The debate of Gay Marriage really is two separate questions – should two homosexuals be able to form a partnership that is recognized by government, and what should that partnership be called. The second question, “What should a gay union be called?” provides yet another example of why the traditionally religious often feel like second class citizens in the United States.
I know a good number of traditionally religious people that do believe homosexuals should be able to enter into a partnership or union. They hold this belief for any number of reasons – compassion, a sense of fairness, a belief that all God’s creatures deserve an opportunity to be happy. But applying the word “marriage” to a gay union still makes them uncomfortable.
For centuries the traditionally religious have controlled the definition of the word Marriage, which they (and society) used to describe the union between a man and woman. Homosexuals have been discriminated against in the U.S. since the founding of the country and have not been accepted as equals. Giving them the right to form a state-recognized union goes a long way towards reducing at least the legal discrimination. Legally calling a gay marriage a civil union instead of a marriage wouldn’t have an impact at the material level – it wouldn’t give them fewer legal rights than a heterosexual marriage. But for many homosexuals this would be yet another reminder that they don’t really have equal standing in society.
For homosexuals, taking control of the definition of the word “marriage” is another step toward recognition – the language matters to them. But if the language matters to homosexuals there is no reason it shouldn’t also matter to the traditionally religious. Like it or not calling a gay union a marriage will make the traditionally religious feel worse. The traditionally religious will feel, rightly, that something that has been theirs for centuries has been taken from them. Not to address a disparity in legal rights but just to make another group feel better, even if it makes the traditionally religious feel worse. There are no easy answers to culture wars – one side or the other is likely to be very disappointed. You can argue that we need to make good on centuries of discrimination against homosexuals, even if it makes the traditionally religious unhappy. But this is another example of why the traditionally religious sometimes feel like second class citizens in the U.S.