War of the Words
Are Heterosexual Monogamists
the Patent Holders on ‘Marriage’?
by Martin Winer
There is much debate of late as to
who is the patent holder on the term ‘Marriage’. Conservative
heterosexual monogamists have put their moral stake in the ground claiming
that 'Marriage' is their intellectual property. The proponents of a
traditional definition can be subdivided into the religious, who claim
divine rights to the word, and traditionalists that appeal to the
naturalistic fallacy that the definition is as it ought to be, proven and
tested by time.
First, let us set things straight. What is the traditional definition of
marriage? The short answer is: one woman, one man, for life. Yet, is this
the definition that both proponents of the traditional definition truly
Those religiously minded who claim a divine definition for marriage point
you conveniently to the Bible. Yet, weren’t many of the biblical greats
polygamists?! Clearly some historical modification of this divine lexicon
The traditionalists have also modified matrimonial definitions over time.
As recently as 1997, Ireland legalized divorce, reducing the certainty of
the ‘for life’ part of the definition. Throughout most of recorded
history, divorce was simply, ‘not an option’ yet it seems that
societal needs have forced us to alter that definition.
So what the proponents of a traditional definition of marriage present as
an immutable and timeless definition, turns out, upon closer inspection to
be a shifting definition which is a product of the defining times.
Having knocked the moral ascendancy of the conservatives down a peg, we
move on to possible solutions to this problem. Most people believe in
homosexual marriage-style rights, leaving the word used to describe this
solution as the only sticking point to be debated. They turn to
homosexuals and say: what’s in a name? Wouldn’t ‘a marriage by any
other name be as sweet?’ They give them the rights but just wish that
they’d stay out of their lexical backyard.
Same sex marriage proponents contend this would be tantamount to the
tenets ‘different but equal’ and point back to the inequalities such
thinking created in civil rights history. While they have a point on this
issue, I believe that the semantic battle for the word ‘marriage’ is a
bid to gain popular acceptance and I believe that their opponents see it
as such. I would like to see advocates for the broadened definitions of
marriage speak to why homosexuality should be accepted in general. In
dealing with the issues at the core of the debate they have the best
chances of evoking understanding, hence change.
The main points at the core of the debate as to whether to accept
homosexuality are: 1) is it natural 2) is it evil and 3) is it a choice or
endemic? We’ll examine each point in turn.
First what is natural? There are two aspects to natural, first the
examples taken from nature around us and next the notion that the way
things are, even in the human (not natural) world are the 'natural' way
they should be. Looking to nature we see some examples of heterosexual
monogamy in say, the Bald Eagle. However, more often we see examples of
harems (polygamy) and loose monogamy (infidelity, or pair bonding for only
a few mating seasons). While the traditional definition of marriage does
exist in the animal kingdom, it is a minority player amongst many other
definitions of bonding. Further, in nature we see examples of
homosexuality amongst, say, male mice who often make female sexual
displays in high population densities. Thus to say that heterosexual
monogamy is nature's way is tunnel sighted and uninformed.
Next we look to the idea that homosexual marriage is not natural since the
heterosexual definition has been the prevailing one across the centuries.
This is a classic example of the naturalistic fallacy which says that the
way things are, is the way things ought to be. If we subscribe to the
belief that the way things are is the way things they ought to be then we
are forced to conclude that the world we currently live in cannot, and/or
should not, be improved upon or changed in any way. Imagine if we all had
subscribed to this belief, as many did, when it came time to review our
ways in the face of slavery. Imagine again telling many suffering couples
that they were stuck together for life because the definition of marriage
was the way it was meant to be. Yet today we tell homosexuals that
marriage is as it ought to be and if you want your rights, well then fine,
but go do it on another page of the dictionary please. If we want the
rights of deep, fulfilling, long term relationships to be extended to all
humanity, heterosexuals must not drink the stupefying elixir of a
‘natural’ definition of marriage, because no such definition exists.
Is homosexuality evil? Well first, what is evil. To the religiously
minded, they say evil is what God says is evil as given in the book of
absolute truth. I’ve found that people who believe in absolute truths
usually do so only because they are absolutely wrong. I admit that I have
little respect or patience for those who derive their definitions of evil
from a book and thus outsource their thinking. I dismiss them quickly for
the same reason I scrape cold peas of my dinner plate, because they are
cold and uninteresting. For those who are prepared to think about what
good and evil really are, we come to the notion of utility. Good things
serve a purpose and bad things do harm. This categorization is relative to
a certain frame of consideration.
The ‘packages’ your dog delivers on the neighborhood park are not good
for you to eat, yet are gourmet meals to the community of flies. Thus the
truth to the statement: “doggy packages make good eating” is relative
to whom is speaking. In a thinking world, to show that homosexuality is
evil, we must demonstrate that it is evil in one of two frames. We must
prove harm to either homosexual individuals or to society as a whole.
To homosexual individuals, the main harm done to them by being homosexual
is the lack of acceptance they receive. Many heterosexuals quickly point
to the often 'sad' lives some homosexuals end up living. However, to
borrow from the poet Andrew Lang, they do this "... like a drunk
leans on a light post, for support instead of illumination". The
truth is that heterosexual intolerance of homosexuality is the cause of
the 'sadness' they observe. Still, as acceptance slowly increases, we see
many more homosexuals today live productive and successful lives. They do
not necessarily live reproductive lives, but either do all heterosexuals.
To our society at large, homosexuality may have a reproductive impact, but
on a planet of 6 billion, is this really an issue? If we really would like
to have a discussion about harm, let’s talk about the harm of subverting
this ‘evil’ impulse to be homosexual, only to have men live in a
traditional marriage unhappily, hurting both himself, and his wife and
perhaps children. Thus aside from the heterosexual discomfort it causes,
there is no harm caused by homosexuality and hence it is not evil.
Finally, is homosexuality a choice? Why ask the question? We ask because
if it is a choice, we can ask them to make a different choice. Well,
homosexuality is a choice but only in the same way heterosexuality is a
choice. Heterosexuals could choose to be homosexual if they really wanted
to. What we refer to in common speak as a choice actually has two
components, first a pressure and second a pure choice. When faced with an
oncoming freight train, we have a tremendous survival pressure to move.
Still we have a pure choice as to whether to move or not. Most of us would
move. In the case of our sexuality there are pressures given to us by our
environment, genetics and evolution and in the case of heterosexuals there
are no other pressures which would cause us to use our pure choice to
override this strong evolutionary pressure. In the case of homosexuals,
societal pressures can cause individuals to use their pure choice to
over-rule their evolutionary pressures. The fact that the natural pressure
can be overruled does not suggest or imply that it should because most
such individuals live lives with the constant stress of juggling
conflicting priorities and are never truly at peace.
In order to determine the existence and severity of this pressure to be
homosexual, being unable to jump into the minds of others, we need to
empirically observe the effects. The empirical proof comes from asking:
Why would any person willingly join a historically persecuted group if the
pressure wasn't strong to do so? Throughout history homosexuals have been
shunned and forced to lead marginalized lives. This fact is common
knowledge, thus it is impossible to state that homosexuals became or
become homosexual on a flight of fancy.
So are heterosexual monogamists the patent holders on marriage after all?
Why do homosexuals want the word so badly, even if they’ve already got
the equivalent rights? Homosexuals want the word for the same reason that
heterosexuals want the word, because of its meaning. It represents a deep,
long-term, and socially recognized relationship between two people.
Heterosexual monogamists claim to be the patent holders on marriage
because tradition, the bible and nature have provided immutable and clear
definitions of marriage that conveniently agree with them. None of that is
About the Author
Martin Winer is a heterosexual
author interested in social issues. He is a computer scientist by day
running a website at: www.rankyouragent.com and a social scientist by
night. If you'd like to provide feedback, he can be reached at