Language, Logic, and Tough Love

A while back I posted a video clip to Face Book – a video of Ryan T. Anderson (a fellow at The Heritage Foundation) explaining with great clarity and precision why it was fair for marriage to be legal only when it involved one man and one woman (1). My post, of course, rubbed some of my young on-line friends the wrong way and it quickly became clear that no cogent conversation was going to happen in Face Book mini-bites. I promised I’d write something more complete, so here goes….

Anderson’s argument made a perfect categorical syllogism, but my liberal friends argued that his point was illogical. Here’s his case in a nutshell:


Traditional marriage = 1 man + 1 woman + sexual exclusivity + lifetime commitment ± children (usually through natural procreation or adoption)

Same sex couples = 1 man + 1 man (or 1 woman + 1 woman) ± sexual exclusivity ± children (through in-vitro fertilization or adoption)

Therefore – Marriage ≠Same sex couple

None of the conditions in the first premise match the conditions in the second premise, i.e. no parallel exists, and the two social arrangements are not interchangeable.

Then why did these young people think it lacked logic? Because they had already blurred the definition of marriage. Their syllogism looked like this:

Marriage = 1 person + 1 person who “love each other”
Same sex couples = 1 person + 1 person who “love each other”


Therefore – Marriage = Same sex couples

And therefore it is unfair not to allow same sex couples the benefits of marriage, which in this argument seem to be no more important than filing joint tax returns and visiting each other in the hospital.

But note that under this arrangement all the pertinent societal details are left out. No mention of lifetime sexual exclusivity. They can’t go there because that is not a hallmark of gay marriage. Studies have shown that after 7 years 75% of male homosexual “marriages” become open relationships involving dozens of different partners, and the 86% of female “marriages” end in divorce. That’s neither exclusivity nor lifetime commitment. (2)

And what about the children? A child is not just by-product of marriage; neither is childrearing the only reason to marry, but it runs a close second to the intimate relationship between the parents and it is the main reason for the longevity and exclusivity of the relationship; human children take a long time to mature.

So basically, by reducing marriage to nothing more than a romance we weaken the entire institution. It becomes only a method to satisfy one’s sexual needs on a regular basis, whereas traditional marriage demands of the partners constant selflessness and sacrifice for a lifetime, which is why it is difficult and why people fail at it, but it is also why those who succeed take great satisfaction in having built a family, sturdy and sustainable, that will live on into the future. To so drastically, and so shallowly alter the definition of marriage is akin to removing three legs from a chair – can you still call it a chair? I suspect you can, but you probably shouldn’t sit on it like it’s a chair.

Words do, over time accumulate meanings, acquire new connotations, and morph into differing parts of speech. That’s linguistics. But it is basically dishonest and destructive to change a denotation just because you can’t win the logical argument with the traditional definition. Reread 1984. The only way that dystopia could function is if it made bad = good.

I have always told my students that language is a sacred contract we have with each other and without each of us upholding that contract no communication is possible.

Let’s say that we change the word hate to mean any thought that is contrary to what another person thinks. And let’s pass legislation against that thought – we’ll call any action that stems from, or appears to stem from a disagreement a hate crime.  OK – yes, we’ve already done that and if the government wants to it can, using such a precedent punish anyone who diverges from the anointed opinion and presto-changeo, we’re living under tyranny. Just from altering the meaning of one word.

Words matter. Important words can make or break relationships and whole societies; they can determine history. Already the change in the word marriage is making a tsunami, not just waves. The meanings of man and woman are fuzzing out until one’s sex is just a matter of one’s imagination and medical budget, and no longer connected to the genitalia we were born with. It’s really hard to tell from where I sit whether sex change surgery is a good thing – I have this picture in my mind of the lesbian couple in California who are having their adopted son go through gender reassignment surgery (3). I can see the misery on his little face. How is this good? Boy and girl are now so interchangeable that some grade schools no longer have separate, designated bathrooms. How is that good?

If we change the word marriage to involve any gender then we are going to have trouble limiting the arrangement to just two people. Or to adults – efforts to legalize pedophilia are already under way in California. Recently a trio of women, one of whom is pregnant, got married in Massachusetts (4).

Marriage began in Eden – it has been the guiding organizational principle of society throughout all of human history. It has gone through some variations – Solomon, for instance, made the terrible mistake of taking on a thousand wives, the Greeks married just to have children and had boy lovers on the side, the European aristocracy equated marriage with property and power, but always marriage comes back to the one-man-one-woman-for-life format.

Add to history the very clear admonitions about homosexuality in the Word of God, and call me cautious, but I’m sure that we’re walking down a very dangerous road. Things got so out of control in Sodom that the men there attempted to rape the angels who came to rescue Lot. Shortly thereafter the whole place went up in atomic smoke.

Look, being human is a struggle – we all have difficulty fitting in, finding a place for ourselves, and our desires in this tangled world. It’s hard to do without getting into some kind of trouble. But there are ways to support each other in that journey without ignoring the only set of instructions we have, and without destroying the only structure that has consistently produced stable societies. The logic here is clear; the message is just tough to hear.

1)    at the 24-minute point