Definition Argument—Protected Class

Definition Essay—Protected Class

Before you begin to write your own, you’ll want to review the essential qualities of a good Definition Essay.

1. It’s an argument.
I’ve told you before that all writing is argument, but now is always a good time to remind you. Our intuition might tell us that a Definition Essay is a simple stating of the facts of what a thing is or isn’t. But if that were true, we’d hardly need lawyers at all. Whole libraries have been filled with arguments about whether a particular judicial process is or is not an example of “due process” or “equal protection under the law.” Those categories sound clear enough, but deciding whether individual cases qualify as members of the class is always up for debate.

2. It has real-world relevance.
The dictionary is almost useless in defining what words and concepts mean in society. Because the model essay below is about gay marriage, I looked up the definition of marriage in a 1993 dictionary and found it quite helpless. In several entries, it sometimes refers to unions of husband and wife; sometimes to a special social and legal relationship between men and women for the foundation of a family; sometimes merely to an intimate or close union.

None of these will help us legislate whether same gender marriages should be permitted because, as a society, we get to decide what constitutes a “special social and legal relationship” and who can make one, just as we get to decide what constitutes “the foundation of a family.” After all, we don’t take away the marriage licenses of couples who don’t procreate, even by choice.

3. It often requires defining several terms.
In the above, we need to clarify not just marriage, but social relationship, legal relationship, and family. In the model below, our quest to define the rights of gays seeking to marry sends us in search of good definitions for

  • protected class,
  • insular minorities,
  • laws based on gender,
  • laws based on sex,
  • invidious discrimination,
  • defining characteristics,
  • political vulnerability, and
  • fundamental nature.

After all that, the model below still doesn’t define marriage, let alone gay marriage. It doesn’t try to. It doesn’t say gay marriage should be embraced. It doesn’t say gays are entitled to all the privileges and considerations of marriage. Its narrower argument is that, whatever gay marriage is, gays belong to a class of citizens entitled to special consideration to determine whether depriving them of the right to marry is unconstitutional.

And that’s a worthwhile definition essay!

In red below are the specific claims relevant to a definition of a protected class that deserves heightened scrutiny and the argument that gays seeking to marry belong to that class.

New York Times Editorial
March 23, 2013

Heightened Scrutiny

One of the central questions in the two gay marriage cases to be argued before the Supreme Court this week is whether gays and lesbians are a protected class under the Constitution. Under longstanding principles, government actions that fall heavily on “discrete and insular minorities” historically subject to prejudice and stigma are to be given particular scrutiny.

The 3.4 percent of Americans who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clearly qualify as this kind of minority. Laws classifying individuals based on sexual orientation — the anti-gay-marriage initiative in California called Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act — must be given heightened scrutiny.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then the foremost advocate for gender equality, swayed the court 40 years ago to adopt that standard for gender-based distinctions. The court concludedthat classifications based upon sex” were “inherently suspect.” But it has not yet decided how to treat laws based on sexual orientation. The solicitor general and others argue persuasively that such laws require close review just as those based on gender do.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down the Defense of Marriage Act for defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The appeals court convincingly found that in focusing on sexual orientation, the act warranted heightened scrutiny under the test the Supreme Court established for gender-based laws — and that the statute was unconstitutional when reviewed closely. The test considers whether members of the group have experienced invidious discrimination; whether individuals can leave the group without losing a basic part of their identities; whether the group’s defining characteristic is relevant to its ability to contribute to society; and whether members can protect themselves in the political process.

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people share a common “immutable” characteristic because their sexual orientation is fundamental to who they are and they have indisputably been discriminated against. Until a decade ago, the Supreme Court upheld state laws making “private sexual conduct” between people of the same sex a crime. In the five most recent years for which the government has data, through 2011, hate crimes in the United States fell by 19 percent. But hate crimes based on sexual orientation went up by 3 percent. The discrimination has nothing to do with the ability to contribute to society.

Finally, gays and lesbians, as a minority group, cannot protect themselves from discrimination in a political process governed by the majority. If they had power, Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act would never have passed, nor would the laws currently on the books in 39 states that specifically restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.

As the brief for the United States said in the Defense of Marriage Act case, “This is the rare circumstance in which a faithful application of the court’s established criteria compels applying heightened scrutiny to an additional classification.” Neither of the laws in the two cases before the court can withstand this serious constitutional examination.

In-Class Task

In a Reply to this post, explain in what way(s) this essay differs from what you thought a Definition/Categorical essay would look like. Then describe one strategy of a D/C essay you might try in your own paper.

38 Responses to Definition Argument—Protected Class

  1. This essay differs from what I thought a definition essay would look like because it spends practically no time explaining what heightened scrutiny is, but instead elects to explain its real world applications. A strategy I could use from this for my paper is to not explain the science behind waves, which was my plan, but rather explain why the waves in New Jersey are better than those anywhere else around the world.


    • davidbdale says:

      Save the “causal explanation” of the origin of good waves for your Causal Argument, RS. You’ll need plenty of words to communicate what you mean by “better waves,” which is not as obvious as it sounds.


  2. saycheese03 says:

    This was an interesting topic to argue and not one I thought would be the Definition argument. by defining defense laws and what rights they protect it was easier to understand what was being argued and why it is so important. I would like to incorporate some of this in my own writing because giving background definitions helps paint a picture of what is trying to be argued.


    • davidbdale says:

      That’s well said, SayCheese. The “mere” exercise of defining terms involves much more sophisticated (and potentially persuasive) argument than quoting a dictionary definition ever could.


  3. queenrandom04 says:

    This essay is different from what we’d do as a definition argument because we wouldn’t use such clear cue phrases that are obviously making an argument. This essay is doing more than defining the term but making arguments based on the evidence they’re presenting. It does more than define, it argues and that’s not the point of this portion of the essay.


    • davidbdale says:

      I probably misled you terribly if that’s what you think, QR. The Definition Argument is every bit as argumentative and persuasive as any other type of argument. Every 1000-word argument should make a persuasive case.

      In my model, I argue that “polio does not belong to the category of eradicable diseases” because it does not match the qualifications that smallpox met to permit us to eradicate it. While that can be phrased “Polio does not belong to a category,” the conclusion is still something more substantive: “Polio will always be with us.”

      In the New York Times, the editorial staff might have phrased their intention to demonstrate that “gay Americans belong to a protected class,” but in demonstrating that they do, their more significant intent was to persuade readers that gay Americans can no more be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation than they can be on the basis of their gender.

      And THAT’s a big deal that “does more than define,” and THAT’s the job of a Definition/Categorical argument.


  4. rowanluver29 says:

    This essay differs from what I thought about a definition/categorical essay would look like because this essay does not give the readers a textbook definition of what the author is trying to write about (in this case, gay marriage.) Because there is no textbook definition, the author chooses to describe it in multiple different ways by using specific situations and statistics. Although there is not a clear statement of the meaning of gay marriage, the author gives enough evidence to the readers for us to have a general understanding of what it is and the stance that the author takes on this topic as well as how this specific class of people deserve heightened scrutiny. One strategy I may try in my own paper is using multiple real-life situations and statistics to help show my stance on the topic without straight up telling the audience what I believe versus what I do not believe.


  5. giants19 says:

    What surprised me in the way this essay differ from how I thought it would is how information-based the text is. There is a lot more objective numbers and indisputable facts in here that I did not necessarily expect to see. This is definitely a strategy I intend to employ. When making a definition claim, it is important that as little subjectivity and opinion are used a possible, as that weakens your claim. The text also utilized lots of social issues that are prevalent throughout society today.


    • davidbdale says:

      It does, you’re right, Giants19, because determining whether a person belongs to a protected class is an EXTREMELY social issue. Do Natural Citizens, Naturalized Citizens, Immigrant Applicants, Refugees, Guest Workers, Visa-holders, and Undocumented Residents belong to different “classes” of US residents? You bet! Does defining the differences by identifying their characteristics have social consequences? Again . . . you bet!

      If your definition/category argument has no social consequences, don’t force it, but ask yourself if there’s a way to make it more relevant. If it DOES have social consequences, lean in hard on them. they add gravity and urgency to your essay.


  6. philsfan1133 says:

    This essay differs from what I thought a Definition/Categorial essay would look like by the essay not directly defining what gay marriage or same-sex marriage is. It kind of just goes into how people who are gay, lesbian, and more go through the scrutiny of what makes them who they are. One strategy I may try in my own paper is to ask myself if the thing I’m trying to argue and persuade about can be proved and resolved directly.


  7. Senpai Pio says:

    I thought it was interesting that it directly did not say what side the author was for. In the intro, it was given a definition. Throughout the essay, it talked about times when the gays did not have any true power. Without power they are not being truly protected. I like this way of writing the categorical essay because you never say your point of view, but the reader can make an inference based on the claims. In the essay, they talk about how the gays had no power which led to laws being passed. Although they never said what side they were, as a reader you can infer that they are explaining how gays are not truly protected.


  8. goodmusician440 says:

    I find it really fascinating how much real world relevance this essay has, and how the essay really tries to dig deep into what a minority really is. Then, it tries to tie that definition in with the gays, lesbians, etc. The essay also uses a lot of political cases and examples from years ago to tie it into today. I think in my essay, I am definitely going to be trying to define certain topics or words, and really try to break them down, and after that, I really want to tie them into my argument.


  9. pitandthependulum22 says:

    This essay differs from what I thought a Definition/ Categorical essay would look like in the way that it never actually defines the term/subject it explores in a dictionary sense, but instead uses its argument and evidence to define it. One strategy of a D/C essay that I might try in my own paper is to define several different terms in order to define the main topic.


  10. oatmealvibes says:

    This post differs from what I thought a definition essay looked like by using the “definition” of what the supreme court stands for and what their process is and then examining gay marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act case as a comparison of sorts between the both of them. The strategy I might try in my own D/C essay is trying to make a comparison between kids who play violent video games and kids who do not and the difference in their aggression.


  11. sinatraman17 says:

    The essay differs from what I would expect out of a D/C essay because it never really comes out and utters a phrase like “Gay marriage is _____”, which might’ve turned away readers due to the wildly spotlighted ideas regarding this topic. Instead of using straight definitions that can be disputed, the author uses quotes and bold claims to further their argument.

    I plan to use this method in a section of my paper on the definition of what Art truly is.


  12. tristanb50 says:

    This definition essay uses many parallels such as cases on gender-based distinctions, hate crimes, and certain laws. Not much history is discussed. This essay is effective at hiding its tells, and I want to adopt a similar strategy of defining something by it attributes, rather than its definition.


  13. fulcrum66 says:

    It differs from what I thought because how the writer first describes the problem and lays out why LGBTQ marriage should be allowed. They use a counterintuitive argument to make people think why these people aren’t allowed to get married and go over the background to find the roots of the problem and expose them. I will definitely describe the background to further back my argument.


  14. gracchusbabeuf says:

    “Heightened Scrutiny”, a New York Times editorial written before a high-profile supreme court case on whether the LGBTQ population of the United States would be considered a protected class, provides a professional example of a definition essay. The editorial does not just make claims pertaining to the specific definition being argued in the court. Rather, it draws on the history of similar decisions by the court to construct a range of definitions which, taken in totality, create a convincing case to define gays and lesbians as a protected class. I intend to take a similar approach in drawing on the past and precedent to strengthen the definitional argument.


  15. Water says:

    In this definition/categorical essay, they defined what gay marriage was and how the government has been faced with different arguments for how they should view same-sex marriage. The essay has definition claims about not making same-sex laws work and their effects on gay couples. A strategy for the D/C essay that I could try to add to my paper would be providing definitions for my claim and then provide how they can be used in an argument for my thesis.


  16. pinkmonkey32 says:

    This definition essay surprised me because it wasn’t just definitions. The author seemingly included definitions in a way that wasn’t just words copied and pasted from a dictionary but instead the definition of how it applied to this topic. Rather than rambling on in definitions you can hear the argument while also getting definition information. I can sue this in my essay by making the definitions fit into my argument rather then just stating them in my text


  17. pinkheart84 says:

    This essay is very interesting because it differs from what I thought because of how the writer describes the problem and lays out why LGBTQ marriage should be allowed. A counterintuitive argument is proposed to show why the LGBTQ community aren’t allowed to get married. The essay mentioned that the gays did not have any true power. This essay does more than use definitions, it makes arguments. One strategy I may try in my own paper is to ask myself if the thing I’m trying to argue about can be proved using multiple examples and definitions.


  18. sunflower0311 says:

    I found the definition/categorical essay to be very different from what I originally thought it would look like. There are a lot of ways to make definition or categorical claims that might not be super easy to identify. I also was under the impression that a definition essay would mostly just be definitions however that was not the case. One thing I think I will use in my essay is defining something by what it is not because I found that to be very interesting.


  19. charlieclover says:

    This essay surprised me because it was not the author giving their opinion on the topic alone. It was written as an argument to the public and described real-world applications of this issue. They gave what they were arguing and defined it in order to help the reader understand the argument being made better. I was surprised by the way this argument was written but I think it will help me organize my own argument and essay.


  20. doglover846 says:

    In this essay, it differs from what you thought a Definition/Categorical essay would look like because it didn’t really talk a lot about the topic rather than compare to real life situations and broaden the topic rather than just a straightforward definition. One strategy that I would use is to compare my topic (protecting animal life) with other similar topics instead of going in-depth with dictionary definitions to keep the reader interested.


  21. g00dsoup says:

    This example of a Definition Argument Essay made me truly understand what a definition essay is. Based on the name alone, it would be assumed by people that it’s as simple as defining a term. This is not the case–the author defined the terms in their own ways instead of looking up a definition. They are defined in the way that tailors to their topic. This can spark the argumentative aspect of the essay and making your point heard and understood by the readers.


  22. gobirds115 says:

    This definition/categorical essay really uses some effective and unexpected methods to get their point across on gay marriage. Instead of making a claim directly about gay marriage from the start, they position the argument in a sense that there’s 2 sides of the fence by using phrases like “whether or not”. The strategy that I like that they use to convey their argument is when when the author would use statistics and laws that have been put forth by our government involving gay people’s involvement in society. The argument/claim practically built itself with these and really gave the notion that gay people and gay marriages were indeed under scrutiny in society.


  23. This essay differs from what I thought a D/C essay would be like because it does not just give definitions, although it does explain what gay marriage is, it is not a word for word dictionary definition. It was a definition that explained how it applied to the topic. I could try to incorporate parts of this essay into my own essay such as creating definitions that support my argument rather than just a dictionary definition.


  24. fatjoe000 says:

    This essay differs from what I thought a definition/categorical because it gives more than just the definitions of things like protected class and laws based on sex. It elaborates on the definitions and gives good examples that relate to the definitions. One strategy I may try to use for my paper is connecting my topic to real world situations and provide examples of things that actually happened that relate to my topic.


  25. anonymous123 says:

    This definition essay is what I expected because it defines the term than tells us how this term is having its effect in his their argument. I would take that the author not only defines terms but then after defining it they use it in a great way backing up their argument right after.


  26. miliwawa says:

    This essay differs from what I thought would be a definition essay because it doesn’t define what gay marriage is but instead uses counterintuitive arguments to get its points across about same-sex marriage and their struggles as a minority. This strategy can be beneficial in writing my essay, not precisely defining my topic but giving examples of what I’m trying to tell the audience.


  27. Shazammm says:

    Before even gaining any knowledge about definition/categorical essays, I thought that they were merely papers that define certain subjects for their readers. After reading this sample, however, I realize that definition/categorical essays are more than what meets the eye. This sample does not clearly and straight-to-the-point define terms. They seem to flow and blend into the writing which informs as well as intrigues the reader. One strategy I would like to try in my paper is embedding my definitions into my writing in a way that makes my paper flow.


  28. cherries267 says:

    The essay didn’t give definitions, but it gave explanations and parallels so that everything was explained. It showed statistics and how the people would be affected. Showing the argument, giving examples, then how it got resolved.


  29. inspireangels says:

    This essay differs from what I thought a categorical/definition essay look like because my initial thought was that they would give a dictionary definition or just define the term gay marriage. However this essay, the person goes beyond that by explaining further the term gay marriage and applying it to the real world. One strategy I would use in this essay is to try to not just define the word but also elaborate on it, apply it to my topic, and apply it to the real world.


  30. chickennugget246 says:

    This essay differs from what I thought a definition/categorical essay would look like because there is no concrete definition of gay marriage within this essay. The author uses factual examples/events to discuss gay marriage and how other people perceive it to give us a better understanding of the view on this topic. One strategy that I might try within my own paper would be to gather enough factual evidence to help support my claim so that the readers can understand my perspective as well.


  31. blueee04 says:

    This essay differs from what I thought a definition/categorical essay would be because there is no clear definition of what gay marriage is. Instead evidence is used to define it. In my essay I plan on using evidence I can find on my topic, that will not only support is but also help define it.


  32. clevelandbrown03 says:

    What surprised me about the essay is the fact that the author doesn’t just use one definition to support his argument about gay marriage but uses real-life evidence to back his claims. In my essay, I plan on using examples to support my argument.


  33. tmjj4345 says:

    After reading this, I feel like I grasped a better understanding of what a definition argument is. This essay was very argumentative with much more real world relevance than I expected. It was less wordy and opinionated, and more factual and evidence based, which I found very clear and helpful as a reader. The format was also different from what I expected, as it didn’t include definitions or the explanations of concepts, but instead illustrated the application of the ideas.


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