During recent years, the issue of gay marriage has been a topic of passionate debate throughout the United States. Same-sex couples feel they deserve the same legal privileges as heterosexual couples, while many religious conservatives believe that such unions are sinful, and legal critics believe that such legislation will open a Pandora’s box.
In December 2006, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature passed a civil-union bill, 56-19 in the Assembly and 23-12 in the Senate. Two years ago, the state passed a domestic partnership bill for same-sex couples, thus advocates consider this new bill as a stepping-stone to gay marriage (Graham). Civil unions grant same-sex couples inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights, among others enjoyed by married couples. Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality said, “We’ll be back here in two years – tops. The jump from civil unions to marriage will be far easier than the jump from domestic partnerships to civil unions” (Graham). Although Massachusetts, after a court ruling, allows gay couples to marry, Goldstein believes that New Jersey will become the first state to pass a law allowing gay marriage (Graham). However, opponents claim that civil unions will discriminate against other people who live together, but cannot marry, such as siblings, and believe that such an important issue should be put to a vote and decided by the residents of New Jersey (Graham).
Many believe that there is no substitute for marriage, and supporters of gay marriage believe that civil unions and other forms of non-marital partnership cannot give gay couples the essential benefits of marriage, even if the legal benefits are comprehensive (Rauch). Opponents argue that allowing gay marriage endangers matrimony for heterosexuals, and that creating alternatives to marriage, such as civil union, will undermine the institution of marriage (Rauch). Thus, both heterosexuals and homosexuals believe that only marriage will really do, that only marriage is marriage (Rauch).
When the United States Supreme Court struck down the sodomy laws in 2003, it basically took sides in the culture wars and dismantled the structure of constitutional law that permitted distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual unions, leading Justice Antonin Scalia to suggest that gay marriage would be the next battle (Conan). The Court’s decision had an ironic effect on public opinion. According to Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, more people were opposed and less in favor of gay marriage than before the Court’s decision (Conan). When supporters were asked what influenced their opinions, they gave a wide range of reasons, such as “Well, it’s my personal contact with homosexuals,” or “It’s my education,” or “It’s the media,” while when opponents were asked the same questions, 65% said it was religion (Conan).
For many among the religious communities, such as Reverend David Rosenberry of Christ Church, the Bible specifically defines marriage as a role between a man and a woman, and the subject is not open for a debate or discussion (Conan). Rosenberry believes that the term ‘same-sex marriage’ is actually an oxymoron, “because physiologically, it doesn’t fit…marriage is a union, a literal union between a man and a woman, made to go together, designed to go together…a same-sex marriage is some kind of innovation, so by definition, it can’t be a marriage” (Conan).
Rosenberry does not deny the existence of gay sexuality or that it is an issue in today’s culture, but believes “we shouldn’t let the bedrock and the footing of our own culture be changed as the discussion goes on” (Conan).
Supporters of gay marriage claim that such rhetoric is an echo of sentiments expressed in previous decades concerning another issue of the marriage debate. In the mid-1950’s, some 98% of American believed that inter-racial marriages were immoral and a sin against God’s word (Conan). However, society’s consciousness matured and grew in understanding of what a loving community is, and came to realize that to exclude other human beings based on prejudice is not God’s love, but rather fear and ignorance (Conan).
According to Kohut, 14% of the general population in American society believes that homosexuality is due to upbringing, 42% believe it is a matter of lifestyle, and 30% believe people are born homosexual (Conan). Among those people who believe that homosexuals are born, there is strong support for gay marriage, however among those who believe it is a matter of choice, there is heavy opposition (Conan). Interestingly, 80% believe that there should be no restrictions on sex between consenting adults (Conan).
Aside from the religious opposition, there is reason for concern among the legal community. Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution explains that if marriage is redefined to include same-sex couples it could be very difficult to stop the process (Conan). In other words, if the law declares that it is discriminatory to deny the benefits of marriage to homosexuals, then at some point there will be a suit from a group of people who want to get married, thus if the issue is about consenting adults or whatever sex, the next question will be concerning the number of consenting adults (Conan). Says Kurtz, “Once it become strictly a matter of equal rights and non-discrimination, it’s pretty hard to come up with a reason to exclude a multiple partner marriage” (Conan). Moreover, there are already groups that have started to voice the opinion that the special support and encouragement that society gives to married parents is discriminatory, and that there should be a move toward legal equalization of cohabitation and marriage so that people who are merely cohabitating can receive the same legal benefits as married couples (Conan). Therefore, notes Kurtz, once society accepts the idea that it cannot give special support and encouragement to men and women who are married because that is discriminatory, “we’re going to have to redefine marriage and the whole structure of marriage in such a way as to basically define it out of existence” (Conan).
According to Rauch, marriage has two central social purposes: “settling the young, particularly young men, and providing reliable caregivers,” and there is no way that informal unions, whether heterosexual or homosexual, can accomplish these ends, for marriage has power because it is a “contract between two people and their community” (Hymowitz).
More than fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court found that a state sodomy statute enforced only against homosexuals violated no constitutionally protected rights, and in 1996, Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act, which provided states ammunition to their efforts to deny recognition to same-sex marriages that may be legally sanctioned in sister states (Report).
The question of whether same-sex marriage should be legal is not an easy one to answer and will likely remain an issue of passionate debate for years to come.
Conan, Neal. “Analysis: Gay marriage.” Talk of the Nation (NPR) National Public Radio.
March 9, 2004. Retrieved December 17, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
Graham, Tony. “Legislature OKs Civil-Union Bill.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 15, 2006. Retrieved December 17, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
Hymowitz, Kay S. “I do?(Gay Marriage: Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America).” Commentary. June 1, 2004. Retrieved December 17, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
Rauch, Jonathan. “Dire straights: why outlawing marriage for gays will undermine marriage for all.” Washington Monthly. April 1, 2004. Retrieved December 17, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
Report on marriage rights for same-sex couples in New York: The Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committeee on lesbian and gay rights, committee on sex and law and committee on civil rights.” Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. January 1, 2004. Retrieved December 17, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
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