Despite the increasingly tolerant attitude towards homosexuality in society, especially in the West, the treatment of homosexuals continues to differ from one country to another. In some nations, homosexuality is illegal whilst in others, homosexuals are now accorded an increasing catalogue of rights that have been enjoyed by heterosexuals all along. In the UK for instance, by virtue of a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Lustig-Prean and Beckett v UK (1999) gays can now serve in the Armed Forces. Despite these gains, in most countries gays have yet to attain complete equality of status in the eyes of the law, most notably the right to marry. For many gay people, and for those who find gay rights troubling, the demand for a right to marry a person of the same gender has become the key modern political issue. South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, Argentina, Portugal, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Spain all allow gay marriage, while twenty-two other countries, including the UK, allow civil partnerships which give gay partners all the legal rights of marriage. Proponents argue that preventing gays from marrying is discriminatory and that it upholds a traditional, out-dated concept of marriage as the path to procreation. Opponents insist however that marriage is tied to the traditional and religious bonds which overtly suggest marriage is between a man and a woman.
It is inaccurate to perceive marriage merely as an institution for child-raising purposes. There are many married couples in society today who do not have children of their own, often by choice, and infertile couples, who cannot conceive children, are still permitted to marry. They marry because marriage symbolizes a long-term commitment to one another, not a pledge to reproduce for the state or humanity as a whole. In any case, gay couples may adopt children in countries where they are permitted to do so, revealing society's view at large that homosexual couples can readily act as capable parents and provide loving home environments. Furthermore, the advance of medical science has also enabled same-sex couples to have children of their own through surrogate mothers and sperm donors. It can no longer be said that homosexual couples should not be granted the right to marriage because, either, they cannot have children, or that they cannot raise children adequately. Both claims are evidently false.
Marriage is most certainly about raising children and has always been regarded as the predominant means of creating a conducive environment in which children can be brought up. As gay couples are unlikely to have children, there is no real necessity for the right to marry to be extended to them. It is true that many heterosexual marriages do not result in offspring, through choice or infertility, however the male-female relationship preserves the general rule of marriage: only between those with the potential for procreation1. 'Children have a valid claim to be raised by their own biological parents', to encourage otherwise is to undermine long-held perceptions about the right way to bring up our youth.2
To allow gay couples to marry would enable them to take advantage of the various fiscal benefits accorded to married couples in general. As Scott Bidstrup argues, a gay couple together for 40 years can still be compelled by law to testify or provide evidence against one another, something married spouses cannot be forced to do 1. Such antiquated laws take the discriminatory view that the love between homosexuals is artificial and extend it to encompass legal benefits. As Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in a Supreme Court ruling, 'homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint'1. A gay couple's inability to reproduce should not prevent them from obtaining the benefits of marriage, benefits granted not to encourage or reward child birth but to recognize the bond between two loved ones.
Many of the fiscal benefits enjoyed by married couples (e.g. child support payments) are not geared towards encouraging marriages in itself, but to promote the existence of the conventional family and procreation. Gay couples, unable to propagate society, should not be provided access to the benefits of marriage which are, implicitly, the state's reward for reproductive couples. 'Collecting a dead spouse's social security, claiming an extra tax exemption for a spouse, and having the right to be covered under a spouse's health insurance policy' are just a few of the benefits a state provides to married couples 1. The aforementioned benefits should not be applicable to couples who are unable to provide anything in return.
The state is charged with the responsibility of both providing registrars to conduct marriage ceremonies and authenticating marriages certificates. If gay marriage was to be legalized, all registrars could be thereafter forced, by the state and their commitment to the law, to legally bind themselves to avoid discriminating between homosexual and heterosexual couples who ask for their service. All registrars who refused to marry homosexual couples could be fired. There could be no difference in the process or the paperwork required for either a heterosexual or homosexual marriage. The dismissal of discriminating registrants would have a legal precedent in the charges brought upon hotel owners who refused gay couples and adoption agencies who refused to deal with gay couples.
States cannot ask registrars to conduct civil marriages between homosexual couples that violate their religious precepts. How can a state that espouses multi-culturalism and respect for the faiths of its citizens thereafter declare it fair and impartial to ask a Christian registrar to conduct a homosexual marriage ceremony, and thereafter fire them if they refuse? That merely replaces one discrimination with another. In the United Kingdom in 2009, a Christian registrar was demoted to a receptionist after refusing to preside over the civil marriages of gay couples1. Ms Davies, the demoted registrar, said: "Britain is supposed to be a nation that respects freedom of conscience"1. That freedom of conscience is not respected in a state that can fire anyone refusing to marry same-sex couples.
Gay marriage has clear and tangible positive effects on societies where it is permitted. There are now ten countries that allow gay marriage, with no obvious or noticeable detriment to society at large. As Chris Ott reports from Massachusetts, one of few US states to grant gay marriage rights, ‘predictably, the sky hasn’t fallen…ensuring equality doesn’t mean there’s less to go around for everyone else’ 1. Further to that, gay marriage encourages gay adoption, granting a home and a loving environment for an increasing number of orphaned or unwanted children worldwide. The evidence also suggests that gay parenting is ‘at least as favourable’ as those in heterosexual families, eroding fears that the adopted children will be worse with gay parents 2 . The economist Thomas Kostigen also argues gay marriage is a boost for the economy, ‘weddings create revenue of all sorts…even if a marriage doesn’t work out that helps the economy too. Divorces cost money’ 3. Finally, and most simply, societies benefit from the net utility of their citizens, to allow and even encourage gay marriage ensures that those gay citizens wishing to celebrate their love are able to do so, in an environment conducive to their mutual happiness.
1. Ott, (2005)
2. Short, Riggs, Perlesz, Brown, & Kane, (2007), p.25
3. Kostigen, (2009)
Gay relationships do not contribute to the interest of the state in propagating society, therefore they should not be granted access to the legal and economic benefits of marriage. Furthermore, as David Blankenhorn argues, 'for healthy development, what a child needs more than anything else is the mother and father who together made the child, who love the child and love each other'1. In addition, Susan Shell believes that 'most, if not all, of the goals of the gay marriage movement can be satisfied in the absence of gay marriage'2. The presence of civil partnerships, potentially celebrated with the same festivities that surround weddings, could provide many of the same legal and fiscal benefits that gay couples currently do not have access to.
One of the last bastions of discrimination against gays lies in the fact that gay couples in many countries are at present not allowed to marry. Such discrimination should be eradicated by permitting gay couples to marry as a means of professing their love to each other. The contemporary views of society ought to change with the times; as recently as 1967, blacks and whites in some Americans could not marry, no-one would defend such a law now 1. Gay marriage is possibly, as Theodore Olson, a former Bush administration Republican suggests, ‘the last major civil-rights milestone yet to be surpassed 2’. To permit heterosexual couples to profess their love through the bonds of marriage, but deny that same right to homosexual couples ultimately devalues their love, a love that is no weaker or less valid than that of straight couples. As New York State Senator Mark Grisanti admitted when voting in favour of a 2011 bill, ‘I cannot deny a person…the same rights that I have with my wife’ 3. It is clearly discriminatory and reflects an out-dated view of homosexuality.
1.The Economist, 1996
3. Black, 2011
It is not discriminatory, for marriage is an institution designed for the union of men and women alone. It is intrinsically about the ‘values that govern the transmission of human life to the next generation’ 1; to deny gay couples the right to marry is merely, and obviously, to admit that they have no reproductive capacity. The public recognition that is so vital to the institution of marriage ‘is for the purpose of institutionalizing the procreative relationship in order to govern the transmission of human life…that results’ 2. So long as reproduction requires a man and a woman, marriage will necessarily remain the domain of heterosexual couples to protect the reproductive human relationship that fosters future generations.
1.Somerville, 2003, p.1
The legalization of gay marriage undermines the principles that have traditionally linked marriage and the family. Marriage is no longer viewed as a necessary rite of passage before a family is started, leading to a rise in out of wedlock births. As Stanley Kurtz discovered in a study of Norway, where gay marriage is legal, 'an extraordinary 82.7% of first-born children' in one specific county were born out of wedlock; he goes on to explain 'many of these births are to unmarried, but cohabitating, couples'. Yet, without the bonds of marriage, such couples are two to three times more likely to break up and leave children thereafter to cope with estranged parents1. The most conservative religious counties in Norway, in comparison, 'have by far the lowest rates' of out-of-wedlock births1. The legalization of gay marriage and the, often concurrent, ban on clergy eager to discourage the practise of out-of-wedlock only serves to undermine the institution of marriage; and it is the children that pay the price.
The argument that gay marriage, or even the discussion of it, leads to a decline in the institution of marriage does not match with the figures. Far from leading to an increase in divorce rates, marriage in the last decade is only growing stronger. As Adam Sullivan points out, in the United States, roughly 75% per cent of those who have married since 1990 reported they had reached their 10-year anniversary. That’s up about three percentage points for those who had married a decade earlier in the 1980s’ 1. Though this is not proof that marriage equality has strengthened the bonds of marriage, it is proof that marriage equality is not undermining them. Further to that, ‘it was heterosexuals who in the 1970s changed marriage into something more like a partnership between equals…with gender roles less rigid than in the past’ 1. In contrast, there are good arguments to suggest gay marriage could re-affirm pre-70s notions of marriage for it would initially be more likely to attract older, long-term gay couples whose stability would thereafter ripple through society 1.
1. Sullivan, 2011
There are alternative means for gay couples to formalize their love without resort to marriage. In the United Kingdom, gay couples are able to form civil partnerships, which offer all the fiscal and legal benefits of marriage without the actual ceremony. Moreover, also known as the "love contract", the registration of the union of gay couples has been carried out successfully in countries such as Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Spain. Both of these would be avenues for gay couples to declare their union to the world. The practice in countries which implement this system is to allow registered couples to be entitled to joint insurance coverage and to allow them to file for joint tax returns as well as inheritance and tenants' rights. On the other hand, such a proposal makes no incursions into the sanctity of the institution of marriage itself, thereby proving acceptable to the religious sections of society.
The alternatives presented do not satisfy the rights of gay couples to equality. Gay couples can in many countries, where gay marriage is banned, register their unions officially however they would still not enjoy complete equality with married heterosexual couples in society. If they did, their union would be deemed marriage. As Theodore Olson points out, 'a civil union reflects a second-class status that fails to protect committed same-sex couples who choose to be married'1. Moreover, this would also fuel the idea that registered gay couples enjoy an inferior status to married heterosexual couples, thereby giving rise to discrimination all over again.
Marriage has always been viewed by society as the religious and/or civil union between a man and a woman, and has therefore always been regarded primarily as a heterosexual institution. It confirms the natural truth that marriage, as the traditional rite of passage required before procreation, requires a man and a woman. Barack Obama, whilst on the presidential campaign trial, reaffirmed his personal belief that marriage 'is between a man and a woman', one that he shared with the majority of candidates1. Indeed, marriage, throughout its thousands of years of existence, has only been used to describe the union of a man and woman, toward the general end of starting a family and raising children.
It is completely circular to argue that Marriage should be only between a man and a woman because marriage is between a man and a woman. First it is based upon a false assumptiuon as there is a strong historical and religious precedent for polygamy, so marriage between one man and one woman can not be considered a singular historical or religious norm. Second it assumes that things should stay the way they are because they have been that way for a long time which precludes any idea of progress ever being made.
Marriage describes an emotional relationship, it does not refer to the gender make-up of the couple. It is a commitment to love and care for your spouse till death does you part, an obligation that is no more difficult for a gay couple than a heterosexual couple. Furthermore, if gay couples wish to make such marital commitments to each other, 'why should they be prevented from doing so while other adults, equivalent in all other ways, are allowed to do so?1' It is clear discrimination to deny to one sub-set of the population the right to marry based purely on traditional and out-dated notions of what constitutes marriage.
Marriage is historically a religious institution. As most of the major religions in the world (e.g. Christianity, Islam and Judaism) frown upon homosexuality itself, it would thus be unacceptable to extend the right to marry to gay couples. In Christianity, the Bible is clear in Genesis that marriage is between that of a man and a woman; ‘it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him…a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh’ 1. In the Quran, it is stated that ‘Allah has given you spouses of your own kind, and has given you, from your spouses, sons and grandsons’ 2. There is little room for conjecture with such statements; marriage, so finely entwined with the religious roots of modern societies, renders marriage an institution between a man and a woman.
1.Catholic Answers, 2004
2. Eldin, 2011
Marriage is not a religious institution, but an institution that has been co-opted by religion as the means by which couples declare themselves to each other for an indefinite period. As such, marriage has always complimented contemporary attitudes and institutions. Traditional beliefs regarding the 'sanctity' of marriage are now out of touch both with contemporary opinion on the matter and concurrent advances in human rights elsewhere. In Australia a recent poll found that 75% of the population felt gay marriage was inevitable, leading marriage equality advocates to claim 'the tide of history is running toward equality and nothing can turn it back'1. Furthermore, the fact that atheists and agnostics are free to get married, but homosexuals are not undermines claims that marriage is a derivative organ of religion.