In the United States, married couples receive many legal benefits that couples who live together but are unmarried do not. More and more, gay couples are insisting that they receive the same legal rights that the traditional, heterosexual married couples receive. Gay rights advocates believe that it is inequitable and biased to refuse to give certain privileges to any couple, gay or not. For example, marriage enables spouses to receive insurance through their partners’ employers. They are also allowed many other rights such as the ability to make decisions for their partner who is being hospitalized and have the right to sue on their behalf and cannot be forced to testify against them in court. Married couples also pay less in taxes and many other social and financial benefits but because gay couples are legally prevented from marrying, they are excluded from receiving the same considerations that married heterosexual couples enjoy. However, fierce public and congressional opposition to gay marriage has built legal barriers which prevent homosexuals from marrying.
Opponents to gay marriage argue that in a traditional relationship, it is the woman that domesticates men. The man trades a promiscuous life for the stability and security of marriage. If both of the partners are men, there is no stabilizing force indicating that both men will continue to be promiscuous. This will lead to the breakdown of the institution of marriage as a whole. Society’s increased acceptance of homosexuality in general has already weakened marriage enough. This line of reasoning has many factual errors. Most obviously, it does not account for lesbian relationships. It seems to imply that they are free of fidelity issues and that there is evidence that traditional relationships suffer from less incidences of cheating spouses than do gay relationships. Taking into consideration that a very large percentage of both genders in a traditional marriage admit to having an affair and half of all marriages end in divorce, this argument has little credibility. Finally, homosexuality, if at all, is at the end of a very long list of factors causing the break-down of marriage. The cultural transformation of the 1960’s and 70’s gave women increased economic and birthing autonomy. This along with liberalized laws allowing quick divorces have been a much larger influence on the traditional view of marriage than has the general acceptance of homosexuality. (Sullivan &Baques, 1999).
While true that the presence of women and the subsequent children act to domesticate lustful males of the species, marriage does as well. Marriage is not simply a contract, it is a social bond cemented by various expectations celebrated with gestures and rituals. Extending this cultural phenomenon to gay couples would strengthen their bond which could only strengthen the traditional union. “When homosexual couples can legally commit to each other for a lifetime, they, too, will be able to say to each other, ‘If you really care about me, as opposed to just wanting to have sex with me, you’ll marry me” (Rauch, 2001). Most probably, the majority of gay men want a committed relationship for much the same reasons straight men do. Without marriage as an option, homosexual couples are subject to less stable relationships which heighten the possibility of promiscuity within the gay community which is what those opposed to the idea claimed to fear in the first place. The concept of gay marriage is repugnant to those in opposition for religious reasons, not for practical or social concerns as has been shown. It would seem the government, therefore, should not be involved in the legislation barring gay marriage. But, of course, the government is intricately involved in the gay marriage debate.
According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, about 60 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage. However, the same poll found that 53 percent were against a constitutional amendment outlawing the lawful acknowledgment of same-sex unions (“Civil Unions”, 2004). This sentiment has been reflected by some legislators such as those in the State of Connecticut who oppose same-sex marriage but support civil unions. Gay rights activists had heavily lobbied lawmakers in an effort to legalize gay marriage but they compromised on a civil union bill when support for marriage was rejected by most. A Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, signed the bill last year making Connecticut the second state to offer gays and lesbians civil unions after Vermont. This law provided all the legal privileges of marriage. Other states, such as California, offer various rights under domestic-partnership laws but not full rights. Rell explained that she signed the bill because she was opposed to discrimination in any form. While Connecticut gay rights activist groups applauded state lawmakers, they expressed displeasure that the law fell short of offering a comprehensive equivalent to marriage and that they would persist in their efforts to “work toward the day when there are not two lines at town hall, one for them and one for us” (Simmons, 2005).
In Oregon, voters passed a constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage which reversed more than 3,000 marriage licenses issued to gay and lesbian couples. A subsequent Oregon Supreme Court ruling which upheld the amendment also left open the option of civil unions. The day prior to the ruling, a bipartisan group of state legislators drafted a bill that would allow civil unions, a measure which was backed by Governor Ted Kulongoski. The Governor admitted that the bill “may be a little ahead of its time,” but also believed that the progress of social change would “soon make legal protection for same-sex relationships a reality in Oregon, if not immediately through marriage” (Simmons, 2005). Although many couples who had their marriage annulled by the Supreme Court were disappointed, many were pragmatic about the situation and reluctantly accepted the idea of civil unions believing that, as did those in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, ‘separate but equal’ will ultimately be rejected by the majority of the people. Many previously married gay couples admit however that social change doesn’t happen overnight.
Recently, the Senate rejected a Constitutional amendment that specifically banned gay marriage by a 49-48 vote. It was not expected to pass and would have certainly died in the House of Representatives. The vote had nothing to do with amending the Constitution. The proceedings were for purely political purposes. Republican Senator John McCain voted against the amendment, as did other Republicans. They evidently thought that it wasn’t obligatory to pander to their conservative constituents. “Perhaps Sen. McCain could ignite the middle enough to really make a change in 2008. If nothing else, that might get both the Democrats and Republicans off their pandering to the extremes and start paying attention to the majority of us” (Tucker, 2006). Unfavorable polling numbers have Republicans trying to rally their base by showing public support for this emotional issue. This strategy worked for President Bush in the 2004 election and those trying to keep their jobs on the Hill have learned well from him. The Republican tactic was to put gay-marriage bans on the ballot in each state so as to get more conservative voters to the polls. In Ohio, the key state in Bush’s victory, this strategy worked by drawing more voters to the polls even though the ban was entirely unnecessary because gay marriage was already banned by state law. Opponents of gay marriage claim that legalizing it will serve to endorse homosexuality however; it has been proven by studies that the number of gay people will hardly change in either direction simply because of legislation (Tucker, 2006).
In 1997, the General Accounting Office reported that heterosexual married couples enjoyed more than 1000 benefits and protections. These marriage incentives range from survivor benefits through Social Security, the ability to take sick leave from work to care for a sick partner, federal and state tax breaks and veteran and insurance benefits. They also include things like “family discounts, obtaining family insurance through your employer, visiting your spouse in the hospital and making medical decisions if your partner is unable to” (Belge, 2006). Following the enactment of the Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMA), an amendment added to many states’ constitutional definition of marriage, many lawsuits have been filed all over the country against local and state governments whether or not they offer health insurance and other benefits to their employees’ unmarried domestic partners. DOMA prohibits the state governments from providing benefits to a dependent in a relationship that does not comply with the state’s constitutional definition of marriage. Both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Gay-rights groups disagree with these amendments.
Shortly after Alaska adopted a similar marriage amendment in 1998, the Alaska ACLU took the State to court on behalf of several gay couples who had a partner employed by the state. The suit claimed that the government practiced institutional discrimination by disallowing benefits to employees’ partners because those same benefits were offered to the heterosexual partners of state employees. The ACLU lost in trial court but in 2005, but the state Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision. The court ruled that “the benefit system is discriminatory because benefits are extended to employees’ married partners and because same-sex couples are constitutionally barred in the state from marrying” (Gentile, 2006).
Those opposed to gay marriage believe that these relationships do not serve the best interest of the state. Since they cannot bear children that would ultimately add to the tax base of a community there is no incentive for the state to recognize their union and provide them the benefits of marriage, an expensive burden to the state. Advocates of gay marriage have not been able to show what financial benefit their marriage would be to the state. “If sexual love alone becomes the primary purpose of marriage rather than procreation, the restriction of marriage to couples loses its logical basis, leading to marital chaos” (Kolasinksi, 2004). The marriage laws, established by the state, ensure that the couples who do get the benefits of marriage are those who benefit the state by having children.
Those that oppose gay marriage have yet to provide evidence that the children of gay couples whether biological or adopted are harmed by this living arrangement. Some have expressed fears that these children will be more likely to become homosexuals suggesting that it would be appalling if that were the situation (Sullivan &Baques, 1999). In today’s world, the fact is that most children do not live in ‘Leave it to Beaver’ type households with a housewife and a father who works at the office from nine to five. 25 percent of children are born out-of-wedlock to single women who are predominately young and impoverished according to Bureau of Census statistics. Half of all marriages end in divorce and ‘traditional’ married couples with children comprise just 26 percent of U.S. families. “It is unrealistic to pretend that children can only be successfully reared in an idealized concept of family, the product of nostalgia for a time long past” (“Social Norms”, 1999).
Gay couples exhibit similar family and societal values as those of the traditional couple while engaged in the activities of their daily lives. Other than the fact that one couple is of the same sex and the other is not, the neighbors would notice no difference. They cherish and are involved in family life, abide by the law and are committed to making their communities a better place for all to live. The legalization of gay marriage benefits society because the very obligations of a marriage itself discourage promiscuous sex which carries the advantage of decelerating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the costs associated with the treatment of these diseases. Marriage also encourages a family-type atmosphere in the house, neighborhood and community.
Many believe that being gay is a choice and individuals should choose to be heterosexual for the reasons previously discussed and base their opposition on this assumption. Of course they have no answer when asked when they made their choice of which sex to be attracted to. Very few people make the choice of the gay lifestyle and why would they? Who would choose to be constantly ridiculed and discriminated against? In addition, the conservative, right-wing propaganda proposes that homosexuality only concerns the act of sexual intercourse and believe it to be a perversion. Homosexuality is multi-faceted involving true love and affection, indicating it is not just about sex, much the same as the traditional relationship. It’s past time that being gay means being considered a second-class citizen by society and by the laws of the land. All citizens of the U.S. should expect to be treated with respect and equality. This remains the goal but the fact is, it should already be a reality.
Belge, Kathy. “The Difference Between Marriage and Civil Unions.” About Lesbian Life. (2006). Web.
“Civil Unions for Gays Favored, Polls Show.” MSNBC. (2004). Web.
Gentile, Annie. “Employee Fringe Benefits.” City and County. Vol. 121, I. 5, 2006, p14-16.
Kolasinksi, Adam. “The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage.” The Tech. Vol. 124, N. 5. (2004). Web.
Rauch, Jonathan. “Give Federalism a Chance: The Case for Same-Sex Marraiage.” National Review Online. (2001). Web.
Simmons, Todd. “Civil Compromise.” Advocate Report. I. 939. (2005).
“Social Norms and Judicial Decision-making: Examining the Role of Narratives in Same-Sex Adoption Cases.” Columbia Law Review. Lexis-Nexis. (1999). Web.
Sowell, Thomas. “Notion of Gay Marriage is Product of Sloppy Thinking.” Jewish World Review. (2000). Web.
Sullivan, T. Richard & Baques, Albert. “Familism and the Adoption Option for Gay and Lesbian Parents.” Queer Families, Common Agendas. New York: Haworth Press, pp. 80-82. (1999).
Tucker, Brian. “Constitutional Amendments to Ban Gay Marriage.” Crain’s Cleveland Business. Vol. 27, I. 24. (2006).