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Legal Marriage for Gay Men and Women, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Introduction

Within a period of no more than two decades, the right of gay men and women to legally marry has both emerged and become an ongoing source of heated debate in every societal arena.

Six states in the U.S. currently permit same-sex marriage, and this in itself is an astounding achievement, given the relative novelty of the issue.  Nonetheless, a tide of continued legislation along these lines is not forthcoming; opponents to gay marriage tend to be as vociferous as supporters, and the nature of the issue typically brings into play the most intensely felt convictions, religious and otherwise, of both factions.

As will be noted, the subject is considered to be something of a barometer of a variety of belief systems, and is consequently employed as such in major political campaigns.  Conservative candidates denounce gay marriage as a violation of  both American and Christian principles, a blending of seemingly separate value systems.  Conversely, supporters assert the need to view the issue, not as one of personal belief systems, but as pertaining to civil rights.  Ultimately, this factor profoundly goes to the legislating of gay marriage.  Marriage is a legal institution that conveys innumerable benefits, and the only legislative barriers surrounding it in regard to gender are those that have been constructed to oppose gay marriage itself.   Gay marriage is not an issue centered on religious and/or ethical concerns, but on civil liberties alone, and this is why it must be legislated on a federal level.

Background

It may well be that the most pivotal decision by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding gay marriage had nothing at all to do with same-sex issues.   In 1967, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, the U.S.S.C. ruled that bans on interracial marriages were unconstitutional.  What is most interesting here is the language employed, for the Court stated that the “freedom to marry belongs to all Americans,” and that marriage represents a “vital personal right” (Rankins, Pope, Navarro, Kashubeck-West, & Singaravelu  25-26).  It seems apparent that, given the date, the U.S.S.C. acted with no awareness that these statements would certainly pertain to same-sex marriage cases in years to come.  Nonetheless, what is important is that this was the expressed ruling from the highest court in the land.

In the actual history of gay marriage in the U.S., the record is marked by extremes in popular and legislative action, and by strategies within the gay community to take advantage of the absence of restrictive laws, only to then generate opposition that refutes the permission.  For instance, six same-sex couples received marriage licenses in Boulder, Colorado in 1975, chiefly because no existing statute prohibited the granting of them.  From there, the court scenarios unvaryingly reflect extraordinary reversals, and in a variety of states.  In Alaska, as occurred earlier in Hawaii, a gay couple’s petition to legally marry in 1994 was granted, only to serve as cause for a later reinterpretation by the the state’s Supreme Court, which overturned the permission.   What has usually occurred is that conservative factions, on learning of the developments, organize to demand amendment legislation, to add restrictions in the laws previously not present.   Most sensationally, this mode of approach created the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 piece of legislation that allows individual states the right to refuse to recognize gay marriages legal in other states, and which, for the first time, defines in American law marriage as a union between a man and a woman (Rankins, et al  15-16).

Notwithstanding DOMA, and largely fueled through opposition to it, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia offer legal marriage to gay couples as of July, 2011.  What is most interesting in this assortment is that state which remains in a middle range of the legalization issue: California.  That is to say, since Proposition 8 reversed the state’s position on allowing gay marriages, the current California policy both denies the granting of same-sex marriage license and validates those obtained before the 2008 Proposition went into effect (NCSL).  This striking development, wherein a single state concurrently executes contrasting legal policies, underscores the confusion, and ultimate inappropriateness, of legal response. Moreover, each state’s permitting of gay marriage is inevitably and potently hampered by the federal edict of DOMA actually denying the essential  legality of such.

Viewpoints

As noted, those opposed to gay marriage tend to believe that homosexual unions should not be endorsed by the government, which is how legalizing marriage is perceived by them.  Legal gay marriage, it is felt, serves to promote an orientation many find questionable, at best.  Opponents to legalizing gay marriage typically rely, not on data and research as indicating the validity of their position, but on more ephemeral concepts.  Gay people, in American society and elsewhere, are traditionally viewed in an individual context, and removed from family structures.  This pervasive view serves to promote itself, as the idea that homosexuality is inherently an individual lifestyle is perpetuated by it.   Then, and most commonly, opponents aver that legalizing gay marriage weakens the fundamental nature of the institution itself (Newman, Grauerholz  14).   Linked to this stance is the argument that, as the producing and care of children is the basis for many of the laws protecting and enhancing the institution of marriage, gay men and women are not entitled to benefit from them (Andryszewski  47).

The greater reality, however, is that gay marriage is perpetually controversial because gay marriage is continually removed from the sphere in which it belongs, which is constitutional.   Understandably, people of any deeply rooted belief system have difficulty in separating these beliefs from the more pragmatic considerations of what is legally correct.  Consequently, those who view homosexuality as an aberration because of their spiritual and/or moral foundations are prone to confuse this with basic human rights, and therein lie the many obstacles, and legal reversals and counter-maneuvers, concerning gay marriage.   The inescapable fact, no matter how distasteful it may be to conservative feelings, is that the only gender restrictions written into marriage laws have been the result of gay people taking advantage of the constitutional right already in place for them.   This enormously important factor should of itself warrant deep suspicion regarding efforts to block gay marriage in the courts, for it is highly unlikely that the nation’s basic tenets of civil liberties had for so long overlooked a critical exception of themselves.  That is to say, the legal prohibition of gay marriage is clearly a bias introduced after the fact, and is inherently flawed by this timing.

It is probable that, were the issue of gay marriage not so convenient an implement in the political arena, nor associated with spiritual and moral systems not relevant to it, there would be far less resistance to it.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, signed a pledge created by the National Organization for Marriage in which he agrees to defend marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman, and nothing else (Montopoli).  Such strategies overlook the essential fact that marriage rights for all are, again, basic law.  The U.S. Constitution sanctions marriage as an opportunity for every citizen.  Moreover, and with particular regard to the subject, the very essence of all American legislation is reliant on the separation of church and state, which blatantly goes to the influence of extremist Christian views in opposing marriage.  Most importantly, legalizing gay marriage no more endorses homosexuality than legal marriage itself supports spousal abuse, the unwillingness to have children, divorce, or any other less than desirable manifestation of marriage.   It is a right, and what is done within its parameters is another matter entirely, as most married couples would eagerly agree.

If the objection were raised that legalizing gay marriage may encourage homosexuality, the response must be that, the somewhat outrageous concept that a legal act generates sexual orientation aside, the point is irrelevant.  It would be equally specious to claim, for instance, that existing legal marriage encourages fidelity or infidelity.  Again, what occurs within the confines of the legal parameters is removed from all other considerations.  With regard to potential objections over the ability of gay couples to properly rear children, there is little need to turn to documentation of success rates in this arena to refute the charge.  Only if traditional marriage is legally bound to raise children in wholesome and nurturing ways may such a concern be entertained, and clearly, aside from services in place when abuse is present, this is not the case.  Once again, the objection relies on speculation as to character and intent, when these are not concerns heterosexual couples face when seeking to marry.

Conclusion

Despite its relative newness as a national issue, gay marriage continues to capture the media spotlight, fuel emotional exchanges, tie up the courts, and serve as a political campaign instrument.  What emerges from even a cursory examination of the issue, however, is how inappropriately the matter is addressed, and on virtually all levels.  Legalizing gay marriage is not about validating a lifestyle, enabling choices perceived as aberrant to flourish, or even elevating a minority to a higher ground legally.  It is about a nation observing and maintaining the laws and creeds upon which it is founded, and prides itself.  Gay marriage is not an issue centered on religious and/or ethical concerns, but on civil liberties alone, and this is why it must be legislated on a federal level.

Works Cited

Andryszewski, T.   Same-Sex Marriage: Moral Wrong or Civil Right?  Minneapolis, MN: Tenty-First Century Books, 2008.  Print.

Montopoli, B.  “Mitt Romney Pledges Opposition to Gay Marriage.”CBS News.  August 4, 2011 Web. Retrieved November 26, 2011, from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20088274-503544.html

National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).  Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships.  July, 2011.  Web.  Retrieved November, 26, 2011, from http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=16430

Newman, D. M., &  Grauerholz, E.  Sociology of Families.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 2002.  Print.

Rankins, M. S., Pope, M. L., Navarro, V., Kashubeck-West, S., & Singaravelu, H.  Same-Sex Marriage: Voices of Married Male Couples in the United States. 2008.  Retrieved November 25, 2011, from ProQuest Digital Database, UMI Number 3310739.

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