In the United States, married couples receive many legal benefits that couples who live together but are unmarried do not. More and more, gay couples are insisting that they receive the same legal rights that the traditional, heterosexual married couples receive. Gay rights advocates believe that it is inequitable and biased to refuse to give certain privileges to any couple, gay or not. For example, marriage enables spouses to receive insurance through their partners’ employers. They are also allowed many other rights such as the ability to make decisions for their partner who is being hospitalized, have the right to sue on their partner’s behalf, and cannot be forced to testify against them in court. Married couples also pay less in taxes and receive many other social and financial benefits. But because gay couples are legally prevented from marrying, they are excluded from receiving the same considerations that married heterosexual couples enjoy.
Advocates of non-traditional marriage counter this argument by saying that there is no constitutional basis for denying legal matrimony to gay couples.
The Constitution not only legitimizes gay marriage but implies that the government should never have considered a ban and should instead actively pursue legalizing gay marriage. As citizens of the United States, all people are guaranteed the inalienable right to pursue happiness. It does not exclude based on sexual preference. The opposition to gay marriage is based on prejudice and, as time passes, the concept will become more and more accepted. It, like racial prejudice, will become socially abhorrent (Sullivan, 2000). In addition, the disallowing of gay marriage by legislation violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “The law [against same-sex marriage] discriminates based on sex because it makes one’s ability to marry depend on one’s gender.” The ACLU continues by saying, “Classifications which discriminate based on gender must be substantially related to some important government purpose. Tradition by itself is not an important government purpose” (American Civil Liberties Union, 1996, pp. 14-15).
According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, about 60 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage. However, the same poll found that 53 percent were against a constitutional amendment outlawing the lawful acknowledgment of same-sex unions (“Civil Unions”, 2004). This sentiment has been reflected by some legislators such as those in the State of Connecticut who oppose same-sex marriage but support civil unions. Gay rights activists had heavily lobbied lawmakers to legalize gay marriage, but they compromised on a civil union bill when support for marriage was rejected by most. A Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, signed the bill last year making Connecticut the second state to offer gays and lesbians civil unions after Vermont. While Connecticut gay rights activist groups applauded state lawmakers, they expressed displeasure that the law fell short of offering a comprehensive equivalence of marriage and that they would persist in their efforts to “work toward the day when there are not two lines at town hall, one for them and one for us”.
In Oregon, voters passed a constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage which reversed more than 3,000 marriage licenses issued to gay and lesbian couples. However, an Oregon Supreme Court ruling which upheld the amendment also left open the option of civil unions. The day before the ruling, a bipartisan group of state legislators drafted a bill that would allow civil unions, a measure that was backed by Governor Ted Kulongoski. The Governor admitted that the bill “maybe a little ahead of its time,” but also believed that progressive social change would “soon make legal protection for same-sex relationships a reality in Oregon, if not immediately through marriage” (Simmons, 2005).
In 1997, the General Accounting Office reported that heterosexual married couples enjoyed more than 1000 benefits and protections. These marriage incentives range from survivor benefits through Social Security, the ability to take sick leave from work to care for a sick partner, federal and state tax breaks, and veteran and insurance benefits. They also include things like “family discounts, obtaining family insurance through your employer, visiting your spouse in the hospital and making medical decisions if your partner is unable to” (Belge, 2006).
Shortly after Alaska adopted a similar marriage amendment in 1998, the Alaska ACLU took the State to court on behalf of several gay couples who had a partner employed by the state. The suit claimed that the government practiced institutional discrimination by disallowing benefits to employees’ partners because those same benefits were offered to the heterosexual partners of state employees. The ACLU lost in the trial court but 2005, but the state Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision. The court ruled that “the benefits system is discriminatory because benefits are extended to employees’ married partners and because same-sex couples are constitutionally barred in the state from marrying” (Gentile, 2006).
Those opposed to gay marriage believe that these relationships do not serve the best interest of the state. Since they cannot bear children that would ultimately add to the tax base of a community, there is no incentive for the state to recognize their union and provide them the benefits of marriage, an expensive burden to the state. Advocates of gay marriage have not been able to show what financial benefit their marriage would be to the state. “If sexual love alone becomes the primary purpose of marriage rather than procreation, the restriction of marriage to couples loses its logical basis, leading to marital chaos” (Kolasinksi, 2004). The marriage laws, established by the state, ensure that the couples who do get the benefits of marriage are those who benefit the state by having children.
Those that oppose gay marriage have yet to provide evidence those children of gay couples whether biological or adopted are harmed by this living arrangement. Some have expressed fears that these children will be more likely to become homosexuals suggesting that it would be appalling if that were the situation (Sullivan & Baques, 1999). In today’s world, the fact is that most children do not live in ‘Leave it to Beaver’ type households with a housewife and a father who works at the office from nine to five. Half of all marriages end in divorce and ‘traditional’ married couples with children comprise just 26 percent of U.S. families. “It is unrealistic to pretend that children can only be successfully reared in an idealized concept of family, the product of nostalgia for a time long past.” (“Social Norms”, 1999).
Gay couples exhibit similar family and societal values as those the traditional couple does while engaged in the activities of their daily lives. Other than the fact that one couple is of the same sex and the other is not, the neighbors would notice no difference. They cherish and are involved in family life, abide by the law, and are committed to making their communities a better place for all to live. The legalization of gay marriage benefits society because the very obligations of marriage itself discourage promiscuous sex which carries the advantage of decelerating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Marriage also encourages a family-type atmosphere in the house, neighborhood, and community. Homosexuality is multi-faceted involving true love and affection more than it is about sex, much the same as the traditional relationship. It’s past time that being gay means being considered a second-class citizen by society and by the laws of the land.
American Civil Liberties Union. “Gay Marriage.” California: Greenhaven Press, (1996), pp. 14-15. 2008. Web.
Belge, Kathy. “The Difference Between Marriage and Civil Unions.” (2006). About Lesbian Life. Web.
“Civil Unions for Gays Favored, Polls Show.” MSNBC. (2004). 2008. Web.
Gentile, Annie. “Employee Fringe Benefits.” City and County. Vol. 121, I.
Kolasinski, Adam. “The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage.” The Tech. Vol. 124, N. 5. (2004). Web.
Simmons, Todd. “Civil Compromise.” Advocate Report. I. 939. (2005).
“Social Norms and Judicial Decision-making: Examining the Role of Narratives in Same-Sex Adoption Cases.” Columbia Law Review. Lexis-Nexis. (1999). 2008. Web.
Sullivan, Andrew. “Why ‘civil union’ isn’t Marriage.” Gay Forum. (2000). Web.
Sullivan, T. Richard & Basques, Albert. “Familism and the Adoption Option for Gay and Lesbian Parents.” Queer Families, Common Agendas. New York: Haworth Press. (1999), pp. 80-82.