The difference between "gay marriage" & "same-sex marriage"

by Isaiah Webster III

Every time I see the word “homosexual” in a news story, I cringe. I could go on and on about why I hate that word, but I’ll settle and just say it’s a rather loaded term. The conservative right long ago hijacked the term “homosexual” as a weapon against us. It is a clinical term, but than again, so is “fellatio.” Clinical terms have no place in casual conversation or news stories. Just as “oral sex” is acceptable terminology in news stories, so should “gay” be appropriate for “homosexuals.” After all, most gay people don’t self-describe as “homosexual” anyway.

(For the sake of brevity and my own sanity, I completely acknowledge that not all gay people identify with the term “gay.” Let’s not go there today.)

If you’ve read this far you may be wondering where in the hell I’m going with this? That lead may have been slightly misleading, as this is not a post about the term “homosexual.” As opposed to interjecting that aside at some point in what I’m about to say, I just decided to get it out of the way at the top. You’re welcome.

This entry is actually about how media (including queer media) continuously use the term “gay marriage” as opposed to “same-sex marriage.”

I read countless blogs and news stories every day. I link to my favorite newsworthy stories in the left sidebar. I am always taken aback when I see reporters or bloggers refer to “gay marriage.” While I would not expect straight writers to think twice about the verbiage they use, I’m dumbfounded as to why queer bloggers would use which a term. (I always edit news headlines on this site to read “same-sex marriage.”)

We are fighting for civil rights…not gay rights. There is nothing gay about fairness in the workplace. There is nothing gay about adoption rights. And there is nothing gay about being able to legally marry the person you love. Americans must understand that our fight for equality is a fight for basic civil rights. The first step in raising awareness and bringing about change is to use correct terminology.

It’s vitally important to frame our movement in a way that non-gay people can conceptualize. While straight people might not see how “gay marriage” warrants their attention, they might see how civil rights and overall equality are important frameworks of our republic. Putting the spotlight on civil rights is more likely to be eye-opening to people who are members of other oppressed classes: women, people of color, the physically impaired.

“Gay marriage” and “gay rights” are terms that imply we are somehow seeking special treatment. As arcane as that argument is, conservatives still say we are seeking “special rights.” By using the term “same-sex marriage,” we remove the unnecessary and potentially loaded term “gay.” Marriages aren’t gay or straight; they simply involve same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples.

The next time you have a conversation with a friend, a co-worker, a family member or even your spouse, replace the word “gay” with “civil” and “equality.” Gay people are fighting for full civil rights, including marriage equality, adoption equality and the right to have protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.