By Joe Harjung
Despite the rude remarks, hate crimes, and general disapproval made toward homosexuality, more and more gays continue to come out of the proverbial closet and into the public spotlight. Current reports show that ten percent of all Americans are exclusively or predominantly gay, amounting to approximately twenty-five million (Hartinger 237). Of those, over fifty percent of men and seventy percent of women are engaged in long-term, committed relationships (Hartinger 237). They live together, share incomes, provide each other emotional support, spend holidays together, and sometimes even raise families, much like a married couple would. But where heterosexual married couples are given the full benefits of marriage under the law, committed same-sex pairs are not. "Regardless of the fact that they have taken responsibility for their partner's well-being, both economically and emotionally, their legal status is, at best, that of a roommate" ( "Equal Marriage" 67). Roommate status is not, however, good enough. All couples should have the option of making their commitment legally and permanently binding. Legalizing same-sex marriages in the United States will have no negative effects on the institution of marriage, benefit the gay community, and promote equal rights.
Allowing members of the same sex to marry poses no threat to the institution of marriage. Although welcoming homosexuals into this establishment does bring change, it would not be the first time the definition of marriage has been altered. At one time, marriage was defined as a union only between two people of the same race and religion, and wives were the properties of their husbands ("Equal Marriage" 67). Since then, the traditional elements of marriage have changed to reflect American constitutional values and every citizen's right to equality ("Equal Marriage" 67). Permitting same gender partners to formalize their commitment is simply an amendment to the public contract of marriage, not a complete overhaul or undermining of the institution. Some members of society, however, argue that it lessens the values of marriage for heterosexual couples. It is hard to see how this is logically possible.
In one informal report, the frailty of this argument is made apparent by asking questions like "Are my wife and I any less secure in our own marriage because the couple down the road happen to be gay?" (Coyne and Frum 4). Although it would be a disgrace to the institution of marriage to make that tradition less highly regarded by the majority of the population, it seems highly doubtful that married couples will nullify their marriage licenses if gays are also granted the privilege of matrimony. "Moreover, giving these people an equal right to affirm their commitment doesn't reduce the incentive for heterosexuals to do the same" (Sullivan 54). In Denmark, members of the same gender are allowed to marry in the same way that members of opposite genders do. Bishop Vincent Lind reports that the consequences of the legislation have been positive (qtd in Ingrassia).
Currently in the United States, the closest alternative homosexuals have to marriage is domestic partnership. Domestic partnership allows both same-sex couples and people merely living together to receive some of the benefits of marriage. To qualify, a pair needs only to prove that they share financial dependence and live together. "Left as it is, the concept of domestic partnership could open a Pandora's box of litigation and subjective judicial decision making about who qualifies" (Sullivan 55). Although domestic partnership does not confer the full set of benefits that marriage does, some couples may see it as an easier alternative. Providing a second class version of marriage weakens the original institution by demoting its place in society. "...the concept of domestic partnership chips away at the prestige of traditional relationships and undermines the priority we give them. Society, afterall, has good reason to extend legal advantages to heterosexuals who choose the formal sanction of marriage over simply living together" (Sullivan 55). Allowing same-sex couples to marry in the same fashion as heterosexual couples will eliminate the overall need for the use of domestic partnership or other inferior alternatives, and promote the idea that marriage is still the ultimate goal for couples seeking to make long term commitments. In short, "committed lesbian and gay relationships are a reality. Allowing our relationships to share in civil marriage would not threaten or detract from non-gay marriages" (DOMA).
Introducing the existing structure of marriage into the gay community offers numerous benefits to the members of that community. As one author comments, "Marriage provides an anchor...in the maelstrom of sex and relationships to which we are all prone. It provides a mechanism for emotional stability and economic security" (Sullivan 56). As homosexuality becomes more widely accepted and tolerated, more and more gays do publicly commit to one another for life. "A law institutionalizing gay marriage would merely reinforce a healthy trend..." (Sullivan 56). In a society that so highly regards monogamy and the nuclear family unit, "...the most acceptable expression of same-sex sexuality should be within the context of a government sanctioned...marriage" (Hartinger 241).
While domestic partnership is available to gay couples in replacement of marriage, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund reports that, "...no domestic partnership plan can confer the same set of benefits and responsibilities that marriage does. Domestic partnership is of limited help to some unmarried couples, but is no substitute for the equal right to marry" ("Equal Marriage" 67). Some of the rights provided by legal marriage but not by domestic partnership include: joint tax returns and family rates and discounts, joint parenting, adoption, foster care, custody, and visitation, joint insurance policies, automatic inheritance in the absence of a will, ease of divorce settlements, authorization of one partner to make medical decisions on the behalf of the other, authorization of one partner to choose the final resting place of the other, visitation rights during hospital stays, and the ability to obtain domestic violence protection orders ("Legal/Economic Protections"). Having these rights and others provided by legal marriage would greatly benefit all committed couples within the gay community. Homosexuals also have wishes and desires to raise children, and have been proven to make quite excellent parents. As April Martin points out,
The children of lesbians and gay men are the most considered and planned for children on earth. There is virtually no such thing as an unwanted child among us. We go to support groups and workshops on considering parenthood. We talk to our friends and lover and family. We talk to our therapist. We read books. Many years go into the planning process. We do an impressively careful job of weighing our needs, our resources, and our expectations... (69) Also, of thirty-five recently conducted studies on homosexual parents, none have shown that a parent's sexual orientation has any unfavorable effect on that parent's children, or that the children of gays are any more likely to become gay themselves (Hartinger 238). Studies have also shown that having two homosexual parents is preferable to a single parent home, or a home in which there are no effective parents (Sullivan 55). Adding the stability of marriage to this already solid family structure could only increase the ability of the gay community to efficiently bring up healthy, well-adjusted children. Gay children would benefit from the legalization of same-sex marriages as well. As many of today's gay youth discover their homosexuality and come out to their friends and families, they need to be able to look around their lives and find positive role models to reinforce the family values and morals that are often lost when a child feels alone and insecure (Sullivan 56).
If same-sex marriages become legal, these children will be able to look to people they know and trust -- such as neighbors and teachers -- for support, instead of idolizing unrealistic television characters and other such intangible people. Gay children would finally have some kind of future; they would have a "...language in which their identity could be properly discussed..." in terms of traditional potential relationships and a goal of constructive happiness, instead of in terms of sex, sexual practices, bars, and other subterranean activities (Sullivan 56). Some psychologists estimate that gays make up approximately thirty percent of all teen suicides, and one study in Seattle found that forty percent of that city's homeless children were lesbian or gay youth that had been expelled from intolerant homes (Hartinger 239). Hartinger reports that legalizing same-sex marriages would cut down on the number of parents who disown their children or cast them out of their homes for being gay into lives of crime, prostitution, or suicide (239). Anything that can be done to reduce the amount of teens living on the streets or taking their lives benefits everyone, including the gay community.
Granting homosexuals the same privilege of marriage that heterosexuals enjoy furthers the interest of promoting equal rights under a fair and just legal system. While it would be unfair to grant homosexuals conjugal rights that heterosexuals do not have, this is not what is being proposed. "What we are asking for is our equal right to marry the one we love and care for, just as non-gay Americans do" ("Equal Marriage" 67). This legislation would not reward anyone with special rights, but further ensure the equality of all Americans. Some current laws go so far to deny this equality that they bear striking similarities to older, now abolished laws concerning interracial marriages. For instance, the state of South Dakota passed a bill saying, "Be it enacted by the legislature of the State of South Dakota :? Any marriage between persons of the same gender is null and void from the beginning", which closely parallels Virginia's miscegenation bill reading "All marriages between a white person and a colored person shall be absolutely void without any decree of divorce or other legal process" ("Historical Parallels"). Later, in the court case of Loving vs. Virginia, the courts ruled that "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men... To deny this fundamental freedom...is surely to deprive all the state's citizens of liberty without due process of law" (Issues on File 49). If the courts found denying the freedom to marry unjust then, then by all means it should be considered withholding of equal rights now on the grounds of both cases share a common bond: the search for the freedom to marry whichever partner one chooses. Indeed, depriving homosexuals of this most basic right questions whether they are even fully recognized as citizens (Solomon 81).
As with the military, [banning homosexual marriages] is a question of formal public discrimination, since only the state can grant and recognize marriage. If the military ban deals with the heart of what it means to be a citizen, marriage does even more so, since, in peace and war, it affects everyone. Marriage is not simply a private contract; it is a social and public recognition of personal integrity. Denying it to homosexuals is the most public affront possible to their public equality... (Sullivan 53) Homosexuals in America are, however, citizens of the United States and deserve to enjoy the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as every other citizen. Even with the knowledge that denying homosexuals the ability to marry does not promote equal rights, some people believe that this is acceptable discrimination. Many people find reasons to deny homosexuals marital rights in their religion, providing numerous quotes and examples from the Bible. While this may be a valid reason for the personal moral condemnation of homosexuality to many people, it cannot serve as any motive to deny them equal rights in the legal sense. "Just as the state should not interfere with religious ceremonies one way or the other, so religious groups should not determine who gets a civil marriage license" ("Equal Marriage" 67). So setting aside the religious view via separation of church and state, some turn to the definition of marriage itself. The government's response in this issue has been to legally define the term marriage such that "...the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife" (Defense of Marriage Act 2). This act goes on to further declare that same-sex marriages granted at the state level do not fall under the Full Faith and Credit clause (Defense of Marriage Act 1), which normally requires that the "...official acts and proceedings of each state be recognized by [its] sister states" (DOMA). This manipulation of the definition and terms of marriage clearly discriminates against homosexuals by excluding them from one of the most important institutions in the United States and surely does not promote the fair handed distribution of equal rights under a just legal system. "...it is not right for the government to prevent gay people from sharing the rights and responsibilities of marriage. What should matter is not the gender or race of those marrying, but their commitment" ("Equal Marriage" 67). Another foundation for the moral condemnation of homosexuality is the belief that sexual activity and marriage are -- and should be -- linked with child rearing. Because homosexuals are unable to create children themselves, all homosexual behavior is deemed immoral. But since moral sanction is not withheld from infertile couples or those who avoid having children as a result of sex, this standard is clearly being inconsistently and unfairly applied (Hartinger 240). "The heterosexuality of marriage is intrinsic only if it is understood to be intrinsically procreative; but that definition has long been abandoned in Western society. No civil marriage license is granted on the condition that the couple bear children" (Sullivan 53). With the popular arguments carefully analyzed, it becomes apparent that there is no real substantial reason to deny homosexuals the full legal benefits of civil marriage under the law.
On the contrary, granting same-sex partners the privilege of marriage in no way harms the institution of marriage, benefits all aspects of the gay community, and promotes equal rights. The move to legalize same-sex marriages is not for the purpose of forcing anyone to be accepting of anything he or she does not feel is morally right. It is simply a request for tolerance in such a way that does not harm and is very considerate of the established institutions, while at the same time benefiting a long misunderstood minority. "This politics makes for a clear, public statement of equality while leaving all the inequalities of emotion and passion to the private sphere, where they belong. It does not legislate private tolerance; it declares public equality" (Sullivan 57).
Joe is a tenth grade student in Wisconsin.