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.

24 Responses to Definition Argument—Protected Class

  1. ilovedunkinoverstarbucks says:

    This is what I expected a definition essay to look like although it is an argument the writer does not seem to lean one way or the other, they just say the facts. One strategy I might try is defining a category that my paper would fit into.


  2. levixvice says:

    The essay, “Heightened Scrutiny” lacked any source references that could have supported the claim that gays and lesbians are still discriminated against despite being designated as a protected class by the constitution. It does, However, it obtains enough evidence from outside sources, in its own words and interpretation of the terms provided, to appeal to the audience with a logistical analysis of hate crimes based on sex orientation on how safe the government can be for these groups or to scrutinize them. It contained traces of such quotes that were used as supporting evidence with who is saying it. When introducing government cases and branches, as well as selecting people such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as subject for this essay, importance was given to both. More quotes are used in “Political Paralysis,” and the sources are incorporated into the essay so that readers can look them up including the authors’ name. The definition/claim essay strategy would be to find good definitions for important terms for the essay while providing more relevant evidence for adding information on the topic at hand.


  3. littlecow24 says:

    It goes much deeper into how the right of gay marriage has been established, and how the group of minorities has been discriminated against. It is much more of an argument than I previously thought this essay would look like. I am going to look into defining more relevant terms in my essay, as I believe that will help the reader get a much rounder explanation of what my essay is arguing.


  4. kingofcamp says:

    I am going to be honest, this essay surely differed from what I personally thought a definition essay would look like. In my own definition essay, I would like to peruse a similar approach to this essay. I admired how this essay was formatted in its arguments- very well done.


  5. toastedflatbread22 says:

    This essay digs deeper into the claim than I thought a definition essay would. I believed a definition essay to be a piece of writing that explains important terms and phrases, so that the reader can have some groundwork. I am going to try the approach of making claims that relate to definitions, rather than just stating definitions. I think these will help me because they will simultaneously provide necessary information while also making individual statements.


  6. lokiofasgard24 says:

    I would have assumed that a definition/categorical essay would not be an argument and more of an explanation of a certain topic with no bias. Similar to the essay above, I would introduce many claims on the topic, then prove my claims in an effort to reach a final point.


  7. mossmacabre says:

    This example is different from what I thought a Definition/Categorical essay would look like in the way that it is, in fact, an argument instead of an unbiased explanation of the definition like the title would suggest. I might use this in my own paper by defining what a mentally ill person is. This would require defining several different terms and explaining what it means in society to be a person that suffers from mental illness.


  8. cocochanel715 says:

    A definition/ categorical essay to me resembled a more cookie cutter straight to the point essay that wouldn’t be an argument. The essay has this strategy where there are certain vocabulary words that are particular to the essay


  9. Lunaduna says:

    Before reading this example essay, I only thought the real meaning of a definition essay was to explain what the word means to the audience. “Heightened Scrutiny,” showed me a different outlook on how to produce a definition essay.
    My clear strategy would be to use examples in the essay.


  10. cfalover says:

    The essay doesn’t really define gay marriage or other terms along with that, but it explains how people of the LGBTQ+ are discriminated against and how the Supreme Court over time has established gay marriage and other rights for those within that group. It is a lot different than I thought it would look like; I didn’t realize it would still be a strong argument.
    In my own paper, I would probably define more terms than they did in the above example, instead of defining one or two terms so the reader fully understands my argument and what i am talking about.


  11. spaghettitacosforthesoul says:

    I kind of expected a definition/categorial essay to look like this, but I didn’t expect it to go so in-depth with defining the terms of marriage. It included a lot of factories many people don’t think about when thinking of marriage. I have an article to use in my essay to explain why people choose to be vegetarians and that could have some importance when trying to go in-depth with my essay. And I do want to try to include several factors of why one chooses vegeterianism.


  12. zipemup1 says:

    This essay is nothing like what I expected a definition essay to be. There is a lot you may take from this article and use to your own essay. For example, instead of just giving definitions, make statements that connect to them.


  13. zzbrd2822 says:

    This essay is what I expected a Definition/Categorical essay would look like except that I thought it would consist of a variety of different types of support, such as statistics or anecdotes. It also dives deeper into the claim than I thought a definition essay would. I will try a similar approach when it comes to my Definition/Categorical essay. I will try to define more terms and make claims that relate to those definitions.


  14. tyblicky2001 says:

    This is different from what I expected. They dug deep into their claims and were very informative. Which is a similar approach I’d like to try.


  15. frogs02 says:

    This is exactly what I expected a definition/categorical essay would look like because terms aren’t so much defined but they are explained to a point where we understand what the essay is saying. I thought the definitions would’ve stood out more but I also realize that they are defined. In my essay, I will try to use more claims and definitions to keep the reader entertained and to stay on topic.


  16. ziggy026 says:

    This isn’t what I expected a definition essay to look like. In my opinion it is a wonderful essay which achieves its goal very well, however, it is simply not what I had assumed a definition/categorical essay would look like. I had assumed it would be more of an explanation rather than an argument. The way these arguments are introduced and elaborated upon are more successful than what I had originally thought a definition argument would consist of and I will be sure to incorporate this approach into my own writing.


  17. disneylover2002 says:

    Before this class, I did not know what that was, so I did not know what to expect. There are different examples that I will be using when writing my papers.


  18. Lily4Pres says:

    This is vastly different from what I expected a definition essay would look like. I expected the essay to lock down a definition then maybe a couple arguments that pertain to one singular definition. I did not foresee numerous claims being used to push forward the argument. However, I like this outline a lot better than what I expected. I will try to model my definition essay similar to this example.


  19. krackintheneck says:

    I thought a definition/categorical essay would simply state the true definitions of the topic you’re arguing, I did not think it would include your definition while still arguing your point of view.


  20. chickendinner says:

    This essay did an effective job laying out the evidence that sexual minorities meet the criteria to be legally considered as a “protected class.” It’s more in depth, and examines more factors, than I had expected of a definitional/categorical essay. I still don’t know too much about what I should do for mine.


  21. comatosefox says:

    It doesn’t differ from what I think a definition (or in this case a categorical) essay would look like. Although my mind sees definition and thinks I will be told what everything means, but just making claims and connecting them was something I would not expect. I still don’t fully understand all of the types of arguements but I’ll keep reminding myself by looking at the notes and models.


  22. calamariii says:

    I didn’t realize that definitional essays have to define multiple things that help support, not just what the base definition is. It’s less of using multiple sources to fully describe what the main point of the essay is and more of proving the facts supporting the main idea to make that idea stronger. When writing my own I’ll think about the definitions that surround the main definitional/categorical claim to better support that main claim.


  23. strawberryfields4 says:

    This definition argument is similar to how I anticipated a solid definition argument to look like. Furthermore, in this particular example I appreciate the use of various dictionary definitions to illustrate how they do not align with society’s definitions. This strategy is something I would implement in my own writing, as it makes the reader question things that they may have had complete confidence in previously. Many people would trust a dictionary to be a completely accurate and reliable source. Highlighting that dictionary definitions are not the “end all” of accuracy makes the reader more susceptible to consider your argument. It makes them question the validity of every source they have trusted for the majority of their lives.


  24. zeek says:

    I can’t lie, I thought the definition essay would be focused on facts and determining your supporting details; almost like a method to help your writing abilities.


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