In the United States, just like in many other countries across the globe, marriage remains not only a civil contract, but also an important religious ceremony. This view of a marriage as a religious rite gives the anti-gay rights activists an important argument that the Bible doesn’t appreciate homosexuality. Using this religious perspective, the anti-gay communities claim that the official institution of marriage should remain a privilege of heterosexual couples. Since 2004, when Massachusetts has become the first state to allow official same sex marriages, the situation changed, but in most places gay marriage is still forbidden. However, the ban of official marriage for gay couples which also means that partners are deprived of the resulting tax and property benefits, is the violation of same sex couples right for equal opportunities.
Gay Americans do not require any special attitude, but insist that they have the right to live normal lives with people they love without fear of discrimination. Along with serious obligations, official marriage brings a number of important benefits to the spouses, including those of tax advantages, inheritance rights and family rates on anything, from health insurance programs to swimming pools. For legally married heterosexual couples, all those benefits are automatic or require only minimum effort to activate them. Making the same arrangements for unmarried couples is costly and requires professional help of lawyers and accountants. Some corporations already made changes to their procedures, extending their benefits to unmarried domestic partners (both gay and heterosexual), and some of the local governments followed their example too (Andryszewski, 2012). However, these progressive policies are rather an exception than a rule. In most places, official marriage with its advantages remains a civil right for heterosexual couples only, and the rights of homosexual individuals are violated. Despite the obvious improvements in the gay rights movement, homosexual couples still face a number of challenges and discriminations daily. At the same time, most American citizens, including those who disapprove homosexual relationships, recognize the need to guarantee equal civil rights to all citizens.
Even though an increasing number of couples choose cohabitation as an alternative to traditional marriage, same sex couples still should be granted the right for official marriage if they want to. One of the arguments of the anti-gay marriage activists is that the recognition of gay marriage diminishes the value of official marriage and thus influences the social trend of avoiding official marriage as an unnecessary attribute of the past. A retrospective view of the institution of marriage in the United States shows that the evolution of the concept and public opinion started decades ago. Whereas, official marriage was a norm in 1950s, later on public consciousness accepted the idea of cohabitation before marriage. The next stage was cohabitation without any obligations and official statuses. The changes in the institution of marriage were parallel to the processes leading to the first attempts of the legalization of gay marriage. At the same time, it’s important to understand the causality, paying attention to the succession of events. Thus, the Scandinavian scholars who studied the evolution of the concept of marriage in their countries over decades already concluded that legal acceptance of cohabitation as a form of civil union between heterosexual partners could contribute to the following acceptance of the similar cohabitation in same sex couples (Eskridge & Spedale, 2006, p. 181). Thus, legalization of same sex marriage not only doesn’t interfere with the traditional concept of heterosexual marriage, but on the contrary could be one of the logical stages of the gradual evolution of the institution of marriage.
Legal change of the same sex couples status would also have deeper transformative effect on public opinion in general, educating and persuading the community that same sex unions are normal. The studies have shown that the ban of same sex marriages influences the public opinion, sending everyone signals that anything apart from heterosexual relationship is wrong and illegal. Studies have shown that kids growing in same sex families suffered from social disapproval and felt that their families were less than normal. One kid even said that she expected a policeman to show up because she felt that her mother who married another woman was doing it wrong (Hull,2006, p. 128). So, the public opinion and consciousness are strongly influenced by the legal norms, which are often outdated and not reflecting the current state of development of the democratic society. By increasing the public presence of the same sex couples and decreasing the public pressure on them might teach citizens diversity and tolerance to someone who has different views or who is in some way different. Therefore, the legalization of same sex marriages could be an important step towards further development of democratic society by means of educating its members and transforming their consciousness.
Even though anti-gay activists use the biblical argumentation to explain why same sex marriages should be banned, it becomes more and more obvious that legalization of gay marriage as an important step to ensuring the civil rights of all US citizens is the next stage in the evolution of the institution of marriage. By ensuring equal rights for gay couples, the states could transform the public views and prevent numerous personal tragedies and psychological traumas.
Andryszewski, T. (2012). Same-sex marriage: Granting equal rights or damaging the status of marriage. Lerner Publishing Group: Minneapolis, MN.
Eskridge, W. & Spedale, D. (2006). Gay marriage: For better or for worse? Oxford University Press: New York, NY.
Hull, K. (2006). Same-sex marriage: The cultural politics of love and law. Cambridge University Press: New York, NY.