Battle over Prop. 2 hinges on definition of "marriage"

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Texas voters will approve Proposition 2 to the state constitution on Nov. 8 partly because of "cultural baggage" attached to the word "marriage," says a University of North Texas communications studies professor.

Dr. Jeffrey Bennett, assistant professor of communication studies, closely followed the passage of a similar amendment to the state constitution of Ohio. Like Proposition 2, it defines marriage as consisting only of the union between one man and one woman, and prohibits the state or a political subdivision of the state from creating or recognizing any legal status similar or identical to marriage. Ohio was one of 11 states to amend their constitutions and provide a definition of marriage during the 2004 elections.

"Like many words, 'marriage' comes with a lot of cultural baggage attached to it, and when you push the definition of marriage just a little, people react," Bennett says. "But you have to have backlash for any movement to progress."

He says that in 2003, the Supreme Court declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional, noting that the laws violate the right to privacy. Many, he believes, may see the overturning of the laws, plus the Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision in 2003 to render same-sex marriage as legally binding in that commonwealth as "too much change too quickly."

"In reality, it took the Supreme Court 20 years to break down the sodomy laws," Bennett says. He notes that economics is driving the movement for legal recognition of same-sex unions.

"Until modern times, the primary motive behind most people getting married was economic convenience," he says. "A lot of strides in same-sex marriage have come about in part because of economics, since when gay or lesbian couples break up and there's no legal definition of the relationship, there's issues of child custody and division of households."

Bennett expects most amendments to state constitutions to define marriage as between one man and one woman to pass, including Texas'. A 2003 poll showed that 63 percent of Texans surveyed said they support a state prohibition on same-sex marriages.

Bennett adds, however, that the amendments may be rescinded.

"It may take 60 years, but more people are meeting gays and lesbians. It's rare for me to have a student in my classes who doesn't know any gay person," he says. "People's views on gay marriage will be shaped by the number of gays and lesbians they know as well as their religion. And a lot of religions have made space for gays and lesbians as participants."

Bennett is the author of a study, "Seriality and Multicultural Dissent in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate," which will be published next year in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. In the study, he discusses how members of the Alliance for Marriage -- those who identified themselves as Catholic, Jewish, Latino, African-American, Asian, Caucasian, Muslim, Protestant, Democrat, Republican and Independent -- found common ground in their desire to reinforce traditional notions of marriage.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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