The Defense of Language Act
This past Thursday I published here the first column of The Nobeus News Report I’ve written in nine months.
My third article in the column, titled “Holder’s Law,” was about the decision of then California Attorney General Jerry Brown not to defend in court the California Marriage Protection Act — a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections — and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision not to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a U.S. federal act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.
Because both of those laws make same-sex marriage illegal, an incompetent reading of my article could easily miss the point. My topic was not the legitimacy or wisdom of laws defining the word marriage as only being between a man and a woman. I was writing about the failure of due process, when a lawyer refuses to play his role as a diligent advocate because he doesn’t like his case.
I’m not going to repeat my arguments here when I’ve linked the original article above.
But in this article I do intend to discuss precisely what turned me around from thinking the word “marriage” has a particular denotation that needs to be defended on etymological grounds, and made me conclude that libertarian theory separates me from conservatives in their desire to defend a single traditional meaning of the word “marriage.”
What made me decide to write about this topic today was hearing Fox News Channel host Mike Huckabee — a former Arkansas governor and likely a 2012 Republican presidential candidate — have to fall back on that old liberal standard, statistics, when Fox’s house libertarian Andrew Napolitano strongly challenged Huckabee on why government should be involved in setting the terms of that bedstead contract which is marriage.
Governor Mike Huckabee
Ironically, it wasn’t a libertarian argument, but a conservative argument, that puts me squarely into opposition to enforcing any dictionary definition of a word, the way Governor Huckabee and other conservatives want to do.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard conservatives ranting about how liberals want to shove “politically correct” speech codes down everybody’s throat when it comes to race, gender, nationality, or class.
Some of the most common:
- We can’t say “girl” anymore; we have to say “woman.”
- It’s not “illegal aliens”; it’s “undocumented workers.”
- Forget the “N” word — you can no longer even say “colored” or “Negro”; you have to say “African-American” or black.
- There are no longer “stewardesses” on airliners; there are “flight attendants.”
- No more firemen or policemen; now it’s “firefighters” and “law-enforcement officers.”
- Forget using any word that ends with “ess” or “ix.” Amelia Earhart was an aviator the same as Charles Lindbergh, not an “aviatrix.”
- And the movie The Matrix is just completely wrong. It should be The Mater. Er, The Progenitor.
Okay, maybe not this last.
The point is, I’ve spent hours and hours of my life having my ear chewed off by conservatives who oppose being told how they have to use some words and not use other words; then turn around and without even noticing that they’re doing it start demanding that there be a politically-enforced speech code for how the word “marriage” is allowed to be used.
Alarm bells (not belles!) go off. The computer on Twilight Zone starts spitting out punchcards and smoking. Robbie the Robot starts ranting “That does Not Compute.”
Contradiction. Hypocrisy. Double standard. French.
Yes, French. The Académie française — worried that the French aren’t preserving the purity of their official State language — urges laws outlawing phrases like “Le weekend” and attempt to snuff out the use of “email” instead of the properly French courriel.
My conservative brethren — er, Genetically Close Relations — beware. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s warning about little minds aside, inconsistency undercuts the righteousness of a cause. If you demand that everybody use the definition of marriage that you prefer — and object to others redefining the word to be inclusive of meanings you dislike — you’re just as much a Speech Totalitarian as those you’ve been calling Politically Correct.
This article is Copyright © 2011 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
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