hatred towards gays.
7.26.2007 2:43am
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Mostly I look forward to day we pass a Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage forever. How about dem apples?
7.26.2007 2:57am
MumbaiEscort (mail) (www):
this issue is gaining popularity all around the world. but most important part is that people has accepted and practically doing it.
7.26.2007 3:25am
godelmetric (mail):
<blockquote>
"How about we just call it a civil union?"

Or better yet, let's just use Prof. Carpenter's suggestion and just call it marriage.
</blockquote>

How about marriage deregulation?

I mean, that's the point, right?
"marriage" -> the private religious institutions;
"personal partnership" (i.e., the trappings of marriage: hospital visitation rights, joint ownership, getting screwed on your taxes... all the other fun legal stuff that comes with the deal) -> government, hopefully federally!

That way, religious institutions can compete with each other over who provides the best weddings, -- and not just the event!

They could set up arbtration boards: I remember when a Catholic friend from Chicago wanted to marry another Southern Baptist friend from Rockport Texas, and their families were practically feuding over it -- the social benefits from some <b>real</b> organized religion would be amazing! The church would have professional mediators that try to come to some sort of an agreement.

So you'd choose your church like your lawyer and you go to the head negotiator and say: My daughter wants to marry a non-Catholic! Of course not! he says.
I know! But. What if he's incredibly rich? Hmm... Well, we could try to convert him. We'll send over some negotiators over to their people. Do a background check on this guy -- if he is really loaded, we have a lot of options here
Get some our best counselors to talk with him and his family about what their issues are...
Then get the theologians down here to explain how their religion -- what religion are they? -- and what religion are we here? -- great, great, we'll line out how all the doctrine works just fine if he's in our church... ah, yes, this should work out wonderfully.
7.26.2007 3:30am
Zoe E Brain (mail) (www):
I'm in a same-sex marriage.

At least, my partner is female, that's what her birth certificate says, and I'm female, according to my UK passport, according to the Health Authorities, and according to my OB/GYN.

Neither of us are lesbian, nor attracted sexually to each other.

On the other hand, I am the biological father of our child (though my condition sterilised me shortly after his birth). She is his mother, and my blood (at least) has 46xy chromosomes. His conception took technical help, of course. We love each other very deeply, have been married for 26 years now, and are doing the best we can under some very trying circumstances to be the best parents possible for our little boy.

1.7% of the population is Intersexed, but most are asymptomatic. Only 1 in 1000 have real problems. Only 1 in several million have conditions like mine, but there are many, many different conditions, some concealable, some too spectacular to conceal.

The current state of the law in most countries amounts to persecution for people who have somatic or neurological Intersex. Or both, like me.

1 in 147,000 infants are born with 17BHD deficiency, and a comparable number with 5ARD, both of which lead to similar symptoms. Those who are Boys often look like girls at birth, and that's what's on their birth certificates, yet they become Men at puberty. Some are even fertile, able to become fathers. So there's at least 1000 of them in the USA alone, probably double that.

I know legislation can't be enacted to cater for every single eventuality and special case. But there are hundreds of thousands of people with one or more severe Intersex conditions in the USA. It's a minority, but by no means a tiny one. 300 million people. One in a thousand. Do the math.

In the battle between the Gay-Lesbian-Bi Mafia and the Religious Right, those of us whose bodies aren't quite the standard model have been caught in the crossfire. In the past, we've sometimes been able to sneak under society's radar screen, and live as normal and as happy a life as was possible under the circumstances. Marry. Have Children - those few of us who were infertile rather than sterile, anyway. You know, normal Human Rights, the pursuit of happiness.

No longer. The bigoted anti-Gay legislation, and that's what the DOMA and various state constitutional amendments are, have caught us in the net. "Marriage is between a Man and a Woman", but what if your body is neither 100% male, nor 100% female? Not something you choose, something you were born with.

Religious dogma is a poor basis for formulating law, when it conflicts with Reality. Pi is not 3, no matter what any Good Book says, and Intersex conditions exist. In the "Same Sex" or "Gay" or "Homosexual" marriage debate, maybe it's time for those of us who have hidden our condition out of shame and embarrassment to do some shaming and embarrassing of our legal persecutors.

It's risky though. The only reliable figures we have are for those with Harry Benjamin's Syndrome, (often called Transsexuality), congenital neurological intersex. Those who reveal their condition have 19 times the average rate of being murder victims. So don't be too surprised why you may never have heard of this stuff. The majority of us hide, so how can we blame you for not seeing us?

Try visiting the Intersex Society of North America though. Then start talking about the morality or otherwise of "same sex marriage".
7.26.2007 4:42am
Perseus (mail):
When he says that gays lead a somewhat grimmer life, he was referring to the fact that society, even in tolerant ones, make gays less likely to be accepted. Therefore, the root problem of our supposedly grimmer life is not because we are inherently a gloomy people (unlike, say the Russians)(Hey, it was a Russian who told me that one!), but because of they way society treats us.


Sorry, but you need to read the preceding paragraphs in his book since the statement I quoted is Posner's conclusion that homosexuals would have grimmer life prospects even in a completely tolerant society. The example of the Netherlands follows his conclusion and he used it to show that such tolerance was not on the horizon, which simply reinforced his main conclusion.

The main reason for Posner's conclusion that homosexuals would continue to have grimmer life prospects even in a tolerant society is this: "The greatest inherent (by which I mean unrelated to a climate of tolerance or intolerance) disadvantage of homosexuality is the impact on family life in a culture of companionate marriage. ...A pair of men is inherently less likely to form a companionate marriage-type relationship than a man and a woman" (italics added). Why? Because male couples are less likely to have children, cannot (as yet) have biological children, tend to prefer sexual variety, and are less likely to have stable relationships when both men are old (Sex and Reason, 305-7). That is why he goes on to say that "for reasons stated earlier it would be misleading to suggest that homosexual marriages are likely to be as stable or rewarding as heterosexual marriages" and hence "permitting homosexual marriage would place government in the dishonest position of propagating a false picture of the reality of homosexuals' lives" (312). And hence the irony of the term "gay marriage".
7.26.2007 5:06am
PeterH:
You know, the "fact" that a "new" (since neither is true) meaning for the word gay has become a part of the language only has any bearing on whether or not it ruins the word is completely dependent on the prejudice of the user.

As was pointed out, most people don't have any problem distinguishing between the use of black as a color and the use of black as a race descriptor.

Similarly, while there might be some brief confusion, most people can easily determine when someone uses the word mouse whether they are speaking of a rodent or a piece of computer equipment.

So the word gay is ruined only for people who start from the assumption that homosexuality is bad. Folks, your bigotry is showing.
7.26.2007 9:04am
Codger (mail):

So the word gay is ruined only for people who start from the assumption that homosexuality is bad. Folks, your bigotry is showing.


That's not quite correct. Even if one views homosexuality as a positively good thing, one would not necessarily want the ambiguity of meaning in describing something or someone as "gay" when one intended to convey only the original meaning of the word.

The analogy of "black" is inapt: the word has been in use as a color since time immemorial and was used as a neutral factual descriptive adjective for certain people from Africa long before it became a noun or had any "perjorative" context (if it does).
7.26.2007 9:27am
Grange95 (mail):
Perseus wrote:


The main reason for Posner's conclusion that homosexuals would continue to have grimmer life prospects even in a tolerant society is this: "The greatest inherent (by which I mean unrelated to a climate of tolerance or intolerance) disadvantage of homosexuality is the impact on family life in a culture of companionate marriage. ...A pair of men is inherently less likely to form a companionate marriage-type relationship than a man and a woman" (italics added). Why? Because male couples are less likely to have children, cannot (as yet) have biological children, tend to prefer sexual variety, and are less likely to have stable relationships when both men are old (Sex and Reason, 305-7). That is why he goes on to say that "for reasons stated earlier it would be misleading to suggest that homosexual marriages are likely to be as stable or rewarding as heterosexual marriages" and hence "permitting homosexual marriage would place government in the dishonest position of propagating a false picture of the reality of homosexuals' lives" (312). And hence the irony of the term "gay marriage".


The problem with Posner's argument here is that it begs the question: we shouldn't legalize same-sex marriage because gay men who aren't allowed to marry are less likely to form long-term "stable" committed relationships? But same-sex marriage opponents are generally the group that extols the virtues of marriage in encouraging stable long-term relationships. From practical experience, I think many married people would agree that the formal marriage commitment strengthens the relationship and likely helps the relationship survive through conflicts and crises that might break a less formal relationship (dating, cohabitation, etc.). So, to judge the relative success of gay men in forming long-term relationships without giving them the benefit of marriage seems unreasonable.

Now that several states are beginning to offer same-sex marriage or civil unions, we will be in a better position to evaluate whether same-sex couples are able to remain in long-term relationships ... but likely not for several decades. Considering the divorce rate for traditional marriages is roughly 40-50%, it will be interesting to see how same-sex marriages compare over time.

Of course, Posner's argument also fails on another logical ground. Even assuming he is correct that gay men as a whole are less likely to form a stable long-term relationship, how does that fact support a denial of marriage rights to those specific same-sex couples who desire and can maintain such a relationship? We don't look at the divorce rate for traditional marriages and conclude that because the odds are against a straight couple remaining married for life, they shouldn't be allowed to marry at all. Instead, we let the crazy kids take the plunge and hope they are able to make their marriage work for life. Why not allow same-sex couples the same opportunity to succeed at forming a lifelong relationship?
7.26.2007 11:44am
Randy R. (mail):
Perseus: "...A pair of men is inherently less likely to form a companionate marriage-type relationship than a man and a woman" (italics added). Why? Because male couples are less likely to have children, cannot (as yet) have biological children, tend to prefer sexual variety, and are less likely to have stable relationships when both men are old."

All of which has been debunked since 1994. Male couples have been adopting children in the thousands. In 1994, it was almost unheard of. Having biological children is the basis of happiness? Tend to prefer sexuall variety? Less likely to have stable relationships? Does he give anything other than mere speculation to support this? No. Does Posner have some sort of 'gay-o-meter' that tells us how gay a man is at any particular moment? No.

Posner has no basis whatsoever for his remarks, doesn't even attempt to define what a gay person would be, doesn't reveal how he came about to his conclusions, etc.

It's basically a worthless piece of speculation. But hey, Perseus, if it makes you feel superior to gay people, then by all means, go ahead and quote it, because that's the only reason I can find why you would try to push such a ridiculous and unfounded idea.
7.26.2007 11:50am
Randy R. (mail):
"The analogy of "black" is inapt: the word has been in use as a color since time immemorial and was used as a neutral factual descriptive adjective for certain people from Africa long before it became a noun or had any "perjorative" context (if it does)."

Bingo, Codger! Now you are starting to learn that it's actually okay for a word to have two meanings! And if you don't view it as a perjorative, then there is no problem with having two meanings.

Just like the word gay.
7.26.2007 11:52am
Sammimo (mail):
I don't care who does what with whom or what anyone calls it, as long as it isn't unkind or violent (tip of the hat to Night of the Iguana). I just want to introduce Professor Carpenter to AutoHotkey to solve his "3 keystrokes versus 8" problem. I try to be helpful that way.
7.26.2007 11:59am
Jay D:
"Mostly I look forward to the day when we simply call it marriage."

You foresee a time when there will be zero need for a qualifier? That is weird. What about statistics? If I'm looking at a graph of childless marriages, it looses a certain amount of significance if I don't know how many of those marriages are same-sex, no?

What you are proposing is newspeak--reducing the ability to express "undesirable" concepts in language with the hopes that people will then not have the mental tools to think about said "undesirable" concept.
7.26.2007 12:22pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Zoe E. Brain writes about the intersexed:
Religious dogma is a poor basis for formulating law, when it conflicts with Reality.

Consider this article from the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society discussing religious implications of baby with ambiguous or dual sexual characteristics.

Religion is a poor basis for law in general, but it seems to me that in at least this case, for this situation and this religion, a complex issue is discussed in a manner appropriate to its complexity.
7.26.2007 12:53pm
Codger (mail):
Uhhhhhmmm, Randy, you seem to be somewhat challenged in the English language.... what part of INapt don't you understand?
7.26.2007 1:09pm
Christian K:
Randy R:

"All of which has been debunked since 1994. Male couples have been adopting children in the thousands. In 1994, it was almost unheard of. Having biological children is the basis of happiness? Tend to prefer sexuall variety? Less likely to have stable relationships? Does he give anything other than mere speculation to support this? No. Does Posner have some sort of 'gay-o-meter' that tells us how gay a man is at any particular moment? No."

Or he could have just met me. :) Not really the marrying type.
7.26.2007 2:22pm
Christian K:
How about "gender neutral marriage", "non-discriminatory marriage", "gender equal marriage", "marriage equality"....

Just some thoughts. Never really liked "gay marriage" or "same sex marriage".
7.26.2007 2:25pm
luispedro (mail) (www):
SSM contains the substring SM. Not good.
7.26.2007 3:52pm
Perseus (mail):
Posner has no basis whatsoever for his remarks, doesn't even attempt to define what a gay person would be, doesn't reveal how he came about to his conclusions, etc.

If you would bother to read the footnotes and references to other parts of the book, you would find that Posner was not merely "speculating". In any case, my point was to show precisely that even someone like Posner who supports eliminating discrimination against homosexuals finds the appropriation of the word 'gay' to be ironic. And that goes to the topic of this and related threads about which words to use.
7.26.2007 4:18pm
Chip Smith (mail):
Reflecting on the more sophisticated arguments against same-sex marriage that I've encountered, I find there is a general and casual tendency to frame the issue as though it were almost exclusively in address to male-male unions, casting lesbian marriage as a kind of marginal point of trifling importance. Yet my hunch is that if same-sex marriage is widely instituted, it will be lesbians, rather than gay men, who benefit most from the change. I could be wrong, of course, but it is this sense of the issue that informs my moderate objection to the term "gay marriage." As social groups, gays and lesbians are dissimilar in ways that seem at least potentially relevant to arguments on both sides.

Which causes me to wonder: has anyone yet advanced a serious argument in favor of lesbian marriage that also opposes — or does not embrace — gay (as in male-male) marriage, or vice versa?
7.26.2007 4:53pm
Randy R. (mail):
Perseus: " any case, my point was to show precisely that even someone like Posner who supports eliminating discrimination against homosexuals finds the appropriation of the word 'gay' to be ironic. "

Okay, now I get your point. He's still wrong, in my opinion, but I understand the point. Thanks.
7.26.2007 5:06pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Which causes me to wonder: has anyone yet advanced a serious argument in favor of lesbian marriage that also opposes — or does not embrace — gay (as in male-male) marriage, or vice versa?"

Nope. You do make a good point, though, that lesbian relationships tend to be the longest lasting of all relationships, whether they are opposite sex or gay men. But how can you grant or deny a right to marry based on how a certain subgroup generally behaves, or benefits?
7.26.2007 5:09pm
Chip Smith (mail):
Randy,

The practiced arguments of SSM critics about the intrinsic value of marriage with reference to "bringing children into the world" also seem considerably weaker with reference to lesbians.

As to your question, I lack the imagination to fashion a plausible legal case for "one but not the other." But a good place to start (strictly for the sake of argument, of course) might be to emphasize societal benefits, much the way opponents of SSM currently do with reference to opposite-sex beneficiaries of marriage licensure rights.

When you think about marriage in broadly historical or conceptual terms, it seems clear that the monogomous "one man/one woman" version is already identifiable as one "certain subgroup" under a broader rubric that would subsume at least polygamy. Arguments for the denial of marriage rights to polygamists proceed in part after distinctions that take ostensible societal costs and benefits into account. The societal benefits assumed to follow from allowing one subgroup of marriage arrangement (monogomous opposite-sex) are thought not to apply to another marriage arrangement (i.e., polygamous opposite-sex), thus one arrangement is licensed while the other is prohibited.

With this (too simplistically) drawn point in mind, it is at least possible to see the beginning of an argument that a similar style of socially-rooted cost-benefit approach, recognizing a multiplicity of marriage subgroups, could yield an opinion defending the societal value of lesbian marriage, but not of gay marriage.

I'm just sayin'.
7.26.2007 6:11pm
Randy R. (mail):
I don't really see how. There are plenty of gay men who are coupled and have adopted children. I think society has a tremendous interest in having one's parents be married. You can make an argument for why any subgroup should be granted marriage benefits or denied marriage benefits. For instance, you could easily argue that if you have been divorced twice, you can't get married again. Britney Spears was married for less than a day -- does she forfeit her right to get married again? What if we found out that Italians have the shortest marriages, but Germans the longest -- do we deny marriage to the Italian subgroup in America? Do we shower more benefits upon the Germans? And what if an Italian wants to marry a German -- now you've got a dilemma!

Eventually, you would find so many exceptions to any rule that it would be almost arbitrary as to who gets to be married and who doesn't.
7.27.2007 1:44am
F. Rottles (mail):
Mr. Carpenter,

If it lacks the other sex, it ain't marriage, no matter what adjective you wish to place in front of it.

Advocates like you have attacked the nature of marriage for the purpose of replacing marriage recognition with recognition of something else.

SSM = Specious Substitution of Marriage.

Or, as perhaps you see it, Superior Substitution of Marriage.

That substitution is intrinsically nonmarital -- no matter the adjective -- "gay", "same-sex", or otherwise. Marriage would be a mere subset of the replacement.

The effect, if not the explicit goal, of SSM is NOT the extension of marriage recognition but the merger of the marriageable category with a seemingly meaningless same-sex category. The merger would deinstitutionalize marriage. Maybe that would be the most fantastic thing for society, but that is for you to demonstrate.

Gay identity politics tries to emphasize a tiny subset of the same-sex category. This is done in the name of being inclusive; and done for the purported purpose of providing protections to families in need.

The emphasis of gay identity politics and the supposed purpose of the SSM project are at odds with each other. SSM excludes the vast majority of the same-sex category but not on the basis of the claimed need for protections.

If you want to call it "gay" then justify the substitution on the basis of the nature of "gay" because it is not one and the same as the nature of the same-sex category, let alone the nature of marriage itself.

What is the core of "gay"?

It is not same-sex attraction, which may or may not be inborn. Besides, SSM provides no objective criteria for that.

It is not the simulation a particular kind of sexual behavior for you have just conflated female-female with male-male combinations. It is not sexual orientation (i.e. homosexuality) for you have just conflated further with bisexuality.

What is the distinguishing criteria within the broader same-sex category? It must be this essential core, or nature, that causes you to want society to conflate marriage with a particular subset of nonmarriage.

You seem to equate "Gay" with Queer. You might explain that further. If so equate, you would be attaching SSM to a bizarre form of philosophy (if it is an actual philosophy) which remains marginal in society and, besides, does not deserve so much deference on merit. SSM advocates a fond of decrying the influence of religious beliefs; and yet "Gay" and "Queer" are leaps of faith and the opposite of objective.

SSM advocates have inherited the emphasis on identity politics which corrupted marriage recognition where the old (so-called) anti-miscegenation system was entrenched. The nautre of SSM is Gay identity politics, I think, but maybe you feel otherwise.

What is the nature of the "Gay" (or "Queer") relationship type(s) and why do you imagine it is superior to essence, the core, of marriage? Why is it superior to the nature of humankind (two-sexed), of human generativity (both-sexed), and of human community (also both-sexed)? If it is not superior, then, why the proposed substitution?

Since you have attacked the nature of marriage, and have shown a preference that all husband-wife unions be treated as if they were "Gay", you might as well explain why you think "Gay" is the leveler and that SSM would be superior to marriage recognition.

It ain't just about the adjectives. It is about thing being recognized. SSM is not marriage but maybe it is even better. Perhaps you will explain your reasoning.
7.27.2007 4:57am
Chip Smith (mail):
Randy,

I tend rather strongly to agree with you, at least in sentiment. But I think there could be an argument that being German or Italian - or black or white, for that matter - are distinguishably incidental identity markers to which equal protection would nevertheless apply. Provided the state's definitional strictures are sufficiently narrowed in scope to consider only the intrinsic nature of marriage itself - as they are perforce in prohibiting polygamous marriage - a case might yet be sustained for drawing legal distinctions between types of SSM.

SSM opponents are fond of the mantra that "marriage should be between a man and a woman," which on its face is just as defensible (or indefensible) as saying "marriage should be between a man and a woman, or a woman and a woman." Why should the latter franchise-extending proposition invite a slippery slope problem not posed by the former? It might be fraught with problems, as you fairly suggest, but the problems would differ not in kind from those that inform the debate as it has played out in present context.

My initial point was merely that the argument has proceeded as though it were about one thing, when in fact common sense tells us that it is about at least two things, and that the reality of marriage rights might be starkly different for lesbians than for gays. Plus, I'm a fan of idiosyncratic "lone voice" arguments in general, and I wondered if such a point of view had found any proponents. I suppose not.

If you're interested, my personal opinion is that SSM should be legal, as, I suspect, should polygamous marriage. Insofar as the state plays any role in determining who can and can't, I find the equal protection arguments to be the strongest ones. Ultimately, however, I think marriage should be privatized, with contracts and caselaw filling the void of the state.
7.27.2007 11:40am
Zoe E Brain (mail) (www):
If it lacks the other sex, it ain't marriage, no matter what adjective you wish to place in front of it.

In order to figure out whether this is right or wrong, first we have to define "the other sex".

Some actual cases:

A person with 46xy (male) chromosomes, normal male genitalia, but with the BSTc layer of the hippocampus in the female range, and who identifies as a woman.

A person with 46xy (male) chromosomes, normal female genitalia (she's borne three children) with the BSTc layer of the hippocampus in the female range, and who identifies as a woman.

A person with 46xy (male) chromosomes, ambiguous genitalia, and with the BSTc layer of the hippocampus in the female range, and who identifies as a woman.

A person with 47xxy (Kleinfelter syndrome) with partially masculine genitalia, and with the BSTc layer of the hippocampus in the male range, and who identifies as a man.

A person with 47xxy (Kleinfelter syndrome) with completely masculine genitalia, and with the BSTc layer of the hippocampus in the male range, and who identifies as a man.

A person with 47xxy (Kleinfelter syndrome) with completely feminine genitalia (she's a mother), and with the BSTc layer of the hippocampus in the female range, and who identifies as a woman.

What is the "opposite sex" for these cases? Note that these are not "Hypotheticals", they are real cases, real people.
7.27.2007 11:51am
mathew (mail):
Being bisexual, and emphatically not gay, I disagree. It should be called what it is, same-sex marriage.

Similarly, we call it "interracial marriage" and not "black-white marriage".
7.27.2007 12:53pm
Some1:
An xy who has borne children? Really?

Is this person a chimera?
7.27.2007 1:27pm
F. Rottles (mail):
Zoe E Brain, you begin with the mistaken idea that the sexes are "opposite" or opposed.

But the nature of marriage consists of the combination of integration of the sexes and contingency for responsible procreation.

It is based on the nature of humankind which is two-sexed, the nature of human generativity which is both-sexed, and the nature of human community which is also both-sexed.

What does your list of examples tell you about the nature of "Gay marriage" or "Queer marriage" or "same-sex marriage"? Be more specific.

Mathew, applying the gaycentric filter (as per SSM argumentation) is as mistaken as applying the racist filter. How would you distinguish between sub-species of humankind so as to make a relevant comparison with the "same-sex" category?

There is one human race and its nature is two-sexed. Men and women do not create hybrid human beings.
7.27.2007 2:28pm
F. Rottles (mail):
The merger of the "same-sex" category and the marriageable category would gender-neutralize marriage recognition -- and not just in the law.

So call the legal concept, neutered marriage.

The social insitution that would be supplanted would be recognized only as a subset of a highy abstract gender-neutral form. The obvious goal in this is to abolish marriage as a preferentical relationship status and merge it nonmarital relationship types in a single all-purpose status.

And from the nature of neutered marriage must flow the justification for prohibitions that do NOT depend on the both-sexed criterion. It looks like gender-neutered means asexual, in terms of what is recognized, as some SSM advocates have argued.
7.27.2007 2:39pm
highway61:
GM suffers because of an inability to move past union negotiations and on to more meaningful discussions.

Thank you, I'll be here all week.
7.27.2007 4:14pm
arturo fernandez (mail):
"Neutered marriage" as opposed to what, "breeder marriage"? It serves males' ego to measure their worth by their baby-making capabilities, but please...this is 2007.
7.27.2007 9:54pm
Zoe E Brain (mail) (www):
There is one human race and its nature is two-sexed. Men and women do not create hybrid human beings.

My UK Birth Cerificate says "Boy". My UK Passport says "F". Medicare Australia thinks I'm female, I have to be, as I'm being treated for a medical condition only women can have.

I managed to be a biological father, with technical help, but became sterile shortly thereafter from natural causes. I had to have the last generative tissue of any type removed - it was a cancer risk.

I'm married to another woman. Query : Am I in a same-sex marriage?

The Australian Passport Office says no, I'm actually a man pretending to be a woman, so refuses to issue a passport in either sex. They'd say the same even if I'd borne (as opposed to fathered) three kids.

My OB/GYN says yes, as she can see the scar from crotch to breastbone, and that as the result of all the medical intervention over the years, I'm now indistinguishable from any other woman who's had a radical hysterectomy and pelvic reconstruction. It doesn't pass the giggle test to say I'm a guy, when I have some granulation tissue in the vagina.

My Psych/Neurologist says yes. The tests show I've always had a female personality, which indicates I have the usual female BSTc layer and female cell structure in the Limbic nucleus of the brain. I've always thought of myself as female, just stuck with a body more like a footballer's than a cheerleader's, so there wasn't much point raising the issue.

Hard Cases make Bad Law, but in this case, Bad Law makes hard cases.
7.28.2007 3:04am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Zoe E Brain: In each of your examples, including yourself, the person identified as either a man or a woman. You've well demonstrated that the boundaries are complicated, but you don't refute F. Rottles' claim that the human race is two-sexed. I would be interested to learn about cases of individuals who identify as other than man or woman.

I remain confused about many things. If every A I know is also a B, when I come across x that is not B and I want to know "Is x an A?" I might examine the situation more clearly than if x were B, but it comes down to "What is the nature, the definition of A?" not "What do I know about all the As I've come across so far?"
If the best I can come up with is "To be an A an x must satisfy the minimum set of common attributes of all the As I've come across so far" that might be a good rule of thumb if defining A is not an option, but it also risks circularity, and precludes "a new audacity in imagination".
7.30.2007 6:29am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
That is, every two-person ("monogamous") marriage I'd known all my life was one man, one woman, although come to think of it I'd known there were same-sex couple who were more or less committed. (Commitment of course being the public act; we might just see that these two bachelors or spinsters had lived together for a very long time, and did a lot for and with each other.) I knew a lot of other things about the state of matrimony. Mostly they were about having or raising children, though some weren't. Mostly they were same race and same religion, with many exceptions. Mostly they were intended to be long-term, but some were marriages of convenience for a period of years, and some people got divorced more lightly than others. Mostly they were exclusive, but some people committed adultery and some people tolerated it. As I said marriage was a public act, and dissolving it took public acts. Of course the law said only the differently-sex (from each other, not from the usual two types) could marry each other (and non-consanguity with various degrees of restriction, and anti-miscegenation, in some places, and never-divorced in some faiths...) -- is that an essential element, and must it be? Once the question has been raised, "It just is" seems to be the best explanation of why it must be.
7.30.2007 11:51am