Just as we need not define the word "cow" every time we speak of this bovine animal, it should not be necessary to define marriage when using that term. But the story about two men suing the District for refusing to issue them a marriage license {Around the Region, Nov. 27} requires that the word be reexamined.

My dictionary explains marriage as the "state of being married; also the relation of husband and wife ... the social institution where men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family."

Because babies often result from such associations, society has a right to be concerned and involved in the establishment of these unions. Accordingly, the wisdom of the ages has decreed that some regulations be established to determine who may enter into a "marriage."

The terms marry or marriage, through all history until now, have embraced only the concept of a union of a male and a female human being. If two males wish to enter into a contract pledging to care for one another, they are free to do so. And as it is unlikely these men will produce any offspring, society has no need to be interested in their affiliation. Therefore, no license is required for them to enter into such a partnership, but it is not a marriage. ROY R. TORCASO Wheaton

The D.C. Clerk of the Court has it exactly right -- there is no such thing as marriage between two persons of the same sex. Marriage is, by definition, the social relationship between a male and a female. The requirement of heterosexuality is fixed and inveterate and pervades even the various forms of plural marriages found in other societies.

This is not homophobia. That the two persons in question should want to give their relationship some outward semblance of stability, permanence and acceptance is understandable. They may also make their relationship as permanent as any heterosexual union, provide for the ownership and descent of their property as they wish or make any other arrangements comparable to marriage -- although the advantage of marriage under a progressive system of income taxation is more doubtful.

Whatever relationship they may establish or that society at large may provide for such liaisons is not, however, and cannot be, marriage. To suggest otherwise is to do further violence to our language. Let us call a spade a spade and marriage marriage. MALCOLM D. KEEN Fairfax