05/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Inglorious Bastards

Via Dan Savage, the Chicago Sun-Times' Neil Steinberg has a modest proposal of his own, suggesting that if traditionalists object to the use of the word "marriage" to describe same-sex civil unions, shouldn't the same rigid defense of language be applied to the children of same-sex couples?

How much longer will they allow gays to press their agenda by claiming their children are "born" when of course, by entering the world as part of these lesser civil unions, they could easily be relegated to a similarly lesser state?

Perhaps mainstream America would be happier if couples that can form unions but not marry would have children that are "birthed," or "whelped" or "emerge." Instead of a "birth certificate" the couples could be issued a "document of existence."

Sure, we naysayers might point out that doing so would cause discomfort for the affected children, who, when asked where they were born, would have to answer, "Well, I wasn't technically 'born,' but I 'came into existence' in Evanston.'' But since opposition to gay marriage considers neither the feelings of children nor the concerns of their gay parents, it's a little late to start caring about them now.

Of course, there already is a common English word to describe children born of unmarried parents; we call them bastards, with all the negative connotation that word intentionally implies.

If -- while arguing that the institution is the "gold standard" for raising children -- opponents of gay "marriage" insist on defending the traditional use of the word, they should at least acknowledge the traditional meaning associated with its absence. Steinberg only satirically suggests that the product of "these lesser civil unions" could easily be relegated to a lesser status themselves, but by the inner semantic logic of the traditionalists, that is indeed the inevitable and intentional outcome of codifying this semantic distinction in law. For once the political battle over same-sex marriage is reduced to an argument over the definition of a single word, a linguistically consistent defense of traditional marriage would inherently imply that Dan's son is a bastard, while my traditionally legitimate daughter is not.

Yes, I know... there are some who might argue that as mores and circumstances have changed over the past half-century or so, the literal meaning of the word "bastard" has become archaic. English is a vibrant, living language that constantly evolves.

And that is exactly my point.

[David Goldstein blogs on WA state politics at]