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Same-sex marriage has been a subject of a public, political and religious debate for years. It has also been a matter of careful consideration by national legislations worldwide. There is an increasing number of countries where same-sex marriage is legally recognized. Researchers from the field of anthropology, sociology, and psychology agree on the beneficial effects of living in a legally recognized partnership, regardless if it is built upon a union between opposite-sex, or same-sex partners. This paper examines the issue of legalization of gay marriages from ethical, psychological, social and legal perspectives and offers arguments for both opposing standpoints.
Same-sex marriage, also referred to as gay marriage, is a marriage of two people of the same sex, united either in a religious or civil ceremony. All major English dictionaries have revised their definitions of the term marriage to include same-sex couples, in the way that they either omitted gender specifications altogether or added secondary definitions to explicitly recognize same-sex unions and/or use gender-neutral language. This is done in an effort to accommodate the demands for marriage equality, which implies considering opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriage as legally equal. Legal equality is reached by either legislative change to marriage laws, court rulings based on the equality rights guaranteed by the constitution, or by popular vote, i.e., referendum.
Editorial policies of various publications, such as newspapers and magazines, dealt with the terminology issue in different ways. Some reserved the term marriage for heterosexual couples and used the concept of the civil union when discussing gay marriages. Others have used scare quotes when writing about gay marriages implying there is at least a certain degree of illegitimacy to this notion. This practice has nowadays been abandoned by all major newspapers.
Public polling in various countries has shown a significant increase in public support for gay marriages in the 21st century. According to the “Law and Civil Rights” polling study conducted in the United States, of all the adults asked if they supported gay marriage to be recognized by law as equal to that between heterosexual individuals, 28% responded affirmatively in 2005, and when the same question was asked in 2013, 50% of participants in the poll were in favor of gay marriages.
History has given us a few examples of same-sex marriages. A Roman emperor, named Elagabalus, referred to his chariot driver as his husband. He later married a male athlete in a public ceremony in Rome cheered on by Roman citizens. Another Roman emperor, Nero, married two different men in lavish ceremonies typical of the Roman Empire. Later on, same-sex marriages were prohibited in Rome by the law, and those who were found practicing them were executed (Williams, 2009).
In more recent history, the end of the 20th century saw a growth in gay activism, demanding equal rights for all individuals regardless of their sexual preferences. In the late 1980s began the fight for legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Since that time, same-sex marriage has been legalized in many countries, either nationwide, or in some parts of a particular country. A debate is ongoing concerning the legal status of gay-marriages, whether they should be recognized as equal to those between people of opposite sex, or should they be granted a status of a civil union, or indeed be denied recognition of legal marital rights altogether (Wintemute and Andenęs, 2001). What is actually being asked is not to obtain a special status for gay marriage and special rights for people of homosexual orientation, but to be granted equal benefits of marriage laws, which apply to heterosexual couples, as well as equal human rights as everyone else. Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman (2009) gave a list of pros and cons concerning gay marriage. As they point out, gay marriage can be considered as undermining most of the family values. On the other hand, not giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry legally would mean denying them their basic human rights, namely the right to choose their sexuality, their partners and the way they want to live their lives.
A number of countries worldwide have already recognized the relationship of same-sex couples to be legal, including Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Columbia, New Zealand, etc. After several US states had previously legalized same-sex marriages, in 2015 the US Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Obergefell v Hodges case, preventing the states to prohibit issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. If homosexual couples marry legally, they can also obtain a legal divorce in jurisdictions that recognize gay marriages.
Church has had a significant role in all discussions on legalizing gay marriages. Most major religious denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, several Protestant denominations as well as Islam, oppose same-sex marriages and are generally against homosexual relationships. They argue that marriages not based on procreation and securing the continuation of the human race would erode religious freedoms, deny children the right to be raised by their biological parents, and eat into the institution of marriage itself. There is also an allegation that gay marriages would contribute to moral degradation, insinuating that married homosexual men would be prone to extramarital affairs, and not be able to respect the demands of a monogamous relationship. As Wolfson and Wardle (2004) have pointed out, legalizing gay marriages could give a wrong signal to young people who would no more perceive marriage as necessary for procreation and raising children, which has been a long-standing basis of our society.
However, there are some Protestant groups that are in favor of allowing same-sex marriages and even performing same-sex marital ceremonies. They are committed to marriage equality, which refers to opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages being considered equal in the eye of the law.
Marriage and family have been among the most important pillars of the society for ages. Nowadays, there are more and more non-typical families, and they are gaining societal acceptance. The effort to preserve the institution of traditional marriage has actually not much to do with whether same-sex marriages will or will not be legalized. Preventing homosexual couples from being legally wed will not increase the number of heterosexual marriages, nor will it boost the procreation levels among heterosexual couples. It is argued that after having granted equal rights to most marginalized social groups, homosexual marriages could be the next to receive legal recognition (White 2008).
Furthermore, same-sex relationships have been shown not to differ from opposite-sex relationships in their basic psychosocial dimensions (Pawelsky, Perrin and Foy, 2006). Parents are able to provide a safe and nurturing family environment to their children regardless of their sexual orientation. In this way, children raised in same-sex marriages are not at a disadvantage compared to children raised in traditional opposite-sex marriages. Living in an alliance that is not legally recognized causes stress to gay men and women as well as their children (Herek, 2006), but the stress stems from societal disapproval and judgment rather than some deficiency in parental capabilities of gay people or their fitness to be parents in the first place.
Even without legal recognition, since the late 20th century, it became very common for homosexual partners to unite in some form of ritual marital ceremony. This is motivated by the psychological need for commitment to one another, by a wish to form a bond that goes beyond love and attraction. As a matter of fact, same-sex marriages lie on the same psychological, moral and social grounds as opposite-sex marriages. They provide comfort and support for both partners as well as a basis for a family, for raising children and equally participating in society on all levels, starting from the local community, neighborhood, and all the way to nation and humanity as a whole. Legalization of gay marriages upholds equality on all levels for all human beings. Being legally married allows gay men and women to file taxes together, gives them legal protection, including the right to inherit from one another, to obtain hospital visitation rights and power of attorney. Marriage, homosexual as well as heterosexual, contributes to the well-being of both partners, creates a support system that positively affects both partners’ physical and emotional health, brings financial security, etc. It is for these reasons that social and political groups supporting gay marriage insist on its being legalized and made equal to marriage between opposite-sex partners.
Herek, Gregory M. “Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective.” American Psychologist, Vol 61(6), September 2006, pp. 607–21.
“Law and Civil Rights” (http://www.pollingreport.com/civil.htm). PollingReport.com. POLLING REPORT, INC. 2017.
Pawelski JG, Perrin EC, Foy JM, et al. (July 2006). “The effects of marriage, civil union, and domestic partnership laws on the health and well-being of children”. Pediatrics 118 (1): 349–64.
White, H.R. (2008). “Proclaiming Liberation: The Historical Roots of LGBT Religious Organizing, 1946––1976”. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Vol. 11 No. 4, May 2008; (pp. 102-119)
Williams, CA. (2009). Roman Homosexuality: Second Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 284.
Wintemute R., Andenæs M. (2002) “Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships: A Study of National, European and International Law” The Cambridge Law Journal. Vol. 61, No. 2 (Jul., 2002), pp. 473-475
Wolfson, Evan and Wardle, Lynn T., “Same-sex Marriage Debate” (2004). Other Lectures and Presentations.15. http://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/lectures_pre_arch_lectures_other/15
Zastrow C., Kirst-Ashman K. (2009). Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment. Cengage Learning; 8th edition