TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Should a “homosexual contract” be called something other than marriage?

ContractFollowing my recent post, Message to Gov. Christie and His Critics: Gay Marriage is a Moral Right, a reader commented:

Government should be out of the marriage business; then all contracts between individuals need not be restricted. However, with government involved as it is, and given all the laws that incentivize man/woman marriage (e.g. for population growth), wouldn’t a better solution be to call homosexual contracts something else while not restricting their rights?

If “marriage” has any rational meaning specifc[ly] for man/woman relationships, then the definition cannot change and gays do not have a right to “marry.”

Definitions can and must change and evolve to reflect newly discovered facts or instances of essentially similar phenomena. In regard to the meaning of marriage, it is now a recognized fact that two consenting adults of the same sex can and sometimes do form emotional, sexual, and financial bonds in the same way as heterosexual couples. Of course, there are differences between gay and heterosexual relationships, but they are irrelevant to the basic meaning and purpose of marriage. Common usage has already and properly adapted to include gay marriage as an instance of marriage, For example, Merriam-Webster now defines marriage as follows:

1 a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>

Expanding “marriage” to include the essentially similar contracts of same-sex couples does not in any way undermine or disparage the traditional meaning of the concept. It simply recognizes the essential similarities at hand.

If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing to The Objective Standard and making objective journalism a regular part of your life.


Image: Creative Commons by Gunnar Wrobel

Posted in: Individual Rights and Law

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Mark Stouffer

    But this leaves several questions. What about multi-party marriages for instance? I clearly remember the Prop 8 vote in California. While everyone was asking “Why shouldn’t gay people be allowed to marry?” law enforcement agencies were invading what was commonly called a “polygamist compound” in Texas. There were some other allegations about the compound, all of which were dropped. But the reason the hundreds of adults and children were taken away from their homes and incarcerated for a period of days was presented as being because it was a “polygamist compound”. 

    I am not married and don’t propose to restrict other’s rights. But I am concerned about the words we use. Do they mean something real or do we just get together on a Monday and agree on how they will be used for the week?

    Marriage, in my mind describes the significance of the male-female relationship. What is the significance of the male female relationship? Well, it’s how all of us got here. It is the process that brought each and every one of us into existence. And this goes for every other human that has ever lived. It seems significant to me. Shouldn’t we have a word that describes this significant type of relationship? What would that word be if not ‘marriage’?

  • enaxora

    I disagree with expanding a concept to include something different, and saying it’s the same. I am an artist and I’ve seen it done in art. The concept of art has been ammended to include anything and everything you care to name. Art now means nothing because it means anything anyone says it does. And the result is a sterile culture and life, for all of us, as no one of any genius goes into art now- and it is the prime movers who keep a discipline or a body of knowledge alive, vibrant and living.

    To say homosexuality is the same as heterosexuality, is to completely jump over having to understand what homosexuality is, and how and why it is not the same as heterosexuality. I see the reason why intelligent men/women who are homosexual want some social standing for their life choices. They have a right to pursue happiness. But they do not have the right to co-opt a concept that does not describe homosexuality. Something cannot be different and the same at the same time. Whomever is interested must construct a new concept to mean homosexual lifetime union.

  • Michael A LaFerrara

    Thank you enaxora and Mark Stouffer for the thoughtful comments.Marriage is about more than procreation. It is a legal contract that covers many rights, benefits, and privileges, such as the rights to inherit property and to secure domestic violence protection orders, make spousal medical decisions, and enter into joint adoption and foster care. There are in fact over 1000 marital rights and benefits provided for by federal law, most of which can apply to both traditional and gay relationships. ( is not “to say homosexuality is the same as heterosexuality”; hence, the sub-categories “gay marriage” and “traditional marriage.” Those terms are enough to distinguish between the two types of relationships. But I believe the essential similarities in the legal sense are enough to subsume both types of relationships under the single concept “marriage”. A concept does not mean “anything anyone says it does.” Concepts are based upon referents in reality – i.e., they are objective – and marriage is certainly a broad enough concept that it, in reality, can refer to both types of relationships. -MAL

  • Anonymous

    I don’t consider the essential characteristics (not “phenomena”) as similar enough to, by themselves, warrent changing the definition. And I believe that after resolving the issue of equal rights, the issue on both sides boils down to one of acceptance and social respectibility with the use of “marriage.” Without government involvement, this would not likely be a concern.

    However, with government involvement contributing to confusion with regard to the protection of rights for gays and to concerns of acceptance and respectibility, and given the contract between any individuals should be the same, I conclude that the definition should change.

    One then has to conclude that the same rights apply to polygamists.

  • Anonymous

    Marriage always finds it’s way back to religion. Since religion maintains marriage sanctifies the sexual act and the natural end of sex is children. Anything that interferes with sex culminating in the birth of a child violates the purpose of the sexual act and therefore desicrates the marriage vow.  Gay sex, contraception, abortion, whatever religion feels like justifying today. Like it or not that argument will never end no matter how the religious liberal laity feels, the Bishops and conservatives will never give in and hatred of non traditionals will grow and spread. It seems to me, the best thing to do is have the people who covet the legal benefits marriage grants heterosexuals, lobby for the right for all Americans and brand the union with a different name.  Have a contest.

  • Anonymous

    The government’s only jobs are to protect all of our voluntary relationships (between or among adults), to record some of them in order to enforce aspects of them, but not define, prescribe, prohibit or otherwise limit any of them. PERIOD!

  • Julio Garcia

    why don’t we remove the word marriage from state and federal documents, replace it with union contract and let religious entities be the only ones that use the word marriage, rather than spending all this time in the legislature and in money in lobbying

  • Anonymous

    What’s wrong here isn’t the propriety of naming a certain type of contract between two people regardless of their sex “marriage”, it’s the totally inappropriate “incentives” that the government bestows on those entering into such a contract.