Equality for Ketchup

By Cyberquill 04/12/201126 Comments

When you go out for brunch, there’s a good chance the ketchup you slather on your mushroom omelet is married. Anyone, such as myself, unfortunate enough to ever have toiled in restaurants is intimately familiar with the server sidework known as “marrying” the ketchup, i.e., pouring the contents of one partially filled ketchup bottle into another partially filled ketchup bottle and repeating the process until one ends up with a bunch of brimful bottles and can toss the empty ones. Everything in a dining establishment should always be filled to the top, the rationale being that the trusting customer will erroneously associate filled with new and fresh. So unless the ketchup bottle your waiter brings you is factory-sealed, be aware its contents may have been married more often than Liza Minelli and some of the red stuff you are about to consume most likely dates back to the Nixon years.

Let’s say the state of Connecticut passes a law outlawing ketchup marriage: henceforth, combining the contents of one half-empty ketchup bottle with those of another shall be illegal in the Nutmeg State. While this may be an “uncommonly silly law” (as Justice Potter Stewart once described another Connecticut statute that outlawed the sale of contraceptives), the question is, is it unconstitutional such that the Supreme Court could overturn on equal protection grounds this democratically enacted piece of legislation?

Since marriage itself would remain legal in Connecticut and the laws of the land must apply equally to all, how could it be constitutional to permit marriage for some but not others solely based on who or what they are? What if the law were to ban marriage between Heinz and Heinz but not between Heinz and Hunt’s? And even if it applied to ketchup across the board, marrying ketchup with mustard or mustard with apple sauce would still be allowed.

The short answer, of course, is that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to any person, and bestowing personhood upon condiments would be taking semantic elasticity a trifle too far.

More pertinent to this discussion: although we are free to informally term “marriage” any type of alliance we desire—waiters can put little golden rings on the ketchup bottles in their charge and whistle Mendelssohn’s Wedding March while doing sidework if it makes them happy—, in a civilized society the Equal Protection Clause cannot possibly—and hence does not—indiscriminately enshrine as a fundamental right every kind of union that anyone may choose to call a “marriage” even if such joinder involves human beings only as opposed to bottled nightshades.

Socrates declared that “we cannot talk about virtue until we know what virtue itself is.” Likewise, until we know what marriage itself is, i.e., until —absent a constitutional amendment to spell it out unequivocally—we figure out a way to determine with at least a scintilla of objectivitywhich one out of the pool of conceivable definitions of marriage is “the one” in the sense that the prohibition of any type of union that falls within this definition is unconstitutional, we have no basis on which to argue that same-sex marriage either is or isn’t a fundamental civil right that flows logically from the cherished principle of equal protection under the law.


(1) If marriage means the union of exactly two consenting adults unrelated by blood, then prohibiting two such individuals from entering the bonds of matrimony on grounds that they are of the same sex is unconstitutional.

(2) If marriage means the union of exactly one adult male and one adult female, both consenting and unrelated by blood, then same-sex unions simply don’t fall under the definition of marriage to begin with, and there exists no equal protection violation if two individuals of the same sex are barred from “marrying” each other, as no one is barred from doing that which is defined as “to marry.”

Which of these two definitions does equality under the Constitution imply?

Remember, you can call a marriage anything you want (such as your professional relationship with your accountant, your personal relationship with your hamster, or pouring ketchup from one bottle into another), but that doesn’t automatically elevate it to a definition in the constitutionally protected sense— calling something a marriage doesn’t make it a marriage.

The inherent difficulty here lies in ascertaining what something means if no universal consensus exists and its definition has never been carved in granite, a situation which serves as an open invitation for all of us to define happily away according to our druthers and then rustle up some cogent-sounding rationalization afterwards.

So what’s wrong with simply arguing that marriage means—and has meant all along—the union of two consenting adults as opposed to the union of one man and one woman, in which case there would be no need for a constitutional amendment, for why bother to set down on parchment a right that already exists under Equal Protection anyway?

What’s wrong with that argument is that it holds no logical water and rests on nothing save personal preference.

You may, and probably will, counter that the one-man-one-woman definition of marriage is equally arbitrary and anchored solely in personal preference and that arguing otherwise indicates ADHP (= advanced delusional homophobia); besides, if marriage were up to the majority to define, outlawing miscegenation would be constitutional after all, Loving v. Virginia notwithstanding. The major flaw in this rebuttal is that the one-man-one-woman definition is far less arbitrary than its more inclusive alternative, and to suggest that the Constitution implicitly sets forth the more arbitrary of two arbitrary definitions of marriage makes no sense whatsoever.

Marriage dates back to the dawn of civilization; the world has seen untold matrimonial varieties, from couples to polygamy to marrying children to all manner of incestuous unions. The minutiae aside, marriage has always been restricted to human beings only, although I can’t say for sure there has never existed a society where a farmer could marry his goat; but if so, the phenomenon would have been akin to what in broadcasting is known as a “scratch,” i.e., a program with too tiny an audience to establish meaningful ratings for it, such as the Juggling Monkey Show on the local Banana Channel at 3am.

Besides having traditionally restricted to humans, the only other sweeping feature of marriage throughout history has been the merging of male and female, whatever the exact number of spouses, their age, blood relations, or ethnicities may have been.

So based on history and tradition, marriage is, first and foremost, a societally sanctioned union of human male and human female. Of course, the mere fact that something has always been a certain way is a poor justification for maintaining the status quo, or else slavery should never have been abolished and women should never have been admitted to the polls. Agreed. Trouble is, the moment we throw the so-called “traditional definition of marriage” under the Greyhound, we’re left with literally nothing that could serve as a foundation to determine what marriage is in the sense of being protected by the Equal Protection Clause. So then, if I insisted that the state of New York had no constitutional right to prohibit me from marrying myself, based on what could anyone argue that a union with oneself is not a “marriage”? Except in the annals of tradition, where might it be written that autosexual marriage is not covered by the Equal Protection Clause? Nowhere. Without tradition, all we have is an m, and a, and r, another r, an i, one more a, a g, and an e.

If someone frowns at the mention of the phrase “traditional definition of marriage” on account of its hidebound and conservative connotations and chides you for getting too hung up over lowly semantics, simply state that you wish to marry a dolphin and watch how fast that person will invoke the traditional definition of marriage to make the case that marrying a dolphin isn’t a “marriage.”

Bottom line, in order to figure out what exactly the Constitution protects with respect to matrimony, (a) we need a definition of marriage, and (b) this constitutionally protected definition of marriage must necessarily be derived from tradition lest we end up in a free-fire zone where everyone can make up their own definition (e.g., “marriage is the union of at least two but no more than four consenting adults”), which essentially amounts to having no definition at all.

Curiously, those who argue the U.S. Constitution implicitly recognizes marriage as “the union of two consenting adults” invoke tradition (hence “two”) yet blithely jettison the most traditional aspect of marriage (= the union of male and female) while trying to retain the lesser tradition of “two” as in “two people.” How does this make sense?

Well, it doesn’t. Either the Equal Protection Clause protects marriage as traditionally defined, i.e., male plus female, or it does not protect marriage as traditionally defined, in which case we’re living in Everything-Goes Land where I can marry myself and Helen DeGeneres can marry the Kardashians. In Everything-Goes Land, marriage could be outlawed altogether, but as long as it is legal, no one can be banned from doing whatever he or she chooses to define as “to marry,” including to marry an indicted ham sandwich and enjoy all the benefits that come with such a status. That’s what happens when you fling tradition out the window altogether—all you have is an m, and a, etc.

But if you decide to go with tradition after all, you can’t arbitrarily wrap yourself around the number “two” because that’s the part of the tradition you happen to like and discard the traditional elephant in the room. I fail to see the logic in arguing that the Constitution, via its penumbras and emanations, defines marriage only in terms of the lesser but not the larger of its two most traditional aspects. Ultimately, all definitions of marriage are arbitrary to some degree. But according to what kind of inverted logic does one get to pick a more arbitrary version over a less arbitrary version and declare that that’s what the Constitution says?

Unless one applies a fairly chaotic interpretive methodology aimed at compelling a desired conclusion, there cannot possibly exist a constitutionally protected civil right to gay marriage. Thus, for better or worse, the issue rests with the majority and its dreaded tyranny, i.e., the democratic process applies when it comes to expanding the traditional definition of marriage so as to include same-sex unions.

In my introductory paragraph, I discussed ketchup in restaurants. What goes for the ketchup also goes for the olive oil in that cute little glass bottle on your table.

It’s been married. Many times.

Enjoy your meal.

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  • http://www.GenuineThriving.com/ Jeremiah Stanghini

    Absolutely brilliant post! The title and the opening paragraphs made me wonder if this was as pre-cursor to a discussion about same-sex marriages and I was grateful to see that it was. I’ve never heard anyone talk about ketchup in making a case for same-sex marriages, but you definitely pull it off!

    With Love and Gratitude,


    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      You’re welcome, Jeremiah. I’m glad you liked the post, although I’m not quite sure how many people would interpret my arguing against same-sex marriage being a civil right guaranteed by the Constitution as my making a case for same-sex marriages.

      • http://www.GenuineThriving.com/ Jeremiah Stanghini

        Thanks for responding to my comment… I mistyped. I meant to say *about* same-sex marriage, not for. I’ve made the necessary change. 🙂

        • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

          Oh, I see. A matter of preposition. We had a fight and then we made out in the elevator. Oops. Sorry. I meant up.

          • http://www.GenuineThriving.com/ Jeremiah Stanghini

            I didn’t mean to wake a sleeping giant. Maybe best just to erase my comments.

  • Richard

    You are too much of a romantic, CQ.

    Marriage is simply a bundle of legal rights to deter a philanderer from leaving a mother literally “Holding the baby”.

    The wise mother-to-be says “No marriage, no baby.” Or whatever leads up to a baby.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      Yeah, but who’s entitled to said bundle of legal rights given the principle of equality under the law? Obviously, one can’t allow some people to marry and prohibit others from marrying. Ergo, we need a definition of “marry.” I glean from your remarks that you’re in the camp that argues the concept of marriage involves a melding of the sexes, or else nothing could be denied that potentially “leads up to a baby.”

      • Richard

        In this instance the parties are not in pari delicto

        • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

          Of course not. It’s always the fault of the female. Lex naturalis.

  • http://blog.csoftintl.com Zachary Overline

    Here in Beijing, I used to frequent this awesome sushi place right down the street from my house. That is, until one fateful evening when I stayed after hours on my sushi-filled rump and saw what they do with the soy sauce. To use “marriage” as a euphemism doesn’t quite cut it.

    So what they did is this: they first lined up all of the half-empty bottles of soy sauce. Then they brought over a bucket and --get this-- stretched CHEESE CLOTH over the top of it. Then they proceeded to pour and strain all of the soy sauce into the bucket, after which they removed the cheese cloth, SQUEEZED IT really hard to get all the extra soyly goodness out of it, then they proceeded to pour it back into each little container.

    Gag. It was the squeezing of the cheese cloth that got me. But then, here in China, I should be happy they were sanitary enough to strain out all the goobers and whatnot in the first place.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      Interesting. I’ve never worked at a sushi place, but here in New York, they probably marry the soy like they marry the ketchup. A lot of banging going on during the procedure—banging the tops of the bottles together to get the ketchup out, which makes for neat little glass chips to add some extra zing to your fries.

      • http://blog.csoftintl.com Zachary Overline

        Hrm… I’d much rather waiters banged away from my food, thankyouverymuch.

        • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

          Don’t worry. You’re safe. They use cheese cloth in China.

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  • http://sorebuttcheeks.blogspot.com/ Anabolic Steroids

    personally i only use fresh bottles in restaurants.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      Even so, ketchup remains catabolic. Too much sugar.

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  • Dan

    I wrote a blog post inspired by your argument. Just for clarification, I mean no personal hostility with my jibes -- I just enjoy forceful (and humorous) argument. I think your thought process is worth engaging in, if I didn’t have respect for you I wouldn’t write anything at all.

  • http://profiles.google.com/dhbraganca Daniel Braganca

    I wrote a blog post (http://danbraganca.com/2011/04/25/homophones-homosexuals-and-the-essence-of-marriage) inspired by your argument. Just for clarification, I mean no personal hostility with my jibes -- I just enjoy forceful (and humorous) argument. I think your thought process is worth engaging in, if I didn’t have respect for you I wouldn’t write anything at all.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      Thanks for the pingback. I didn’t detect any signs of personal hostility in your little softball powder puff rebuttal on your blog.

      • http://profiles.google.com/dhbraganca Daniel Braganca

        😉 Good good. I always worry people take personal offense. Nice zing, btw.

  • http://twitter.com/curledmoss Ann

    WOW!…pretty interesting…the toilet is an arranged one! Sugar makes for hot words and taxes planned my parents in this ‘hood”….

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      If I were John Nash, I’d be instinctively screening the letters which comprise your ostensibly meaningless comment for some sort of hidden code.

  • Tamara

    Since the post date for this article is April 12 I am a bit late to comment, but I just stumbled onto this blog so thought I’d toss in my proverbial two cents worth.
    As to what constitutes the definition of the term ‘marriage’ it would be based on what is the legally accepted definition. Since our courts determine the ‘rule of law’ as what is the precedence that has been long established within the judicial system, it would seem that the law recognizes marriage as a legal union between two consenting adults, defined as one man and one woman. This has been the legal and moral precedence throughout recorded history. (ref; the Bible -- Genesis 18:20 thru Genesis 19:28, also various Egyptian and middle-eastern text. )
    Since our Supreme Court has the job of determining the constitutionality of any given situation, not redefining the Constitution, or altering the rule of law, then it is mandatory that they determine that our Constitution does not give gay marriage protection under the guise of ‘equal protection under the law’.
    Our forefathers tried to establish a Constitution that would protect our rights and freedom in this new country. At that time morality was not at issue, but rather protection from a corrupt and unjust government. I’m sure it never occurred to them that one day people would be questioning the legality of gay marriage, but they did put in place a means of settling such questions – ‘The will of the people’ which is determined by the vote, where the majority rule becomes the law, unless the Supreme Court rules it as unconstitutional.
    Of course, here in California, if you don’t like a law, and you lose the vote, you just keep putting it on the ballots until people get fed up and don’t bother to vote because “it isn’t going to matter anyway”.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      Never mind the date. My posts are timeless, composed for eternity. 

      Yes, I agree. There’s no way on earth that any provision in the Constitution  compels the definition of marriage as a union between two people irrespective of sex. Where is such a definition supposed to come from without any legal tradition or historical precedence to support it? Once tradition is tossed aside, I see no logical basis for maintaining that marriage, as defined in the penumbras and emanation of the U.S. Constitution, must include same-sex unions but may exclude unions of more than two spouses, as is sanctioned in the Qur’an, where a man may marry up to four women. 

      That said, I’m also not quite sure which constitutional clause gave Congress the power to pass the Defense of Marriage Act. Defining marriage doesn’t seem to fall under any of the powers listed in Article I, Section 8. At least I can’t find one that strikes me as applicable.

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