In theory, freedom and liberty for all appears to be an excellent concept, one which nearly everyone would embrace. However, the practice of this ideology is not always as halcyon as its theoretical mandate. Quite frequently, it is possible for there to be conflicts of interests presented due to the notion that everyone feels entitled to pursue that which he or she wishes. There are numerous examples of this intrinsic conflict of what essentially is a question of free will. One of the most salient of these examples can be illustrated in the issue of the rights of gays to pursue lawful marriage. On the one hand, various members of the gay and lesbian community believe that they should be legally permitted to engage in same sex marriages under their rights of freedom and the pursuance of their own respective happiness.
The conflict, of course, lies in the fact that there are other groups of people -- quite frequently those who adhered to particular organized religions, including Christianity -- for whom the allowance of same sex marriages is forbidden in scriptures and according to their theological beliefs. What one group perceives as a question of right, the other group also sees as a matter of right -- since many religious adherents have made the case that their religious liberty is being violated by the exercise of liberty for gays to engage in same sex marriages. An examination of a pair of ethical principles, one championed by John Stuart Mill known as utilitarianism, and the other propagated by Immanuel Kant which largely revolved around his conception of the categorical imperative, helps to settle this conflict of interests.
In order to determine how to best apply each of the aforementioned theories from these respective philosophers to this particular issue, one needs to significantly analyze the viewpoints of each interested party in the aforementioned debate. The ideology with which proponents of same sex marriages utilize to validate their perspective is fairly self explanatory. This group of people believes that they should be permitted to legally marry one another due to the notion that there is "liberty and justice for all." Furthermore, such liberty and justice allows them to pursue their own sense of happiness, which in this particular example is germane to their marriage with one another. Furthermore, typical arguments attached to this side of the issue contend that people have little choice in their sexual preference, some of which is genetic and nearly all of which has been preordained. Therefore, to disallow them marry one another would be a violation of their rights to liberty and justice, since they did not choose nor ask to be homosexual. Additionally, this same line of reasoning is used to fuel the notion that permitting them to intermarry with each other is highly akin permitting heterosexual people to marry -- since in both instances, people are only doing what is their national proclivity in regards to their sexuality.
However, those opposed to same sex marriages usually cite the fact that such unions are at variance with views posited by their respective religions, which tend to be monotheistic and typically involve Christianity, although it is quite possible for followers of Islam and Judaism to adopt this point-of-view as well. There are usually scriptural references to reinforce these claims, which are generally made due to the fact that the only truly lawful unions are between men and women, and that same sex marriages do not conform to this tradition or standard. Furthermore, those who believe that gay marriages should be deemed unlawful believe that the allowance of such occurrences are not only immoral, but actually are in violation of their right to the pursuit of happiness -- which is largely granted under the banner of liberty and justice. Dissidents of gay marriages believe this infraction to be based upon numerous facets -- such as the perversion of their children and the moral decline of the very fabric of society. The viewpoint of this particular group contends that such marriages conflict with their most profound beliefs (that of religion), and should be disallowed on the grounds that these unions infringe upon their rights to happiness and freedom.
Therefore, it becomes prudent to apply the notions of Mill and Kant to what is largely a question of ethical behavior centered around a fundamental issue of morality -- that of whether or not the exercise of free will on the part of one group (gays) actually transgresses the right to liberty and happiness of certain religious adherents. Mill's theory of utilitarianism is one of the key proponents of consequentialist thought, in which the end of the result of an action is the primary factor for determining its morality. Utilitarianism is concerned with the question of which course of action produces the most amount of usefulness, or good. If a course of action is found to make more people happy than it does unhappy, that course of action would be the one that is morally acceptable and approved as such. Central to this notion is the measurement of felicity and its opposite, unhappiness. Such things cannot typically be quantified, so they are instead judged based on their degree, intensity, duration, as well as on types of happiness or unhappiness. Moreover, the effect of unhappiness produced by an action inherently reduces the effect of the happiness produced, while the positive, good effects help to counteract those of the negatives. Whichever effect is greater is essentially the sole determinant for whether or not an action is deemed moral.
When applying utilitarianism to determine the ethical value of an action, there is a high degree of subjectivity involved. Furthermore, it is possible for one act to be deemed moral due to certain consequences, while that same act can be judged immoral due to other consequences. The tenuous nature of this particular branch of philosophy helped in part to spawn Kant's theories of morality, which are largely centered around a categorical imperative that is rigidly immutable. Kant's categorical imperative states that there actions which are judged to be morally acceptable and unacceptable regardless of the circumstances or the effects produced by such acts. Certain facets of Kant's categorical imperative include the adherence to universal law (which states one should treat others the way that one himself desires to be treated), as well as the notion that others should never be treated as a means to something, but as ends in themselves. The obligation with which people must follow these aspects of morality is completely binding and necessary, and allows for virtually no exceptions -- regardless of the consequences.
As such, when applying each of these ethical perspectives (which are diametrically opposed to one another) to the example of same sex marriages, it is noteworthy to witness that they both appear to be in agreement with one another on this issue. Utilitarianism thought, of course, would attempt to gauge the good of allowing gays to happily consummate their unions legally against the unhappiness of followers of a certain religion having to exist in a society in which such practices occur. Influential factors in deciding the outcome of this comparison would include, of course, the fact that many religious proponents would not necessarily be aware of such marriages, as they are typically not flaunted in the public eye. Furthermore, there is very little physical or mental harm incurred by allowing groups of people to marry one another -- they are not committing some act that in itself causes physical or mental harm. Additionally, the pleasure by being allowed to do what others can (in this case the others are heterosexuals) would appear to exceed the damage done by religious observers not being aware of which homosexuals are married or not, so Mill's…