Words change their meaning over time. Principles don’t.

One argument used by those against the Cleveland Clarification is that before 1999 the SA literature did not define the terms “spouse” and “marriage” .  Thus the “original SA program” allowed members to define those terms for themselves: endorsing as sexually sober, sex within a same-sex and even polygamous relationship.

In the 1980s and 90s SA Members were so clear that that “marriage meant marriage of a man and a woman” that

Marriage as you understand marriage?

Some SA members very actively promoted the idea of “marriage as you understand marriage”, adapting the 12 Step concept from Step 3 of “God as you understand God”. It is argued that since the word “marriage” was not defined in SA literature  members could define the word for themselves.

The words “God as understand him” were added deliberately when the AA Big Book was written (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age pp 162-3).  The words “marriage as you understand marriage” have never been considered, let alone approved by the SA General Delegates Assembly, the fellowship-wide policy making body.

Saying “spouse” or “marriage” was not defined in SA Literature is not saying much. It is studied ambiguity: inventing ambiguity where none was intended.  The word “and” is not defined either!  12 Step programs do not operate like laws or contracts where key terms are defined. Instead SA literature, the Traditions and Concepts,  outline the principles that guide the fellowship. They give context to the terms “spouse” and “marriage” in the Sobriety Definition.

Words change their meaning over time

Glossaries and dictionaries  of terms in the AA Big Book exist to help explain language that is difficult for some to understand 80 years after writing. Do we look at the original meaning, the historical context of words, or find a current meaning to suit ourselves? Principles before personalities?

The word “gay” in the AA Big Book is used in a way that would need explaining to the younger generation in AA,  that knows that word almost exclusively in a sexual context. Or are these examples of AA’s homosexual history?

  • “he may seem dull and boring, not gay and affectionate as the family would like him to be.” p 126
  • “He could see the gay crowd inside……..Music and gay chatter still floated to him from the bar” p 154 Bill’s story
  • “He succumbed to that gay crowd inside, who laughed at their own misfortunes and understood his” p 161

Similarly with the word “marriage” in the SA Sobriety Definition. We can have a common definition, a common purpose, a common principle. The alternative is merely a set of common words, accompanied by division and disunity across the fellowship. Members would be considered sober in one group but not another.

In it’s  historical context the term  marriage clearly referred to “a man and a woman”. The move towards  same-sex marriage in the 1990s meant either the sobriety definition would be changed by the culture or the word needed to be clarified to affirm its original intent.

The same sex marriage debate more starkly differentiated marriage and marriage-like relationships. In many jurisdictions, prior to the legalisation of same sex marriage, unmarried couples, same or opposite sex, had legal rights similar or identical to married couples. Recognition as a marriage-like relationship was not enough. Marriage-like is not marriage.