‘Same-Sex Marriage’ Is Not Marriage

Confusion of language is confusion of thought. We cannot take two different things and call them both ‘marriage.’

Bartolomeo Carducci or Pellegrino Tibaldi, “Zeno of Elea,” ca. 1588-1595
Bartolomeo Carducci or Pellegrino Tibaldi, “Zeno of Elea,” ca. 1588-1595 (photo: Public Domain)

There are a few famous paradoxes from the pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno of Elea which try to prove that motion is not possible. He was a disciple of Parmenides, who taught that all change is an illusion and that true reality is the unchanging One. 

One of the paradoxes begins with the statement that it is impossible to complete infinity. This seems to be true. If a road is infinitely long, one can never reach the end of it. The next premise states that there is an infinite number of points between any two locations. In other words, if you try to walk from your chair to the door, you must pass through an infinite number of points. The conclusion: it is impossible to move between any two points because that would be to complete the infinity of points between those two locations.

When I explain this paradox to my students, I conclude that, as a result, they will never be able to leave the classroom because there is an infinite number of points between them and the door.

Confused looks pervade most of the room, but a few of them grow an expression of fear and dismay.

I then try it out. I stand in the middle of the room and walk, slowly and dramatically, to the door. I made it!

According to Zeno and Parmenides, though, it was only an illusion. This is not very satisfying to the students. Something must be wrong with the argument, but what?

Aristotle comes to the rescue (as he so often does in Ancient Greek philosophy). The solution is simple: there are two different senses of the word infinity: infinity of extent and infinity of division. There is the kind of infinity that goes on forever, and there is the kind of infinity where a finite thing can be divided up forever. It is only the first kind which cannot be completed.

Zeno’s argument commits the fallacy of equivocation, a fallacy which takes advantage of two different senses of the same word.

Peter Kreeft gives the following example by combining two famous quotes in his book Socratic Logic:

  • Knowledge is power (Francis Bacon).
  • Power tends to corrupt (Lord Acton).
  • Therefore, knowledge tends to corrupt.

The word power has more than one sense. Bacon is talking about technological and scientific knowledge. Lord Acton is talking about political power. Equivocation creates confusion.

Language is how we manifest our thoughts to ourselves and each other. Concepts are communicated via words. Our thoughts and communication can only be as clear as our definitions and our words. Confusion of language is confusion of thought. Equivocation, purposeful or not, creates confusion.

When there are two distinct things, there should be a difference of terms or at least a recognition that there are two senses to the word. Each sense refers to a different thing, as in the case of infinity and power

A marriage between a man and a woman has a kind of potentiality, by its nature, that a union between two men or two women does not. When a man and woman join in sexual union, the nature of things is such that new life is produced. It is not in the nature of a union between two people of the same sex to create new life. There may be some common characteristics, but that does not mean that those two unions are the same thing. There is a kind of power that one union has that the other does not. By their very natures, they are not the same.

Therefore, it is unjust for a government to purposefully and artificially manipulate language by taking two different things and calling them both by the same name: marriage. 

In the novel 1984 by George Orwell, language is controlled by the government to control the thoughts of its citizens. A new dictionary is created so that it will become impossible even to think what is contrary to policy. Big Brother is watching. 

In our own day, Big Tech is watching, too.

We can see the tyranny in 1984 because we are not in the novel. Orwell is showing us what tyranny looks like, and he wants us to see it. And here is one aspect: thought control through language. As we read the novel, the injustice is clear, and that novel should help us to see it clearly now.

I want to close with a note. I once had a conversation with a group of friends where I explained the argument used here about the nature of things and the careful use of language to conclude that we should not use the same word for unions between a man and a woman and unions of the same sex. Almost immediately, I was accused of assuming the truth of my religion and arguing from a standpoint of bigotry. I asked when, in my reasoning, I had appealed to God or religion, and they could not answer. They were employing the red herring of my religious convictions against a conclusion for which I had not even mentioned or implied religion. Only common sense is needed: language matters, and language should reflect the reality of things.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at West Allis Central High School on July 23 in West Allis, Wisconsin.

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