By this time tomorrow, the whole issue will have been settled one way or the other, but while it’s on my mind I want to write about the grammar of California’s Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to add a section 7.5 reading “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
Let’s say we analyze the structure of the sentence as “Only [noun] [prepositional phrase] is [adjectival phrase].” We could then create an analogous sentence that read, “Only Sam over there is good in bed.” It’s nonsensical to read this as indicating that Sam is good in bed when he is over there but not when he is anywhere else. The only possible reading of this sentence is therefore that the Sam who is over there is good in bed, but that nobody else is. (Note that such an assertion, were we actually to make it, would be libelous; I happen to know from personal experience that, while Sam certainly is a sexual dynamo, he is by no means the only one in the world. Or in New York. Or, you know, in his family.) If we apply this structural understanding to our original sentence, we see that the only possible reading is that a marriage that is between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California, but that nothing else is. Not same-sex marriage, of course, but also not felony statues, not stop signs, not the laws of physics.
Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that, because in addition to the “only” problem we also have the issue of “or” (valid or recognized) and whether it’s exclusive (he’ll take my virginity tonight or tomorrow, but not both) or inclusive (he’ll sleep with me, Jim, or me and Jim (separately or together—an inclusive “or” allows for both) ). If “or” is exclusive, then, according to section 7.5 of the California constitution, heterosexual marriage is 1) valid or 2) recognized, but not both. Adding the “only” back in means that everything else (same-sex marriage, felony statutes, stop signs, the laws of physics) is either 1) valid and recognized or 2) neither valid nor recognized. If the “or” is inclusive, then heterosexual marriage is 1) valid, 2) recognized, or 3) both, while everything else (same-sex marriage, felony statutes, stop signs, the laws of physics) is neither recognized nor valid.
(And I’m not even going to start with “in California” and whether it governs “valid and recognized” or just “recognized.”)
To mean what its proponents say it means, Proposition 8 would have to read something like, “In California, marriage is valid only if it is between a man and a woman.” But it doesn’t. So instead it means that, constitutionally, the only way for the laws of physics to be valid or recognized in California is for same-sex marriage to be legal.
Anyway, I think I’ll head west. When I get there, depending on how they’re interpreting this stuff, I’ll get married or go on a consequence-free murder spree. Really, I’m fine either way.
Update: Consequence-free murder spree it is. Fuck.
So, has Obama called you about that Supreme’s vacancy yet?
How did you get in my head? Grammar keeps me up at night.
lee: Didn’t you know that Sonia Sotomayor is my drag name?
David B.: I told you. We’re soul mates.
And of course you could float three feet above the ground as you’re slaying six.
Thank you. This has bothered me about Prop 8 ever since I first saw the wording. Given the number of states that have passed anti-gay amendments in the last few years, there plenty of grammatically correct (albeit morally incorrect) models to choose from.
Did you really expect a different result?
Joel, you write: By this time tomorrow, the whole issue will have been settled one way or the other, but while it’s on my mind I want to write about the grammar of California’s Proposition 8
Technically speaking, all that got settled was whether the Supreme Court would uphold Proposition 8. Disambiguation of the grammar is far from settled. I could pass it along to Grammar Girl and see if she and Legal Lad could render a joint opinion, but their opinion is not, alas, binding.
So not only evil but MORONIC and evil?!
So when does California get to vote the Holocaust in? I mean, if the majority can destroy a minority that easily why’d we bother fighting the Nazis in WWII???