Amongst all the contentious issues of human affairs, Gay marriages are perhaps the most hotly debated subject the world over. Homosexuality has over the centuries been discriminated against in much of the Judeo-Christian world on the grounds that it is unnatural and against the nature of things as ordained by God. These perceptions and beliefs slowly extended to other parts of the world under European colonial rule and thus became ingrained in the social, cultural and legalistic fabric of the global human society. The specific moralistic stipulations against homosexuality however had not existed on the European soil during the Greek Roman period where homosexuals and lesbians were accepted as part of the society.
Neither was it prohibited in Islam or any of the Asiatic cultures where same-sex love finds visible depiction in the literature, arts, painting and sculptures as typified by the graphic autoerotic carvings of the Ajanta, Ellora caves in India. Ethics are, to a great extent a creation of the society, culture and perception which change over time. Such change in the positive perception regarding the acceptability of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is steadily gaining ground. This essay aims to examine the ethical issues raised by same-sex marriage under the canvas of moral, social, cultural and legalistic framework as it exists today and its future prognosis with a view to suggest a way ahead for the social evolution of the human society.
Ethics of a Wholesome Family
Traditionally, marriage has always been held to be a union of a man and a woman socially and formally recognized by the society. Sex within a marriage was viewed not only as a means for pleasure but primarily for procreation. It was also reasoned that in any marriage, the presence of a man and a woman was complimentary and necessary for the normal development of the progeny. Thus, a heterosexual marriage produced an environment of loving care and stability for the children for the mutual benefit of the society. Marriage therefore became a social contract and indeed a civil contract that gained the sanctity of the state which provided social and economic benefits to those honoured that contract.
Thus, from the viewpoint of collectivism, a heterosexual marriage fulfilled all the requirements of the society. Social mores in much of the Western world are changing rapidly. The institution of marriage (heterosexual) is being questioned by a variety of alternate styles of living. It would indeed be hypocritical to state the Judeo-Christian belief “in a society that lives with a 50% divorce rate, (which) commonly accepts cohabitation of our adult children before their marriages, (and) cohabitation between consenting seniors due to financial and tax constraints (Bollwinkel, 2004, p. 2).
Ethics of Liberty
Liberty means having the freedom to make one’s own choices. Liberty includes the right to marry outside one’s race, right to take birth control pills and the right to abortion. As long as those choices do not cause physical or material harm to other humans in a society, to proscribe any sort of freedom equates it with discrimination, repression and suppression. It is in recognition of this universal value of individual freedom and liberty to pursue one’s own pursuits that has slowly but surely changed the perception regarding homosexuality. Liberty thus includes the right to choose one’s own partner even if the person be of the same sex. Such an assertion is finding growing assertion the world over. McCaffrey (2006) states that “socially and culturally, gay marriage has been gaining in acceptance in Western Europe” (p. 264).
Ethics of Equality
Ethically speaking, marriages (heterosexual) are considered good for a man and woman. Considering the fact that all humans are equal and have the same rights of liberty, proscribing any human because of his or her sexual preference would be to deny that couple the equal right to happiness that derives out of a marriage. To an argument that end products of all marriages are progeny, modern science provides the answer. For a female-female couple, donated sperm can well fulfil the need for a progeny and for a male-male couple, the course of adoption exist to fulfil the societal needs.
Ethics of Liberalism
Western Liberal democracies require that the tenets of liberalism are applied equally and fairly to everyone. It is in recognition of this fact that laws of various countries are slowly but surely changing. In France, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1982 and formalised with the implementation of the PaCS (Pacte civil de solidarite) in 1999 (McCaffrey, p. 263). In Netherlands, same-sex marriages have been legalized. On June 11, 2003, an Ontario appeals court declared Canada’s prohibition against same-sex civil marriage a violation of the country’s charter of rights and freedom. In the United States, “as of October 10th 2008, the state of Connecticut joined Massachusetts and California as the only states in the nation to legalize gay marriage” (Cahalane, 2008, p. 1).
This onward march of court decreed acceptance of gay marriages is forcing the US federal government to do a rethink on many of its policies. So rapid as been the social acceptance of homosexuality that the US armed forces which considers homosexuality to be a cognizable offence, has now adopted a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Policy’ as a way to get around the Defence forces statutes and the Defence of Marriage Act 1996. Thus proactive interpretation of western liberal may ultimately force a universal acceptance of gay marriage as an equal alternate to heterosexual marriages.
Ethics of Egalitarianism
Western liberalism strives to achieve true egalitarian society. The traditional social acceptance of heterosexual marriages typecasts certain roles, rights and duties of the participants. These roles, rights and duties have even been codified into laws. For example, in a heterosexual marriage, the Man can demand sex as conjugal right and be defended in the court of law for doing so. In a same-sex marriage, there are no typecast roles or legitimised opportunities for sexual violence and subjugation. In that respect, same-sex marriages may transform the complete concept of marriage into a truly egalitarian construct.
Modern society has come a long way from the earliest stance of labelling Gays as deviants and sinners. The change in social mores as a result of greater awareness, declining influence of the clergy, social activism as well as proactive judicial affirmations has helped increase the acceptance of Gay Marriages. With the European nations showing the way, it will not be long before the concept of gay marriages is recognised not only as a de facto phenomenon but also de jure with equal rights, social and economic benefits to all.
Bollwinkel, M. S. (2004). Gay Marriage: A Position Paper. Web.
Cahalane, K. (2008). Gay Marriage Legalized in Connecticut. Web.
Masci, D. (2008). Two Perspectives on Gay Marriage. Web.
McCaffrey, E. (2006). The Sexual and Theological Ethics of Gay Marriage in France: A Dialectic between Autonomy and Universalism. Theology & Sexuality , 12(3), pp. 263-284.