Marriage: the premiere social institution which exists as the basic structure of western culture and family definition. Marriage remains today, as it has for thousands of years, the pinnacle of human relationships; the ultimate testament of love between two people. The institution of marriage however has not been stagnant; it is a dynamic, evolving structure which has changed throughout the eons to adapt to societal values. The debate over what defines a marriage is raging again today; about whether or not the benefits of marriage should be extended to same-sex couples. Given the spirit of equality that this country was founded on, the ideals to which we all aspire to; it is only right and proper that marriage should once again evolve to include same-sex couples. The moralistic “Defense of Marriage” counter-movement is not only morally-indefensible; it will ultimately fall to challenges in our justice system.
The history of marriage dates back to writings in the Old Testament and ancient Egypt, the oldest known writings which indicate of a sworn partnership between two people. For the first few thousand years, marriage represented virtual imprisonment for women in patriarchal societies. During these times, marriage was not so much a partnership as it was man’s dominion over women. Marriage represented a man “owning” his wife, as if she were property which existed solely for his benefit. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that this antiquated system began to change. Thanks to the Women’s Suffrage movement, marriage became less like a dictatorial system and more of a partnership.
At one point in the first half of the twentieth century, 40 states had laws on the books which prohibited the marriage of a person of Caucasian descent to “a person of color.” Interracial marriages were deemed to be “immoral and unnatural.” The origins of the Civil Rights Movement began with the 1948 California State Supreme Court ruling which declared the ban on interracial marriages to be unconstitutional. This was the first victory in the movement which climaxed with the 1967 US Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia:
So given the context of this historical evolution, is it not reasonable to extend the benefits of marriage once again to same-sex couples? The spirit of the 1967 ruling may well prove to be the legal basis for overturning prohibitions of same-sex marriages. Marriage existing as “one of the basic civil rights of man” should be extended to all persons, regardless of their chosen legal partner. The basic tenant of the ruling is that marriages cannot be prohibited on the basis of traits which are beyond a person’s control, such as race or sexual orientation. There are some religious groups which believe that sexual orientation is a choice, however this has been firmly refuted by the American Psychological Association (APA):
So to evaluate the merits of the “Defense of Marriage” arguments, we must first take a look at how “traditional” marriage is faring. Quite poorly is the simple answer. In the last 50 years, the percentage of married-couple households has plummeted from just under 80% to around 50%. At the same time, the number of households headed by unmarried heterosexual couples has skyrocketed, as illustrated by the following charts. In the twenty-five year period from 1977 – 2002, the number of opposite-sex unmarried couples jumped from 1 million all the way to 5 million. While divorce numbers seem to be leveling off, it is the rate of straight couples with children who cohabitate without ever marrying that is alarming.
To evaluate why “traditional” marriage is losing the position it once had, several factors need to be considered. First, marriage in yesteryear was often one of the only ways to ensure financial stability for women and children. However with ever-increasing opportunities for women as well as readily-available education options, women are not forced into marriage solely for financial stability. Second, technology has enabled information to be much more readily available, resulting in younger generations that are much better informed about marriage and what it entails before taking their vows. With better access to education and financial opportunities, many modern committed couples are electing to live together in domestic partnerships without entering into a marriage which many today view as “confining”.
So given the facts about traditional marriage, why the crusade to save it? In its current form, is marriage worth saving? Or will the institution of marriage be validated further by extending it to all loving partnerships, regardless of sexual orientation? What exactly is the “Defense of Marriage” campaign trying to defend marriage from? All of these logical questions seemingly go unanswered by this counter-movement.
Many of the arguments which fuel this discrimination are morally subjective and not universally accepted. However, there are many of their arguments which can be refuted logically without straying into the murky realm of religion and morality, which is ambiguous at best. The following paragraphs are an attempt to put to bed some of the myths surrounding same sex-couples.
“Homosexual partnerships don’t provide a good atmosphere for raising children.” This blatantly discriminatory statement was put to the test in the Hawaii State Supreme Court in Baehr v. Miike. In testimony from numerous witnesses for both the plaintiffs and the defense, the court heard testimony that same-sex partners make equal and in some case superior parents then traditional couples. In evaluations from the children’s teachers, the children raised by same sex parents showed no difference from the other children in regard to all relevant issues including intelligence, self-confidence, popularity, etc.
“If same-sex marriage is legalized, you’re setting up a slippery slope where the legalization of polygamy, bestiality, and all sorts of other deviant behavior is sure to follow.” The “slippery slope” argument is a common argument that has been used for years to prey on the natural fear of the unknown. It is a baseless argument which has no bearing. There has been absolutely no evidence of increased rates of “other deviant behavior” or efforts to legalize said behavior in the countries which have legalized same-sex marriage. Countries such as Canada, Holland, and France have extended the benefits and protections of marriage to all consenting, loving adults and the repercussions often foretold by religious groups having failed to materialize.
“Marriage shouldn’t be changed; it has lasted as it is for thousands of years.” First, marriage has not gone unchanged for thousands of years, it has changed several times to grow and change with society. As discussed previously, Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement both fundamentally changed the nature of marriage; so why should homosexual equality be any different? Second, even if marriage had gone unchanged, to assert that it shouldn’t be changed just because it is tradition is a logical fallacy; argumentum ad antiquitatem. Just because the institution of marriage is old, does not mean it is perfect. War, bigotry, and slavery all have existed for thousands of years; do they need to be protected from change as well?
What should marriage really be about? Is marriage solely a financially and procreative association? Is it something that should be used to exclude others solely because of prejudice and fear of the unknown? No, that is not what marriage should be. Marriage should represent the ultimate commitment to another human being. Matrimony is a promise to be together through good and bad, enduring all trials, and sharing your love together for your lifetimes. Marriage should remain the pinnacle of our social structures, but it should do so all inclusively. All true love is equal and should be celebrated by all equally, not at the expense of certain groups. So we must ask ourselves, who really gains if the “Defense of Marriage” movement succeeds? The only ones who benefit are those close-minded individuals who wish to remain isolated in their own imagined self-righteousness. The repression of groups based solely on their sexual orientation serves only to profit those who would exclude homosexuals; namely fundamentalist religious organizations. Thus, it is only a manner of time before our society realizes that to subjugate entire classes of people based only on their sexual preference is not only utterly wrong, but completely contrary to the ideals on which our justice system has been built.
“Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.” 2004. American Psychology Association.
6 Apr. 2006 http://www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/article.php?id=31
Loving v. Virginia, Case Number 388, Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, 12 June 1967. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/script...etcase.pl?court=US&vol=388&invol=1
Baehr v. Miike, Case Number 20371, Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii, 9 Dec. 1999. http://www.hawaii.gov/jud/20371.htm
Masci, David. “Future of Marriage: Is traditional matrimony going out of style?” CQ Researcher 14 (2004): 397-420.
Lipkin, Robert J. “The Harm of Same Sex Marriage: Real or Imagined?”
Widener Law Review 11 (2005): 277-308.
“Same-Sex Marriage: A Selective Bibliography of the Legal Literature.” Ed. Paul Axel-Lute. 31 Mar. 2006. 7 Apr. 2006 http://law-library.rutgers.edu/SSM.html