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Marriage Defined


The 2008 election was supposed be over a couple weeks ago, but that’s not what’s happened. Three U.S. Senate seats remain undecided. Missouri, a state which has voted for the winning Presidential candidate more times than anyone can remember, is too close to call.

Then there is our own now infamous Proposition 8, the California Constitutional amendment which bludgeoned the right of same-sex couples to marry. Two weeks after the election, Prop 8 continues to writhe on the floor, egged on by nationwide protests. Despite the best efforts of a majority of voters to pry equal rights out of the State’s Constitution, equal rights will not go away.

In this year of hope, personified by the election of Barack Obama, I was hopeful that Prop 8 would fail. Many thought it would. But, not enough voters could resist the power of The Cross, combined with the fear that gay marriage would be “taught to children.”

Not to mention the possessiveness of straights of the word “marriage.”

To wit: the power of the dictionary!

After the election, a close liberal friend of mine, who happens to be Jewish, said that she and her husband went to the dictionary to check the definition of the word “marriage” to help guide their vote on Prop 8. They wanted clarification on how marriage is defined. I assume they felt that by defining marriage clearly, this would give them direction for granting equal rights to gay men and lesbians.


She said her dictionary defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. (As does my older Webster’s dictionary.) She then asked, “I wonder how your Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines marriage?” So, for those who like to swallow their sense of equality with a big dose of dictionary, I submit the definition of “marriage” from volume IX of the XX volume OED which reads, “The condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between married persons; spousehood, wedlock.” Spousehood? And, no mention of man or woman. Those English must have known something which must have gotten lost in translation on the trip across the Atlantic. And, for those who like to play word games, notice the word “or” between husband or wife and not the word “and.” Oh, there could be two wives? Two husbands? A female as husband or a male as wife? My mind is reeling with possibilities.

I then thought that a better place to look in the dictionary for guidance on how to vote on same-sex marriage would be the word “equal.” My OED says that equal means, “Identical in amount; neither less nor greater...having the same measure, number, value, intensity, etc.” So, in the context of constitutional equality, I would expect to see next to the definition of equality a picture of Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi. Maybe in my friend’s dictionary there would be a picture of Strom Thurmond or Rush Limbaugh.

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Not a lot of wiggle room with the word “equal.”

I’m sure many Mormons, Catholics, and various Evangelical churches, the organized religions backing Prop 8, find it easiest to practice the tenets of their faith where they mix with only those who have been washed in their own brand of “The Blood.” These good folk, many well-meaning and devoted, are surely put to the test of showing real love and acceptance when they discover that their married minister may have been having encounters with the local gay masseuse; or, that the good married reverend is having an extra-marital affair with his secretary.

So much for the sanctity of marriage.

To my understanding, the parents of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, were not married. Also, despite what many might think, Jesus did not invent marriage. All the faiths of the world include some type of marriage ritual. Some, like the Jewish faith, had viable marriages, many, many years BC. So, Christians are not in charge of marriage.

Prop 8 did not challenge the right of churches to marry whoever they wish within the confines of their rules and traditions. But the right of churches to marry is not in the Constitution. Despite love being the cornerstone of Christian churches, church authority stops at the church door; it does not extend to the public arena or the State constitution. Not even when love is mixed with marriage.

So, I turned to my trusty OED for the definition of the word “love.” The definition and explanation of the word “love” goes on for six (yes, 6) pages! The first definition reads, “That disposition or state of feeling with regard to a person which manifests itself in solicitude for the welfare of the object, and usually also in delight in his or her presence and desire for his or her approval, warm affection, attachment.” As the OED further defines the word “love,” it is “...a commonality that we all come from God.”

carl matthes

Among the photos I would see with the definition of “love,” would be my gay spouse, who after 41 years, I recently married.

Carl Matthes

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