Gay weddings

Same-sex marriage is defined as two people of the same sex who live together as a family. Other terms include ” gay marriage “, ” gender-neutral marriage “, ” equal marriage “, ” lesbian marriage “, ” homosexual marriage “, and ” same-gender marriage “.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, opposing efforts to legalize or ban same-sex civil marriage made it a topic of debate all over the world. In 2001, the Netherlands were the first country to allow same-sex marriage. At present, same-sex marriages are also recognized in Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Spain, and the state of Massachusetts of the United States (for same-sex marriages performed within that state under its laws). Israel ’s High Court of Justice ruled to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries, although it is still illegal to perform them within the country and a bill has been raised in Knesset to rescind the High Court’s ruling.

Terminology Argument

Many proponents of same-sex marriage use the term “equal marriage” ; the term “equal marriage” has also long been used by feminists to describe any marriage, regardless of the sex of the partners, in which the partners have equal status within the marriage. Some argue that the correct term is simply “marriage” since that is how opposite-sex marriage is presented. Opponents argue that equating same-sex and opposite-sex marriage changes the meaning of marriage and its traditions. Some opponents use the term “homosexual marriage”, and surveys have suggested that the word “homosexual” is more stigmatizing than the word “gay”. Some publications that oppose same-sex marriage put the word “marriage” in when referring to it. Notable publications that practice this are and LifeSite. A writer for the American conservative-based media watchdog group, agrees with this method arguing that “marriage” is a word that same-sex couples merely want to apply to themselves, but have no legal ability to do so in most states. Same-sex marriage supporters argue that it is editorializing and implying inferiority, and point out that the quotes are even used when referring to same-sex marriages in locations where it is legal.

Some have suggested reserving the word “marriage” for religious contexts, and in civil and legal contexts using a uniform concept of civil unions . Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, for instance, wrote that such an arrangement would “strengthen the wall of separation between church and state by placing a sacred institution entirely in the hands of the church while placing a secular institution under state control”. Conservative critics like National Review ’s Jennifer Morse contend that the conflation of marriage with contractual agreements is itself a threat to marriage that “has undermined more heterosexual marriages than anything, with the possible exception of adultery”.

The terms “gay marriage” and “straight marriage” are potentially inaccurate to the extent that they imply that the spouses are of a certain sexual orientation . A spouse in a same-sex marriage may be bisexual and not gay, and a spouse in an opposite-gender marriage may be straight, bisexual, or gay. Sexual orientation has rarely been a legal or religious qualification for marriage (a gay man could still marry a woman).

Current Status of Same-Sex Marriage

Full marriage is presently available to same-sex couples in five countries. However, some of the rights of marriage are granted elsewhere through civil unions or by private employers.

Civil Unions

Civil unions, domestic partnerships or registered partnerships offer varying amounts of the benefits of marriage and are available in: Andorr, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom . They are also available in parts of Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, all Australian states and territories, and California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont, and the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) of the United States. The first same-sex union in modern history with government recognition was obtained in Denmark in 1989. Scandinavian registered partnership is nearly equal to marriage, including legal adoption rights in Sweden, and since June, also in Iceland. However these partnerships are written separately from marriage in the existing laws, and are thus not called marriage except in daily speech. In some countries with legal recognition the actual benefits are minimal. Many people consider civil unions, even those which grant equal rights, inadequate, as they create a separate status, and think they should be replaced by gender-neutral marriage.

International Organizations

The terms of employment of the staff of international organizations (not businesses) are not, in most cases, governed by the laws of the country in which their offices are located. Agreements with the host country safeguard these organizations’ impartiality with regard to the host and member countries. Hiring and firing practices, working hours and environment, holiday time, pension plans, health insurance and life insurance, salaries, expatriation benefits and general conditions of employment are managed according to rules and regulations proper to each organization. The independence of these organizations gives them the freedom to implement human resource policies which are even contrary to the laws of their host and member countries. A person who is otherwise eligible for employment in Belgium may not become an employee of NATO unless he or she is a citizen of a NATO member state. The World Health Organization has recently banned the recruitment of cigarette smokers. Agencies of the United Nations coordinate some human resource policies amongst themselves.

Despite their relative independence, few organizations currently recognize same-sex partnerships without condition. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the agencies of the United Nations voluntarily discriminate between opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages, as well as discriminating between employees on the basis of nationality. These organizations recognize same-sex marriages only if the country of citizenship of the employees in question recognizes the marriage. In some cases, these organizations do offer a limited selection of the benefits normally provided to opposite-sex married couples to de facto partners or domestic partners of their staff, but even individuals who have entered into an opposite-sex civil union in their home country are not guaranteed full recognition of this union in all organizations. However, the World Bank does recognize domestic partners.

Degree of Increase of Same-Sex Marriage and Civil Unions

In the United Kingdom , the government is reported to have anticipated demand for same-sex civil partnerships as being around 11,000 to 22,000 by 2010 . However as at December 2006 some 15,657 such partnerships had been registered in around 9 months.

Same-Sex Marriage and the Transgendered

If defined genetically, both transsexuals and intersexed individuals would be prohibited from marrying partners of the “opposite” sex and therefore from heterosexual marriage. Just as recent same-sex marriages have been quickly overturned as null and void, so too could extant, long term marriages. More than one in one hundred newborns are to some degree physically aberrant from their genetic sex , with most of them undergoing some degree of surgical alteration. In the United Kingdom, recent legislation allows transsexual persons to be officially recognized in their new gender, but this has the effect of annulling any previous marriage. However the couple will now be able to register a civil partnership, to come into force immediately on the dissolution of their marriage.

The Gay Weddings Controversy

The legitimacy of marriage between two people depends on how the authoritative definition of marriage is derived. Gay rights advocates assert that marriage is a civil right since they believe marriage is a fundamentally legal agreement on the governmental level which should not be restricted to opposite-sex couples. Their opponents assert that marriage is a right, but it is a natural right based on the biological need to procreate. In this view, “marriage” between same-sex couples is not itself a right and can be allowed or disallowed as law decides. Further opponents argue that a change in the definition of marriage to include same gender couples could lead to the breakdown in understanding of what marriage actually is. Most of the controversy centers around governmental definitions of marriage, rather than the blessing of same-sex unions by individual religious organizations, which may or may not be recognized as civil marriages.

Some who are in favour of same-sex marriage argue that homosexuals contribute as much as heterosexuals to the funding for private and public family coverage even when they have no access to it, and that discrimination decreases productivity. They support the equalization of male-male, female-female, and male-female relationships, and being able to marry any consenting adult one chooses is seen as a civil right that should not be abridged by the government.

Opponents answer that this view of marriage reduces marriage to little more than a means test for social benefits. They also see same-sex and male-female arrangements as inherently unequal, stating that nothing less than perpetuation of humanity itself relies fully on the latter and not at all on the former, and trying to “equalize” such arrangements through force of law will only create gross social distortions to accommodate the gulf between such law and the observable facts of human nature. However, none to date have argued that there should be a legal requirement to have children in a male-female relationship to be recognized as a marriage or that sterile male-female couples should be denied a marriage license.

Some disagree with the idea of government involvement in the institution of marriage at all but especially the benefits received from becoming married that are largely seen as a “reward”. Within this interpretation, giving benefits to married couples, regardless of sexual preference is a problem in and of itself. The government’s only function is to uphold the legal agreement between the partners, regardless of sexual orientation. This view can be found with individuals that align themselves with the Libertarian Party and fits well within their small government ideals.

Gay Weddings Religious Arguments

Some opponents object to same-sex marriage on purely religious grounds . They claim that extending marriage to same-sex couples undercuts the conventional meaning of marriage according to traditional cultural and religious understanding and traditions, does not fulfill any procreational role, and/or sanctions a partnership centred around sexual acts that their respective religion prohibits. For example, James Dobson , in Marriage Under Fire and elsewhere, states that legalization or even tolerance of same-sex marriage would redefine the family and lead to an increase in homosexual couples.

Conservative and some moderate Christians further claim that same-sex marriage goes against biblical teaching, for example, Genesis 19:5 (behaviour which allegedly contributed to the destruction of ancient cities Sodom and Gomorrah). Other passages are Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13 (which, by literal interpretation, prescribes the death penalty for male-male homosexual contact), and in the New Testament of the Bible, First Corinthians 6:8-10 and Romans 1:24-27.

However, other moderate and liberal Christians claim that these passages are taken out of full textual, historical and cultural contexts and aren’t applicable to homosexual relationships as we know them today. They view the passages about Sodom and Gomorrah as referring to systematic rape and inhospitalities. They see the passages in Leviticus as part of the Holiness Code and strictly reserved to the Israelites of that time. Most of this Holiness Code is not practised by contemporary Christians (e.g., prohibitions on wearing mixed fabrics, a proscription of the consumption of pork, the sacrifice of animals as atonement for sins). For some modern Christians, the passage in Romans is seen as relating more to specific instances of Greco-Roman temple sex acts and idolatrous worship and not intended to address contemporary homosexuality.

Some modern churches and denominations, as listed previously in this article, perform same-sex weddings. At the 1996 Unitarian Universalism General Assembly , delegates voted overwhelmingly that because of “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” same-sex couples should have the same freedom to marry that other couples have.

Gay Weddings Social Arguments

Those who advocate that marriage should be defined exclusively as the union of one man and one woman argue that heterosexual unions provide the procreative foundation of the family unit that is the chief social building block of civilization. Libertarians and others may see marriage not as a legal construct of the state, but as a naturally occurring “pre-political institution” that the state must recognize as it recognizes other natural institutions such as jobs and families. “Government does not create marriage any more than government creates jobs”. They argue that the definition proposed by same-sex marriage advocates changes the social importance of marriage from its natural function of reproduction into a mere legality or freedom to have sex. These sides of the argument may refer to themselves as “defenders” of traditional marriage. As any customary relationship may be considered “marriage”, some argue that this then leads to undue legislative burden and an affront to the social value and responsibility of parenting one’s own children.

The dissent by Justice Martha Sosman in the decision of the Massachusetts high court that legalized gay marriage in that state makes a societal argument without specifying the harm that would occur from this change. Asserting the a priori importance of marriage as an institution, she questions whether the burden of proof that this would be harmless has been met. Her analysis can be seen as an example of Precautionary Principle.

A common objection to same-sex marriage is that the purpose of marriage is a result of naturally occurring sexual attraction that leads to procreation and that the same-sex partnership is inherently sterile. Some who hold this view see marriage as the social codification of an evolved long term mating strategy, with economic and legal benefits to facilitate family growth and stability. Others argue that because the law does not prohibit marriage between sterile heterosexual couples, or to women past menopause , the procreation argument cannot reasonably be used against same-sex marriage, particularly since technological advances allow gay couples to have their own related biological children.

Another view is that all marriages should thus be viewed legally as ” civil unions “. These civil unions would then only receive the benefits of marriage which do not require expenditures from the government (e.g. tax breaks), and any monetary benefits would only be awarded based on the number of children living in a household.

Some same-sex marriage proponents, such as Andrew Sullivan , argue that same-sex marriage is moral enough to support the family centered role marriage plays in society despite the absence of biological children. Also that the institution of marriage would be strengthened by making it available to more people, and argue further that same-sex marriage would encourage gays and lesbians to settle down with one partner and raise families. Others argue that marriage no longer retains a procreative function of the government since many governments offer child tax credits and assistance regardless of marital status.

Some libertarians and anarchists object to same-sex marriage because they are opposed to any form of state-sanctioned marriage, including opposite-sex unions. They are not necessarily opposed to the idea of a same-sex wedding itself, only that the government should not have any role in the event, nor for that matter should government approval be sought for opposite-sex marriages. See Libertarian perspectives on gay rights.

The Gay Weddings Argument versus Tradition

Proponents of same-sex marriage point out that “traditional” concepts of marriage in actuality have already undergone significant change.

Polygamy has been prohibited, married women are no longer considered the property of their husbands, divorce is legal, contraception within wedlock is allowed, and anti-miscegenation laws forbidding interracial marriage have been eliminated in most modern societies.

The fact that changes in the customs and protocols of marriage often occur gives rise to the argument that marriage is dynamic, and same-sex marriage is only the latest evolution of the institution.

Gay Weddings Arguments Concerning Children

Some object on the grounds that same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt or raise children or to have access to reproductive technologies, and that same-sex marriage would make such adoptions easier. A number of health and child welfare organizations, however, disagree. They include the Child Welfare League of America, North American Council on Adoptable Children, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers. On July 28, 2004, the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives adopted a resolution supporting legalization of same-sex civil marriages and opposes discrimination against lesbian and gay parents.

Gay Weddings Arguments Concerning Divorce Rates

Over two years have passed now since same sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, and data from all of 2004 and 2005 are now available. Emergent trends in Massachusetts amount to a stark indictment of those dire claims about same-sex marriage having a negative impact on traditional marriages.

Divorce rates are commonly used as a key measure of marital and family health.

U.S. states, including Massachusetts, submit monthly summaries of vital statistics on births, deaths, marriages, and divorces to the U.S. Center For Disease Control’s National Center For Health Statistics (NCHS). The NCHS then compiles publicly available monthly and yearly reports of this data. The following statistics are based on that NCHS material.

Divorce rates in the US have been declining steadily since the the early 1980’s. Massachusetts has shared in the trend and traditionally has had a divorce rate considerably lower than the national average.

In fact, for several years now the Commonwealth has had the lowest divorce rate of any state in the union. (The District of Columbia (Washington, DC) of the United States does have a lower divorce rate.)

In 2004 the Massachusetts divorce rate, at 2.2 per 1,000 residents per year, was considerably lower than the U.S. national average rate for that year, 3.8 per 1,000. The divorce rate in Massachusetts was lower than the national average rate for 1950 (2.6 per 1,000) and even approached the national rate of 1940 (2 per 1,000).

In the first two years of legal same sex marriage in the Bay State, Massachusetts showed a more rapid decline and will very likely hold on to its title as the state with the lowest divorce rate in the United States.

The institution of marriage in Massachusetts since same-sex Marriage was legalized, as measured by the rate of divorce, has not been healthier in at least half a century regardless of dire predictions of Christian Right leaders and Catholic Bishops.

The conservative “red states” that have taken aggressive action against same sex marriage, have not done nearly as well during the two year period of legal same sex marriage in Massachusetts.

The preliminary data from 2004 and 2005 — from the 17 U.S. states which have provided data on divorce for 2004 and 2005 and whose voters also passed state constitutional amendents prohibiting same sex marriage — presents a striking picture : the group of U.S. states arguably most hostile to divorce, those which have passed both state laws and also state constitutional amendments prohibiting same sex marriage, lag dramatically in terms of divorce rate improvement when compared to same sex marriage friendly states.

Among those U.S. states that are most opposed to same sex marriage which have also provided divorce data for the time period — AR, KS, KY, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, ND, OH, OK, OR, UT, TX — the average divorce rate ( unadjusted for population changes ) for 2004 and 2005 increased 1.75%. This group contains 4 of the 5 states with the highest divorce rate increases in the United States during 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005.

The one state in the United States Of America that has legal same sex marriage, Massachusetts, will be among the top ten states - or better - with the largest drop in divorce rates in America during 2004 and 2005.

Arguments Concerning Equality

In the United States, there are at least 1,138 federal laws “in which marital status is a factor” ( United States General Accounting Office ). See Rights and responsibilities of marriages in the United States for a partial list. A denial of rights or benefits without substantive due process , assert the proponents of same-sex marriage, directly contradicts the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which provides for equal protection of all citizens.

In a 2003 case titled Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court held that the right to private consensual sexual conduct was protected under the Fourteenth Amendment . (The court noted “moral disapproval does not constitute a legitimate governmental interest under the Equal Protection Clause.”) Both supporters and detractors of same-sex marriage have noted that this ruling paved the way for subsequent decisions invalidating state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia noted as such in his dissenting opinion to Lawrence .

Some opponents of extending marriage to same-sex couples claim that equality can be achieved with civil unions or other forms of legal recognition that don’t go as far as to use the word “marriage” that’s used for opposite-sex couples. An opposing argument, used by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health , is the following: “the dissimilitude between the terms “civil marriage” and “civil union” is not innocuous; it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status” and also that “The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal.” For instance, in matters under federal statutes such as immigration, a bi-national same-sex couple committed under civil union do not have the same rights as their married heterosexual counterparts in sponsoring their alien (law) partner for permanent residency . There is however, a bill pending in the United States Congress since 2000, called Uniting American Families Act pertaining to this discrimination.

Some proponents of same-sex marriage make a comparison between racial segregation and segregation of homosexual and heterosexual marriage classifications in civil law. They argue that dividing the concept of same-sex marriage and different-sex marriage is tantamount to ” separate but equal ” policies (like that overturned in the United States Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education ), or anti-miscegenation laws that were also overturned.

Parallels to Interracial Marriage

Several countries, including the United States and Canada , have historically had anti-miscegenation laws in place to prevent interracial marriages . These laws are now considered a direct infringement upon the civil rights of interracial couples and the last such law in the United States was struck down in 1967 ( Loving v. Virginia ). A key argument in support of same-sex marriage is that laws banning same-sex marriage are highly analogous to laws banning interracial marriage; a ban on same-sex marriage can therefore be seen as a form of discrimination infringing upon the civil rights of same-sex couples. In response, opponents of same-sex marriage argue that men and women are fundamentally different from one another, whereas interracial couples still fit within the “one man and one woman” definition of marriage.

They also point out that in 1972, after the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling in Baker v. Nelson specifically distinguished Loving as not being applicable to the same-sex marriage debate, the United States Supreme Court dismissed the appeal “for want of a substantial federal question.” Such a dismissal constitutes a decision on the merits of the case, and as such, is binding precedent on all lower Federal Courts.

On a side note, however, Baker seemingly no longer bars the lower federal courts from hearing cases regarding same-sex marriage. The federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA) simultaneously created (1) a federal definition of marriage and (2) a new rule under the Full Faith and Credit Act (passed pursuant to Congress’s authority under the federal Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause) purporting to limit mandatory interstate recognition of same-sex marriages. By “federalizing” marriage with statutes that are susceptible of judicial scrutiny, Congress effectively–albeit perhaps unintentionally–expanded the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal courts, superseding Baker’s dismissal “for want of a substantial federal question.” Indeed, conservatives in Congress recently discovered this loophole when a same-sex couple was granted standing to sue in federal district court in California on a claim that DOMA is unconstitutional. (In response, some conservatives in Congress introduced a “court-stripping” provision that would prevent all federal courts from hearing claims challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. This court-stripping provision itself has been challenged as being of dubious constitutionality.)

The Economic Argument

Some United States critics of same-sex marriage have argued against governmental recognition on the grounds that the public should not have to shoulder the burden of increased taxes and insurance premiums to cover the associated costs.

Proponents of same-sex marriage have pointed out that one of the costs would be the tax penalty and that all married individuals currently pay when filing their federal tax returns jointly. As an example, a ‘99 Congressional Budget Office report showed 2.1 million married couples paying a total of 2.9 billion dollars in excess taxes because they filed jointly as opposed to individually.

Additional Arguments

Some opponents (including then Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania) also claim that allowing same-sex marriage will blur other common law precedents and lead to the legalization of a variety of non-traditional relationships including:

  • Polygamy. The gist of this argument is that the traditional definition of marriage involves two components, a commitment to one person of the opposite sex, and that changing one of these components (restricting it to members of opposite sexes) would necessarily lead to a change in the other component (restricting it to only one person).
  • Polyamory. Defined as the practice whereby a person has more than one long term loving relationship in their life, with the knowledge and acceptance of others they are involved with, in whatever form is chosen by those involved. This can include long term stable group marriages , or stable couples who have external partners as well as their ‘primary’ partner.
  • Incestuous marriages
  • Marriages of convenience for tax or other reasons.
  • Marriages between humans and animals. Non-human animals, however, do not have the legal standing to consent into a marriage contract. This argument is not taken seriously by most commentators, and is generally considered offensive in that it compares non-heterosexual humans to non-human animals.

Same-Sex Etiquette

The standard form of address for same-sex spouses is that where the couple has taken one name, they may be addressed as “The Messrs. William and Harry Fitzgibbon” or ” Mmes. Emily and Lucia March”; otherwise, they may be addressed individually, as is done for other married couples with different surnames.