Should Gay Marriage Be Legal?
Hawaii could be the first state to legalize same-sex marriage if a court rules such unions must be allowed under the state's Constitution. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are considering a bill to allow states to ban same-sex unions. Here are arguments for and against gay marriage:
PRO: Banning same-sex marriage is discriminatory. Marriage is a basic human right and should not be denied to any individual. At various times in U.S. history, other minorities have been prevented from marrying: African-Americans, for example. Interracial marriage was also legally prohibited in various states, until the Supreme Court ruled such bans unconstitutional in 1967.
A Hawaii commission created to examine marriage discrimination concluded that banning gay marriage cut same-sex couples off from a host of tangible advantages, including health and retirement benefits; life insurance, income tax, estate tax and wrongful-death benefits, and spousal and dependent support.
Marriage promotes stability. Gay men and lesbians in committed relationships want to be able to celebrate their love and fidelity in the same way that heterosexual couples do. Religious conservatives should welcome gay marriage as an endorsement of traditional values. They complain that gay relationships are "promiscuous," but then oppose allowing same-sex couples to join together in a legal institution that promotes stability and long-term commitment. And in an age of AIDS, encouraging marriage is a wise public-health strategy.
Taxpayers benefit. Marriage puts legal force behind the promise to care for a loved one "in sickness and in health." Heterosexual partners bound by law to care for one another are less likely to ask for government assistance when one partner becomes ill or loses a job.
Religious values shouldn't dictate who gets married. In Hawaii, the issue before the court is civil marriage - the state's right to issue marriage licenses. Separation of church and state is a fundamental democratic principle. Religions would still be free to decide whether or not to perform gay marriages, and some want to do so. The decision to marry should belong to the individual, not to the government, religious groups or political extremists.
CON: Heterosexual marriage is sacred. Same-sex marriage is a violation of basic biblical tenets. No culture has endorsed the idea of men marrying men or women marrying women. America's laws were written to preserve the Judeo-Christian tradition, which deems homosexuality aberrant. Marriage as an institution is already threatened by divorce and by the erosion of religion and family values. If gay couples were allowed to marry, it would set a bad example for children and could spell the downfall of one of the cornerstones of our society. After all, what's next? Legalizing polygamy? Marriage between brothers?
One state court should not dictate marriage laws for the entire nation. If gay marriages become legal in Hawaii, other states may have to recognize them, as well, because the U.S. Constitution requires each state to grant "full faith and credit" to the acts of other states. But many states do not want to recognize same-sex unions and should not be forced to do so by a few judges in Hawaii. The bill introduced in Congress would preserve the right of the other 49 states to determine their own marriage laws.
Marriage is about procreation. The rights and privileges of marriage are based on the assumption that a couple will have children and raise them within the legal structure provided by the state. If having children is not the point of legal marriage, then there is no reason to provide married couples with special benefits. Of course, many married heterosexual couples do not have children. And the government cannot quiz betrothed couples on whether they plan to reproduce. But permitting gays to marry would further chip away at the original intent of the institution.
Marriage benefits cost money. If same-sex marriage were legal, gay couples would become eligible for federal benefits and tax breaks, placing an additional burden on an already strained federal treasury. Taxpayers would end up subsidizing a lifestyle of which many disapprove. To address that issue, the bill introduced on Capitol Hill by Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican, would allow states to ban gay marriage and make it clear that for federal purposes marriage means married heterosexual union.
See the citizen's toolbox at http://www.usnews.com for discussion of the issue.
This story appears in the June 3, 1996 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.