Posts Tagged ‘515’

The M Words

March 8th, 2009 No comments

The civil union has recently gotten a lot of air time, with pundits on all sides asking whether it’s an adequate  substitute for marriage equality. As I pointed out in a letter to the New York Times, the civil union (or domestic partnership, or “reciprocal beneficiary”, or whatever else) is a poor stand-in. It doesn’t confer any federal benefits, and wouldn’t even if the Defense of Marriage Act were repealed.

Yet the word “marriage” really does seem to be the sticking point for a lot of otherwise-reasonable people. In poll after poll, a majority favor granting equal benefits to same-sex partners, but an equally solid (though weakening) majority oppose same-sex marriage.  So we have the answer to Juliet’s rhetorical question: “What’s in a name?” Plenty. But why “civil unions”? If the word “marriage” is the problem, is “civil unions” the best solution? Why not something that looks more familiar?

I propose the word “mariage” — with one “r”! This neologism should make everyone happy. The familiar “two r” “marriage” is reserved for heterosexuals, while same-sex couples can hardly complain about the sacrifice of one measly letter.

Yes, there would be problems to solve, but they’re not insurmountable. The most obvious difficulty would be in pronunciation. While the words are distinguishable as written, how would couples signal which legal and social institution they were referring to when saying one of the two “M” words? We wouldn’t want to constantly say “one ‘r’ marriage” or “two ‘r’ marriage.” Here’s the solution: Since gays and lesbians are being asked to give up a letter, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask that the pronunciation of traditional “marriage” be changed to emphasize the two “r”s. Exaggeration of the “r” sound might be needed to make the distinction clear, but the high stakes in maintaining the separation will provide all the incentive that’s needed to make this work.

Here’s an example: “Oh, I’m so happy for Bob and Betty. Theirs is a marrrriage made in heaven.”

Of course, the trilled “r” sound that native Spanish speakers handle with such dismaying ease could also work here, because that mellifluous sound signifies a double “r.” Perhaps a side benefit of this new “one r/two r” world would be a rush to enroll small children in Spanish immersion classes, thereby arming them with the phoneme needed to keep the wall between the two institutions sturdy. Given the rising Latino population in the United States, this increased interest in the Spanish language would serve two vital goals at once: increased Spanish literacy and the protection of the institution of “marriage.” 

My only fear is that, over time, this nice distinction would disappear. Then people wouldn’t know who was “married” and who was “maried.” This must never be allowed to happen. For the last time, “marriage” means the union of one man and one woman. “Mariage” is something else entirely.         

More on Prop 8: Quixotic Fundamental Rights

March 5th, 2009 No comments

Breaking my vow to blog only once a day, I can’t resist adding a few comments to my earlier, live-blogging post.First, calling something a “fundamental right” is essentially meaningless if it can be taken away by simple majority rule. Justice George’s opinion for the majority in last May’s In re Marriage Cases ruling contained lofty pronouncements about the right of all people to marry someone of their choosing, and about the clear message in the legislative approach of granting the rights of marriage while withholding the label. If I’m right in my prediction about Justice George’s vote based on his questioning at oral argument, he’s willing to let the people abrogate these rights by a simple majority vote, blaming it on the constitutional initiative process.

(“Riddle me this, Batman: When is a fundamental right not worth a sou?” “When it’s established by the California Supreme Court.”)

The second point is closely related: The process for amending the constitution in California, and indeed the entire direct democracy idea, is just plain loony. I know I’ll regret saying this when Prop 8 is reversed, as I predict will happen within a few years, at most. But even when that happens, one doesn’t need to restrict oneself to Prop 8 to find myriad reasons for questioning this whole process. I looked at the raft of propositions on last November’s ballot and was struck by their range and complexity. Are the voters really equipped to vote a simple “up or down” on a complex statute? Legislators, fed by committees and countless experts, are barely competent to engage in this high degree of difficulty  exercise. Leave the amateurs out of it, please.

Tomorrow I will have final thoughts on today’s arguments and where the movement goes, in California and elsewhere, from here. And although I  typically have no idea what I’m going to blog about in the future, I can state with assurance that next week’s blogs will be rife with withering analysis and condemnation of (some of the) anti-marriage-equality forces, whose sanctimonious dissembling I can no longer bear. First up will be Maggie Gallagher, whom no reasonably intelligent person should take seriously. (As a start, go to Andrew Sullivan‘s blog where he summarizes some of the reaction to today’s Prop 8 arguments, including hers.)