The 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 espouse?

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 has occurred.

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 true.


About the Author

Martin Winer is a heterosexual author interested in social issues. He is a computer scientist by day running a website at: and a social scientist by night. If you'd like to provide feedback, he can be reached at


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