Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's in a Name Anyway?

Conservative Out Blogger Andrew Sullivan writes on his site today that Evangelical Conservative Tony Perkins over at the "Family Research Council", had indicated he would have "no problem" with Civil Unions in California that provided Gay and Lesbian couples with the same rights as marriage,but just a different name for it.


I will confess that for the longest time I held a very similar view. I would get frustrated with marriage equality activists who seemed to be so hung up on the terminology. If calling it "Marriage" is the problem why not call it Civil Unions or Domestic Partnership or call it "Fred" for that matter. As long as all rights are the same why did it matter it was called?

The counter argument has always been that this would be agreeing to something that was "separate but equal" and history has clearly shown that separate structures for civil rights are never equal, just separate. Racial segregation in the decades before the civil rights movement proved this. Whites and Blacks had separate things like drinking fountains, restrooms and schools that were anything but equal.

Yet the argument could be made that this was hardly the same thing. If both a gay and straight couple had the exact same hospital visitation rights, as long as both couples had access to the same hospital and quality of care, how is calling the basis for those visitation rights by different names unequal?

I found myself thinking that by insisting on the word marriage the LGBT community was just being stubborn and more interested in the symbolism of labels than actual equality.

I was thinking about this while I was voting last Tuesday. I was reading in the newspaper and on the web of various spots around the country that were experiencing voting problems. Things like long lines at polling places, out of date registration lists, etc. The media was rightly focusing on these problems with the emphasis that the right to vote was such a fundamental part of our democracy that states owed citizens every form of assistance if they encountered difficulty in exercising their rights to vote.

It suddenly occured to me to wonder how Tony Perkins would feel if California passed a law saying that evangelical conservatives would longer have the right to "vote" but instead anyone who was of the same religion as Perkins would have the right of "electoral choice". They would go to the same polling place as everyone else, use the same ballots, and have the same choices. Their choices would count just as much as everyone else', but for them, and only them it just wouldn't be called "voting".

The right would be exactly the same but it just would be called something different. Since there would no difference in the actual ability to make their choice at the ballot box, the name shouldn't matter right? As long as an "electoral choice" counted the same as a "vote", why should the name make a difference?

Well you can bet Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Pat Roberson and every conservative from Sacramento to San Diego would be rioting in the streets claiming discrimination.

I can practically hear Newt Gingrich railing how "electoral choice" was NOT the same as voting. Because symbolism DID matter, calling voting by a different name is sending a message that Evangelicals were not as important as other Americans. The change in terminology would even result in evangelicals feeling like they shouldnt participate in our democratic process. The fact that rights were the same was irrelevant. To call voting by a different name for just one group of Americans was unacceptable.

So what is in a name? Isn't a civil right by another name just as equal? If you think so, ask yourself this question; If your family, and only your family's right to make your choice at the ballot box was called "electoral choice" and everybody else had the right to "vote", how would you feel?

Separate but equal suddenly doesn't feel so equal does it?

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