[Editor's note:] This guest post is by Mark Casey, a cultural and political commentator whose work can be seen in such places as the Baltimore Sun, The Santa Monica Daily Press, and The Flyer Group. He welcomes comments and can be reached via his website, www.MarkCaseyOnline.com
On August 14, 1956, Brian Sullivan was born to two loving parents in New Jersey. When he was eighteen months old, at the advice of Brian's doctor, his parents packed up and moved to a new town. There, they renamed him Bonnie Sullivan, and raised him as a girl.
Years later, Bonnie found out that just before the move, her gender had been surgically assigned by her parents. At her birth, it was unclear whether or not Bonnie was a boy or a girl.
Around the same time, in 1966, 18-year-old Erika Schinegger was the reigning world champion in female downhill skiing. Then, the International Olympic Committee discovered through medical testing that Erika had male chromosomes (XY) and disqualified "him" from competition—to Erika's complete surprise.
Both Bonnie and Erika were born with a condition known as sexual ambiguity—or intersexuality—which is an umbrella term for a wide variety of conditions where physical or chromosomal traits, which typically define a person as a male or female, are unclear at birth.
Bonnie has since changed her name to Cheryl Chase, and is a vocal advocate for intersexed people. And with good reason. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as many as one in every 4,000 births displays some degree of sexual ambiguity.
Yet, despite these thousands of cases across America, the promise of keeping marriage between "One man and one woman" is still a major talking point for politicians everywhere—even to the point of amending our constitution to enforce it.
No policy debate in the last fifty years has been more discriminatory or insulting.
Jennifer Maher, a senior lecturer at the Indiana University Department of Gender Studies, agrees that the phrase is discriminatory, adding "And it makes little sense. If someone is found to have Androgen Insensitivity Disorder... then the phrase becomes moot, or at least much more complicated."
Androgen Insensitivity Disorder is just one of many well documented genetic conditions which can result in the lack of a clear identity as male or female.
Meaning, it's long been clear to doctors that language like "one man and one woman" doesn't even have a place in medical textbooks, let alone in the United States Constitution.
Of course, enforcing rigid definitions of gender is nothing new. While it's the prerogative of any private organization to define gender however they like, the disturbing thing is how often the male/female choice is forced upon people by their government.
Social security, driver's licenses, even birth certificates—all demand a designation of either male or female. And even though most intersexed people happily choose one of the two genders, not all do. Many people prefer to define themselves as "third," "trans," or "inter," gendered.
Bottom line: It's not hard to include a third option for "unspecified" or "transgender." And that's exactly what many organizations do, including the Harvard Business School, which includes a "transgender" option on its introductory applicant form.
For elected officials, however, "one man and one woman" is purely political—and it has nothing to do with how things shake out in the real world.
Politicians, particularly those on the right-wing, like to capitalize on people's inherent fears and prejudices. So limiting marriage is much more about gaining the support of homophobic voters than it is about realism.
That's why it's so painfully ironic that a policy which discriminates against people who are born into a certain body—created by God, if you will—would be so popular with religious leaders and voters.
And while much of the debate over a marriage amendment revolves around its obvious purpose of discriminating against homosexual couples, the simple fact is, it should never have even gotten that far.
Still, it may be a long time before the government gets around to recognizing intersexed citizens, or even before the idea of a third option next to "gender" on a form makes sense to most people. But one thing is clear: writing "one man and one woman" into the constitution merely stokes the flames of ignorance, and it further complicates an already misunderstood issue.
We should be reducing the instances of gender discrimination as our knowledge grows, not adding to them.