The institution of marriage has been recognized in Western society for thousands of years. It is most widely recognized as a covenant of religious faith with the first writings referring to marriage occurring in the Bible. Marriage at that time represented a patriarchal family structure (Haeberle, 1981) and it served a distinct purpose – to propagate the human species by joining one man and one woman who were then expected to produce children from the union.
Over time, the definition of marriage has changed and as a Western society we no longer think of marriage as a means to procreate. Instead, marriage has become a choice and a willing union between two partners as an expression of their love and commitment. Is the marriage of two same sex partners any less “natural” than that of their heterosexual counterparts?
Going to back to biblical origins, marriage was expected of every single person and there were even cases where one husband enjoyed multiple wives and concubines. Marriage was important to keep the human species alive. It was also important for women, in particular, as they had little perceived value in society other than producing children who would keep the man’s family name living long into posterity. Over time, the laws of Israel changed to sanction only monogamy and discourage divorce (Haeberle, 1981).
As history progressed, women continued to receive the short end of the stick, so to speak, in that females were not allowed to own property or businesses or be involved in government. The only option for a woman to receive any kind of benefits from society was to marry. Men also enjoyed benefits from marriage, most particularly he was often joined with a woman whose family brought wealth directly to him. Marriage was largely a business proposition up until the 20th century and usually did not take into account personal feelings or emotions.
This type of traditional union between a man and woman has survived to the present day even though there is no longer any need to propagate our species or to manage a woman’s possessions or wealth. Instead, Western people are now focused on marrying for love and obtaining a loving partner (at least when marriage is for the right reasons!). But is there really a need for traditional marriage in today’s society? According to Haeberle, marriage survives because “it is a method for the orderly transmission and conservation of wealth and status”. It is a way to preserve our family lineage, and serves an economic purpose in allowing for inheritance and properties to be passed down to future generations of the same family, thereby keeping wealth confined to blood lines.
Certainly a heterosexual union can accomplish these goals as well as receiving official sanction from the majority of religions. Society, as well, accepts and enforces traditional marriages and encourages a set of parents to produce children and cohabitate in a family home. These traditional families engender faith, trust, and unconditional love and thus embody the core values of Western society.
When two partners of the same sex wish to signify their attachment to each other by exchanging vows, their need for these same core values is no less than that of a heterosexual couple. Homosexual partners also marry for love and companionship, based on religious beliefs, often to raise children together, and with the idea that their possessions, wealth and property will be passed down and death benefits given to their life partner. Reverend Ed Evans (from Robinson, 2007) describes a same sex marriage ceremony he performed: “Then hugs. And kisses. Love was being expressed. Love that finally had found a tiny crack from which to shine.”
The biggest difference between same sex and heterosexual couples is that society recognizes the latter type of union. Traditional marriage couples are afforded a legally sanctioned combination of their goods with clear inheritance laws as well as life and health insurance and death benefits. Homosexual couples are currently not allowed these privileges in all states of the United States except one, Massachusetts.
Not only does our legal system not recognize a same sex union, but the majority of religions do not, either. “God has a plan for marriage and this isn’t it” according to Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving (from Robinson, 2007). And, from John Stott, who authored a book Same Sex Partnerships, his basis for denigrating such unions is supported by the bible by referring to “positive teaching in Genesis 1 and 2 about human sexuality and heterosexual marriage” (from Robinson, 2007).
However, there are no passages in the Bible which clearly state a prohibition against same sex marriages, although it does condemn prostitution and rituals which involve homosexuality. Thus, “a religious liberal might thus conclude that gays and lesbians are called by God to either remain celibate or to enter into committed, loving, supported relationships — exactly the same lifestyles as God expects of heterosexuals” (Robinson, 2007).
For both opponents and proponents in these examples, same sex marriage is not seen as “unnatural” but merely to be different than the institution we have been traditionally taught to believe is acceptable. Many other societies around the world do not prohibit, and even endorse, homosexual unions (Haeberle, 1981). By defining marriage as a union between two individuals who vow to lend each other their support and love, to create a life together, to work towards the same goals, to raise children (if such a decision is reached), and to share possessions, wealth and property, we can then remove the label of “same-sex” or “heterosexual” for it simply does not matter.
Some may argue that the divorce rate will be affected by allowing same sex couples to marry in a legal union. “If marriage means everything, it means absolutely nothing. It will mean nothing to same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples. The current decline of the institution of marriage will be accelerated. Increasing numbers of couples will elect to simply ‘live together’ ” (Dobson, from Stanton). Current statistics show divorce rates hovering around 41 – 43% for all marriages; homosexual unions would actually have a higher rate of success if these couples were allowed to legally marry (Stanton, 2007).
The United States we live in is a country founded on principles of exploration, the right to defend ourselves and to speak freely, and providing a haven for those who would risk persecution elsewhere. Should not these same principles apply to loving partners of the same sex who wish to marry? It is the civil right of every American citizen to be allowed the freedom to marry the person they love (Robinson, 2007). And, as American citizens, it is our duty to celebrate our differences and rejoice in the fact that family values are still alive and well, no matter the type of family.
Haeberle, Erwin J., Ph.D., Ed.D. (1981). History of Marriage in Western Civilization, The Sex Atlas. Continuum Publishing: New York. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from the Magnus Hirschfield Archive for Sexology Web site: http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/history_of_marriage_in_western.html.
Haeberle, Erwin J., Ph.D., Ed.D. (1981). Marriage and the Family, The Sex Atlas. Continuum Publishing: New York. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from the Magnus Hirschfield Archive for Sexology Web site: http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/marriage_and_the_family.html.
Robinson, B. A. (2007). Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Same-sex Marriages (SSM), civil unions and domestic partnerships. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from the Religious Tolerance Web site: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_marr.htm.
Robinson, B. A. (2007). Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Liberal Christian views favoring Same-sex Marriages (SSM), civil unions and domestic partnerships. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from the Religious Tolerance Web site: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_marj_l.htm.
Stanton, Glenn T. (2007). Do Half of All American Marriages Really End in Divorce?,
from Focus on the Family. Retrieved September 11, 2007 from the Family.org Web site: http://www.family.org/socialissues/A000000596.cfm.