June 29, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Any time marriage equality is up for a popular vote, ballot language is key: it influences the way voters think about the measure at hand and can either help or hinder advocates’ attempts to fully explain their positions. In mid-June, the Maine Secretary of State released proposed ballot language that didn’t include an affirmation of religious exemptions, and marriage equality advocates in the state are planning to appeal his proposal. Similarly, both pro- and anti-marriage forces argued their sides in Washington state before a judge who released the final language for that measure in mid-March.
Yesterday, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie announced his choice for a title for the state’s proposed constitutional ban on marriage equality, and it is very simple: “Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples.” Ritchie’s proposal went to Attorney General Lori Swanson on June 15, and there will most likely be an appeal process before the final language is decided upon.
Although it may not stand, Ritchie’s proposed language is clear and straightforward, and serves as a reminder to those of us who support marriage equality that our choice of language undoubtedly frames our success at least to some extent. It’s the reason we use the term ‘marriage equality’ on this site instead of ‘gay marriage’: the issue at hand isn’t a right to a new kind of marriage, but rather about equal access to the same kind of marriage.
In truth, Ritchie’s title is in some ways a technical misnomer: the status of marriage in Minnesota is already limited to opposite sex couples. But in emphasizing the fact that the amendment would maintain that limitation and keep marriage from loving same-sex couples, his proposed title shows anti-marriage efforts for what they really are. With any luck, the amendment’s final language will do something similar.