Melissa Etheridge and her wife, Tammy Lynn, were interviewed today on Oprah regarding Prop 8. After rearranging my whole schedule to be in front of the TV, I was shocked to hear Melissa’s “wife” say she didn’t care about the word “marriage.” Tammy Lynn said gays should have the same rights as heteros, but we don’t need to call it “marriage.”

Elton John and his long time partner, David Furnish, said something similar to the press this week. They reminded the American press that they were not married, but joined in a civil union, then went on to say that gay people should not be asking to get married. John said, “What is wrong with Proposition 8 is that they went for marriage.” (Here’s the article.)

Are they kidding?! Somebody get these people off TV.

Maybe Melissa and Elton can afford the lawyers and accountants necessary for their civil partnerships to look even remotely like a marriage, but the rest of us probably can’t. The problem with making a distinction within the law is that it opens the door for distinctions to be made everywhere else. Businesses, government agencies, hospitals, and anyone else can say “you are different, and we can treat you differently,” which is what happens now. Separate but equal is not equal—haven’t we learned anything?

Let’s talk about marriage for a moment. When people like Rick Warren of California’s richest megachurch say that same sex couples are trying to “redefine” an institution that has remained unchanged for 5,000 years, they are using a common propagandist’s tool: bullshit. People have been redefining marriage since there was such an institution. According to a history of marriage published in Psychology Today, ancient Grecians honored love “especially between men.” Throughout history, marriage is consistently redefined by men virtually at will. The Protestant church, itself, was created by such a redefinition.

Marriage began as a civil, not religious, institution. The marriage contract dates back at least to ancient Egypt—in other words, it predates Christianity. “Traditional marriage,” which is what people say should be preserved, looks nothing like marriage as practiced in our society today. Traditionally, parties to a marriage did not choose each other, married people who showed any semblance of passion for each other were considered indecent, and polygamy, divorce, and infidelity were all accepted practices. It is only recently that marriage has come to be about love. Marriage for love is modern marriage, people.

However, there is one thing that is common throughout the history of marriage: those considered as lesser were not given equal rights to marry. In the Unites States, slaves were often barred from marriage. Legally, slaves were considered property thus could not be spouses or parents. In medieval Europe, ordinary people were not allowed to choose their own spouses. Instead, spouses were chosen by the manor lord or the village. Women, traditionally, had little say in who they married, and as wives, women had no individual legal rights.

Injustice has always kept certain people out of the legal contract, but love has brought these same people together in the relationship for just as long. The only definition being challenged here is the worth of gay and lesbian people. If we are equal people, then we deserve to be treated equally. It is just that simple.