same-sex marriage. This subject interests me from both a moral and a legal standpoint. The topic has gained national as well as global attention. The debate is especially heated in the United States where the matter is being decided on a state by state basis.
The essential question that surrounds this topic is if same-sex marriage good for society. The ongoing debate over same-sex marriage often generates more heat than light as there are people who feel very strongly about the issues involved on both sides of the argument. This debate cannot be ignored, as legislators and voters around the country wrestle with whether and how to recognize same-sex relationships.
Almost two decades ago William Bennett and Andrew Sullivan argued this issue. Sullivan (1996) asserted that forbidding same-sex partners to marry prevents them from being a full and equal part of America and forces these couples to lie or hide or live as second class citizens. Sullivan contends that throughout history marriage has been between a man and a woman the expanding of the institution to include same-sex couples will not change this, only extend the benefits to gay and lesbian couples so they may be treated like anybody else. He points out that human dignity is the same whether you are a man or a woman gay or straight. Sexual orientation is not a choice.
On the other hand, Bennett (1996) argued that allowing same-sex marriage will weaken the institution by changing its definition, changing the rules that govern behavior, endorsing practices that are contrary to the teachings of the world's major religions, and not support the major function of the institution, procreation and child rearing. Furthermore, Bennett contends that broadening the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples would open a Pandora's Box, speculating that legal recognition and social acceptance of gays would mean that bisexuals who wanted to marry two other people, fathers marrying daughters, sisters marrying sisters, and polygamous arrangements would logically follow.
In 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Court determined that it was required under the equal protection clause of the state's constitution to allow same-sex marriage. Since then same-sex marriage had been legalized in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. In Washington State, a bill legalizing it was passed in February of this year, but opponents said they would seek to block it and put the question before the voters in a referendum. Also this past February the New Jersey Assembly approved legislation legalizing same-sex marriage; however, Governor Chris Christy vetoed the bill calling for the legislature to put the issue before the voters (New York Times, 2012).
Most conservatives would like this issue to be put to a popular vote, while those supporting the matter believe same-sex marriage is a civil right protected by the Constitution and not subject to referendum. The issue has been a hot topic in American politics, setting off a flood of competing legislation, lawsuits and ballot initiatives to either legalize or ban the practice and causing rifts within religious groups. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in February 2012 found that 40% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, while 23% supported civil unions for gay couples and 31% said there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship (New York Times, 2012).
The legalization of same-sex marriage has become a central issue of the gay-rights movement. Gay-rights organizers have funneled money into dozens of state capitals in effort to generate support for the issue. At the same time, conservative groups have pushed hard to forestall or reverse these efforts through new laws or referendums. Twenty-nine states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, while 12 others have laws against it (New York Times, 2012).
Religious institutions have also debated policies, privileges and rites regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. There is no consensus among Christian faith groups on what the Bible says about homosexuality. In 2005, The United Church of Christ became the first mainline Christian denomination to support same-sex marriage officially when its general synod passed a resolution affirming '"equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender" (New York Times, 2012).
Methodists, Presbyterians and American Baptist Churches have also debated the issue, and other Christian denominations have struggled with how to minister to gay and lesbian members. Fundamentalist denominations have made significant efforts against homosexuality. The Southern Baptist Convention has expelled congregations that welcomed homosexuals to their memberships. Reform Judaism, the largest of the main branches of Judaism, has for years allowed same-sex commitment ceremonies, while Islam prohibits same-sex marriage.
Today the debate over same-sex marriage is becoming a contest over whose values will prevail in American. Over the past decade or so, opponents of same sex marriage have tried to frame the debate by highlighting the contributions of that institution, while avoiding as far as possible the appearance of malevolence against homosexuals. They define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman for the sake of becoming a family with their children. They argue that legitimatizing the issue may potentially open the door to all sorts of unintended outcomes such as polygamy and polyandry (Russo, 2011). At the center of this argument is the service marriage does to the bond between a child and its natural parents. Marriage is designed to make it more likely that children will have and keep their parents (Farrow, 2012).
Proponents of the issue also place a good deal of their emphasis on the positive social and economic outcomes that marriage continues to produce in society. They contend that denying same-sex couples the right to marriage is a violation of religious freedom and that the benefits of marriage, such as joint ownership and medical decision making capacity should be available to all couples. Furthermore, denying these marriages is a form of minority discrimination. The only thing that should matter in marriage is love.
In An Egalitarian Theory of Justice (1971) John Rawls discusses the elements necessary for a society to be just for all. He begins with the supposition that in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are not based on social circumstances, financial position or authority. Rawls defines society as an association of individuals who recognize certain rules of conduct and behave accordingly in order to advance the good of the participants. Rawls asserts there are two principals of justice, first all must have equal rights to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others, and second, social and economic inequities are to be arranged so that they are both reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage and that social positions and office be open to all. He defines basic liberties as political liberty, freedom of speech and assembly, liberty of conscience, and freedom of thought, freedom to hold property and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure as defined by law. The second principle may be achieved through equity of opportunity. These principals make up what he calls this distributive justice.
With this in mind I believe that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unjust. Placing conditions on the right for certain individuals to marry diminishes the freedom of those affected by the restriction. It implies they are second class citizens and disallows them opportunities that are readily available to others. Human beings have natural, cultural and psychological differences. As citizens all human beings should be given the same rights and responsibilities. This is what the same-sex marriage debate is really about.
The debate over marriage for same-sex couples has persisted over the last decade with no end in sight. Marriage sits squarely at the intersection of religion, law and society. Because of this the discussion around same-sex couples' inclusion into the institution of marriage has been one of the most complex and…