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Choose Your Words Carefully

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments for the legalization of same-gender marriage. It looks like it actually might happen, which is something I wasn’t sure would take place in my lifetime.

What has been so frustrating about this entire debate, though, is that people act as if the Supreme Court is deciding if lesbian and gay people can get married. They are not. The justices have a lot of power, but they don’t have that much! Bill and I got married in Georgia in 1980. The Supreme Court had nothing to do with it. All they can do is ensure that we finally have the same civil rights that heterosexual taxpayers always have enjoyed.

I have made this argument for a long time, but it apparently has never taken root. People still talk about them “allowing us to get married.” Hardly. Now, you may think this is a matter of logistics, and perhaps it is. The problem is we miss the point that how we word something or, more accurately, how we frame something can make all the difference in the world. This may now be a moot point when it comes to same-gender marriage, but there are many other important issues that would be well served if we remember this.

Would this moment have come sooner if, from the beginning, we had framed it as “Stopping Discrimination against Law-Abiding Taxpayers” or, perhaps, “Ending Heterosexual Privilege”? I don’t know, but, time and again, conservatives understand this point while the rest of us miss it. Just listen to the euphemisms they use for some of the insidiously oppressive legislation. When we let others frame the argument we immediately take the defensive position and cede the high ground to them.

Part of the reason this daily Liberating Word was begun was to help progressive people of faith reclaim scripture and moral arguments as our own. As Christians, we are people of the Word, and we should use ours much more carefully. Too often, they determine the outcome or, at the very least, delay justice. Speak your truth with confidence because you have power that doesn’t come from any Supreme Court ruling.

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