The wrong are dammed to hell and the argument shuts down. These clear lines in the sand ignore the nuanced nature of human sexuality and the freedom of choice given to all persons.
Additionally, despite of the many attempts to cure persons of their homosexual orientation there has been little proven success. The question concerning sexual orientation is one that requires attention because it is the basis of many ill formed positions. If sexual orientation is a choice then the moral argument can be made more easily. However, if it is not a choice that the person makes then their sexual orientation is natural to them and should be viewed in that light. So that SSM are only immoral if the parties actually have a choice in the matter.
The threat posed by SSM to opposite sex marriages is another point of contention. The argument posits that if marriage is the union of a man and a woman then the SSM goes contrary to that descriptive position. SSM is essentially an oxymoron (Eskridge, 1993, p. 1421) SSMs are a threat to marriage because there is essentially a hidden agenda that is designed to weaken the institution of marriage by having SSM. Part of this argument includes the idea that SSM is an immoral action and as a consequence to legalize such an act is to legitimize immorality. When this occurs marriage is undermined. This holds terror for many persons, since marriage is an already weak institution where almost half of all marriages end in divorce.
A supporting position to this argument is that of the slippery slope. The slippery slope argument suggests that if SSM is permitted this opens the door for other types of marriages that are not socially sanctioned. Marriages such as polygamy and incestuous marriages would be given credence. This occurs because of the change to the manner in which marriage would be defined. Once that definition changes what follows in its wake is a trail of persons wanting and fighting for the legitimizing of other forms of marriage. These are forms that have traditionally been received social sanctions and are considered by some as wrong. Maintaining marriage as the union of one man and one woman ensures that society does not descend down that slippery slope.
The slippery slope argument suggests that the path downhill is a linear progression. It also requires that there are no competing elements that would reduce the impact of the downward slide. This is not necessarily consistent with reality as there are always checks and balances that prevent behavior from progressing in a particular direction. The slippery slope argument also contains a false equivalence as SSM is equated with incestuous marriages and polygamy. This false equivalency deliberately ignores the difference in relationship between consenting adults and adult child relations. SSM cannot be equated with polygamy since both in form and execution there are marked differences between the two types of marriage.
Another critique of SSM is that SSM is a social experiment whose consequences cannot be known. The suggestion is that SSM has some unintended consequences that will not become apparent until it is actually enacted. This argument is possibly one of the most robust since while other countries in Europe have legalized SSM, their experience can inform not predict the experience in the United States. It is very possible that there is some fallout from SSM that we have not and cannot estimate.
The final concern raised about SSM is that once legalized it will be taught in public schools as an alternative that is equivalent to opposite marriage. This affects the nature of education including materials in text books and the curriculum of schools. This is troublesome to many parents who do not want their children to be exposed to SSM in that form. Parents are concerned that their belief systems would be ignored and the school and government will assume the role of teaching children this vital aspect of their life orientation. This is again a highly legitimate concern as it is the responsibility of the parent to determine issues such as sex education and other aspects of socialization.
The contrary arguments are founded on the principle of rights and dignity of the individual. The first major argument in favor of SSM states that as a social institution marriage is a means of giving dignity and respect to individuals who as a couple make a lifetime commitment to support each other. The act of making this commitment is not reserved for opposite sex couples. The commitment is based on love for another person. Individuals who love each other and have a desire to publically declare that love should be given the opportunity to do so. The continued denial of this opportunity to same sex couples is also a denial of the dignity and reality of the love they feel for each other.
This argument relates to the heart of the issue which is essentially equality. It raises the question of whether the love between same sex partners is qualitatively the same as the love between opposite sex partners. Persons opposed to this position have suggested that while all love between humans is to be encouraged. The love between same sex couples is a corruption of love. It is love that has escaped socially acceptable confines and is really a perversion of love. They are in fact asserting that the love is of an inferior quality. The challenge is that there is really no legitimate way to measure or test this proposition.
Secondly, proponents of SSM argue that the opportunity to marry an individual of one's choice is a right. In a democracy the rights of citizens are protected by the constitution. Rights are not privileges and should not be treated as such. This argument suggests that the denial of marriage to couples of the same sex denies this group a fundamental right (Keane, 1995, p.500). This argument has a strong legal tone. Proponents often refer to the civil rights fight of African-Americans as an example of the need to have the rights of citizens protected by the government, especially when those citizens are in the minority. The supporters of this argument note that the recent attempts to have voted propositions determine the fate of SSM is invalid. It is invalid because the majority that is not in favor of SSM will always win. Rights they argue cannot be subject to voting because you will have the "tyranny" of the majority. Rights are to be protected by the state in spite of the views of majority groups.
The final major supporting argument identifies the consequences of not giving same sex couples the right to marry as a major issue. Marriage has strong implication for the transfer of property and wealth. In many situations the benefits an individual receives they receive it as the spouse of another person. When same sex couples are prevented from getting married their partners cannot receive the benefits they should receive. They cannot orderly inherit property, and there are issues with hospital visitation of sick partners. Additionally critical decisions that relate to medical issues cannot be legally made by same sex partners because they are not legally identified as having the capacity to make such decisions. In cases where a partner dies the security of the surviving partner and their children (if any) is seriously compromised because they are not legally married.
The issues surrounding SSM are wide ranging and highly involved. The arguments are often very emotive and some engage some specious reasoning. There are however some realities that must be considered. Firstly same sex couples exist and their numbers are growing. This single reality suggests that society needs to give ample consideration to the structures that exist to address the unique concerns of same sex couples. If same sex couples are not permitted to marry, the attendant relational issues will not evaporate. Simultaneously marriage is not the panacea that some same sex couples believe it is. In this zero sum debate cool heads must prevail if the future of the country is to be secure.
Eskridge, W.N. (1993). A history of same-sex marriage. Virginia Law Review 79(7):1419-1513.
Keane, T.M. (1995). Aloha, marriage? Constitutional and choice of law arguments for recognition of same-sex marriages. Stanford Law Review 47(3): 499-532.
Meezan, W. & Rauch, J. (2005) Gay marriage, same-sex parenting, and America's children. The Future of Children 15(2): 97-115.
Patterson, Charlotte J. (1992). Children of lesbian and gay parents. Child Development 63(5):