What is marriage? The answer depends on who you ask. Some will say it is a union between two "partners" that brings legal and religious recognition. Others are more adamant that marriage is an institution that only a man and woman can enter in together. In any event the word marriage is subjective and thus subject in definition to the opinions and ideals of each society. The intent of this article is not to hold one position or stance of marriage higher than the other, but to examine mechanisms and principals for how this word should be defined or re-defined within the United States.
As marriage is in fact subjective, thus subject to change, the real question is who or what gets to define it? In the United States laws are defined or written by the legislative branch. The only time the courts are involved are when the laws are ambiguous thus needing clarification by their opinion, or when the law in questions violates the Constitution. Proponents of gay marriage will argue that not allowing Gays to "marry" violates the equality clause of our constitution. The problem with such an argument is that before you can USE the word in question, it must FIRST be defined.
For instance, if marriage is defined man-woman, as the earliest American dictionaries would indicate, then it is illogical to say gays can enter into marriage for this would be an oxymoron. That is unless the definition was to change. When the courts have ruled in favor of Gay marriage, they have in essence taken it upon themselves to redefine marriage as the latter. This sets dangerous legal precedent for the courts to be able to define the meanings of words at their convenience.
Now I know many are thinking that the courts often define words in law. While it is true the courts often must define the intent of words within law when in question, they must interpret within the confines of what they believe is the specific meaning of the use in said law. Furthermore, never have the courts completely redefined and changed a word entirely in which the new definition would impact its usage in society.
Still, if government MUST get involved in the definitions of words, it would and should be the legislative branch, where popular opinion and culture will have more influence in its use than appointed justices. The Vermont courts have taken perhaps the most appropriate stance in acknowledging this. While admitting that homosexuals are being denied the same privileges as heterosexuals, the Vermont Justices recommended that the legislature be the entity to provide the solution. It is clear that the Vermont justices understood their boundaries and acted within them.
Perhaps the best authority on language as it relates to American culture is Noah Webster the very father of American English. Webster argued that the standard for the American language was "the same republican principles as American civil and ecclesiastical constitutions", which meant that the people-at-large must control the language and that popular sovereignty in government must be accompanied by popular usage in language. "The truth in general custom is the rule of speaking—and every deviation from this must be wrong."
The reason for Webster's belief is the same reason why the courts must never be allowed to define popular culture. If the courts are allowed to re-define marriage, then a dangerous precedent would be set for similar definitions in the future. What would prevent the courts from defining other words? "Free Speech" could be defined by the courts to mean anything except political comments that are unfavorable toward the government. "Religion" could mean any belief except Christianity or Islam. Even the word "free" could be given an entirely new meaning under such a precedent.
The unchecked ability for courts to define such words could allow for the Constitution to restrict the very things it intends to free. Such a move could prove detrimental to the very fabric of our society and its freedom.