“In short, by not complying with their assigned gender roles, gays and lesbians threaten the system of male dominance (Calhoun 157)”
A debate is raging in America about who people have a right to marry. In response to lesbians and gays asking for the right to marry, many legislators are writing laws to ban same-sex marriage in their respective states. Even President Bush supports a Constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage (prez.bush.marriage/). Opponents of such legislation do not want discrimination passed into law and are protesting at every opportunity. One must understand the reasons that people want to ban same-sex marriage before he or she can effectively argue about the subject. Many advocates of same-sex marriage bans say that allowing gays and lesbians to marry would degrade the institution of marriage because marriage is only supposed to exist between a man and woman. In addition, allowing same-sex marriage would cause problems for society (Issues and Controversies on File). One theory why opponents may fight against same-sex marriages is that heterosexual marriages have long reinforced traditional gender roles within marriage and that allowing same-sex marriages would cause males to lose their authority to subordinate females as heterosexual couples begin to model same-sex marriage gender equality (Calhoun 157).
The traditional argument against same-sex marriage states that marriage is defined as the emotional and spiritual union of a man and a woman. According to that definition, a pair of men or women cannot marry. Opponents of same-sex marriage bans, however, argue that marriage is a basic personal and social right and a social contract that is devoid of gender consideration. Cheshire Calhoun states, “the dominant goal of marriage is and should be unitive, the spiritual and personal union of the committed couple” (151). The sexual orientation or gender of the partners does not lessen the importance placed upon entering such a union and need not be used to restrict who can enter into such a union.
Heterosexuals have enjoyed the right to marry throughout recorded history, though there have been restrictions placed over who could marry that have been overcome. Anti-miscegenation laws and laws that prevented marriage outside of one’s own caste or social circle have been abolished in many areas of the world. Same-sex marriage bans are a form of discrimination regarding whom one can marry. Since marriage is conceived as playing a “uniquely foundational role in sustaining society” (Calhoun 148), saying that homosexuals are unfit to marry places them as dependent upon those who can maintain society’s foundation. This discrimination further marginalizes gays and lesbians. Acting justly and equally to one’s own neighbor is seen by opponents of same-sex marriage bans as allowing equal rights to all with no distinction made involving the sexual identity of the parties involved (Calhoun 148). If homosexuals are allowed to join the military because it is a citizen’s right, then isn’t the right to marry even more fundamental, based on conservative arguments for the foundational importance of marriage? Homosexuals have to pay taxes as any other citizens do, yet they are denied rights that other tax-paying citizens receive. Based on the importance society attributes to the institution of marriage, homosexual citizens should be allowed this basic right (Sullivan 54).
The concept of the natural family is a roadblock in the path to homosexual rights. Conservatives believe that society is based on the “natural” union of a man and a woman who, together, produce and raise offspring (Levin 116). They say that men and women complement each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but spouses complement each other in those ways regardless of their gender. These opponents of same-sex marriage say that the mere allowance of gay and lesbian marriage would disrupt the delicate foundation that is marriage. The result, they say, is that children will not be raised so as to become productive, happy adults, and that society will suffer. This argument is faulty in that gays and lesbians have already proven that they can raise children who turn out better than some whose parents were heterosexual and not allowing gays and lesbians to get married will not reduce any promiscuity that exists in that culture and thus not help society stamp out sexually transmitted diseases.
Positive repercussions of same-sex marriage add momentum to gay and lesbian activists’ arguments. Opponents of same-sex marriage want couples to enter into committed monogamous relationships and to be deterred from leaving their long-term relationship. Same-sex marriage bans deny gays and lesbians an incentive to enter into long-term, monogamous relationships. This may increase sexual promiscuity within the gay and lesbian communities, which can spread sexually transmitted diseases. If homosexuals were allowed to marry, there would be incentives to stay in their relationships such as the costliness of divorce, the benefits that employers often offer to family members, and other benefits (Calhoun 152). Supporters of same-sex marriage bans claim that the goal of homosexual activists is to undermine marriage. While saying this they ignore the true goal of ending homophobia and the discrimination that harms gays and lesbians. Another positive element of same-sex marriage is that there is no subordination of the female by the male because both members are the same sex and thus traditional gender roles that put the male into a leadership role and the woman into a submissive role are non-existent.
Since gender differences are irrelevant in same-sex marriages, there are no gender roles that can seem discriminatory and thus the relationships are more egalitarian. Allowing same-sex marriages to be legal may have an effect on heterosexual marriages in showing a new way to have a relationship that allows its partners to choose their roles based off desire instead of their gender, which they were assigned without their consent. This would have the positive affect of promoting a more “gender-just society” (Calhoun 156).
This seemingly positive affect appears to be a reason to promote same-sex couples, but it instead seems to be a rallying issue for opponents of same-sex marriage. Males have something to lose with this loss of gender roles. Men lose their power over submissive women and “in adopting inferior female positions, particularly in sex, gay men debase themselves and fail to do their bit in sustaining male dominance” (157 Calhoun). Men are further frustrated by lesbians denying men access to their fruits. Studies that show homophobia being higher in people with the most conservative gender role attitudes lends credit to the view that cultural aversion to homosexuality is connected to sexist ideas of proper male and female behavior.
Some proponents of same-sex marriage bans say that the bans are not sex discrimination since they are not aimed at all women, though they plainly discriminate on the basis of sex (Calhoun 160). These conservatives claim that lesbians and gays could not raise children in fit homes, that these same sex-marriages would do anything but contribute to society, and that children raised in homosexual households are more likely to become homosexual (Calhoun 164). This view is being challenged by “the increasing visibility of successful gay and lesbian families as well as the publicizing of empirical studies challenging, for example, the ideas that gays and lesbians constitute the majority of child molesters and that they are more likely to produce gay and lesbian children” (Calhoun 162). During the trial to determine the constitutionality of same-sex marriages in Hawaii, all of the witnesses, both for the plaintiffs and the defense said that gay and lesbian couples are as fit and loving as opposite sex couples (Robinson). These advocates of same-sex marriage bans suggest that the main function of marriage is to have children and that the best environment to raise children is in a heterosexual marriage. While the best situation to raise children in may be in a marriage, it need not be restricted to a heterosexual marriage. Some heterosexual marriages do not produce children, and the homosexual couples that raise children are likely to raise the children to be more open-minded and less critical of other life-styles.
Another argument used against homosexuality is that it is harmful to oneself to be homosexual. Promoters of this view state that “alarming rates of sexual promiscuity, depression, suicide, and the ominous presence of AIDS within the homosexual subculture” prove that homosexuality is dangerous. This argument is faulty because being homosexual is not itself harmful. Society’s treatment of gays and lesbians leads to depression and suicide, not the actual homosexual acts. AIDS is a threat to homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, though statistically it is safer to be a lesbian than to be heterosexual because lesbians have the lowest incidence of AIDS as a group than any other (Corvino 139).
Promiscuity makes heterosexuals and homosexuals have a higher risk of getting a disease. Heterosexuals have more incentive to enter into long-term, monogamous relationships than homosexuals because gays and lesbians are currently not allowed to marry. If society was truly worried about gays and lesbians not having monogamous relationships, they could allow them to marry and there would be incentives not to divorce like heterosexuals have (Corvino 140).
The proponents of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, did not contrast the behavior of heterosexuals and homosexuals. They instead promoted that marriage, by definition, requires one man and one woman. They did not address whether or not the accepted definition was perhaps out-dated. Neither did they support reasons why one behavior was better than another or contrasts any behavioral differences, nor did they support whether anyone should be allowed to marry (Calhoun 163). It was instead argued that any efforts to redefine marriage would destroy the institution. This is nonsensical considering the redefining that has gone on in the past, leaving a more inclusive definition of marriage in its wake. The allowing of marriages between African-Americans in the nineteenth century, and the legalization of inter-racial marriages in the twentieth century each redefined marriage to make it more inclusive, and the institution became stronger as a result of this redefining. It stands to reason that a move toward a more inclusive definition of marriage may make the institution
A problem with legislation and how organizations influence it is that people confuse a church’s right to marry a couple with the government’s responsibility to issue marriage licenses. Church’s have the right to chose whether or not to recognize a marriage based upon their religious beliefs, but the government has a responsibility to issue marriage licenses to all citizens without discriminating against the participants. In the case that resulting in mixed-race marriages becoming legalized, the United States Supreme Court stated that “The freedom to marry is one of the vital personal rights protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men” (LOVING ET UX. v. VIRGINIA). Religious leaders try to say that the major religions teach that homosexuality is sinful and that the Bible condemns all forms of homosexual behavior, but liberal wings in each religion often support same-sex marriage rights and state that the Bible is silent on same-sex marriages (Robinson). Legally, the government has no right to deny homosexuals the right to marry, even if certain religions exercise their right not to acknowledge those marriages.
Opponents of same sex marriage often resort to proclaiming the acceptance of homosexual relationships will result the legalization of other acts such as incest, polygamy, and bestiality and destroy the sanctity of marriage. This slippery slope argument was used against the repealing of anti-miscegenation laws ineffectively then and it is still ineffective now. Incest has biological considerations that have helped keep it illegal to prevent children being born with defects that are normally recessive, polygamy can lead to sexism and jealousy, and bestial acts cannot be done with the consent of the animal in question and there for is not a relationship as has been discussed (Corvino 144). A problem with their argument that homosexual marriages hurt the sanctity of marriage is that they do not fight television shows that trivialize marriage such as Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire or The Bachelor. It is hypocritical for these proponents of sex-sex marriage bans to not condemn these television shows as vehemently as they homosexual marriage, especially when gay and lesbian marriages are more likely to be based off the more traditional reasons to marry such as love and commitment as opposed to the television contestants desire for money and fame.
For equality to exist for gays and lesbians, their way of life must be more than tolerated. Culture needs to give up the view that homosexuals are unfit for marriage, parenting, and family. Until that time, “one might think that sodomy is immoral or that same-sex unions are immoral, but nevertheless think the state should adopt a neutral position, refraining from criminalizing sodomy and offering legal protection for same-sex unions under domestic partnership laws” (Calhoun 168).
LOVING ET UX. v. VIRGINIA. http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/document? _m=5fc1bb0239c8912aa97d779528e9d62b& _docnum=2&wchp=dGLbVlb-zSkVb&_md5=60c85af0cd3ade6c85561f31ba41bdc7
Calhoun, Cheshire. Feminism, the Family, and the Politics of the Closet: Lesbian and Gay Displacement. Oxford University Press: New York, 2000.
Corvino, John. Why Shouldn’t Tommy and Jim Have Sex? A Defense of Homosexuality. Rowman & Littlefield: New York, 1997.
Issues and Controversies on File. Same-Sex Marriage. Facts on File News Services: New York, 1996.
Levin, Michael E. Sexual Orientation and Human rights. Rowman & Littlefield: New York, 1999.
B.A. Robinson. “CONSERVATIVE RELIGIOUS OPPOSITION TO SAME-SEX MARRIAGES”. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_marj_c.htm.
Sullivan, Andrew. Virtually Normal. Alfred A. Knopf Inc: New York, 1995.