the meaning of words and phrases –Macmillan Dictionary Online
Words matter, especially when one is making the case for simple human rights. This was demonstrated very vividly in a recent poll on marriage equality in New Jersey.
The poll found that a simple majority of New Jersey residents (52%) favor “gay marriage.” That’s a promising statistic. What is fascinating, however, is that the number jumps appreciably (to 61%) when the question is posed about “marriage equality.” The rate of opposition drops by an even bigger margin, from 39% to 27%.
Why the difference? It would be tempting to guess that people are less familiar with the term “marriage equality” but the poll adjusted for that, finding that only 3% of respondents did not know what it meant. That leaves us with a pretty clear conclusion. Fair-minded people are interested in equality. When that equality is compartmentalized as some kind of special right, their interest in supporting it goes down. This is one big reason that the use of language matters.
Opponents of equality for LGBTQ Americans have worked very hard to frame civil rights as special rights. This is absurd. Gay rights are human rights. There is no such thing as gay marriage, just marriage. The marriage of a same-sex couple is not part of some sinister agenda. It is the union of two people in love and the civil recognition of that union which conveys over 1,100 rights and responsibilities. It really is that simple.
Supporters of equality must remember to use their language carefully. Saying “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” is like letting the anti-choice crowd call themselves “pro-life.” It is misrepresentative and allows those who really have an agenda to co-opt the conversation by framing the parameters. Equality is simple. Let’s remember to ask for it clearly.