A note about language.

An ever-popular and decisive debate in popular culture centers around the issue of gay marriage. This summer I have been tossing around some thoughts on language and I think they might be relevant here.

The debate (in Canada at any rate) often comes up when members of clergy refuse to perform weddings for homosexual couples. The real problem, I would like to suggest, is one of language. English only has one word for that particular union between two people, that is "marriage". I would like to suggest that much of our current conflict could be diverted if we were more clear in our definition of this word.

For the Church, marriage is a symbol of Christ's relationship with the Church, and more importantly a symbol of the Trinity (particularly in it's procreative capacity). For more on the Church's view on marriage see the discussion held by St. Margaret's Parish here.

The state on the other hand, has a much simpler non-sacramental view of marriage that views marriage as a certain intimate legal contract between two people.

Now the state has decreed that marriage, as they define it, applies to homosexuals, so when a homosexual goes to a church and asks a clergy member to marry them, they believe they are asking for what they have a right to. However, when they ask for this in the Church, they are asking for something that is quite different than they think they are asking for. The Church's definition of marriage would actually probably disqualify many heterosexual couples (again, see "Human Sexuality and the Nuptial Mystery"), Christians are therefore not necessarily being discriminatory, it is rather that there are conflicting definitions that lead people to assume that two quite different unions are

The Church has an ancient tradition of civil union between two partners (regardless of sex) that is blessed in the Church, but IS NOT MARRIAGE (as understood by the Church). Perhaps a change in terminology would go a long way towards defusing some of the tension in this debate.

The state definition says that homosexuals have all the rights and privileges of heterosexuals, this does not seem problematic. What would be problematic is the destruction of this sacramental symbol. Perhaps as Christians it is our duty to more clearly define what it is that marriage is, and how that affects both hetero and homosexual couples.

What other debates do you see that the language we use regarding them unnecessarily inflates them?