“Like abortion and capital punishment, same-sex marriage sits on the cultural fault lines of morality, religion, and law” (Mello 1). In this concise statement, Michael Mello encapsulates the fiery debate that has engulfed American politics and public debate: whether or not gay people should be allowed to marry their partners. The comparison to abortion and capital punishment is accurate, as both issues spike furious debate and moral outcry from both sides. However, the difference between these two issues and gay marriage is that gay marriage has not yet reached full legislative protection the same way capital punishment and abortion have achieved. When considering the various angles of the debate surrounding gay marriage, a logical position becomes clear: Gay marriage should be legal for legal, constitutional, and moral issues.
When considering the legal issues associated with marriage, gay people who desire to marry one another should have the right to do so. As a result of being unable to marry, several long-term partners have been unable to receive financial and governmental benefits guaranteed by marriage, “benefits designed to help committed couples take care of each other as they age, as well as any children who depend on them” (Snyder 9). Another major legal issue associated with marriage is the discrepancy between state laws and federal laws. While certain states have permitted same-sex marriage, the federal government has attempted to undermine these efforts through various legislative means. Noting this sabotage, the 2004 DNC platform states, “In our country, marriage has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush’s divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a ‘Federal Marriage Amendment’” (Snyder 5). In other words, the federal government has had little involvement in the marital affairs of states’ citizens, even when other unfair legislative practices were in place, such as those that banned interracial marriage in the past. However, with the increased focus on gay marriage, the federal government has attempted to subvert states’ efforts towards equality, equality guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
After contemplating the legal issues that marriage entails, constitutional issues also arise. After all, any man and any woman can marry one another, regardless of age, income, race, or previous marital status. Even individuals who are incarcerated for heinous crimes have the privilege of heterosexual marriage: “On October 3, 1996, Richard Rameriz, convicted serial killer and professed Satanist, married Doreen Lioy, a freelance magazine editor…While Rameriz is notorious, inmate marriage is not unusual. Many inmates marry while in prison, and they have a constitutional right to do so” (Snyder 1). Thus, even though inmates have lost the right to even live within normal societal bounds, they still have not lost the right to marry. Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens who contribute to society are unable to marry simply due to the fact that their partner is of the same gender. Fortunately, some brave couples attempted to challenge this societal practice, with the first case occurring in Hawaii: “In the early 1990s, gay people started talking as never before about getting married, and a lawsuit in Hawaii, where a same-sex couple sought a marriage license, forced the country to listen” (Rauch 4). Even though this lawsuit failed, the public took notice, especially younger people. Younger people have grown up with the understanding that they should be allowed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and for many people, the pursuit of happiness involves marriage to one’s true love. The pursuit of happiness also brings to mind the moral issues associated with marriage.
Lastly, legal and constitutional issues aside, gay people should have the right to marry for moral reasons. Jonathan Rauch clearly describes the emotions felt by gay people when faced with this dilemma: “Imagine looking back on a childhood and youth without the prospect of marriage…True love means, first and foremost, a love which ends in lasting marriage. For you, true love in that sense is not possible, and never has been possible, and you have grown up assuming it would never be possible” (Rauch 2). It is always easier for people to pass judgment on others until they have spent time in that person’s shoes. Many Caucasian-Americans will never understand the horrors of slavery and its lasting psychological remnants, yet some will demonstrate unapologetic prejudice. Similarly, many heterosexual people may never be able to relate to feeling genuine love for someone else of the same gender, yet they will rail against those individuals’ right to marry just because they do not agree with it. This fierce opposition raises serious moral issues, as it allows some people to dictate what morality is for everyone, rather than just following their own established code of ethics and minding their own business.
When evaluating gay marriage from a legal, constitutional, and moral standpoint, it becomes not only clear, but also important, that gay marriage should be legalized. From a legal standpoint, a committed couple, regardless of heterosexual or homosexual status, should have the right to marry, not only to protect themselves, but also to protect children that might be involved. From a constitutional standpoint, gay couples should be allowed to marry as all American citizens have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Lastly, after evaluating legal and constitutional aspects, gay people should be allowed to marry for purely moral reasons. If someone truly loves someone else, and that love is returned, both people should be allowed to marry one another, regardless of race, gender, religion, or age.
- Mello, Michael. Legalizing Gay Marriage: Vermont and the National Debate. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press, 2004.
- Rauch, Jonathan. Gay Marriage: Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2004.
- Snyder, Claire R. Gay Marriage and Democracy: Equality for All. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.