Same-sex marriage and the regulation of language

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 6 (2):237-253 (2007)
Oregon State University, USA, andrew.valls{at} ' + u + '@' + d + ' '//--> In this article, we draw an analogy between the regulation of market language (including official definitions of `organic', `ice cream', and `diamond') and the regulation of the social and legal label `marriage'. Many of the issues raised in the debate over same-sex marriage are less about access to material benefits than about the social and cultural meaning of `marriage'. After reviewing the issues in this debate, we present an analysis of the regulation of language in the marketplace. We discuss the considerations that shape how the state regulates language in the marketplace, if it regulates it at all. Using this framework to analyze the issue of same-sex marriage allows us to identify the costs and benefits of different proposals with regard to marriage, and allows us to distinguish issues that are often conflated. Contrary to its opponents, we argue that making marriage available to same-sex couples does not violate the meaning of `marriage' or destroy marriage, because such a change is similar to many other changes in which words and labels are extended to include new `goods'. This alters the meaning, but does not destroy it, and it does not preclude the possibility of further linguistic innovation to maintain a distinction. Contrary to proponents of same-sex marriage, however, we argue that extending marriage to same-sex couples is not cost-free. There are costs and benefits of any policy on this issue — costs and benefits related to information and status, as well as material resources. Hence, while we agree with advocates of same-sex marriage, we argue that their position involves trade-offs and costs that they sometimes fail to recognize. Key Words: gay marriage • marriage • language regulation.
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X07077275
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