The controversy around homosexual marriage rages on in the United States and other nations, including everybody in the debate on the nature of marriage that threatens to redefine the concept of marriage as such.
Argument and Persuasion
Same-sex marriage was allowed nation-wide in Belgium (since 2003), Canada (since 2005), Netherlands (since 2001), and Spain (since 2005). In my opinion, homosexual persons should be given equal rights with heterosexuals in a democratic society that claims to uphold the moral value of every person irrespective of any issues pertaining to the person’s background such as race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
In this debate, issue of core social value is what is really at stake, not just the social institutions like marriage or matters of children’s upbringing. The arguments against gay marriages are many, but most of them fail to offer solid reasons against this innovation.
Permission to register same-sex marriages is consistent with the need recognized in all democratic societies to treat people as equals irrespective of qualities they cannot control, such as sexual orientation, origin, language, race and the like.
Denying the right to marry to gays and lesbians, society perpetuates discrimination that does not allow minorities to have the rights enjoyed by ‘mainstream’ population. Most people would agree that homophobia is both harmful and humiliating for a community – it is a demonstration that the nation is not opposed to mediaeval witch hunts.
Yet maintaining the ban on same-sex marriages to some degree justifies homophobia by showing that some human beings are still ‘more equal’ than others. Such a ban stresses the idea that homosexuals are not the same members of society as heterosexuals. Instead, they prove to be outcasts denied the basic human right to join their lives with their partner.
The most frequent argument against same-sex marriage is that major religions including Christianity and Islam restrict the concept of marriage to the union between man and woman. On these grounds, believers campaign against same-sex marriages.
However, one should note that in most modern nations religion is separate from the state, and thus the state does not have to embrace religious norms pertinent to any religion. Christian pastors can, for instance, persuade their parishes to have sexual lives that correspond to their beliefs, but they can hardly change the morals of the whole society.
Thus, the fact that under a certain religion same-sex marriages are considered a sin cannot be a valid argument to institute this ban in a secular state that most often includes citizens belonging to different faiths. In a pluralistic society, believers of one faith have no right to impose their views on the rest of the nation, even if they outnumber other denominations.
Besides, within a certain religion there may be differing views on the policies concerning same-sex marriages. Thus, within Christianity, there is a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement named Creating Change that draws on Christian norms to justify same-sex marriages.
Dr. Yvette Flunder who founded City of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco sums up the position of the movement in the following words: “God is on our side, and God has been on the side of those who struggle for right and righteousness from the very beginning” (Sturrock, 2005). The movement strives to shake off the homophobia of the Christian rights and to redirect the discussion towards the core values of basic humanity.
Another argument against gay marriage is that it undermines the value of marriage as such. In debates on the bill closely defining the meaning of marriage, Canadian Senator Marisa Ferretti Barth described marriage as “the public joining together of a man and a woman who want to found a family, to have children and so ensure that the family will continue into future generations” (Hays 2002).
The proponents of the amendment to the US Constitution that will officially restrict marriage only to heterosexual couples similarly underscore that marriage is only meaningful when it is meant to unite a man and a woman, in line with traditions that are millennia old.
Tradition is fine, but time arrives when society has to redefine some or all of its core institutions, perhaps those that had carried it through to this day. Now it may be the time to reshape our common concept of marriage in the same way as people whose generations of ancestors lived under monarchy opted for democracy. In earlier centuries the idea that virtually the entire Europe will be governed by democratically elected leaders seemed absurd, and people could not imagine how they will live without a king.
Yet now most of us are pleased that we do not have to reckon with weak-minded hereditary rulers. In the same way society must come to see marriage not simply as a way to stimulate procreation in its members, but as a vehicle for expressing love and care.
Many people are willing to allow homosexual marriages but insist that allowing gays and lesbians to bring up kids is a bad idea. The most important reason is that children raised in such families are at greater risk of becoming homosexuals themselves later on.
The validity of this concern depends on the agreement as to the reasons for the choice of sexual orientation by a certain person. If one believes that the choice of sexual orientation is conditioned largely by upbringing and external influences, then the above claim has value. However, many researchers suppose that orientation is determined by inborn factors. If this is true, it does not matter whether the child will be exposed to displays of homosexual partnership.
Growing up in a same-sex family, the child is likely to develop some positive features instead. Here belongs the trend “to discriminate less on matters of race, gender or sexual orientation” (Robinson 2004).
They are also more prone to experiment in sexual life before marriage. As to the proportion of gays or lesbians among adults with this kind of background, it tends to be much the same as in the rest of the population. Actually, the very idea that becoming a homosexual is a tragic development hinges on the perception of homosexuals as inferior beings.
Once again, many people stand opposed to gay marriage since it does not promote procreation. Marriage, in their perception, should be about procreation, and since same-sex couples cannot perform this function, they have no right to marry.
There is one problem with this argument – the fact that many people in ‘normal’ marriages cannot procreate either. In some couples, the partners are past child-bearing age. In others, husband and wife cannot conceive because of biological problems.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that “the number of infertile married couples of childbearing age in the U.S. was 2.1 million”, and many of those can only have children even through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or artificial insemination (Robinson 2004). If this argument were true, society should have introduced a rule to perform medical analysis of every wedding couple to see if they are capable of reproduction and deny this right to those that prove incapable.
Clearly, this suggestion is inhumane, but no more humane is the suggestion to deny the right to marry to homosexuals on the grounds of their infertility. This infertility is not absolute either. Lesbians can bear children through artificial insemination, and gay men can have them with the help of surrogate motherhood.
Thus, the main objections against same-sex marriages fail to reach their point. They offer pretexts against legalisation of such marriages rather than valid arguments. Speaking of kids, they can be happy in same-sex environments no less than in regular opposite-sex families. Childhood happiness is really about being loved and does not depend so much on the gender composition of the environment.
The same is true for adults, since most of us need love more than anything else in the world, whatever other important things may be our priorities. Giving homosexuals a way to legitimize their relationships, to secure their future in case of divorce or death of one of the partners means giving them equality with other members of society.
The fact that they were often denied this opportunity in the past does not bind the future. If we as a society learn to make more democratic choices, this will improve social experience for all us, not just homosexual couples, because we will increase the value of the individual.
Hays, Dan. 2002. Debates of the Senate (Hansard). 1st Session, 37th Parliament, 139 (124), June 13. http://www.parl.gc.ca/37/1/parlbus/chambus/senate/deb-e/124db_2002-06-13-E.htm?Language=E&Parl=37&Ses=1#73 (accessed November 16, 2005).
Robinson, B.A. 2004. Is Same-Sex Marriage (SSM) A Bad Idea? Seven Reasons Why They Are Undesirable (With Rebuttals). Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance, 10 April. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_marint2.htm (accessed November 16, 2005).
Sturrock, Carrie. 2005. Meeting for gays focuses on God: It’s time to reclaim moral values debate, speakers tell crowd. San Francisco Chronicle, November 14. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/11/14/BAGFCFNKJE1.DTL&hw=gay&sn=001&sc=1000 (accessed November 16, 2005).