Words Matter

As you probably know by now, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ruled 5-4 to prohibit the initiative to define marriage in D.C. as between a man and a woman.  What this means is that there cannot be a ballot initiative on the issue which would give the residents of the District of Columbia the opportunity to vote in support of marriage being between one man and one woman. Unlike, thirty-onestates in which people were given the opportunity to weigh whether changing any part of the definition of one of the most fundamental constructs of society is the right step to take, judges ruling against the decision write “even if we assume that the people at large are more likely to discriminate against minorities than are their elected representative…there are numerous checks and balances in place to protect against the tyranny of the majority.”   This comment led to a lively “water cooler” discussion in the office this morning. My colleagues, Peter Murphy, Director of the Family Life Office and Patty Mazariegos, Coordinator of the Hispanic Family Life ministry were stymied by the use of the word “tyranny.”

I wondered what is the dividing line between the will of the people (31 states with constitutional laws against same-sex marriage, 15 with no legislation and only four with laws allowing same-sex marriage) and “tyranny of the majority?”  Peter suggested that it is commonly understood that tyranny is the imposition of something on a people against their will.  It is not a tyranny when people have the opportunity to express their opinion (popular or unpopular) through a vote…that is not tyranny but democracy.

What is so frustrating about our work on this issue is that it has yet to be proven how marriage between a man and woman is discrimination; it is a completely different relationship than the relationship between two men or two women. The very gift of the masculine and feminine is at the heart of what it means to give yourself to another in marriage. It is not discrimination to call two different things, different names.

Even though it may not be fashionable, it is time to stand for truth. Marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman with potential to give new life.  It serves a societal benefit that no other relationship does.  Study after study show that having a loving and involved mother and father creates and nurtures the best environment for raising children.  Let’s work to support marriage, not re-define it.  For information on the church’s teaching and to follow the church’s efforts in supporting and sustaining marriage and family life please see MarriageMatters.

With thanks to Peter Murphy for his help on this post!

5 Replies to “Words Matter”

  1. I live in California where we voted in favor of proposition 8 to define marriage as between a man and a woman. So I guess from what your judges said, we who voted to protect marriage were exercising tyranny. I’m not buying that at all. What seems to be happening is the opposite. The government via the courts are tyrannizing those of us who stand for truth and democracy.

    Yes, marriage matters and words matter. So let’s work together and not give up our struggle to preserve traditional marriage.

  2. If words do mean something, as you suggest, than I am surprised that your discussion of “tyranny” is so disingenuous because you have taken it out its full context “tyranny of the majority.” This phrase was first coined, according to Wikipedia, by Alexis de Tocqueville and as a concept it has always been an important part of understanding American democracy, the Founder’s intent, and constitutional jurisprudence. In essence, it means that Democracy is tyrannical against the minority because they are forced to do something against their will. It is was one of the most difficult challenges of living in a democratic and pluralistic society. What the judiciary needs to decide is when such majoritarian rule violates the interests of the minority in such a fundamental way as to not let the majority rule win. — I’ll refrain from my thoughts on whether marriage rights for gays is a “fundamental interest” for fear that you will discredit the rest of my argument.

    This situation is a different than others where “tyranny of the majority” is used. The Appellate Court did not say that marriage is not something over which can be legislated — simply that a voter initiative was too risky. The City Council can still vote out this law and thus democracy still exists in the District (with congressional review 😉 )

    1. Anon, I will take you at your word! I will admit we did not look at it’s meaning in constitutional jurisprudence and it seems that we did not do good homework with regard to the ruling…

  3. “The very gift of the masculine and feminine is at the heart of what it means to give yourself to another in marriage. It is not discrimination to call two different things, different names.”

    This. Words are important. We make distinctions based on all sorts of criteria. We don’t call insects mammals just because they are all God’s creatures. And all sex is not equal either. Otherwise we wouldn’t have words like incest or rape or heterosexual or homosexual. Each defines a sexual relationship and they are not the same.

    What next? Marriage will be defined as union between two creatures? Then I could marry my cat, I suppose.

  4. Thomas Jefferson warned about making fundamental changes without the vast majority’s approval- “Great innovations should not be forced upon a slender majority.” What would he think of this?

    Words absolutely matter, because equivalent legal rights are not the goal for most who promote same sex “marriage.” The real goal is about changing the minds of the people. Marriage is official approval by the state. If same-sex coupling has official state approval, opposing it becomes socially unacceptable, even for religious reasons. Public acceptance, by force of the state, is what supporters are after. If a gay couple is “married”, I would be expected, not only, to tolerate the union but to embrace it.

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