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Terms related to same-sex marriage (SSM)

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Same-sex marriage terms, phrases and slogans:

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bullet Definitions used by some of the larger fundamentalist, other evangelical and religiously conservative organizations, like the Roman Catholic Church, American Family Association, Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, Traditional Values Coalition, the National Organization for Marriage, etc.,


bullet Definitions used by other groups and individuals -- including most progressive, mainline & liberal Christians, followers of other religions' liberal and mainline wings, persons who don't identify themselves with any religion, humanists, Unitarian Universalists, therapists and counselors, human sexuality researchers, social service workers, gays, lesbians & bisexuals, transsexuals, civil rights advocates, and others.

These definitions tend to reflect closely the group's or individual's beliefs about the nature of homosexuality: whether it is:

bullet A behavior or an innate nature,

bullet Chosen or unchosen,

bullet Changeable or fixed,

bullet A preference or an orientation,

bullet Intrinsically immoral or immoral under certain circumstances (like heterosexuality is).

These definitions also reflect their beliefs about the nature of the family, the nature of marriage, and gender roles -- if any -- assigned by themselves or by their faith group:

bullet Whether only those families headed by one female and one male should be recognized by the state.

bullet Whether marriage is a civil institution, a religious ritual, a sacrament or sine combination.

bullet Whether SSM will have a negative impact on opposite-sex marriage.

bullet Whether the sole purpose of marriage is procreation.

bullet Whether allowing same-sex couples to marry will increase the number of homosexuals in the future.

bullet Whether parents must be of opposite genders in order for their children to develop properly into mature adults.

The terms that people use, and the precise meanings that they assign to terms, automatically bias the discussion in one direction or another. This often makes dialogue difficult or impossible.

Attitudes towards SSM In North America differ:

bullet Canada: There has been very little conflict among Canadians since SSM was legalized in its 10 provinces and three territories in mid-2005. The Globe and Mail -- Canada's national newspaper -- published a timeline of SSM in that country. They have 18 essays describing activities during 2005 and before. But the only entry for 2006 described an unsuccessful attempt by the Conservative Party to reopen debate on SSM. The only entry for 2007 described two marriages of gay politicians. There is no entry for 2008 and 2009. There was a court case involving a same-sex married couple seeking a divorce covered in 2011. SSM now appears to have become an unremarkable and integrated part of Canadian culture.
bulletU.S.: Beliefs among Americans are in a state of flux -- similar to the divisions within religious groups in the 19th century about human slavery, in the 1960s about racial segregation, and in recent decades over equal rights for women.

Perhaps the closest comparison to the current debate over same-sex marriage is the topic of
interracial marriage:
bullet The first court to overturn an anti-miscegenation law was, predictably, the California Supreme Court in 1948.

bullet The U.S. Supreme court legalized inter-racial marriage across the U.S. in 1967 with its ruling in the ironically named case Loving v. Virginia.

bullet It wasn't until 1991 that those Americans opposed to inter-racial marriage became a minority.

bullet Almost three decades after such marriages became legal, the controversy has largely died down. However, there is a near-majority of adults in Mississippi who indicated during a 2012 poll that they would prefer interracial marriages be banned. The situation is probably similar in other Southern states.

Whether the same path will be followed for SSM is anyone's guess. So far, it seems to be tracking the earlier trend of inter-racial marriages. Support for SSM is increasing about 1 to 2 percentage points per year as more tolerant and accepting youths replace less tolerant and less accepting elderly persons in the voting pool.


Common evangelical usage Usage by others Comments
Homosexual marriage
Gay marriage
Same-sex marriage (SSM)
Gay marriage
Some same-sex marriages involve bisexuals, so we recommend "Same-sex marriage."
"Marriage" Marriage Using quotation marks indicates evangelical denigration of the status same-sex married couples.

"Traditional marriage."
"Natural marriage"
"True marriage,"
"Biblical marriage," etc.

"Opposite-sex only marriage" Defining marriage between one woman and one man, while prohibiting same-sex marriage.
"Biblical marriage"
"Marriage restricted to opposite-sex couples Denigrating marriage between two women or two men.
"Counterfeit marriage"
"Gay 'marriage' "
So called marriage
"Same-sex marriage" SSM Denigrating marriage between two women or two men.
"Protecting traditional marriage."
"Preserve the sanctity of marriage."
"Promoting natural marriage"
"Battle to save marriage"
"Defending true marriage," etc.
Restrict marriage to one man and one women, thus preventing gays and lesbians in committed relationships from enjoying the 1,400 or so benefits given by state and federal governments to married couples. "Protecting traditional marriage" often has the side-effect of reducing loving committed same-sex couples to the status of roommates, and their children to the status of illegitimacy, with immense loss of protections and rights.
"undermine the institution of the family" 1 Extend benefits enjoyed by married couples to gays, lesbians, and heterosexual couples who live together in loving, committed relationships.  
"impose same-sex marriage on everyone" Allow same-sex couples to marry Imposing same-sex marriage on everyone would logically mean that everyone would be required to marry a person of the same gender. That is nonsense.

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Points of additional confusion:

A phrase like "I support traditional marriage" is ambiguous:

  • Sometimes it means that a person supports marriages of one-man and one-woman, while indicating nothing about whether the person supports or opposes same-sex marriage.

  • More likely it means that a person supports the marriage of one-man and one-woman, while actively opposing same-sex marriage.

Further, the term "traditional marriage" as the union of one man and one woman has only been valid for a few decades in the U.S. That is not really long enough to justify the term "traditional." In the past, "traditional marriage" in 16 contiguous U.S. southern states meant the union of one man and one woman of the same race. Miscgenation laws that banned interracial marriage were only declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, in the aptly named case: "Loving v. Virginia."

The term "biblical marriage" is also ambiguous:

  • Usually it is a synonym for "traditional marriage:" a union of one woman and one man.

  • In reality, it refers to marriage during biblical times, which were a union of one man with one or more women. Polygyny -- a version of polygamy involving a man and multiple women -- was common among those men who could afford it. For example: Esau had 3 wives; Jacob: 2; Ashur: 2; Gideon: many; Elkanah: 2; David: many; Solomon: 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines; Rehaboam: 3; Abijah: 14. Jehoram, Joash, Ahab, Jeholachin and Belshazzar also had multiple wives. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) contains no negative comments on such marriages except for Solomon's marriages which were criticized because he married many non-Hebrew wives who followed Pagan religions.

  • In addition, there are many prohibitions in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) against Hebrews marrying persons of another faith. Some who had done so were forcibly divorced; in one particularly gruesome case, one interfaith couple was executed without a trial. So "biblical marriage" can mean the a union of one woman and one man of the same religion.

We recommend that the terms "traditional marriage" and "biblical marriage" never be used unless they are carefully defined in advance.

See also conflicting definitions of terms related to sexual orientation

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Copyright 2009 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2009-MAY-29
Latest update and review: 2012-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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