Prop 8 On Trial

The power of language and labels in Perry

Helen ZiaHusband. Wife. Marriage.

Much of Perry v. Schwarzenegger is about these words and who has the right to use them.  The parties agree that these are universal terms – understood in every language and culture, but they disagree about whether participants in a gay relationship should use the terms in describing each other.

Interestingly, these terms – husband, wife, marriage – were not the only important words in Perry, which often demonstrated the power of language itself.  Witnesses spoke of the insulting ambiguity in the word “partner.”  Their fear in hearing the word “abomination.”  The moment one of them decided to search his dictionary for the word “homosexual.”  Indeed, to a great extent, Perry is not just about men, women, and marriage but about the effects that all words have on the people who use and hear them.

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