Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Reality Of Words

It has been said that reality changes words far more than words can ever change reality(1) and I would agree with that statement.  For starters, any language in which the definitions of words (and the even actual words themselves) are not changing is a dead language.  One of my favorite examples of this definition change is with the word "awful" which was originally used to mean "awe inspiring" and has changed so much over time that now it is used to mean "terrible" - quite different from it's original intention!

There are a number of ways that words can be redefined - some of these ways can be quite passive as in the slow change of a word over time as technology advances (such as "computer" which originally meant "one who computes" and now is mostly used to mean specific categories of computing devices including laptops, desktops and tablets) and some can be a little more active such as where a group or community takes a word and re-defines its meaning for their own reasons.  One of these words currently being actively redefined is "persecution".

I've been hearing a lot of people lately claiming they are being persecuted for their views on various things, such as marriage equality and other forms of societal inequity.  "Persecution" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined as "the act or practice of persecuting especially those who differ in origin, religion, or social outlook".  So, I've heard "persecution" being claimed by both sides of the marriage equality debate.  On that definition alone, these may be fair claims, so let's take this one step further.  "Persecute" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief".

Now, with the definition of "persecute" as given, it would be a little disingenuous for those fighting against marriage equality because of their personal religious beliefs to claim they are being persecuted by "the gays" when all the LGBT community is after, really, is marriage equality.  In my experience, the LGBT community is not asking for church ministers to be forced to marry couples they don't want to marry, nor are they asking for straight couples to become gay couples - they are simply asking for the same legal recognition that is given to a marriage of a man and a woman to also apply equally to a same-sex couple.

What could rightly be claimed as persecution is the treatment of same-sex couples as somewhat inferior to different-sex couples, as if the love that a same sex couple has for each other is in some way not quite up to the level of love that a different-sex couple feels for each other.  And as a straight man interested in treating all people fairly, I find this inequality offensive.  No, I don't feel persecuted personally, but I can empathize with those members of the LGBT community who definitely feel persecuted.

So even though some groups, mainly the fundamentalist religious groups, are trying to redefine "persecution" to mean "being made to (rightly) feel like bigots because we want to enforce our personal and restrictive views on other areas of the community that do not share our religious views" I don't think that as a moral and accepting society, we should allow the redefinition of this word.

I'm happy for religious ministers not to marry a same-sex couple if they don't want to, just like they don't currently have to marry people of alternative faiths.  I'm happy for people to hold the religious beliefs they choose.  I'm not happy for people to try and restrict, reduce nor remove the rights of others based on their own personal religious beliefs.

In 2012, are we not, as a society, mature enough to allow consenting adults to make their own choices and not try and force our personal, restrictive views on them when what they are doing does not actually affect us detrimentally in any way?

(1) Mark Forsythe, TEDx Houses of Parliament, June 2012


The Outspoken Wookie

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