Leaning to the Left

Writing from a liberal persuasion

Gay Marriage: Moving Towards Equality

Posted by Beau Winiger on April 30, 2009

Gay marriage is back in the headlines.  Between the recent legalization of gay marriage in Iowa, the controversy over Miss California’s statements regarding gay marriage, and legislation passed in New Hampshire to legalize gay marriage (contingent on the governor’s approval) the debate that will not die is back in the news.  This issue is one that has very little middle ground.  Either you are for it or against it, but very few people are apathetic on the subject.

As of this writing, there are four states that allow gay marriage (New Hampshire would become the fifth), and a handful of states that recognize some form of civil unions.  Proponents of same sex marriage claim that it is a matter of equal rights, while opponents use a number of arguments ranging from religious conviction to opposition to courts litigating values.  This author falls in the camp of believing that denial of gay marriage is a matter of denying equal rights to all citizens of this country.

In this author’s opinion it is not necessary to expound to greatly on the reasons for allowing gay marriage.  Denying gay citizens the same rights as straight Americans is simply a matter of rights.  If you believe that all citizens should be allowed the same rights then it is hard to see why gay marriage should not be legal.  Therefore the majority of this article will deal with opponents arguments.

The majority of opposition (though certainly not all) is based on religious conviction.  Those that use this argument believe that their religion opposes gay marriage, and for courts to legalize gay marriage is a denial of their religious rights.  Unfortunately for those in this camp this country is not a theocratic state.  Clergy members should have every right to refuse to marry same sex couples, but this does not immediately translate to denying marriage at a civil level to same sex couples.  No one should be attempting to force a clergy member to do something that violates their religious belief, but, as far as the government is concerned, only the civil marriage matters.  That is why a married couple needs to receive a marriage license in addition to the religious ceremony that they might wish to have performed.

Another main argument used by opponents is that the courts have no business litigating matters such as marriage.  They claim that the matter should be decided by the states, and any judicial decisions are usurping the rights of the citizens of that state to determine their own laws.  But one need only look at the case of interracial marriage, which was still illegal in many states until 1967, to see a powerful corollary.  In 1967 the Supreme Court, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, ruled that a ban on interracial marriage violated the constitution.  This ruling ended all bans on interracial marriage, even though many states had their own laws against it.  If opponents of gay marriage wish to remain consistent then they must also oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling.  After all, this ruling, passed down by judges that were not elected, overruled state rights to determine how they handle marriage.  Despite this I am not aware of anyone in the anti-gay marriage crowd that will publicly denounce the ruling ending interracial marriage.

One other main argument against gay marriage is that it attempts to rewrite “natural law” about what marriage is, namely between a man and a woman.  They claim that since marriage “has always been” between a man and a woman, it should remain that way.  Once again the example of interracial marriage provides a clear example of when it is okay to rewrite marriage.  In this country it was necessary to rewrite the laws on marriage to allow not only interracial marriage, but marriage between two black people as well.  If we buy into the argument that you shouldn’t rewrite marriage then there would never be any progress towards equality amongst all citizens. 

There are many other social arguments against gay marriage (harm to children, removing both a mother and father for children, harm to marriage, etc) but these arguments are not supported by anything more than a gut feeling.  Children raised by gay parents are not more likely to be gay, but only more likely to be accepting of gay people.  In other words these children are raised to be less prejudiced against other people, hardly a bad thing.  Also, gay parents are not removing children from homes that already have 2 straight parents.  In most cases they are adopting a child, a child that otherwise would not have any parents.  Even if you don’t believe that gay parents are as good as straight parents, it is hard to argue that no parents are better for children than gay parents.  Finally, the argument from harm to marriage is just ridiculous.  By legalizing gay marriage you are only working to strengthen marriage as an institution.  As the current divorce rate is testament to, it is hard enough for any couple to make marriage work for an entire lifetime.  When you compound that with the banning of gay marriage you are creating a situation where long term stable gay couples have to work twice as hard to survive.  There is also no documented rush of otherwise straight people suddenly becoming gay in states that have legalized gay marriage.  Just because it is now legal does not automatically make it “the cool thing to do”.  And anyone that was in a straight marriage and, upon gay marriage legalization, suddenly leaves their spouse to get married to a gay partner probably was not in a strong marriage to begin with.

In this author’s opinion, an opposition to gay marriage at the civil level is a clear cut example of prejudice, despite opponents claims to the contrary.  Gays in this country have been historically discriminated against, whether it be banning of gay marriage or arcane sodomy laws.  Just because all opponents may not recognize their own prejudice does not mean that such prejudice does not exist.  Gays in this country are, in almost all states, not allowed to marry because they are different from straight people.  But the tide is starting to turn, and in a few states courts or, in the case of Vermont and perhaps New Hampshire, legislators, are recognizing that denying gay couples the same rights afforded to straight couples is unconstitutional.  Hopefully one day the history books will look back upon this legalized discrimination against gay couples as just one more historical instance of prejudice, a legalized prejudice that was eventually overturned.

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One Response to “Gay Marriage: Moving Towards Equality”

  1. Sniggle said

    go america! 🙂

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