Although marriage is defined as a legal union of people entering a personal relationship, the most widespread perception of it involves a man and a woman. Even in the age of tolerance, same-sex marriages still provoke a lot of heated debate and attract both positive and negative attention of the general public. The ethical dilemma that arises from this issue can be resolved differently depending on the ethical theory applied to it.
The paper at hand is going to analyze gay marriage from the perspectives of different theories and juxtapose the opponents’ arguments, using elements of thought and intellectual standards.
The first known record of gay bonds dates back to the 1 century AD. Nero, a Roman emperor, entered two same-sex marriages thereby becoming the first monarch to take such an eccentric step. Yet, this example was not exclusive. There were a lot of same-sex unions mentioned in Greek writings (however, those couples were rarely married officially). Constantius II outlawed same-sex marriage in 342 AD since it went against Christian morals. Since then, gay couples in many countries had to conceal their relationships to avoid legal prosecution or public damnation. This accounts for the fact that same-sex marriage is considered to be a 21st-century issue as several countries have already legalized it (following the Netherlands, where it happened in 2000) (Heaphy, Smart, & Einarsdottir, 2013).
Nowadays, the issue has become so controversial that divergent ethical theories can be applied to it.
Same-Sex Marriage and Utilitarianism
Utilitarian ethics suggests that the rights choice is simply the one that allows receiving maximum benefit while bringing minimum harm. Supporters of gay marriage frequently resort to this theory as it makes it easier to prove that direct advantages of such bonds outnumber the so-called indirect harms. First and foremost, legalizing same-sex marriages means admitting that people have been discriminated against based on their sexual orientation for many centuries and finally putting an end to this. Second, it allows gay couples to become normal members of society and be perceived without shock or aggression. Last but not least, this step gives a lot of children a chance to be brought up in a loving family as a lot of same-sex couples are willing to adopt a baby (Vaughn, 2015).
The situation is more complex from deontology (a theory that was proposed by Immanuel Kant). According to deontological ethics, the morality of an action is determined by its ability to follow the universal set of rules (Vaughn, 2015). Thus, if gay marriages manage to adhere to regulations, they can be considered justified.
The problem is that current same-sex marriage laws are not universal, which means that, from the philosophical point of view, such unions obey one set of laws while violating all the others (in many countries gay marriage is still forbidden). Still, if we analyze the concept of traditional marriage, we will see that laws related to it are also far from being universal. Thus, following the same logic, they can be called immoral and ethically wrong, which sounds nonsensical. This means that the deontological theory is too much dogmatic to be applied to such a delicate issue.
This ethical theory relies upon the assumption that one should shift the focus of attention from abstract values and norms to a particular moral agent. Therefore, to resolve the ethical dilemma of gay marriage, it is required to identify whether moral agents manage to correspond to the ideal marriage institution (Macedo, 2015). Although this position seems well-grounded and reasonable, it is still unclear what criteria must be used for assessment. Furthermore, there are no guidelines to identify whether the needs of adults or children should be made the cornerstone (though the former are automatically privileged). Finally, gay marriage could never be legalized if an example of one couple and their virtues could stand for all others.
This is the simplest approach of all, which came from the tradition established already in Ancient Greece and later adopted by Christians. Its proponents state that any society needs children for maintaining its existence and they cannot be born from same-sex couples (Macedo, 2015). This implies that such relationships go against nature and must be universally forbidden as they lead to the extinction of our species.
Elements of Thought and Intellectual Standards
To come to my conclusion about same-sex marriage, I analyzed both arguing sides using elements of reasoning and universal intellectual standards (Vaughn, 2015):
- A thought must have a purpose. Both parties pursue their goals: gay couples want to achieve equality whereas their opponents strive to preserve conservative order.
- A thought is aimed to solve a problem. In this aspect, supporters of gay marriages win as they want to eliminate injustice while the other party simply wants to leave everything as it is.
- The reasoning should have underlying assumptions. Except for some extreme versions, both positions are well-grounded.
- The reasoning should be performed from a particular point of view and contain interpretations. Again, in this case, opponents of gay marriages lose as they often lack a particular viewpoint and express hatred based exclusively on sexual orientation.
- A thought must rely on evidence and be shaped by concepts. Unfortunately, the evidence is scarce and contradictory.
- All reasoning leads to consequences. In this aspect, no matter which position is accepted, societal consequences are inevitable.
As for intellectual standards, they include (Vaughn, 2015):
I believe that these standards can only partially be applied to the issue under discussion since it is far from being objective. This means that the opposing arguments cannot be assessed in terms of accuracy, precision, and clarity. Surely, we can try to estimate statistics and see what can be elaborated in terms of lawmaking. Yet, we cannot make it more specific or accurate as it deals with human relationships and such abstract notions as love, happiness, recognition, self-confidence, etc. The issue is relevant, significant, and deep as many factors are complicating it (the future of child-bearing, the life of adopted children, etc.). The complexity lies also in the fact that both parties have their own, rather convincing logic. As for fairness, I doubt that any of their arguments are completely unbiased.
I feel confused that in the 21st century promoting tolerance, acceptance, and political correctness, it is still normal to have a prejudice against sexual minorities, whose only fault is being attracted to people of the same gender. I am convinced that it is ethical to allow gay marriages since sexual orientation is largely determined by biological factors, which implies that people are not to blame for having it and should not be deprived of their rights. However, it is more complex with adoption since the freedom of the one is limited by the freedom of the other. Some children are unwilling to be brought up in such a family and may have a psychological trauma on this basis. Perhaps, it would be reasonable to allow gay couples to adopt only those who are old enough to give their conscious consent.
Heaphy, B., Smart, C., & Einarsdottir, A. (2013). Same sex marriages: New generations, new relationships. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
Macedo, S. (2015). Just Married: Same-sex couples, monogamy, and the future of marriage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Vaughn, L. (2015). Doing ethics: Moral reasoning and contemporary issues. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company.