Thursday, February 26, 2004

A Constitution Is Not a Dictionary

Here’s the best thing I’ve seen written on the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage – and I found it on a linguistics blog.
Go ahead, make my day (as Dirty Harry used to say): if they want a wedge issue, bring it on. Let them go ahead and try to pass, for the first time in the history of our country, a constitutional amendment aimed at taking rights away from a proper subset of the people. (The prohibition amendment was an ill-advised subtractive social amendment of similar type, but at least it took away the specified rights from all of the people. It was a big mistake, anyway, and soon had to be repealed.) But don't let them try to tell me they are revising a definition. It's nothing to do with defining the word "marriage". Webster's has done that perfectly well. It's about a denial of rights. The idea is that if you fall in love with a lesbian and want to marry her and live with her forever and share your life and property with her and be with her until you sit by her side at the hospital when she dies, that's O.K., but your rights will be subject to a limitation: you will be permitted all this under the sanction of the institution of marriage if you are male, but denied such permission if you are female. To add an insistence on that point in the constitution would be an act of discrimination, not of definition, so let's call things the way they are.

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