One theory about the origin of the children’s poem, “Jack and Jill”, is that it was a stealth protest against actions by King Charles I of England during his reign from 1625 until his execution in 1649. Details about what happened are sparse on the web, but apparently, when the Parliament refused to allow a tax increase, Charles responded by reducing the volume of a standard unit of measure, “the jack”. In the measurement system of the time, two “jacks” comprised “a gill”. All other things being equal, this volume reduction would have increased revenue from the existing tax law.
The theory is that the people were afraid to complain openly on the topic, so they devised the poem, “Jack and Gill” as a stealthy form of protest. Sometime later, Gill became Jill.
(incidentally, it’s off topic for this article, but how different is Charles’ action from today’s dollar inflation by the U.S. Federal Reserve?).
This story brings to mind two ideas which are relevant to the “same sex marriage” debate.
First is the idea that language evolves. Language is a tool for enabling communication among people. Over time, as our societies change, language evolves with them so that it can continue to accomplish its purpose. “Gill” becomes “Jill”. “Superhighway” changes from a slab of blacktop and concrete to a network of copper and fiber-optic cables. Consequently, efforts to control language are efforts to control thought.
Second is the propensity for government to meet its insatiable appetite for income and control by bending the rules and meddling in places where it doesn’t belong. Parliament had approved a tonnage tax, but it wasn’t yielding enough revenue. King Charles couldn’t get the people’s representatives to approve a tax increase, so he nudged the measurement system to make an end-run around the people.
Two Forms of Thought Control
For most of history, the word marriage meant neither a personal choice, nor a union permitted and controlled by the state. It was a financial arrangement between families. As our society evolved, the word marriage came to apply to an individual choice. Even in nineteenth century America, the word was used by some to represent polygamous relationships. In some cultures, unusual relationships are still included, today, in the definition of the word.
Somewhere along the way, in our culture, the word, “marriage” was captured by the state. Now, because the word has been captured, two groups of people are engaged in a massive struggle to forcibly control the word’s definition.
Etymology is the study of the history of words, where they are from, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. – wikipedia
Without interference from powerful institutions, it is the nature of words and language to change in meaning over time. The current debate over same sex marriage is an effort to exempt the word, “marriage” from that natural linguistic process.
Worse! It is an effort to dictate our thoughts to us. For some of us, the word, “marriage” means a union between a man and a woman. For others, it means a committed relationship between consenting adults. Like Charles changing the size of the jack, whichever belief we hold, there are people who are actively working to coerce — not persuade, coerce — us into changing our beliefs.
Normally, there is absolutely nothing controversial about words with multiple meanings. We manage to survive as a society with all sorts of multiple meaning words. We even have a name, homographs, for these words. For instance, do I play catch with a ball or do I attend a ball? I don’t need the state to tell me what I mean when I say, “ball”. If there is additional need for clarity, linguistic conventions might gradually and peacefully replace “attend a ball” with “attend a party”.
Rather than let linguistic nature run its peaceful course on the meaning of the word, “marriage”, two groups of thuggish activists now want to short circuit that process and tell us all what to think. No matter which meaning they promote for the word, this attempt at thought control is objectionable. Personally, I will not have my thoughts dictated by force of law from either of these groups.
Marriage is a Private Matter, Between Individuals
In the debate over whether to legalize gay marriage, both sides are missing the point. Why should the government be in the business of decreeing who can and cannot be married? – David Boaz
The ninth amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” And the tenth amendment says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
In light of these two amendments, and the fact that regulating marriages is not a Constitutionally delegated power, it should be clear that the power to regulate marriage is reserved to the States, or to the people. It should also be clear that the right to be married is retained by the people.
As Boaz points out, if marriage were privatized, the government’s role would be limited to contract enforcement. Several standard contracts would likely emerge and people would be free to choose the contract of their preference. As Wendy McElroy wrote, “A legal marriage is whatever contract for a committed relationship is agreed to by those involved.”
This model is the only one that accommodates freedom of thought and action. Beyond enforcing the terms of a voluntary contract, there is absolutely no reason why government should be enforcing or subsidizing anyone’s morality or attempting to control anyone’s thoughts.
As with all questions of law, there are two levels of government to consider.
Although I believe it is brutish, I must grudgingly admit that state governments are authorized by the Constitution to legally define and regulate marriage. Contrarily, the federal government has no Constitutional voice on the matter, whatsoever.
Same sex marriage is contentious, primarily for two reasons. 1.) State and federal governments have created financial incentives to promote marriage, including tax breaks and other subsidies; and 2.) Two powerful groups of people are aggressively trying to dictate our thoughts to us.
The position of liberty in this debate is clear. Marriage should not be a matter of interest to the state, except in the realm of contract dispute. Instead of working to establish thought control over one half, or the other, of our country, people should be looking for ways to stop subsidizing an individual’s private decision and to free the word, marriage, from institutional capture.
While the states do have the legal, Constitutional power to legislate on the matter, they are ethically wrong to do so. The people should be free to utilize contracts and language of their own choosing.
While I do not like the idea of state governments defining marriage, this issue demonstrates clearly another reason why the Tenth Amendment is important. Different states can legislate the matter differently, and the people can “vote with their feet”, withdrawing the consent of the governed, on issues which are important to them. In the winner take all world that would exist without the Tenth Amendment, this important capability would be taken away from us!
Steve Palmer is the State Chapter Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Tenth Amendment Center.
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