As members of minority and underprivileged groups, a modern-day Gandhi and King would empathize with gays and lesbians struggling to obtain full and equal rights, and they would support their struggle, up to a point. The life-long commitment of homosexuals and heterosexuals, they would say, should be made equal in every way, with two exceptions: name and parenting.
Assuming he were a preacher in the black church, a modern-day Martin Luther King would need to reconcile equal rights for homosexuals with the Bible. (Generally speaking, the black church does not support same-sex marriage.) The best way to do this, a modern-day King would likely argue, is to call same-gender unions by a different name.
A homosexual union coequal to heterosexual marriage, he might argue, is a new institution and thus deserves a new name. Civil union, while recognizing the legal aspect of marriage, does not sufficiently acknowledge its spiritual weight, so that would be out. But marriage, meaning the mixture of two genders into one body, would not apply either.
A modern-day Gandhi, coming from a nation that treated homosexuality as a crime until 2009, would likely approach the issue the same way. In fact, he might invite the community to propose a new name for this new institution, the same way the historical Gandhi held a contest to rename passive resistance, generally understood as a weapon of the weak.
“It was clear,” Gandhi wrote, “that a new word must be coined by the Indians to designate their struggle. But I could not for the life of me find out a new name, and therefore offered a nominal prize through Indian Opinion (his weekly newspaper) to the reader who made the best suggestion on the subject.” (The winning entry was satyagraha, meaning firmness in truth, truth force, or soul force.)
Besides arguing for a different name for sacred homosexual relationships, a modern-day Gandhi and King would also argue for adoption rights for gay couples, but only if no heterosexual couples were available. Is this a form of second-class citizenship? Perhaps, but unless we are prepared to call a man a mother and a woman a father, equality has its limits. That said, a modern-day Gandhi and King would likely believe that gay couples wishing to adopt a child should be given priority over would-be single heterosexual parents.
So what to call the life-long commitment of homosexuals? Espousal, wedlock, and wedding, are good candidates, but none of them work well as a noun and verb, like marriage and marry. In homosexual wedding ceremonies, rather than pronouncing two men or two women “man and wife,” one preferable alternative seems to be “I now pronounce you spouses for life.” That would seem to be an argument for espousal, but it’s hard to imagine any couple saying, “We’re getting espoused.”
Perhaps it will fall to a younger generation to figure out a name for this new institution. The children of gay couples are contending with a similar problem today: what to call their parents. They have solved the problem naturally enough: children of gay parents use Dad and Daddy (or Daddy and Papa); children of lesbian couples use the female equivalents, Mama and Mommy, etc. And “out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise”: at least one young child of a lesbian couple calls one of his mothers “Mister Mum.” That’s the kind of creativity and precision a modern-day Gandhi and King would seek in an effort to make same sex families equal but different.
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