The Marriage Metaphor – Why we should know the meaning behind words

Posted on March 9, 2010. Filed under: Collective Wisdom, Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , |

By: Beau Williams
Date: March 8, 2010

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Immigration Stories, A Collective Wisdom. I wish to know more about, and conduct research at a later date, on the challenges and experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender immigrants. My reason for approaching the issue in the manner is that I think story telling as an educational tool can be very powerful. So, what I am proposing and am doing is putting out requests that give the identified population a chance to share their stories as well as am searching far and wide for stories that have already been captured and am putting them together to create a collective wisdom. My reason for approaching the subject in this manner is to give a nurturing space for creating community and providing access to information that will support others during a time that could potentially be one of the most stressful and difficult transitions in their lives.

 In collecting these stories there is one issue that seems to stand out to me more then most of the others. As of January 2010 there are over 36,000 bi-national couples dealing with additional stress on their relationship due to the fact their country of origin has failed to legally recognize their relationship. The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act allow permanent residents to sponsor their spouses and their spouse’s immediate family for the purposes of immigration. However, same-sex partners of permanent residents and U.S. citizens will not be taken into consideration as spouses and their companion/partners are not permitted to sponsor them for family based immigration. As such many bi-national same sex couples are kept apart or forced to live in others countries where same sex marriage is recognized (Human Rights Campaign, 2010).

 With the many different elements in my project this element was most surprising to me. Not that I did not believe it to be true but rather it simply had not occurred to me. The idea that a couple’s relationship is ignored or not acknowledged seems to disturb me more and more as I come across these stories. 

 For as long as I can remember many gay couples who lived together would apply a term to their relationship that did not literally apply but metaphorically it did, that term being the word marriage. Personally, I consider myself to be married to my partner of 10 years. He and I have never celebrated our union through a wedding ceremony nor in the eyes of the federal government are we legally permitted to call our relationship a marriage, to include all of the benefits there of. The legal acceptance is not that important to us personally as we have legal documents in place to cover many of the important issues we want to be addressed should something happen to either or both of us. However, many other couples do not have this luxury. One such example: “J.W. Lown is the former mayor of San Angelo, Texas. Earlier this year he was forced to choose between his home and the community that had just re-elected him as mayor, and his partner. He now lives in exile in Mexico because his relationship with his same-sex partner is not recognized under US immigration law (See Appendix D).” Had Mr. Lown and his partner been given the legal option of marriage this would be a non-issue, they could have lived happily in the U.S. and San Angelo would have been able to keep the mayor they had reelected. However, that is not the case because the metaphor of marriage means different things to different people and the under lying belief systems are likely to keep this difference in understanding in place for the near future.

 The use of the word marriage is millennia old and steeped in tradition. Marriage as metaphor can mean many things. Such as, any close, intimate association or matching of different elements, components, and words. Currently that most popular understood and broadly accepted use of the metaphor is the social institution under which a man and a woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments and/or religious ceremonies (Dictionary.com, 2010), this is the more commonly accepted as the conservative western view. It is in this difference that I will dive in and examine the metaphor more closely to better understand the conflict and suggest a use of language that is intended to support the ‘marriage’ metaphor and of the differences in the understandings, how it is used in mainstream culture for heterosexual unions, the conservative worldview, and how the metaphor is used with in the gay and lesbian culture to gain a resemblance of the union of marriage privileged to the heterosexual class, more commonly accepted as the liberal western view or worldview.. 

 “In the Untied States we generally try to think of values as being equal for everyone but in reality things are not and as a result we often end up with conflicts within our metaphors associated with those values (Lakoff, 2003, pg 23).” These conflicts arise from a theory of truth based on a worldview and not one through which a ‘pure objective truth’ of which Lakoff would suggest does not exist and is also of the opinion that it is pointless to try and give theory to the truth  “Because so many of the concepts that are important to us are either abstract or not clearly delineated in our experience (the emotions, ideas, times, etc.) we need to get a grasp on them by means of other concepts that we understand in clearer terms (Lakoff, 2003, pg 115).” To better understand this argument let us look at the two world views that are current dominate in the Untied States, that being the conservative worldview and the liberal worldview.

 The accepted conservative worldview of marriage is heavily influenced and interpreted through our conceptual understanding the Christian bible. Beagle explains this foundational briefly by referring to various sources from said bible that has led to the conservatives understanding of the truth:

  • In Matthew 25:1–13, Jesus is the bridegroom and we are virgins who are waiting to attend the wedding.
  • In Jeremiah 2:32, He is the bridegroom and we (the church) are the bride.
  • Ephesians 5:28–30, He [Jesus] refers to the church not only as His bride, but also as His body.

“He apparently took as a given that those of us learning from His marriage parables would understand the different roles for the male and the female in a marriage. In Ephesians 5:22–33, Paul spells out those roles (Beagle, 2002-2010).”

  • The wife is to be subject to the husband in everything (verses 22, 24).
  • The husband is to sacrifice himself for His wife (verse 25).
  • The wife is the body of her husband, and
  • The husband is the head of that body (verses 23, 28).
  • The wife is to respect her husband (verse 33).
  • The husband is to love his wife as himself (verses 25, 28, 33).   

 Beagle takes the discussion farther by interrupting the above verses the mean as follows:

  • The church/bride is subject to her divine Husband (God) in everything.
  • The divine Husband already sacrificed Himself for her.
  • The church/bride is the body of her divine Husband.
  • The divine Husband (alone) is the head of that body.
  • The church/bride is to respect her divine Husband.
  • The divine Husband has already loved her as Himself—enough to die for her!

 Lakoff would offer it is our tendency to build metaphorical concepts and our understanding of those concepts that leads us to believe metaphors as true or false (Lakoff, 2003, pg 179). It is this understanding that establishes the baseline of beliefs for the relationship in the conservative worldview of heterosexual marriage.  The foundation for this belief system is known as The Strict Father Model and explains it as follows: “A family has two parents, a father and a mother. The family requires a strong father to protect it from the many evils in the world and to support it by winning those competitions. Morally, there are absolute rights and wrongs. The strict father is the moral authority in the family; he knows right from wrong. Is inherently moral, and heads the household. The mother supports and upholds the authority of the father but is not strong enough to protect the family or the impose immoral order my herself. She provides affection to the children to show love, reward right conduct, and provide comfort in the face of punishment. Children are born undisciplined. The father teaches them discipline and right from wrong. (Lakoff, 2006, pg 57)” He takes this farther to explain the conservative right leads the country in this same manner by what he calls ‘The Nation as Family’.  It is through this worldview the conservative party has and is still changing state and federal laws to define marriage according to the closely held beliefs held near and dear to them.

 However, all is not lost yet for those bi-national couples. Fred Parrella argues that “while it is not likely that … [Christian] … theology will sanction same sex marriage relationships in the near future, two significant changes have taken place in the last half century in our understanding of marriage.”

 First, the concept of marriage has moved from a legal contract to a personal covenant between two people in the pres-ence of God. Marriage is rooted, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, in ‘the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent.’ Second, the act of procreation within a marriage (until recently seen as a duty so the race may survive) is no longer the only purpose of marriage. In marriage, the partners, as the Council says, also ‘render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and their actions (Parrella, 2004).’

 There is another world view significantly different from the conservative view. The liberal party, or the left, has a more progressive worldview of term marriage. One that is more inclusive of every one. This progressive worldview defines marriage is a social union or legal contract between individuals that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found. Such a union may also be called matrimony, while the ceremony that marks its beginning is usually called a wedding (Wikipedia, 2010). This broader understanding establishes a baseline intended to give couples of all differences the chance to partake and enjoy the union of marriage with out discrimination.

 The liberal party has a more accepting and inclusive belief system intended to bring out the best in everyone or what Lakoff defines as Nurturant Parents or leader, who are authoritative without being authoritarian. The nurturing leader sets fair and reasonable limits and rules, and takes the trouble to discuss them with the people of the Untied States. Obedience derives from love for the leader and country, not from fear of punishment. Open and respectful communication takes place between political leaders and citizens. Political leaders explain their decisions in order to legitimize their authority. Political leaders accept questioning by citizens as a positive trait but reserve the ultimate decision making for themselves (Lakoff, 2006, pg 52). 

 Currently the liberal party has compromised with conservatives in getting legislation passed in various areas of the United Stated that is intended allow same sex couples to emulated some aspects of the marriage metaphor, some of the benefits, and some of the so called equality. The term popular term currently being used is civil unions. Yet, it is not equal to marriage. There are many other relationship metaphors being used by same sex couples and by those referring to same sex couple, partnered, significant others, or my favorite one used my neighbor “That ‘funny’ couple that lives over there.”

   So, the question that is coming for me is what are these differing arguments conflicting so strongly? And again, Lakoff does a nice job explaining this. There are two primary types of metaphors. There are primary metaphors and complex metaphors. The primary metaphors are those beliefs believed to be universal to everyone because we tend to have the same types of bodies, same types of brains, and we tend to live basically the same types of environments as they relates to metaphors. And, the second type is complex metaphors. The complex metaphors have roots in our primary metaphors but also make use of conceptual frames stemming from our cultural beliefs. It is through these cultural understandings, or worldviews, that we differ some much and through the differences conflict does arise (Lakoff, 2003, pg 257).

 It is through complex metaphors that differing opinions of the conservative and progressive worldviews on marriage that much debate is now occurring on who should have the right to marry. The liberal part want marriage for same sex couples and the conservative party are of the argument stating that marriage is intended to be only between one man and one woman. To this end the conservative government representatives have gone so far as to pass the legal legislation, Defense Of Marriage Act or more commonly known as DOMA. There are two main sections to this law. The first being, No state needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state. The second states that the federal government defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. This law was passed on September 21, 1996 as Public Law No. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419. The bill was passed by Congress by a vote of 342-67 in the House of Representatives and a vote of 85-14 in the Senate, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996 (Wikipedia, 2010).

 I would like to take a moment to mention historical documents indicates gay marriage has existed in the past. Example: “From 310 to 395 AD it is believed male to male Christian marriage ceremonies were performed which involved the burning of candles, the joining of right hands, the binding of those hands by the priest’s stole, the Lord’s prayer was recited, communion was given and a kiss occurred between the two men. It is believed these ceremonies were performed in the thousands through out the centuries. It was not until the second half of the seventh century that there began a large change in the way Western society became homophobic in a rather short period of time. It is believed this shift was a result of the rise in Puritanism which has it origins in England around the same period of time. (Spencer, 1995, pg. 171).” It is also documented the marriage as we know it now and what is once was has changed. In various parts of the world marriage has and to some extent still is used to combine wealth and position of two families. Where as romantic love was some to could occur out side of the marriage whether it be with male or female companions (Spencer, 1995, pg 36).

 To take this back to the challenge currently being presented to tens of thousands of bi-national couples, due to the defined meaning of one word we are putting thousands of couples through unnecessary hardship. Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado (see appendix F) are a prime example of how the meaning of this one word has had significant impact on their lives. Jay, an American woman, and Shirley, an immigrant from the Philippines have lived together for 24 years. They have a 12 year old twin boys and live very happily in the greater San Francisco area. Because they could not take advantage of the metaphor of marriage they had to come up with creative ways to keep Shirley in the country. As do many immigrants Shirley came here on a tourist visa and did not leave. In 1995 she tried to apply for asylum for two reasons. One she wanted to live with her ‘life partner’ and she feared for her life if she were to go back to the Philippines. She was not aware her asylum case was denied until officers came to her door to arrest her and took her away in hand cuffs. These two ladies are happy together. They have a wonderful family. Yet, because a segment of our government has defined the marriage metaphor as between a man and a woman these two ladies are forced to be ‘domestic partners’ and as such are not permitted to legally marry, which in turn eliminates all the legal problems being experienced by this family.

 There is legislation currently being debated by our governments that if passed would allow Shirley and Jan to remain together. This piece of legislation is The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) (see Appendix C), it does not interfere with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as it uses a different type of language. The UAFA uses the term permanent partner and in so doing creates a new class of citizen. If passed, this would allow US citizens to sponsor their same sex partner but does so in a way that still treats them as second class citizens by institutionalizing discrimination.

 Legislation of this nature is good in so much that over 36,000 couples would be given the right to legally live together in the United States as a ‘partnered’ couple. Some would no longer be in fear of being deported as a result of one person in the couple being in the country illegally, the financial burden would be lifted from those traveling frequently to be together or paying to stay in school to qualify for a student visa, It would allow individuals to visit and rejoin their extended families that they are currently unable to due to travel restrictions, or force individuals to choose between a husband and wife or caring immediate family.

 Until UAFA is passed we will continue to have bi-national couples struggling to stay together. We will continue to have loving couples in exile from their country of origin and their extended families. We will continue to force couples into hiding as a result of illegal immigration. All this is the result of reluctance to allow a metaphor that means so much to such to so many to be defined for a less number of people because of differences in belief systems between the conservative and liberal parties.

 In order to get passed the barriers in these belief systems I would prosing a progression of language changes that is intended to eventually give equality for everyone involved. I think the language being proposed in The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) is right on track with where we need to go, currently. These changes will happen bit by bit. I propose we continue to make changes through the legislative branch of our government and through our judicial branch, federal court system. I do not believe this effort will that be accomplished through any one branch of our government. Nor will it change just because people start saying it. The pressure for change must happen from all 3 angles. We must continue to work with our congressional leaders so that over time when they think of same-sex couple the only term that comes to mind for a man is husband and the only term for a woman is wife. We must continue to work through our judicial branch of government to redefine marriage so as to prevent it from being only a man and a woman.

 In short, I think we need to adopt the language of the oppressor and make it our own. They we continue to use the word family when we refer those who live in all of our homes. We must adopt the term husband and wife. We must continue to use these terms until they not only become second nature to us but are second nature to everyone. When this is accomplished we will have embedded ourselves in to the subconscious of our oppressors in a way that blurs the lines between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples.    

 However, I suspect there are some among the LGBT community that disagree with me. Given that fact a portion of the community has a resistance to any such activity requiring conformance. And, worse yet, I too may well have some trouble using this language because it does not flow effortlessly from my own mouth.

 However, we have got to start somewhere, so why not start with us and why not start now.   

 Works Cited / Bibliography

Beagles, Kathy (2002-2010). Mixing Marriage Metaphors. http://cqbiblestudy.org/article.php?id=79

Dictionary.com (2010). Definition of marriage. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/marriage

Human Rights Campaign (2010). International Rights and Immigration. Immigration. Retrieved from http://www.hrc.org/issues/int_rights_immigration.asp

 Lakoff, George (2003). Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision. Union Square West, New York.

 Lakoff, Geoge (2006). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, Illinois.

 Perrella, Fred (2004). Gay Marriage: Theological and Moral Arguments. http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/ethicalperspectives/gay_marriage.html

 Wikipedia (2010). Definition of Marriage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage 

 Wikipedia, (2010). The Defense of Marriage Act. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOMA

Appendix A

 111TH CONGRESS

1ST SESSION House of Representatives 1024

To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as spouses of citizens and lawful permanent residents and to penalize immigration fraud in connection with permanent partnerships.

Complete text of amendment: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:h1024ih.txt.pdf

 Appendix B

 111TH CONGRESS

1ST SESSION Senate 424

To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as spouses of citizens and lawful permanent residents and to penalize immigration fraud in connection with permanent partnerships.

Complete text of amendment: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:s424is.txt.pdf

 Appendix C

 The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)

 UAFA Keeps Families Together – The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) offers remedies the current injustice in our nation’s immigration laws and allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for family-based immigration. No one should have to choose between their country and their family.

 More information is located as: http://www.hrc.org/issues/int_rights_immigration/13114.htm

 Appendix D

 J.W. Lown is the former mayor of San Angelo, Texas. Earlier this year he was forced to choose between his home and the community that had just re-elected him as mayor, and his partner. He now lives in exile in Mexico because his relationship with his same-sex partner is not recognized under US immigration law. US family reunification law does not yet include gay and lesbian families – something groups such as Immigration Equality are working hard to change via the comprehensive immigration reform bill expected in 2010.

 This article is located at: http://loveexiles.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/to-a-mayor-from-a-mayor-in-exile/

 Appendix E

 Jennifer (U.S.) & Ellen (Taiwan)

 This story is located at: http://www.out4immigration.org/immigration/page.html?=&cid=1196

 Appendix F

 Lesbian couple inspires US immigration reform

 Various Articles related on the journey of Shirley Tan (Philippines) and Jay Mercado (Philippines) as they face deportation from US.

 This story is located at: https://lgbtculture.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/shirley-tan-and-jay-mercado/

Side Note: I am still working this story and updates will occur as needed.

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One Response to “The Marriage Metaphor – Why we should know the meaning behind words”

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I am in this exact situation. I’m a flight attendant, and try, as often as possible, to fly from my base in New York to be with my partner in Guatemala. He has no US visa, and has been denied 3 times. We have been on again-off again for 6 1/2 years. In large part this is due to the stress of the distance and not being able to spend the time that we need together. In spite of the odds against us, we are still trying to make things work. We talk daily (and I have the phone bills to prove it!). We chat online and e-mail. We missed Christmas together and I missed his birthday. This month, because of my schedule, I will probably not be able to go at all.
US law is separating people who are in love instead of bringing them together. How is the in ANY way fair and just. If I felt like it, I could marry my partner’s sister tomorrow and bring her to the US. But I can’t bring the one person that I love the most.


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