Saturday, April 4, 2009

Open Forum: Battling Against Words to Define Our Cause

Gay marriage, same-sex marriage, homosexual marriage, marriage equality, civil marriage rights, same-gender marriage... The list goes on, and we have heard all of these terms and many more to describe the ultimate goal of many in the LGBT community which is to achieve the ability to attain a marriage license regardless of your identity.

But which term really best fits our cause, most represents what we are fighting for and is likely to get the most people on our side? In a battle of politics, heated issues and close votes, terminology and phraseology is critical in the battle for full equality.

Pros & Cons of the most widely used terms:

Gay Marriage - Everyone has heard of it, everyone knows what it is referring to, but it is not inclusive of those who are not gay. Lesbian women who eschew the term gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people all face legal challenges when it comes to the institution of marriage, so can "gay marriage" truly be an inclusive term?

Same-Sex Marriage - Widely used by the mainstream media in referring to the marriage civil rights movement. It is seen as a more inclusive way of countering the "gay marriage" term but has its pitfalls. What about trans people who transitioned but are not regarded as the opposite sex, they want the right to marry and they are not same-sex couples. The other downside is that "same-sex" has the word "sex" in it, bringing people back to focusing on the sexual aspect of queer couples and not the emotional, spiritual, and financial aspects that come with marriage.

Homosexual Marriage - This term is used most widely by opponents of equal marriage, and rightfully so, poll after poll shows that the term homosexual is viewed as negative and clinical by the public at large. While everyone knows what a homosexual is, the word often conjures up very negative stereotypes that are hurtful to the cause for equal rights.

Marriage Equality - The term is seen as a progressive one, those who use it support the LGBT movements efforts to attain marriage rights. The term will not likely be picked up by the media in an effort not to appear biased in one direction or another. The term also is not specific in defining who seeks the rights of marriage, while academics and those informed may know, the majority of Americans may not.

Civil Marriage Rights - The benefit to the term is that it is clearly indicating that the right is civil one and has zero to do with religion. The downside is that it doesn't specify which group is trying to achieve these rights. Is it just heterosexuals who want government controlling the institution of marriage and not church?

Same Gender Marriage - This eliminates the sex part of the equation, but provides for a new dilemma. Is the marriage fight about gender or sex? Can a couple who is not the same gender (one transitioned) be married if the birth certificate still declares them their birth sex?

The language in the debate about marriage rights is critical. What do you make of the above terms. What do you feel the pros and cons are and which word would you use to describe our fight for equality?


mewi said...

Same Gender Marriage is probably the best, but same sex marriage is used far more often where I live.

Also be aware that when being transsexual you identify as that specific gender, so if you identify as a girl and your birth certificate is legally changed as female, then you are legally bound as a lesbian. I'd imagine that doing such can also invalidate your marriage should you of been married with same sex marriage bans in place.

Also, look at my blog "Proposition This!" for an update on Vermont's S.115.

Anonymous said...

I feel same-sex is the best term, b/c my partner and I are the same sex, but not the same gender. It's b/c we are the same sex that we can not be marrried in our state! I feel same-gender is misleading b/c If someone is same gndered but there sexes are different they can still be married!!!

Anonymous said...

There is no question in my mind that Marriage Equality is the best term for the cause.
It's a positive term. I think that is vital to how the people outside the LGBT community perceive us! We need a term that can be used in public relations, advertising, politics, etc to sway those people into supporting us and understanding us. Second most important thing is that it doesn't alienate anyone based on sex, gender, etc, within our community.
What good is it if we use "Civil Marriage Rights"? It'll be confused with civil unions. Confusion will further prolong the effort. Some people are ignorant or stupid. That's just the way it is. It has to be a clear term.
What good is it if we use "Gay Marriage," "Same-Sex Marriage," "Homosexual Marriage," and "Same Gender Marriage"? There are too many negatives attached, especially to the ones that make people think about sex. We should want people to think about much more than the sexual aspect when it comes to marriage, no matter the sex or gender pairing. It's not like people run around saying "heterosexual marriage" and think, "Ohh, they are having straight sex!" If we want to be treated equally with people who have "traditional marriage", we should pick terms that are as meaningful and positive (as thought by the masses) as terms like "traditional marriage". Also, very important....if we choose terms that alienate people within our community, how bad does that look for us!? We can't even pick a term that doesn't alienate people within our own cause! We need positivity all around. Equality all around.
As for the media, there's not a whole lot one can do about that right now. Lets face it. Equality isn't going to happen overnight either. The media is going to choose whatever term sounds more controversial for attention (more accurately, for their ratings), because they can get away with it right now. But the more it's used and explained, I imagine over time it would sink in... as the masses come around to support more than just marriage between and man and a woman. In the long run "Marriage Equality" is definitely the winner.
That's my 2 cents anyway :)

qqn said...

I definitely agree that "Marriage Equality" is the best term--if it confuses people, we can use it in a phrase: "Marriage Equality for LGBT people". But I have to disagree with saying it's our "ultimate goal". Our ultimate goal is full equality and social acceptance, and marriage is only a part of that. Marriage Equality doesn't cure homophobia, or help transpeople transition, any more than the Civil Rights Amendment ended racism.

Cerberus said...

Hmm, I almost favor gay and same-sex marriage because they are well-known and the battle really is about getting panicky straight people to stop freaking out over sex and the thought that gay people out there will be doing gay things. Most of the opposition is based around "straight" men freaking out that gay men will treat them like they treat women and clinching their buttocks in fear and the term makes voters confront that fear on a regular basis.

It's not a good linguistics term though, but I'm not sure what would be as thanks to the transphobia, trans people can get same-sex-married but not hetero-married and bisexuals and genderqueers can slip under all sorts of wires. Marriage Equality is probably the closest to that term as it points out that the whole thing is an appalling mess of gender-conformist BS and notes ties to every other marriage struggle in America, but I'd favor the incorrect terms for political reasons.

To be accepted, we must rub their face in it until they stop peeing on the carpet.

T. R Xands said...

I know I prefer same sex or same gender marriage because I feel like it's more inclusive than "gay". I think it's also kinda nice that it implies one could be gendered differently from one's partner and still be married, since gender is nothing but a social construct anyway...I lean more towards using same-sex. I'm not too fond of "civil rights marriage" but my second choice would probably be marriage equality...

Uh I just woke up like 5 minutes ago, sorry if that sounds weird.

pretzelboy said...

The term "civil marriage rights" sounds strange to me. It would sort of make sense reading it as [civil [marriage rights]], but when I first see it, I want to read it as [[civil marriage] rights], which doesn't make sense because I don't any meaning for "civil marriage" that could then be connected to rights. I prefer the term "marriage civil rights" although google indicates that this term isn't used much while "civil marriage rights" is.

The difference between "same gender marriage" and "same sex marriage" would probably not have the desired result. For people who make a clear distinction between sex and gender (as people in the LGBT community do), these are clearly different terms. But they're basically synonyms to most of the general public--and it's the members of the general public, especially the youth who are in a life-stage where they're having to form their own values apart from their parents and people in the middle who aren't supportive of LGBT equality but aren't dead-set against it either. To these people, since "same sex marriage" is currently the standard term (and hence the unmarked one) when they see a different one, they'll try to find a reason for the non-standard term. Their first guess will probably be to avoid using the word "sex" (even if in this context it has a nonsexual meaning) rather than to distinguish between sex and gender.

Of the terms, I like "marriage equality" best, but with one major reservation: if people use this term, they should make clear that they mean marriage equality and not just same-sex marriage. Before identifying as queer and learning about the LGBT community, I saw "marriage equality" as a nice sounding term for "same-sex marriage." The difficulties faced by transpeople and by intersex people and the problem of bisexual erasure were completely off of my radar screen. Even now, when I see "marriage equality" in the media, it is always about gay and lesbian couples. I think that it the term "marriage equality" is adopted, people need to mean it, and they need to emphasize that supporting "marriage equality" is broader than supporting "same-sex marriage."

Also, I see it as valuable as having two terms--a highly value laden one (marriage equality) that the media won't pick up on, and a favorable "neutral" term that the media can use. I would rather have the media make the standard term "same sex marriage" than "homosexual marriage." If "same sex marriage" is acceptable to LGBT people but not their standard term, it might help make it a viable "neutral" term.

Family Fairness said...

I've always liked the term "inclusive marriage". It avoids portraying the marriage as something different than 'normal' marriage like 'same-sex marriage' or 'gay marriage' do, and feels more neutral than "marriage equality".

Queers United said...

You all bring up great points and you all prefer different words. What a shock the queer community can't agree, i'll be damned. I am in favor of marriage equality, it sounds good, its upbeat and positive, but like I wrote the media won't say that as it appears biased.

Inclusive marriage sounds interesting, never heard that one. Although, I have to say the first thing that popped into my head was an opponent saying "oh should we also be inclusive of polygamy" and we want to avoid those stupid arguments.

JoannaSlinky said...

I don't see how you can find a slick AND accurate term. Either you use the phonetically-clumsy phrase, "LGBT" or you use a more vague term that omits some groups or accidently includes other groups or issues.

And yes, polygamy was the first thing I thought of, when I saw the term 'inclusive marriage'.

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