I’ve noticed that writing about symbols is a sure way to generate a lot of hate mail from my “feel the love” Friends With Wrong Ideas. But here goes anyway.
Regular Ruth Readers have heard me say many times that “equality” is not a stand-alone concept. The term “equality” needs a referent: who is equal to whom and in what context? If you don’t specify those basic parameters, the concept of equality means exactly nothing. It is similar to saying “mine’s bigger,” without saying “what exactly of yours are we talking about?” or “bigger than what?”
Evading this elementary problem of context is the heart of the rhetorical strategy of the advocates for so-called marriage equality. I have argued elsewhere that the “marriage equality” concept is nonsense. I’m convinced that treating same sex couples identically at law with opposite sex couples will create new forms of inequality in all the relationships that depend on or derive from marriage. Fathers of the children in lesbian relationships won’t be equal to other fathers; children of same sex couples won’t be equal to other children. And most recently, we’ve shown on this blog that biological mothers in sexual relationships with other women will not be treated equally with other mothers.
This is why “marriage equality” is impossible. The newly redefined institution either won’t be really equal for everyone, or it won’t be marriage.
But this is a complex set of arguments. They are time-consuming to explain and not easily amenable to sound bites. This is a big disadvantage for our side. But, as it happens, one of the leading marriage redefinition groups has come up with the perfect symbol for making this very point. Allow me to explain.
In mathematics, one never sees an equal sign standing all by itself. An equal sign will have something on either side of it, as in “2+2” on one side of the equal sign, and the numeral “4” on the other. Or, one might see a scientific law or formula using an equal sign, such as f=ma or MV=PQ. But an equal sign standing alone, with nothing on either side, means exactly nothing: a pair of horizontal lines of no special significance.
This naked equal sign is the perfect symbol for marriage “equality:” both are meaningless concepts. Both fail to specify the terms that would allow the concept to contain any meaning.
This is why I am grateful to the marriage redefinition organization that gives its supporters equal signs for bumper stickers. I’m sure they think they are striking a symbolic blow for “marriage equality.” But in fact, they are driving around with their mathematical and logical ignorance “proudly” on display.