Same-sex marriage is arguably one of the most controversial topics in the current American political debate. In many ways, the fact that the topic is so controversial is surprising. After all, it is difficult to see how same-sex marriage impacts those who are not homosexual or do not have homosexual family members. Moreover, in a society that prides itself on the idea of equality, to deny someone the right to marry someone else on the basis of the gender of either party seems as if it would be offensive. However, there is a strong cultural current against homosexuality. This bias is largely based in religious traditions which not only prohibit homosexual relationships, but go so far as to label homosexual relations as sinful. This is not an American-only phenomenon. While same-sex marriage is gaining traction around the globe, the reality is that same-sex marriage is still not legal in most countries in the world. Moreover, same-sex marriage is a relatively new phenomenon, though same-sex partnerships have been around for all of recorded history. This may lead some people to question whether it is necessary to legalize gay marriage. However, a quick examination of human history reveals many instances where the law has failed to keep pace with evolving ethical and moral norms. For example, slavery and racial discrimination were both legal in the majority of the world for centuries, but evolving ethics helped change those legal norms. Likewise, evolving ethical understanding indicates that gay marriage should be legal, because it would have a positive overall impact on society. Gay marriage should be legalized because marriage is a basic human right, legalization would end discrimination, and legalization would provide a better quality of life for the gay couple and for society.
The primary reason that gay marriage should be legalized is because marriage is a basic human right. This has been repeatedly recognized in the United States in Supreme Court cases discussing marriage. However, the idea of marriage as a human right goes beyond the United States. Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims, "(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution" (The United Nations). Article 2 of that same declaration makes it clear that all people should be entitled to these rights without regard to sex (The United Nations). Therefore, "The argument for same sex marriage asserts that it is hypocritical to deny the full rights and opportunities of citizenship which includes the access to an institution as basic as matrimony" (Phy-Olsen, p.76).
As a basic human right, it is fundamentally unfair to discriminate on the basis of an inalienable characteristic, such as gender. Allowing a man to marry a woman, but refusing that same right to a woman, is simple gender-based discrimination. This type of discrimination is untenable when discussing basic human rights. In the United States, one of the best arguments in favor of legalization of same-sex marriage is the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, which provides that, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" (U.S. Const. Amend. XIV). This amendment has previously been used to address discrimination issues in regards to marriage laws in the United States. In Loving v. Virginia. 18 L. Ed. 2d 1010 U.S. Supreme Ct. 196, the Supreme Court was called upon to determine whether Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute violated the Constitution. The Court found that it did violate the Constitution, holding that "the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State" (Loving, p.1824). Without even considering whether homosexuality is an immutable characteristic, the reality is that gender, like race, is immutable. Prohibiting a member of one gender from marrying someone that a member of the other gender could marry is gender-based discrimination. This type of discrimination is a human rights violation. Therefore, same-sex marriage should be legal.
Another reason that gay marriage should be legalized is that gay marriage would end discrimination. This end to discrimination would come in two different formats. First, legalizing same-sex marriage would end the institutionalized discrimination against homosexual individuals that occurs every single day. However, and perhaps more importantly, legalizing gay marriage would send an important message that gay people are not deserving of discrimination, and, therefore, change societal attitudes towards gays.
It is difficult to describe the legal discrimination that gays face on an ongoing basis. In many states, gay couples have no means of establishing legal relationships with one another. This can mean that in times of illness, one's life partner cannot make basic decisions about healthcare, like they could within a legal marriage. Gay partners cannot get the benefit of social security and other governmental benefits, and may sometimes be entitled to employer-sponsored benefits, but not under all circumstances. In many places there are no laws in place protecting gays from discrimination in the workplace. The legal discrimination is, perhaps, the most poignant in cases of custody, where a gay parent who has raised a child for that child's entire life, but is unable to adopt the child because the child already has a legal mother or father, can be denied any right of access to the child in the event of a break-up with the other parent or even in the case of the death of the other parent. Legalizing gay marriage would provide a mechanism for gay and lesbian couples to avert many of these wrongs.
However, what might be an even more important benefit is that legalizing same-sex marriage would help change societal norms about homosexuality and help end societal discrimination against gays. While the 1960s Civil Rights Movement may seem historic to many people, the reality is that it occurred within the lifetime of many people alive in modern America. What is undeniable is that, by ushering in legal change, the Civil Rights Movement ushered in social change; there has been a tremendous decline in racism in the United States since the 1960s. Though there is obviously still progress to be made, the fact is that many of the social barriers between whites and non-whites have been eliminated as a result of changes led by the legal system. One would imagine that legalizing gay marriage would have the same impact on discrimination towards gays. There is substantial evidence that a significant amount of anti-gay bias is due to ignorance. Many people simply do not know any gay couples or any gay families. However, in a general diversity course completed identical surveys during the first and last weeks of the semester. Participants in diversity courses exhibited increased heterosexual privilege awareness and support for same-sex marriage, as well as less prejudice against lesbians and gay men, during the last week of the semester compared to pretest levels" (Stewart and Case, p.3). What this suggests is that if gay people could live openly without fear of legal repercussions, they would be seen as part of society, and discrimination against them would diminish over time.
The most compelling reason to legalize gay marriage is that it would be beneficial to the gay couple and to society. Opponents of gay marriage rarely argue just against gay marriage; most of their arguments focus on the idea that homosexuality is immoral. However, regardless of one's feelings about homosexuality, it is clear that gay people are going to continue to fall in love, and form families with one another. Therefore, it is important to determine whether legalizing gay marriage benefits the people in the partnership and whether it benefits society as a whole.
Gay marriage clearly benefits the people in a same-sex marriage. Without a way to have their unions legally recognized, gay couples are vulnerable in ways that straight couples are not. A spat with an in-law could lead to legal maneuvering that might keep one from the bedside of a dying partner, and even a carefully crafted will might be challenged. Gay marriage would mean that the partners would be entitled to government and employment benefits that they might currently be denied. More importantly, legalizing gay marriage would open the door to adoptions by both partners in the marriage, which would ensure that both spouses retained rights to any children of the marriage in the event of dissolution or death. However, it is important to recognize that not all of the benefits are legal benefits. Marriage is qualitatively different than cohabitation; that is one of the reasons that people get married. Gay couples would benefit from the permanence and stability that a marriage helps inject…