Time, “The Controversial Language of Gay Rights”

March 27, 2013

Katy Steinmetz, “The Controversial Language of Gay Rights” (Time Swampland blog, Mar. 27, 2013)

Take traditional marriage. On the one hand, opponents of same-sex marriage can use that language to purposefully elevate heterosexual marriage as a more established, legitimate relationship. In a piece assessing journalists’ coverage of same-sex marriage battles for Columbia Journalism Review, Jennifer Vanasco highlights this point:

She uses “traditional marriage advocates” to refer to people against same-sex marriage and “gay marriage” to name the issue. “Gay marriage” and “same-sex marriage” are neutral terms. But “traditional marriage” is not. It’s a phrase used by conservatives to imply that marriage between a man and a woman has been the norm forever …

But, says linguist Ben Zimmer, while the appeal to tradition is an important part of the argument against legalizing gay marriage, referring to heterosexual marriage as “traditional” undermines that position, too. “By calling it ‘traditional marriage,’ you’ve already ceded the ground that there is another kind of marriage,” he says. With the attempt to distance comes (perhaps inadvertent) recognition.

Read the rest here.

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