We are living in one of the most interesting times during America’s history since several long-held traditions are being challenged now including gun control. But what makes this era special is that we may finally be witnessing the next civil rights movement which is same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage has emerged as a controversial issue because not only it challenges the traditional norms of American society such as marriage being a union between a man and a woman but it also goes against the beliefs held by almost all religious groups including Christianity and Islam who view it as a moral sin. If America’s history is any indication, same-sex marriage is the next civil rights movement because equal rights cannot be guaranteed to all Americans without legalizing same-sex marriage.
The movement for same-sex marriage and the movement for equal rights for African Americans have several parallels one of which is the opposition at the state level. Before African Americans finally achieved their goals in the 1960s, they faced opposition in their struggle not only at federal level but also state level. At least seventeen states had laws before 1960s that required children of White and African Americans to attend separate schools. Similarly, the state of Alabama even made it illegal to serve both White Americans and African Americans in the same hall in a restaurant unless steps have been taken to segregate the two groups (American Social History Productions, Inc., 2011). Unfortunately, we are witnessing the same trends across some states against same-sex marriage. For example, Florida has passed the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment which defines marriage as only the union between a man and a woman and refuses to recognize any other union as marriage (Florida Department of State). African Americans rallied against segregation because they refused to agree that ‘equal but separate’ can ensure equal rights. Similarly, the supporters of same-sex marriage also argue that the alternatives offered by opponents such as civil unions also follow the spirit of ‘equal but separate’ argument and cannot guarantee equal rights to same-sex couples.
Only legal recognition of same-sex marriage will ensure equal rights for all Americans including equal access to social and economic benefits. When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Charles Cooper, the lawyer who was arguing against gay marriage, “Outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a state using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits? Or imposing burdens on them? Is there any other decision-making that the government could make — denying them a job, not granting them benefits of some sort, any other decision?” (The Huffington Post, 2013), she was mindful of the fact that same-sex couples do not enjoy the same rights that heterosexual married couples do. Not surprisingly, Cooper could not provide any example. U.S. constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their origins and background and it is apparent that denying the same-sex couples a right to marry violates their constitutional rights.
The opponents of same-sex marriage often argue that legalizing same-sex marriage will destroy the fabric of the society because marriage between a man and a woman serves several important purposes including that of procreation. But this argument fails the test of logic when scrutinized closely. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer observed, many heterosexual couples who get married can’t have children. Another U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wondered whether than government could prevent a couple over the age of 55 from marrying because they won’t be able to have children (Liptak, 2013). This again proves that most of the opposition to same-sex marriage has been based on the desire to protect an old tradition rather than the fact that it will help protect the real interests of the society. Unless the government or the constitution grants all heterosexual couples the right to marry only if they can procreate, denying homosexual couples the right to marry will be nothing short of constitutional discrimination against them.
In America, there is a constitutional separation between the church and the state. Thus, constitutional laws should not concern themselves with moral values which continue to evolve over time and often stem from religious beliefs. Instead, the constitution should focus upon what is right and what is wrong and how all citizens can be guaranteed equal access to rights and benefits. If we start letting religious morality influence constitutional laws, it will mean curbing several rights citizens of the free world including Americans have come to expect as granted including the right to engage in sexual relationship outside marriage. In fact, Bible even allows slavery yet it is a stigma in the modern world. We should also not forget that inter racial marriages were also outlawed only few decades ago and in the near future, some will wonder why U.S. constitution denied equal rights to same-sex couples for so long. These sentiments are shared by Mr. Howard L. Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida as well, “One day, we will look back on the idea that government could have the power to dictate whom adults can marry with as much bewilderment and embarrassment as we now, shamefully, wonder how we allowed government the power to ban interracial marriage” (Simon , Pg. 6).
The opponents of same-sex couple also argue that a child needs both a father and a mother, thus, only heterosexual marriages should be allowed. Thus argument, like many other arguments, is both self-contradictory and proven wrong by scientific studies. First of all, many of these opponents suggest civil unions which will not prohibit homosexual couples from raising children in any manner. The critics of same-sex couple also ignore the reality that a significant proportion of heterosexual couples end up being divorced, thus, these marriages do little to ensure that children have a healthy upbringing and receive the love of both a father and a mother. Even research studies prove that these concerns regarding the well being of children are exaggerated. Mustanski found that a growing body of scientific literature demonstrates children who grow up with 1 or 2 gay and/ or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as those whose parents are heterosexual (Mustanski, 2008). It is reasonable to assume that children being raised by homosexual couples who are in committed relationship may receive more love and care than children from heterosexual couples who might have been separated.
The opponents of same-sex marriage also express other concerns that legalizing same-sex marriage will only increase homosexuality and contribute towards moral decline of the society. This is another example of basing opinions on stereotypes and ignorance and not taking the effort to educate self. Science has proven that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice as opponents often allege but biological (Wagner, 2012) which means homosexual people are born the way they are, rather than choosing to adopt the homosexual lifestyle. Theodore B. Olson also reiterates the fact in an article in Newsweek, “Science has taught us, even if history has not, that gays and lesbians do not choose to be homosexual any more than the rest of us choose to be heterosexual. To a very large extent, these characteristics are immutable, like being left-handed. And, while our Constitution guarantees the freedom to exercise our individual religious convictions, it equally prohibits us from forcing our beliefs on others” (Olson , Pg. 48). Just as one should not discriminate against those with an inherited disability, the society has no right to discriminate against a particular group of people who have little choice in how they are born. Thus, same-sex marriage will not lead to a rise in homosexual activity.
Laws are often meant to maximize the overall interests of the society. This is why smoking is sometimes banned in legal places, drunk under driving is prohibited almost everywhere, many states have laws against talking on cellphone or texting while driving, and alcohol consumption is usually prohibited in public places. But one fails to understand how preventing same-sex marriages advance the overall interests of the society because same-sex couples enjoy their intimate relationship just as heterosexual couples do and often within the privacy of their homes. Giving them the right to enjoy same economic and social benefits as heterosexual married couples such as preferential tax treatment, discounts on financial services and insurance policies, and the ability to inherit the assets of deceased partner may, in fact, advance the overall interests of the society rather than the other way.
The opposition to same-sex marriage is also sometimes due to the stereotypes that are promoted by the media without carefully considering the potential consequences. TV shows such as Will and Grace misrepresent reality and most homosexual individuals are like any other citizen who follows laws and works hard to provide for his/her family. Homosexuality is natural and not a psychological illness as sometimes portrayed by conservative media. Education helps people get rid of stereotypes and prejudices and media should play its role in eliminating the stigma associated with homosexuality. Every person desires a loving family, irrespective of his/her sexual orientation and constitution should not prevent anyone from marrying the love of his/her life.
Same-sex marriage should be legalized because it will end the systematic discrimination against homosexual couples. It will also enable homosexual couples to enjoy all the rights and benefits available to heterosexual couples as U.S. citizens and/or members of the society. Opposition to same-sex marriage is often rooted in religious beliefs or loyalty to traditional and does little to advance the overall interests of the society. Only legally allowing same-sex couples to marry will help advance the overall interests of the society.
American Social History Productions, Inc. (2011). Examples of U.S. Laws Requiring Racial Segregation. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1890
Florida Department of State. (n.d.). Florida Marriage Protection Amendment. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://election.dos.state.fl.us/initiatives/initdetail.asp?account=41550&seqnum=1
Liptak, A. (2013, March 26). Justices Say Time May Be Wrong for Gay Marriage Case. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/us/supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-case.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Mustanski, B. (2008, November 28). Why Not Allow Gay Marriage? Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-sexual-continuum/200811/why-not-allow-gay-marriage
Olson, T. B. (2010, January 18). The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage. Newsweek, pp. 48-54.
Simon, H. L. (2008, Nov – Dec). Amendment 2: A Futile Effort to Delay the Inevitable. Outlook Weekly.
The Huffington Post. (2013, March 28). Sonia Sotomayor Question On Gay Marriage Leaves Lawyer Stumped. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/sonia-sotomayor-gay-marriage_n_2965105.html
Wagner, D. (2012, December 11). Science: Homosexuality Isn’t Genetic, but It Is Biological. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2012/12/science-homosexuality-isnt-genetic-it-biological/59882/