“Redefine marriage” is a catchphrase commonly used by those opposed to permitting civil marriage for same-sex couples. National Organization for Marriage promotes the sentence “Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us” as the “most effective single sentence” among their talking points because it allows users to sound tolerant while avoiding discussion of their intent: banning access to civil marriage for same-sex couples.

The truth is, laws permitting civil marriage for same-sex couples don’t change the definition of marriage any more than permitting blacks and women to vote changed the definition of voting.

Permitting black men to vote in 1870 greatly changed the complexion and size of the American electorate, but it did not redefine voting. What it did do was extend access to the ballot to men who had previously been considered merchandise rather than citizens.

Permitting women the vote in 1920 greatly changed the gender composition and size of the American electorate, but it didn’t redefine voting. What it did do is extend access to the ballot to people of a different sex.

Likewise, laws permitting civil marriage for same-sex couples don’t redefine civil marriage. What those laws do is extend access to civil marriage to couples of the same sex.

In a similar vein Anne Levinson, who is coordinating the challenge to the Washington Attorney General’s proposed ballot title for Referendum 74 has said, “laws that eliminate bans on inter-racial marriage and laws that eliminate bans on marriage for same-sex couples don’t redefine marriage. What these laws do is extend the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage to couples who were previously denied marriage licenses by their government. The meaning of marriage remains unchanged. The marriage laws themselves remain unchanged. The responsibilities and rights of married couples remain unchanged. Nobody’s civil marriage is in any way redefined, nor is the meaning of marriage changed or the clergy’s complete religious freedom to perform or celebrate or not perform or celebrate any marriage in accordance with their beliefs.”

The catchphrase “redefine marriage” is a dodge from the real discussion at hand: permitting same-sex couples access to civil marriage.