An interesting conversation I had recently has lead me to wonder why so many people oppose the idea of expanding the “definition of marriage” to include homosexual unions. In this article I’d like to explore the history of marriage and the probable effects of a legal decision that would allow gay couples to marry alongside straight couples. This article aims to speak from a logical angle on a very emotional issue – one that is more about love, in my opinion, than anything else.
MARRIAGE THROUGHOUT HISTORY
Believe it or not marriage- the religious and legal union – as we know it today has not always looked quite like it does. Proponents of “traditional” marriage are really defending contemporary marriage, what the institution has become within the last hundred or so years.
Marriage began most likely because most ancient societies needed a secure environment to ensure that the species continued to procreate; basically they needed a system of rules to handle the granting of property rights and the protection of bloodlines. Romantic, isn’t it? In order to meet these specific needs the institution took on some interesting rules for instance, did you know that ancient Hebrew laws required a man to become the husband of a deceased brother’s widow? The first marriages took place before the religions we practice today were in effect, essentially marriage was defined long before man defined it in “God’s words”. This knowledge makes the idea that marriage itself is an inherently religious institution rather difficult to believe; religion may have laid a claim on marriage somewhere down the line but it began as, and remains, a social and legal institution as well.
The truth is that the history of marriage is not as clear cut and unchanging as many choose to believe, in fact it would take days for me to sift through all of the information available on marriage through history and throughout cultures. There is no one traditional definition of the word marriage – want proof? Mormon tradition allows polygamy; many traditions in many countries made (or still make) women into their husband’s possessions; American tradition did not allow interracial marriages until 1967. In ancient Greece a woman whose father died without male heirs could be forced to marry her nearest male relative—even if she already had a husband – because marriage was just about property. Many societies believed or still believe in arranged marriages between partners who may not even meet until their wedding day! [Source]
Marriage is, obviously, a changing institution that takes on different meanings through the lenses of differing times, religions, societies, people… already there is no one definition of marriage! So why are we defending our definition of marriage so vehemently? Why can’t marriage simply be a union between two consenting adults who want to join themselves in a life together? If this is the case then straight marriage will still be legal, still be accepted by religions and laws. The only thing that changes? The law will finally recognize gay couples, just as they did interracial couples in 1967, as legitimate relationships deserving of all the legal benefits of marriage. Changing the legal definition of marriage does nothing to effect the religious definitions (different for every religion) because only the religious leaders can change that definition.
THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST
The divorce rate will get higher is one of the opposition’s least offensive, and therefore most often used, arguments. But, is there any truth to it? Not a shred…
[During] the first two years of legal same sex marriage in the Bay State, Massachusetts showed a more rapid decline [in divorce rate] and will very likely hold on to its title as the US state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation. The field is hotly contested — divorce rates have fallen dramatically in the last few decades.
Among those US states that have no laws on the books specifically prohibiting same sex marriage or civil unions — WY, NM, NY, MA, RI, CT, NJ, MD, VT — the average divorce rate drop ( unadjusted for population changes ) was -8.74%. No states in this group had divorce rate increases in 2004 and 2005.
Same-sex marriage became available in Canada in 2003-JUN. But it was not until 2004-SEP-14 that Justice Ruth Mesbur of the Ontario Superior Court issued the first divorce to a married same-sex couple in Canada. The second same-sex divorce was granted in British Columbia in 2005-JUN. In the meantime, thousands of couples had married.
My church will be forced to perform gay marriages/ schools will teach my children that being gay is normal. Quite simply, this is not true. The facts remain clear that:
This is absolutely not the case. This is one of those places where Church and State are still separated. For example, under Catholic doctrine, if a Catholic person wants to marry someone outside the faith, they cannot get married inside a Catholic church. The couple can still get married in the eyes of the law, but the religion does not need to perform the ceremony or recognize it.
Allowing same-sex marriages will simply lead to moral breakdown – people marrying animals, or minors, or polygamy… Once again, no.
Allowing same-sex marriage will only do just that, allow gay couples to marry. Gay couples consist of two consenting adults in a completely legal relationship, therefore allowing them to marry could not set a precedent for behaviors like bestiality or child molestation, since these behaviors are quite obviously illegal and immoral. To say that legally acknowledging the healthy love between two people in a society could do anything but create more love and goodness is utterly ridiculous and I defy anyone to show me an example of a situation where legalizing gay marriage has lead to moral breakdown. No, really, look at Canada, look at Belgium, look at Massachusetts or Connecticut or any of the places that have legalized gay marriage… I promise you none of them have legally married a man and their dog or a child to her brother.
Let’s keep this about this issue at hand: gay marriage, and nothing else. Just as in the ’60s we focused on interracial marriage – even when the opponents of those unions tried to use the same scare tactics mentioned above to fight it.
BUT WHY MARRIAGE?
Why marriage? Why not just choose another word, like Civil Union, and give that word the same legal rights? That way, you know, we can have equality but we can still be… separate. Why not Civil Union?
My problem with the term Civil Union, or any term that is not marriage is simply this: it’s different. By giving a different word to the legal rights attached with a union between these couples you are, in a sense, saying that they are different from you. You are making them foreign. In my mind what it boils down to is simple: every couple is different, but love is always the same, pure, beautiful, illuminating entity. Marriage, ideally, is the institution that can unite all of these different, loving relationships into one group. Separating love into two types; marriage and civil union; straight and gay; only helps to perpetuate the animosity and discomfort that exists between these two groups.
I have always maintained the belief that you cannot fight hate without first embracing love. Not allowing gay marriage, or allowing the legal rights without the title, is giving in to the hate. If homosexual couples were allowed the same rights, the same name, the same respect as heterosexual couples under the law then the hatred would lose some power. No longer would homophobic people be able to hide behind restrictive laws to justify their hatred. Just as integration proved a tumultuous and dangerous, yet important part of the Civil Rights movement
The people I conversed with advocated Civil Unions as a way to allow homosexual couples their rights, while still maintaining their own unique identity as a straight married couple. People who hold this belief seem to value the clear distinction of a them and an us above all else. I say it’s time to value love above all else. Its time we, as straight members of society, stop wanting to be distinct from homosexual couples; after all why should it matter that someone knows from the moment they see your wedding ring that you are in a straight relationship? Why do we want people to assume we’re straight, rather than having to get to know us to find that out? If we tear down these semantic separations we leave room to discover just how similar we ALL are in love and in life.
HOW IT AFFECTS US ALL
If you don’t believe in gay marriage, and gay marriage is legally recognized, then nothing changes for your life. Homosexual couples get the rights they deserve as human beings and you, well you don’t have to marry someone of the same sex if you don’t want – you can marry WHOEVER you choose, just like you always could. Even after gay marriage is legally recognized in the United States (and trust me, it will be one day) the straight people who stood in opposition to this movement will simply go on living their lives – never knowing what its like to have their relationship, their love attacked and invalidated by hate filled individuals.
By legally recognizing homosexual unions as marriages we will be knocking down a major barrier that stands between humanity and true tolerance. Yes, at first, there will be many who felt threatened or offended by this action but, isn’t that true of all civil rights debates? Just as there have been people who opposed interracial marriage; women voting; or desegregation, there will be many people against this… at first. However, laws play a large part in shaping public opinion; eventually that highly opposed law will stand the test of time, and people’s beliefs will change to recognize the fact that this law is moral and just. It worked with interacial marriages and segregation, although there are still some dissenters they are now the hateful minority rather than the hateful majority.
The point of all this? Tolerance breeds tolerance. If the legal entities in the United States can stand up to the people who, polluted with hate, try to stand between two people and their right to marry and love; if we can stand up and legalize gay marriage then we are committing an act of tolerance. Its time to stand up, to confront prejudice both in ourself and others, so that we can allow love to be recognized, encouraged, and cultivated.