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Gay Marriage: An Analysis of Both Sides of the Debate

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Liz earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Veterinary Medical Technology from Lincoln Memorial University In Harrogate, TN.

Recently married couples leaving the City Hall in Seattle on the first day of same-sex marriage in Washington state after enactment of Washington Referendum 74.

Recently married couples leaving the City Hall in Seattle on the first day of same-sex marriage in Washington state after enactment of Washington Referendum 74.

Definitions of Marriage

Same-sex marriage, or gay marriage, has been defined as the legal unification of two people who are of the same biological gender. The debate of whether or not to legally recognize such marriages remains, taking on civil rights, moral, political, and social arguments.

When discussing same-sex marriage, the topic of the actual definition of marriage often comes up first. This is a problem within itself, as the word “marriage” is not uniformly defined across all cultures. One hundred years ago in the United States, marriage was basically defined as a legally recognized relationship between one man and one woman. It came with certain social expectations, such as having children. In modern times, the definition of marriage has become much more varied and much less defined.

The Controversy

The gay marriage controversy basically carries two main views; those who support it, and those who oppose it. Those in support are often informed by civil rights laws and activists, and believe that love alone is grounds for marriage, regardless of gender or orientation. Those opposed to gay marriage are often informed by their religious leaders and site religious texts, with the belief that marriage rights should be restricted only to couples of one man and one woman, and often express utmost concern for any children involved.

Few ideas for a compromise between the two sides have been offered. These debates usually include moral, social, religious, legal, constitutional, and even economic arguments. With this being said, the same-sex marriage conflict is not a simple one. News sources and informative articles may attempt to cover both sides of the debate equally. However, much of the coverage of the gay marriage debate is biased by opinion, as the gay marriage debate is one driven immensely by personal belief.

Supporting Arguments

From moral and social standpoints, supporters of gay marriage offer several arguments to support their view. One argument claims that gays are better off as individuals when allowed to marry. According to supporters, studies have repeatedly demonstrated that people who are married tend to be better off emotionally, financially, and even medically. This is true, but in a general sense; marriage is not universally an improvement, as couples can actually become worse off due to marital complications. Yet, supporters claim that this personal improvement will, in turn, be beneficial for gay couples, for families of gay individuals, communities where gay citizens reside, and society as a whole.

According to supporters’ arguments, gay couples are better off because they can support and “be there” for each other on physical, emotional, and economical levels. Families of gay individuals benefit from knowing they can rely on their relative’s spouse in the event of a crisis, alleviating some anxiety. Many children also benefit from stable gay marriages, as children are already successfully being born to, adopted by, and raised by gay couples in increasing numbers. Gay communities often provide support for each other as a result of a similar level of understanding. Supporters also claim that stable gay marriages help to stabilize society in general, as stable families are a cornerstone to a stable society, and trends in families in general inevitably affect trends in society as a whole.

Nonconformist Arguments

In the face of the proposed moral and societal benefits of gay marriage, nonconformists of gay marriage see this moral argument in a different light. Some who oppose gay marriage ask the questions: what is the point of gay marriage? Aside from property and legal matters, what point are gays trying to make by getting married? Others ask: why is it so important to be able to hold up a marriage certificate and say "we're married" instead of simply saying "we're a couple" without a certificate? These are debatable questions, and the argument does not stop there. Those against gay marriage insist that the only legitimate marriage is one between a man and a woman. Supporters of gay marriage retaliate by asserting that defining marriage in terms of gender is begging the question as to how gender itself is defined, or how the terms "man" and "woman" are defined.

Gay marriage radicals go on to argue that marriage is fundamentally a religious rite; they view marriage exclusively in religious terms. If this is true, then the legalization of gay marriage is a disrespectful and unjustified invasion of the state because of religion's traditional role in consecrating marriages and presiding over wedding ceremonies. This is notable, however, is it reasonable? Additionally, the idea that marriage is sacred underlies much of the passion that gives motivation to the opposition in a way that supporters do not have; if it weren't for the idea that marriage is sacred, the whole gay marriage debate would not likely be as large and nasty as it is.

The opposition to gay marriage continues on to include children, religion, and culture. The idea that homosexual couples do not deserve the same level of respect as heterosexual couples because of the inability to naturally procreate is a reoccurring theme in many arguments against same-sex marriage. Religious dissenters claim that marriage exists solely for the purpose of having children, and if gay couples cannot naturally have children, then why should gay couples be allowed to marry?

Another common argument against same-sex marriages is that legalizing them undermines the foundation of marriage itself; marriage between members of the same sex is a self-contradiction, and if their unions are legal, then marriage itself across the country is damaged. Supporters of gay marriage react by essentially asking: just how much harm do gay marriages cause? Who exactly is it harming? Those against gay marriage stand their ground in regards that homosexuality is unnatural, and claim that normalizing such unnatural relationships is damaging to society. They also claim that gay marriage is incompatible with religious liberties, using a variety of arguments to support this idea.

Anti-gay demonstrators at the Marriage Equality Decision Day rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington DC on June 26, 2015.

Anti-gay demonstrators at the Marriage Equality Decision Day rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington DC on June 26, 2015.

The gay marriage debate is also commonly fought from legal and constitutional standpoints. It is here that one can detect the influence of different interpretations of some U.S. founding documents in these opinions. Legal arguments on the behalf of gay marriage tend to get more attention because they are concerned with matters of civil rights. Some are now omitting the moral and emotional factors from their arguments completely, and taking strictly legal approaches. On the pro-gay side, the most popular argument cites the Fourteenth Amendment’s right of equal protection, and claiming marriage as a right for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Others are working to prove that making same-sex marriage illegal also violates freedom of speech, another constitutional right.

Supporters claim that same-sex marriage bans are a violation of their freedom of speech because individuals are not allowed to give campaign contributions in the same way as those who are heterosexual. In June of 2015, gay marriage activists celebrated a victory in the landmark Obergefell vs. Hodges case, where the court made a decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples through the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. On March 31st, 2016, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled adoption by same-sex couples legal in all fifty states. On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled by a 6-3 vote in the case of Pavan v. Smith that under their decision in Obergefell, same-sex couples must be treated equally to opposite-sex couples in the issuance of birth certificates.

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The anti-gay marriage party also have their own legal arguments to bring to the table. Rulings from the 1971 court case Baker vs Nelson, which ruled that a state law limiting marriage to persons of the opposite sex does not violate the Constitution, have been brought back to attention. At the time, marriage was still viewed by the majority masses as a legal union of only a man and a woman. Dissenters of gay marriage claim that changing that view is seen, in many aspects of society, as a threat to marriage itself and a threat to the welfare of society’s future generations. Some go as far as to argue that the legalization of same-sex marriage is nothing less than a suicide pact for humanity.

Utilizing the Baker vs Nelson case, dissenters contend that the Constitution does not forbid any level of the government from taking measures to preserve the traditional forms of marriage, and same-sex couples have no constitutional right to marry. Their lawyers insist that opposition to same-sex marriage is not a form of discrimination, but rather is a positive effort to assure that the social values surrounding marriage are preserved; they also insist that those values depend upon the limitation of marriage to one man and one woman. The heart of their argument is the link they claim exists between marriage and raising children, claiming it has historical, legal, scientific, and cultural origins

Protesters of gay marriage also go as far as to argue that many states in the U.S. are still adhering to the traditional definition of marriage, claiming that gay marriage is still little more than a novelty in a small number of states. Although more recent federal court rulings, at both appeal and trial levels, have struck down traditional laws concerning any definition of marriage, and the fact that similar laws have recently been set aside in a few more states, it still remains true that there is a substantially longer list of decisions upholding traditional marriage laws.

Defenders of traditional marriage contend that gay marriage cannot possibly be treated as a civil right because such rights have no prior foundations in American history, legal practices, or traditions; this is notable, as the same-sex debate was relatively unheard of in law until the last forty years, and is still considered somewhat uncommon to law practices today. Perhaps the most controversial argument, however, is that the institution of traditional marriage itself will be directly harmed if opened to same-sex couples.

Pro-gay activists reel at this idea, exclaiming that there are no factual grounds to make such an argument. The final argument, one that traditional marriage defenders hope might be the ultimate persuasion for the Supreme Court, is that the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to be worked out in the democratic process as much as possible. They contend that it is there that the people can best make a judgment about something so important to their lives; it is here that for the first time, radicals of gay marriage almost seem willing to compromise in some way.

Gray- No amendment.  Pink- Amendment grants legislature authority to ban gay marriage.  Red- Amendment bans gay marriage.  Maroon- Amendment bans gay marriage and civil unions.  Black- Bans gay marriage, civil unions, and any marriage-like contract.

Gray- No amendment. Pink- Amendment grants legislature authority to ban gay marriage. Red- Amendment bans gay marriage. Maroon- Amendment bans gay marriage and civil unions. Black- Bans gay marriage, civil unions, and any marriage-like contract.

Economic Arguments

The pro-gay activist party has one last argument up their sleeves, one that takes an unusual and unexpected approach to the traditional argument, and is unique to the arguments of those against gay marriage. Gay supporters have begun to argue from an economic standpoint. According to supporters, an aspect that is not considered enough is the fact that more marriage, no matter whether it is gay or straight, is beneficial for the American economy. A recent poll found that married Americans spend an average of $35 more a day than those who are single. This is most likely due to the fact that on average, married Americans have higher incomes and pool money, and as a result, are able to spend more.

It has become common knowledge that marriage rates are declining in America; interestingly, gay supporters have reasoned that while fewer and fewer straight people are wanting to marry, more than half of the gay community has expressed intent to marry at some point. The bottom line of this argument is that the economy would benefit from more marriages, and the gay community is generally the readiest and willing to marry. With the percentage of marriages in America decreasing as a whole, legalizing gay marriage is a possible way to give the economy a boost. Dissenters of gay marriage retaliate by going back to their arguments that gay marriage is damaging to society and traditional marriage, and should be restricted to straight couples because they are able to conceive children. In their opinion, improving the economy is not justifiable by means of immoral acts.

Potential for Compromise?

At the end of all the debate, one question remains; between the two positions on gay marriage, can a mediated position be reached? The answer is not easy or simple. Obviously, the extremists on either end of the debate are not going to accept any form of compromise; it is impossible to make everyone involved in the issue completely satisfied. Few ideas as to reaching compromise have been presented, but one suggestion does stand out as a reasonable possibility. A possible solution that has been presented would include adding an amendment to the Constitution that defined marriage as a union between two people, not just between a man and a woman. This deviates from any religious definitions of marriage, effectively removing religion from the issue.

The new amendment would likely need bipartisan support to pass, as it does not exactly legalize gay marriage, but prevents any court from being able to steadily break down and alter the definition of marriage. Laws could then be made without the risk of being crushed by the Full Faith and Credit Clause. More liberal states would have a more practical way to stop discrimination, and more conservative states could either keep their laws intact or change them at their own pace. If both sides can accept this new definition of marriage, then both religious rights can be protected by law, and at the same time, same-sex couples can legally get married, as long as they are not being forced into religious institutions in order to marry. Both sides of the debate have their reasons for being dissatisfied with the current issue, but at least with a new amendment and a broadened definition of marriage, they could also have a way for both to feel more at ease with the issue.

Sources/Additional Reading

“Arguments for Gay Marriage: Moral and Social Arguments for Gay Marriage.” About Religion. Atheism.about.com. 2015.

“Common Arguments Against Gay Marriage: Moral and Religious Arguments,” About Religion. Atheism.about.com. 2015.

Denniston, Lyle. “The Most Compelling Arguments Against Legalizing Gay Marriage.” Law and Order. Business Insider, 29 November 2012.

“History and Debate of Gay Marriage.” Gay Marriage Debate. Debate.org, 2015.

Messerli, Joe. “A Compromise Solution to the Gay Marriage Debate.” Balanced Politics.org. 7 January 2012.

Nelson, Rebecca. “The Legal Argument Gay Republicans are Making in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage.” National Journal. National Journal, 14 April 2015.

“Read the Opinion: Supreme Court Rules States Cannot Ban Same-Sex Marriage.” CNN Politics. CNN, 26 June 2015.

Scarinci, Donald. “Baker vs. Nelson: The Often Forgotten Supreme Court Same-sex Marriage Case.” Constitutional Law Reporter. Constitutional Law Reporter, 20 December 2012.

Strachan, Maxwell. “Here’s 1 Pro-Gay Marriage Argument Anyone Can Get Behind.” Huff Post Business. The Huffington Post, 28 October 2013.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2018 Liz Hardin

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