One man. One woman. That has been the prevailing thought for years when one talks about traditional marriage in the United States. In recent decades, however, this thinking has been challenged by not only the Gay and Lesbian community, but by other social activists across the country.
Equally as vocal, however, are the members of society who are committed to keeping the ‘traditional definition’ of marriage in tact and making sure that only one woman and one man are permitted to marry for decades to come. On the one side, many contend, “Gay marriage is really a matter of respect and human rights” (Mollmann 105). Others believe that this is a fight for religious freedom, making their voices heard that “Gay marriage legislation threatens the very religious liberties we have fought so hard to maintain for centuries” (Ross 101). Perhaps, there is no more divisive a social issue today than gay marriage. In determining how America will move forward in this regard, the definition of love and marriage, the legal ramifications, and the effects on societal values must all be closely examined.
Perhaps the strongest argument in support of gay marriage is that the government should not be permitted to legislate whom a person is permitted to love. Now, legislators will contend that laws are not designed to keep members of society from loving members of the same sex. If they choose to love and cohabitate with the same gender, however, the benefits of marriage will not be afforded to them. James Kellard points out that, “Conservatives do not argue that the US Constitution bans gay marriage, probably because the opposite is true” (98). It cannot be denied that many members of society are uncomfortable with two people of the same sex loving each other, but to use the Constitution as a means of barring couples from perhaps the most important ingredient of American society is simply wrong, and leads many to conclude that it is discrimination. The most basic argument in support of gay marriage, therefore, lies in the fact that marriage should be reserved for two people who truly love one another, regardless of the sex of each person in the relationship. To contend that only heterosexuals are able to accomplish true love and commit to a life-long marriage is simply built on a faulty pretense. Kellard points out, for example, “there are people who marry for money, non-sexual companionship, even health insurance” (99). The argument, therefore, can be made that marriage should not be denied to two consenting adults simply based on their sex, when opposite sex couples are equally (perhaps even more so) prone to getting married for reasons contrary to the traditional definition of marriage.
The legal ramifications of this issue are far reaching. Interestingly, a movement began in this country back in the 1980s to rid society of discrimination against homosexuals. While you cannot force a person to change their heart and mindset towards a people group, laws can be enacted to protect groups of people. This is exactly what has taken place of the last 30 years. Gays and lesbians are now more protected in the workplace and hate crimes laws have been enacted, just to name a few. The fight for gay marriage truly began in Hawaii in 1991. Since that time, several states across the country have enacted laws granting gays and lesbians the right to marry, while a host of others have specifically passed laws defining marriage as only between one man and one woman, thereby effectively barring gays and lesbians from taking part in this institution. As an answer to this issue at the federal level, the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996. “This bill specified that all federal legislation dealing with marriage would refer solely to heterosexual marriages” (United States Congress 68). This essentially means that the federal government, for example, still does not recognize a legal marriage in the state of New York. The two sides are perhaps more divided than ever now in their fight to grant, or deny, gays and lesbians to be legally recognized in the institution of marriage.
Many who oppose gay marriage do so based on moral objections and a contention that such relationships between members of the same sex go against long held values in American society. As is the case with a government course topic, the political aspect of this issue becomes paramount. Traditionally, the Republican Party has been opposed to gay marriage and they have strong support among their constituents for their arguments. Virtually all Republican-leading states currently ban same-sex marriage. Now, our Democratic President and Democratic led Senate are embracing gay rights and making it a more central part of their party platform. Something, in the end, will have to give. Beth Reinhard states, “Throughout American history, platform skirmishes have mapped critical shifts in each party’s balance of power” (24). This has proven true on social issues that are defined by one party and opposed by another. On the issue of gay marriage, the country is so polarized right now that the party in power is dictating government action on this issue, affecting the lives of gay couples countrywide. It is because of this, many argue, that the federal government must intervene and provide a new and far reaching definition of legal marriage that all states will have to honor.
When the issue of gay marriage is raised, many members of society point to the traditional values of marriage. They argue that very makeup of a family will be altered were gay and lesbians permitted to set up and establish a family structure that for centuries has been reserved for only heterosexual couples. The opposing viewpoint, however, always falls back to an issue of discrimination. To deny a loving couple the right to marry simply because their actions fall outside of the traditional norms of society is to deny basic human rights to these same couples. There is a growing movement, even within the Republican Party, to gradually shift towards the center of this issue. Perhaps the day will come when a majority of Americans, even if they disagree with the lifestyle, will agree that gays and lesbians should have equal rights under the law in terms of marriage. When that occurs, state governments will have little choice but to follow suit.
A final argument to point out against gay marriage is the threat that it apparently brings to religious institutions and freedom. It is a fundamental right of all Americans to have the freedom to practice their religion of choice without government interference. This is not only a cherished freedom, but it is one guaranteed by the Constitution. Many argue, then, that to allow gay marriage to go forward will be to force temples, synagogues, churches, and mosques across the country to endorse same-sex relationships, even when their religion speaks, and often, forbids it. Supporters of gay marriage, however, quickly point out that not only is marriage a religious ceremony, but it is a government-sanctioned event. Weddings do not have to take place in a church. Religious churches are private and non-governmental entities, so they do not have to endorse any wedding ceremony nor allow it to take place in their house of worship. Gays and lesbians, were they to be granted the equal right to be legally married, should be free to do so in an accepting religious environment, or as part of a government sanctioned ceremony. Since church and state are not to interfere with one another, supporters of gay marriage argue that religious institutions should not, in themselves, be permitted to ask the government to deny the right of anyone to marry, particularly same sex couples.
This political and social issue has been most interesting to research and examine. There are heated arguments on both sides of the issue, and the legality of gay marriage is not likely to be decided anytime soon. That being said, the issue is not going to die any time soon either. For me, the issue here centers on a changing society. American society, in decades past, was a much more fervently religious society devoted to traditional values. The past few decades, however, has seen a shift away from this to the point where many arguments against gay marriage simply are no longer valid in a society that has long prided itself of granting basic human rights to all of its citizens. In that vein, I would have to agree with Mollman in the contention that the issue of gay marriage is, in reality, an issue of human rights. The denial of marriage to same-sex couples on the basis of religious objections is simply no longer a plausible argument in modern American society. Government should not be interfering in a person’s free will to determine whom they should love. That is an individual decision that should be left to two discerning adults. There are other issues, such as the ability of gays to adopt children, which are not the focus of this essay. In turn, these few pages have focused on the opposing viewpoints of gay marriage and this authors eventual conclusion that two loving same-sex adults should be afforded the privilege of entering the institution and sanctity of marriage.
Kellard, James. “Gay Marriage Should Be Legal.” Gay Marriage. 14.4 (2012): 97-100.
Mollmann, Marianne. “Gay Marriage Is a Human Rights Issue.” Gay Marriage 14.4 (2012): 105-108.
Reinhard, Beth. “Gay Rights and the GOP Platform.” National Journal 7:12 (2012): 24-29.
Ross, Bobby. “Gay Marriage Could Infringe on Religious Liberties.” Gay Marriage 14.4 (2012): 101-
United States Congress. “Marriage Protection Amendment.” Family In Society: Essential Primary