As a straight man, marriage seems like a likely future path for me. I know that one day I will find a woman with whom I care deeply about and who hopefully reciprocates these feelings of love. I never thought about this life choice being denied to me. It just seemed self-evident. When two people love each other and want to spend the rest of their life together, they are bonded in marriage if they so choose. That assumption changed after meeting my cousin Maclin when I was fourteen at my family’s Christmas dinner. Maclin is gay. He is twenty-eight and has lived in NYC for the last ten years working and studying as a dancer. Before meeting him, I never really thought about the illegality of gay marriage in much of America. It didn’t affect me directly so did not think of how unjust this barring is. To me it just seemed like common sense; marriage should be between two consenting, loving adults, irrespective of sex or gender.
The issue came up at dinner-time when another cousin of mine announced that she and her boyfriend had just decided to get married. The whole family burst with excitement and congratulations for my cousin. After everyone had settled down, I caught a glimpse of Maclin as we all joined the dinner table. While he seemed excited for his cousin, he also displayed a quick expression of sadness. I immediately realized what he must have been going through. Here was a man who could love someone and still not be able to take that final promise of dedication because of a government that, in the eyes of the law, treated these citizens as second-class. The sense of injustice he must have felt after watching his family members exercise a right denied to him was frustrating for me and it must have been a difficult trial in his life. Fortunately for him, New York has recently passed legislation that allows for citizens of the same-sex to marry. While my cousin is now able to exercise this fundamental right, millions of gay people in states around the country are still restricted from a right granted to straight citizens because of the way they were born. In order to bring change to this injustice it is important to recognize why this problem persists and what is the best possible course of action for providing this essential right.
First we need to look at the facts of this disheartening situation. Only nine states and Washington D.C. allow for the marriage of two partners of the same sex (NCSL). Because of this ban in the remaining states, gay couples are not able to enjoy the same benefits of a heterosexual married couple. These benefits include tax breaks, social security breaks, hospital visitation benefits, death benefits, and the ability to jointly adopt children (Hertz). Because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage, same-sex couples are denied important Social Security tax breaks. For example, if one of the working partners dies then the other partner in the same-sex couple is not eligible for Social Security payments for support, something automatically provide for heterosexual couples (Human Rights Campaign).
By denying these benefits, the government treats same-sex couples who want to marry as second-class citizens. Chuck Bennett, an elderly gay man living in Maine (a state that just recently passed a referendum legalizing gay marriage), does not care if no one actually marries, it just matters that they can get married. By fulfilling this liberty of marriage rights, finally gay people will have their dignity recognized (Bruni).
There are a few reasons for this prejudice and discrimination. One is the strong sense of tradition many Americans hold to be very important (Robinson). Humans have a natural tendency to oppose change. We dislike divergence from what we deem comfortable. For thousands of years, marriage has generally been between a man and a woman. It is frightening for many heterosexual people to have this consistent pattern change. Also, many Americans are strongly Christian. They take numerous teachings of the Bible as precedents for moral and legal code (Robinson). In the Old Testament there are passages that prohibit the cohabitation of those of the same sex. For example, Leviticus 18:22 states “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination.” Some Christians also use the account of Adam and Eve as part of God’s will to keep relationships between a man and a woman. Finally, those who are in support of only heterosexual marriages state that if gay people are allowed to marry it will lead to the passage of legislation that allows for bestiality or marriage of inanimate objects. They express, that by establishing legal precedents, gay marriage will initiate a path down a “slippery slope” (Robinson).
The proliferation of these ideas has produced a culture of hatred, or at the least repugnance, toward those men and women born attracted to men and women of the same sex. In order to soothe this hatred and enlighten this ignorance, we must turn to the clarifying understanding of logical arguments and knowledge for as Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot be driven out by darkness; only light can do that.” To battle the darkness of discrimination, we must use the light of justice and truth.
This light can be best described by the refuting of the three arguments used against gay marriage advocates. Firstly, the argument of tradition can be proved fallacious when one applies the argument to other cases of injustice throughout history. For example, slavery has been practiced for centuries by a multitude of civilizations. It is clear to us now, that slavery is an immoral practice that should not be allowed regardless of a history of tradition. Than why must the discrimination of homosexuals also fall under this false pretense? The length of a practiced act does not detract any immorality inherently imbedded in that act (Robinson). To refute the second argument of religious beliefs, one must only point to the Constitution. The law is not dependent on the teachings of the Bible. The Bible passages should hold no legal precedence over government legislation, and while the Bible does influence much of the country’s moral code, it cannot be used as a basis for the denial civil liberties (Robinson).
Another claim against gay marriage is that it creates an unstable family structure that is detrimental to the growth of children as it is not a traditional household of husband and wife. Critics say that having both a mom and a dad is the best possible situation for a family. However this ignores the fact that studies have shown children of same-sex couples to score just as high if not higher in tests of self-esteem, behavior and academic performance (Zorn). Also is this an efficient criterion for not allowing people to marry? Not all marriages are perfect and many result in divorce, and it often is traumatic to children. Yet we do not take away the right to marry from simply because there is a possibility for detriment to children’s well-being.
It is also important to negate the argument of the slippery-slope. Critics of gay marriage stress the notion that if we allow same-sex couples to marry, why will it stop there? Why won’t we be able to allow people to marry cars or their pets? First off, regardless of the logic of this argument, the mere fact that opponents of gay marriage are drawing parallels with bestiality is very offensive. Furthermore, the argument can easily be refuted by demonstrating that gay marriage is not just the marriage between two parties. Rather it is the joining of two consenting citizens who have reached adulthood and are human. Once these distinctions are made, it is pretty apparent that it will not follow that liberation will lead to a loss of all logical, legal sense. After this light has been shed, it is possible to accomplish the ultimate goal of restoration of the dignity of millions of American citizens around the country.
Finally, another interesting argument against same-sex marriage comes from within the LGBT community itself. Alternatives to Marriage Project has often criticized the gay marriage movement for its narrowness of scope. The push for gay marriage equality has become the main focus of the LGBT movement and according to them it has blinded people from realizing that solving gay marriage will not end all discrimination towards gay people. This is a valid point and it is important to focus on all aspects of discrimination in the country. However, this fact does not detract from the importance of legislating same-sex marriage. Citizens around the country are systematically denied a right by the government and if the people of the country have the ability to provide this to people who want it, then we as a country have the responsibility to provide this right.
Through the review of the causes, effects, testimonials of same-sex marriage couples, and debates on this contentious and important struggle for justice, I have come to the conclusion that, while it might be difficult, the only way to cure the anti-gay discrimination is to demonstrate clearly the argument for equal marriage rights.
The fact of the matter is this movement is growing and ultimately it seems same-sex marriage is going to become a federally granted right. According to the Pew Research Center, 48% of Americans approve of same-sex marriage while 43% oppose. This is a radical change from 1996 when 63% opposed gay marriage and only 27% approved. This trend shows that change is truly coming to America; it just needs the continued awareness to this problem to motivate justice.
Maclin’s brief display of gloom opened me up to a world rife with injustice. At first it saddened me; I longed to go back to the safe and sheltered innocence of my youth. But now I have come to realize, that while that awareness at first was incapacitating, it was a light that overthrew the crippling blindness that is ignorance and allowed me to impact the world in a positive way through this article. This light is what needs to be passed on to the rest of the country so that those men and women who are kept from the dignity of being treated as equals can be free from the shackles of discrimination. The time is now for this upholding of justice for as the great Reverend King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
“An Overview of Federal Rights and Protections Granted to Married Couples.” Human Rights Campaign. HRC, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2013
Bruni, Frank. “OP-ED COLUMNIST; At Long Last, Dignity?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.
“Defining Marriage: Defense of Marriage Acts and Same-Sex Marriage Laws.”NCSL. N.p., 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2012
Hertz, Fredirik. “Marriage Rights and Benefits.” Lawyers, Legal Forms, Law Books & Software, Free Legal Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2012.
Holtzclaw, Eric. “Benefits for Same-Sex Couples? Not Complicated (to Implement).” Inc.com. N.p.,2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2012
Robinson, B.A. “Reasons Why Same-sex Marriage Are a Bad Idea.” Reasons Why Same-sex Marriage Are a Bad Idea. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2003. Web. 23 Sept. 2012
Sullivan, Andrew. “What Is a Homosexual?” Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. N. pag. Print
Zorn, Eric. “Change of Subject: The Top Six Arguments against Gay Marriage (and Why They All Fail).” Change of Subject. Chicago Tribune, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.