“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
Social conservatives, including those with gay friends who are all in favor of civil unions, have decided that marriage by definition means one man and one woman, because that’s what they always meant by it, and it’s what government has always told them it was. A recent Townhall essay by DC area radio chatterer Derek Hunter is an example.
If you oppose marriage equality and credit this current argument that proponents of gay marriage are “changing” the millennia old definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman, I can tell you lots of gay and lesbian couples, and many of their friends and relatives, have thought of themselves as married for years, but as living in regimes where they are oppressed and their marriages are discriminated against by the government. They all thought marriage and being married meant plighting one’s troth, being passionately and almost irrevocable committed to another, and that only the facts that most people feel this for someone of an opposite gender, and discriminate against the minority who feel it for the same gender, resulted in its being codified by the state to only refer to heterosexual unions.
This argument is like saying the definition of “person” or “voter” or “property owner” changed when blacks were no longer slaves, or women could vote, or either group could own property. The fact that under these regimes you chose not to call some people “persons” or other committed, romantic life-long relationships “marriage” because the government did not and you did not want to respect the personhood or marital status of some people, doesn’t change the facts that they were persons and those were marriages.