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Gay marriage has become one of the most controversial public policy issues in contemporary Western society. In many respects, opinions on the issue follow two particular lines of ideological allegiance, such as to the religious roots marriage as a cultural institution and of the traditional bases for prohibitions against same-sex relationships. In my experience, age is also a predictor of attitudes about same-sex marriage: my generation views homosexuality as a natural predisposition of a certain portion of the human population and as a distinction of virtual irrelevance, especially to any so-called issues of moral values. Conversely, older generations seem much more likely to adhere to traditional religion-inspired pejorative views about homosexuality in general and about extending the privileges of formal marriage to same-sex couples. Among my social circle, homosexuality is not considered an important distinction about any individual and the withholding of marital rights from same-sex couples is extremely difficult to distinguish from the laws prohibiting interracial marriage that prevailed in the United States a half century ago. We fully expect that future generations will regard this social divide quite similarly and with similar embarrassment.
In the U.S., the opposition to marriage took on political significance after the presidential administration of George W. Bush introduced and promoted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, otherwise known by the acronym DOMA. Champions of this cause argue that extending marital rights and formal recognition of same-sex partnerships will "undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage (Bennett, 1996). In general, the conservative Republican Party in the U.S. has adopted this position and perpetuated it even after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In general, the liberal Democratic Party has supported the rights of gay rights in connection with protection from discrimination and, in particular, to enjoy the same benefits of marriage as traditional couples.
The Origin of Marriage in Human Societies
Perhaps the organized opposition to same-sex marriage is more understandable when one considers the history and evolution of marriage as a human social institution. In particular, the fact that marriage has typically been presided over by religious authorities may help explain some of the difficulty that many people have had in this regard. Specifically, prior to the current generation of young adults, most people raised in Western societies were exposed to social learning that strongly predisposes them to beliefs that same-sex marriage violates fundamental laws of human society, or "God's" law.
In Europe, and especially in pre-Industrial Society Britain, the Church dominated social life and social mores and values strongly reflected this religious domination of human affairs (Verene, 1999). Today, British society features both solemn religious-based marriage, as recently witnessed in the highly publicized Royal Wedding, with continued adherence to strict religious orientation and direction. But today, same-sex couples have the advantage of increasing social and political awareness that sexual preference is an aspect of individuality entitled to as much respect and protection from persecution and discrimination. Contemporary social scientists have completely dispelled any factual basis for opposing same-sex marriage, or for that matter, of the prospect of same-sex couples adopting children in need of good homes (Brooks & Goldberg, 2001; Stone, 2006). In fact, the more the issue is debated in public, the more unreasonable the opposition to gay marriage appears to be, in principle. In many respects, Western society is currently on the verge of a similar evolution to that which occurred approximately a century earlier in connection with the socially-learned beliefs and expectations about female sexual autonomy and differential moral analysis of sexual choices based solely on gender (Verene, 1989).
More specifically with respect to the courtship dynamic, traditional marriage has already changed substantially in the modern age and barely resembles its historical evolution except, perhaps, in various token or purely symbolic ways. In antiquity, marriage was almost always entered into out of necessity, as a means to enable adults to survive independent of their families of origin because life was simply too difficult alone and because children were typically viewed as essential workers within the family (Verene, 1989). Religious indoctrination and domination over society also provided much of the incentive to marry, especially for women, because religious and corresponding social mores penalized sexual relations outside of the formality of marriage so heavily. Therefore, in many respects, it is the changes in modern conceptual views of traditional marriage as a matter of choice and an expression of love rather than necessity, as well as the reduction in religious domination over social values and mores that paved the way for the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage apparent in Western society today.
The Modern View of Gay Marriage
The volumes of empirical evidence collected and analyzed by modern sociologists about homosexuality in society universally support the conclusion that homosexuality is typically not a "choice" but a natural predisposition; that long-term same-sex partnerships are not distinguishable from traditional opposite-sex pair bonds (i.e. marriage) in any way that justifies differential treatment in society or under civil laws (Gates, 2011). In principle, once Western societies began to move away from the connection between marriage and it traditional religious roots, it became inevitable that the differential attitude toward same-sex marriage would become unsustainable in any society in which public consensus is reflected in law (Laycock, 2007; Sullivan & Gunther, 2007).
By every objective comparison (i.e. domestic violence, self-reported contentment, duration on average, productive involvement in society, education, income, and quality of adoptive parenting), relationships between same-sex couples are as "healthy" and functional as are relationships between traditional couples (O'Neil, McWhirter, & Cerezo, 2008). Virtually every field of human achievement boasts examples of gay contributors, including gay military veterans and bona fide war heroes. Conversely, homosexuals account for less crime and antisocial behavior in society relative to their proportional representation (O'Neil, McWhirter, & Cerezo, 2008).
As a result of increasing factual awareness about homosexuality as a natural variation in human behavior and the simultaneous reduction of bigotry and prejudice in society (in general), the modern Western view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is much more tolerant and benevolent than in prior eras. Homosexuality is no longer considered a psychological disorder by the American Psychological Association (APA), precisely because it is no longer regarded as an aberration or as a form of social deviance in Western society (O'Neil, McWhirter, & Cerezo, 2008). Today, more than half of all Americans, for example, support the notion of equality in marital rights to allow pair-bonded same-sex couples all of the same benefits of formal marriage as their traditional- couple counterparts (O'Neil, McWhirter, & Cerezo, 2008). In the U.S., a comparison between the gradual current trend toward acceptance of same-sex marriage and the gradual realization that prohibitions of interracial marriage in the pre-Civil Rights era is unmistakable.
Personal View and Conclusion
A review of the available evidence and of the logical bases of the conceptual arguments in support of and in opposition to same-sex marriage strongly suggests that there is no justifiable basis to exclude same sex couples from the benefits of this important social institution. That is particularly true to the extent objection to gay marriage has religious roots, by virtue of the guarantees in the U.S. Constitution and in the more recent adoption of the Human Rights Convention in the European Union (Laycock, 2007; Sullivan & Gunther, 2007). More specifically, the arguments typically leveled against the justification of same-sex marital rights do not support their conclusions. For example, once religious objection is removed from the equation as a matter of law pertaining to the separation of church and state and freedom of religious exercise, the only remaining arguments are that same-sex couples cannot procreate and that recognition of untraditional partnerships presents a "slippery slope" of permissiveness that would similarly condone polygamous marriage; some extremists have even advance the patently ridiculous suggestion that it paves the way for relationships between humans and animals (Bennett, 1996).
In my case, my research did not change my initial position on the issue because I am already inclined to see same-sex marital recognition as a matter of equal rights. If anything, exposure to some of the empirical data available about the weakness of the arguments against gay marriage together with a retrospective view of previous changes in social views on sexuality and marriage has strengthened my belief that there is no justifiable basis for denying the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples in modern society.
Bennett, William J. "Gay Marriage: Not a Very Good Idea." The Washington Post (May
21, 1996). Retrieved July 11, 2012 from:
This source is an opinion piece authored by a Republican political conservative that appeared in the Washington Post newspaper. It argues that recognition of same-sex marriage will "undermine" the sanctity of traditional marriage and that it violates all of the traditional values associated with marriage held universally in human societies. The main impact this source had on my thinking was to help me realize that the bases of so-called "moral" objections to same-sex marriage are entirely specious and merely thinly-veiled expressions of homophobia and…[continue]
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