Thursday, February 9, 2012
A number of people seem upset that the state of Washington is "redefining" marriage. They seem to think that religious institutions have a monopoly on that word.
In actuality, the word marriage is a homonym. There are two forms of this word, spelled and pronounced the same, but with different meanings. For clarity let's refer to them as religious-marriage and state-marriage.
Religious-marriage is sanctified by a church or other religious organization. This form of marriage is controlled by the church, and only the church can determine who it will marry and who it will not.
Note that the right of a church to define what it means by religious-marriage will not be affected by the new Washington law. Also, while some people believe that same-sex marriage is incompatible with religious-marriage, there are indeed many churches that do marry same-sex couples.
State-marriage is sanctioned by the state. It is a legal contract, unrelated to religious-marriage (although they do often go hand-in-hand). Just as churches are free to define religious-marriage as they wish, so too the state is free to define state-marriage.
Differing definitions of marriage are not incompatible, and I'm glad that the state of Washington is finally getting around to using the correct definition. I'm also glad that one of our local representatives, Maureen Walsh, has the courage to recognize that everyone deserves the right to marry.