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Marriage newspeak

BACK IN 2003, a few days after the highest court in Massachusetts unveiled a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, I ventured a prediction.

''Sooner than you think, it will become improper to speak of unique sex roles in family life," I wrote. ''The meanings and status associated with words like 'husband' and 'wife' will be erased from the law; most likely, the words themselves will be replaced in statutes with the unisex 'spouse,' just as 'father' and 'mother' will give way to 'parent.' "

The changes soon began. Massachusetts rolled out a new marriage license shorn of any reference to bride and groom. Couples getting married were now to be officially identified as ''Party A" and ''Party B." The department of public health has proposed a similar rewrite of the state's birth certificate, replacing ''mother" and ''father" with ''Parent A" and ''Parent B."

Meanwhile, others have gone far beyond Massachusetts in embracing the brave new world of unisex marriage. Last month, lawmakers in Ontario enacted Bill 171, stripping the statute books of all references to gender in connection with marriage. No longer do Ontario's laws use words and phrases like ''husband," ''wife," ''widow," ''widower," or ''persons of the opposite sex." And it is not just family and marriage laws that have been de-sexed. Bill 171 eliminates the traditional language of matrimony from more than 70 provincial statutes, including the Gasoline Tax Act and the Public Libraries Act.

What is underway here is not simply a tweaking of legal terminology. The crusade for same-sex marriage has never been aimed merely at adjusting the familiar boundaries of married life to make it more inclusive. The real target is the significance of marriage itself -- the idea, fundamental to human happiness and all successful societies, that the purpose of marriage is to bring men and women together for their mutual welfare and for the protection and well-being of any children they create or adopt. It is that deeply ingrained belief that the marriage radicals are determined to do away with. One purpose of the official marriage newspeak is to make such thoughts increasingly unthinkable.

Already it is becoming hazardous to speak of marriage as an opposite-sex institution or to suggest that one of its core functions is to provide children with fathers and mothers. Just ask actress Jada Pinkett Smith or Governor Romney.

When Pinkett Smith received an award at Harvard two weeks ago, she used her acceptance remarks to splash cold water on the idea that family obligations can make it difficult for married women to reach the top of the career ladder -- a hypothesis recently voiced by the university's president, Lawrence Summers.

''Women," Pinkett Smith told the audience, ''you can have it all -- a loving man, devoted husband, loving children, a fabulous career. They say you gotta choose. Nah, nah, nah. We are a new generation of women. We got to set a new standard of rules around here. You can do whatever it is you want."

That was all it took to arouse the wrath of Harvard's Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance. It denounced Will Smith's wife for her ''extremely heteronormative" comments, which ''made BGLTSA members feel uncomfortable." The group demanded -- and received -- an apology. And those who brought Pinkett Smith to campus will now undergo reeducation: The Harvard Crimson reports that the Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations is working with the BGLTSA ''to increase sensitivity toward issues of sexuality." Translation: There will be no more talk of loving men or devoted husbands at Harvard. At least not from married women.

Romney's offense against the new marital correctness was more serious. In a couple of speeches to Republican groups out of state, he condemned same-sex marriage on the grounds that ''every child has the right to have a mother and a father."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before protesters were at his State House office, blasting him as ''mean-spirited." Editorial writers launched an attack on his ''ignorance" and ''mean-spirited politics." In the Berkshire Eagle, one columnist slammed his statement of the obvious -- that every child deserves a mom and a dad -- as ''really disturbing" and the brainless ''fuzzy stuff of 1940s movies." He was accused elsewhere of succumbing to the kind of thinking that once barred blacks from white lunch counters.

This is just the start. The assault is not going to let up until the heteronormative deviants among us have been silenced. You think the marriage radicals have gone too far? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is

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