Legalizing Gay and Lesbian Marriage: An Attempt to End Discrimination in America

Although most Americans would agree that there is still discrimination in America, as seen by minorities and women earning lower incomes than white males, few would agree that discrimination is still a legalized practice. For many, America is seen as a free country, but they do not realize that homosexuals are discriminated in our society by being denied the right to get legally married. There are religious and moral issues that conflict with the desires of homosexuals to get married, but all sides must be explored before a decision to legalize or outlaw homosexual marriage is made.

When campaigning for equal rights, including the right to marry, one of the main arguments made by homosexuals is the fact that homosexuality is natural and not a choice. This concept is explained by Andrew Sullivan , a doctor of political science, when he writes, “Homosexuality is an essentially involuntary condition that can neither be denied nor permanently repressed” (302). In addition to personal beliefs, the idea that homosexuality is a natural occurrence has recently been supported by some medical studies. In 1990, Simon Levay, a doctor of neuroanatomy, discovered that a small section of the human brain, the hypothalamus, in “straight” men is more that two times the size of the hypothalamus of gay men (46). However, this study does not state the cause of homosexuality. Some possible explanation for the decreased size of a homosexual’s hypothalamus could be environmental, genetic, or even a side effect of homosexual activities. But, even though this study does not prove the cause of a decreased hypothalamus size or when the decrease occurs, it suggests that there are inherent biological differences in homosexual brains, which suggests that homosexuality is biological instead of a lifestyle choice.

Along with the support of scientific studies, such as Levay’s, gays and lesbians also validate themselves through the many societies of the past that supported homosexuality. For the past century, historians and literary experts have been studying gay marriages of the past, and they have found “tangible evidence of same-sex marriage in classical Greece, imperial Rome, and medieval Europe” (Eskridge 17). Some evidence that suggests how homosexual unions were accepted in ancient times can be seen in the writings of Plato, a philosopher whose writings greatly influenced the formation of American democracy. In an essay, Plato wrote, “I am convinced that a man who falls in love with a young man of his age is generally prepared to share everything… he is eager, in fact, to spend his life with him” (Eskridge 21). When only looking at the biological and historical arguments of homosexuals and their allies, it is hard to dispute homosexuality as a natural occurrence, but those that disagree present some interesting arguments.

For example, many people that oppose gay and lesbian marriages believe that homosexuality is unnatural, and they think that homosexuals should not be allowed to legally marry. Typically, opposing arguments rely on the Judeo-Christian beliefs that have been a base for American marriages. Gretchen A. Stiers, a doctor of sociology, explains the beliefs of some religions when she writes, “The issue of legitimizing same-sex marriages stirs up strong religious beliefs because it questions both the social and religious conception that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that its main purpose is procreation” (5). This point was reiterated when the Catholic Church declared, “Sex between two women or two men is not procreative and therefore is immoral and cannot be the basis for marriage” (Eskridge 90). Under this definition of procreation being the underlying purpose of marriage, those against gay and lesbian marriages argue that homosexual marriages would threaten the symbolic meaning of heterosexual marriages because homosexuals cannot procreate on their own (Stiers 8). According to these beliefs, homosexuality is unnatural, and the marriage of two gays or lesbians is inherently wrong. Their arguments make sense in a religious context if one relies on a literal translation of the Bible, but one must wonder how these arguments fit into a legal debate, especially since our government is expected to protect the separation of church and state.

Assuming religion is left out of the debate concerning gay and lesbian marriages, the people that oppose homosexuals claim that homosexuality is a violation of social beliefs. On the stage of right-winged politics, the pursuit of homosexuals to gain the right of marriage is seen as a symbol of our declining society (Stiers 163). In other words, a married homosexual family is far different than the socially accepted families of the past that have typically consisted of a married heterosexual couple and their children. Along with not fitting the stereotypical family image, homosexuals are also seen as sexual deviants by conservatives. James Q. Wilson even accuses homosexuals of having a “great tendency to be promiscuous,” but his assumption is very misguided (311). In fact, most non- religious arguments against homosexuality are based on misconceptions of gay and lesbian lifestyles, and those against homosexual marriage either don’t realize the monogamous relationships between loving homosexuals or they refuse to acknowledge them as monogamous.

Ironically, while some opponents insist on classifying homosexuals as immoral and unworthy of marriage, there are many state laws that are hypocritical on a moral level. As William N. Eskridge, Jr. points out, “No state refuses to issue a marriage license to a couple on the ground that society disapproves of their erotic practices or their sexual orientation—unless they are homosexual” (63). Eskridge goes on and points out a law in Virginia that virtually allows pedophilia, even though Virginia does not allow legalized homosexual weddings. According to Eskridge, “it is statutory rape in Virginia for an adult male to have sex with a girl of fourteen, unless the man subsequently marries the girl” (64). In other words, a pedophile can avoid incrimination as long as he is willing to marry a fourteen year-old girl he is taking advantage of. The hypocrisy of Virginia implying that homosexuals are immoral by denying them the right to marriage, while they practically legalize pedophilia, is an obvious sign of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

When homosexuals are thought of as normal citizens, which is a difficult concept for some opponents, the arguments for homosexual marriage do not seem unreasonable. Opponents generally deny the commitment gay couples have toward each other, even though “a large proportion of American adults who identify themselves as lesbian or gay live with another person of the same sex and regard that person as their life partner” (Chambers 449). Gay and lesbian couples, unlike heterosexuals, are denied the right to legitimize their relationship through the union of marriage, even though they are as committed to their lovers as heterosexual couples, and by denying homosexuals the right to marry, the United States is also denying them of many legal benefits (Stiers 167). Although some homosexuals have symbolic unions of marriage, sometimes even in a liberal church setting, they cannot obtain the privileges heterosexual couples receive after a legalized marriage. For example, without a legal marriage license, homosexual couples cannot be guaranteed the possessions of a lover that dies without leaving a will, become responsible for the life of a critically ill lover that is being hospitalized, have the right to claim a dead lover’s remains, or receive additional Social Security benefits based on a lover’s income (Eskridge 67). Without having the right to marriage, homosexuals are denied many privileges and benefits that are awarded to married heterosexuals, and laws denying homosexuals the right to marry is a legalized form of discrimination.

Fortunately, gays and lesbians are beginning to gain more legal respect, even though more progress still has to be done. In Hawaii and Vermont, homosexual marriages have been legalized, but couples married in these states are not legally recognized throughout the United Sates. Since Hawaii legalized homosexual marriages, “sixteen states have adopted laws declaring that their state does not recognize same-sex marriages even if conducted validly in another state” (Chambers 451). The states that passed these laws were most likely afraid of changing the long-lived belief in the United States that homosexuality is wrong, and they passed these laws as a deliberate attempt to discriminate against homosexuals. Eskridge clearly points out that denying homosexuals the right to marry will eventually seem ridiculous when he writes, “For most of American history, different-race marriages were not acceptable, but that was no argument to perpetuate this discrimination once our society rejected the racist assumptions of that exclusion” (91). Similar to interracial couples of the past, homosexual couples are being discriminated against now, and until the discrimination ends, the United States will never be a truly free country.

In the end, the legalization of homosexual marriage is all a matter of equality. At the current moment, gays and lesbians are denied privileges heterosexuals obtain after becoming legally married, and they are also denied the proof of legalized commitment that heterosexuals can receive. Therefore, homosexual marriages should be legalized in every state at an attempt to end the discrimination of homosexuals. However, legalizing homosexual marriages does not mean churches are expected to legitimize homosexuality in the eyes of God or opponents are expected socialize with the homosexual community. Legalizing homosexual marriage would only represent a victory for gay and lesbian activists because they will finally be allowed the rights and privileges that heterosexuals obtain after marriage.

Works Cited: Chambers, David L. “What If? The Legal Consequences of Marriage and the Legal Needs of Gay and Lesbian Couples.” Michigan Law Review. 95 (1996): 447-491.; Eskridge, William N. Jr. The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment. New York: The Free Press, 1996.; Levay, Simon, and Dean H. Hamer. “Evidence for a Biological Influence In Male Homosexuality.” Scientific America. May 1994: 44-49.; Stiers, Gretchen A. From This Day Forward: Commitment, Marriage, and Family in Lesbian and Gay Relationships. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.; Sullivan, Andrew. “Virtually Normal.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Political Issues. 12th ed. Eds. George McKenna and Stanley Feingold. New York: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2001. 302-306.; Wilson, James Q. “Against Homosexual Marriage.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Political Issues. 12th ed. Eds. George McKenna and Stanley Feingold. New York: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2001. 302-306.