Redefining Jeremy Irons

I’d heard that Jeremy Irons had said something dickish about gay marriage, but didn’t take much notice – paying attention to every dickish thing said by every celebrity would be a full time job. I am given to understand, however, that part of his “argument” was the old “but we’re changing the meaning of the word!” canard*. Now you’re talking language, which, we’ve established, is something I do pay attention to.

Assuming we are redefining marriage, who fucking cares?

I should start by saying that of course gay marriage should be legal and if you think otherwise you’re just not paying attention. Moving on, these kinds of linguistic arguments against changing marriage laws usually have two simple replies.

The first reply is that we’re not necessarily “redefining marriage” – whether or not marriage is being redefined depends on what its current definition is. If, for example, you define marriage as “two people who love each other formally entering into a lasting, legally-recognised relationship” then nothing is redefined at all. It’s only if you start with the definition “marriage consists of a penis and a vagina entering into a lasting, legally-recognised relationship” that redefinition is required**. And there’s nothing to indicate that that definition is, or ever has been, universally held – these arguments are circular, or at least solipsistic.

The second reply is: Assuming we are redefining marriage, who fucking cares? Words mean what we tell them to mean. I’ll say it again: Words aren’t discovered after years of experimentation, not discerned a priori by logicians, and not mined from the earth by linguistic engineers. We just make them up.

The same, incidentally, applies to the concept of marriage; marriage was not discovered after years of experimentation, not discerned a priori by logicians, and not mined from the earth by matrimonial engineers. We just made it up. Someone should tell this learned gentleman, who recently opined:

Marriage has a true essence, a fundamental core; it is a real phenomenon, not just a human invention or convention.

Oh, wait – someone did tell him; it was the guy who said this:

Who says these attributes – sexual complementarity, reproductive capacity – are “essential”?

Who says this is the standard?

We did. We decided that marriage involves the comprehensive sexual union of a man and a woman.

If you didn’t bother reading the link, I’ll spoil it for you – both quotes are from the same guy. In the same column. I’d laugh, but this man’s a law professor, who presumably teaches people to argue for a living.

When criticised, Mr. Irons said that his arguments were “mischievous… but nonetheless valid.” In a truly world class show of irony, he seems to be redefining the word “valid”. Still, best to be charitable to the good Mr. Irons: maybe he’s not a poorly argued quasi-bigot – maybe he was just having flashbacks to whatever they pumped him full of while he was filming Dungeons & Dragons.

Damn. I mean… just… damn.

*He also worries that legalising gay marriage would lead to the possibility of fathers marrying their sons. You know, just like straight marriage currently allows fathers to marry their daughters.

**There will now be a five minute break as I snigger over including the words “penis”, “vagina” and “entering” in the same sentence. … And we’re back.

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