How we talk about an issue affects how we think about it. Consider the language we use about marriage. A Fox News headline reads: “North Carolina voters take up amendment banning gay marriage.”
So what’s the problem? Framing. Today’s vote in North Carolina is not about banning anything. Nothing will be made illegal as a result. In all fifty states across the nation two people of the same sex can live together, have their religious community bless their union, and have their workplace offer them various joint benefits — if the religious communities and workplaces in question so desire. Many liberal houses of worship and progressive businesses have voluntarily decided to do so. There’s nothing illegal about this. There’s no ban on it.
What’s at issue is whether the government will recognize such unions as marriages — and then force every citizen and business to do so as well. This isn’t the legalization of something, this is the coercion and compulsion of others to recognize and affirm same-sex unions as marriages.
On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden declared his support of same-sex marriage: “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction — beyond that.”
But this isn’t really about civil rights or civil liberties. No one is suggesting the state deny people who self-identify as gay or lesbian their rights to free speech, religious liberty, free association, or any other traditional civil liberty. The question is whether a new “civil right” — the right to have the government and private citizens recognize your same-sex sexual partnership as a marriage — ought to be created, redefining marriage in the process.