The Controversies about the Same-Sex Marriage

Ideas about family and marriage have changed enormously in the Western Societies at least since the 18th Century, from extended families to nuclear families, to single-parent families, inter-racial families, and a wide range of different types and sub-types of familial organizations. Some of these changes are directly related with macro-changes among the Western societies, such as the spread of capitalism, the growth of individualism as a legitimated (and encouraged) way of life, and the discovery of new medical technologies that have been helping people live much more years than before, and also to help them to plan how, when, why and in which circumstances to have children. A second factor that also plays an important role in this matter was the emergence of several social movements claiming women's liberation from domestic work and sexism, trying to guarantee them the right to drive their lives following only their own wishes and needs.

In spite of the visibility of those changes over the years, many people seem to be blind to them and have blamed another kind of family for the fall of these traditional families. According to them, gay couples are destroying a certain traditional structure that is the ground of our society. For the opponents of gay marriage, the primarily reason for the existence of a family is to raise children, and gay couples are not able to satisfy this purpose. Some opponents are even more conservative in this aspect, since they affirm that gay parents can be dangerous to children.

Taking these arguments seriously, my objective here is to demonstrate that the critics of same-sex unions are engaged in making us believe that it is a moral issue, while I am strongly convinced that, in fact, this is a political issue, talking about who are and who aren’t citizens in our societies.

Above all, this matter is essentially about the social, civil and legal recognition of an equal treatment for LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender) people conducting their lives as they want, having the same privileges and rights that a typical heterosexual has under the auspices of the state, regardless of sexual orientation.

However, most of the opponents of the guarantee of the gays civil rights are trying to lead this debate into a complex, confusing and somewhat religious discussion where a pretense gay lifestyle threatens the traditional institution of marriage. Come from these critics arguments that portray the LGBT people as being immoral, promiscuous, unable to love with attachment, incompetents to raising children, among many others.

Unfortunately, these misunderstandings about what homosexuality is in fact and the hundreds of arguments based on it spread as a plague in the society, especially through the mass media and religious comments, reinforcing prejudices and stereotypes that contribute to impede a neutral and open debate in the public sphere.

Because of this, it's possible to comprehend why, according to a survey released by Princeton Survey Research Associates International in March 12-16, 2009, more than half of all people in the United States oppose gay marriage (55% according the survey), although three fourths are otherwise supportive of gay rights. This paradox means that many of the same people who support gay rights in general oppose gays when the issue is get married and recognition by the law.

Once again, it’s important to emphasize the political effects involved in this moral approach. When the United States of America, for example, denies the right of getting married for same-sex couples, the state is also denying them about 1049 rights that are given for couples legally married. For instance, a wife or a husband that contributes to a pension is allowed to receive a monthly amount in case of the partner's death, but gay couples are not. Contrary to what occurs with legally married couples, homosexuals who live together cannot inherit property from a partner without a will. And even when they inherit they have to pay a transmission tax, of which the widows are exempt.

Change it takes work, but as a well-known campaign’s slogan says: change, we can believe in. Thus, an important work to be made is to bring the LGBT struggles into the side of the civil rights, to show that the improvement and the equalization of rights goes hand in hand with a new process of democratization that is compromised with the respect of the differences. It does not mean that a consensus is required about this matter, but, on the other hand, it’s unconstitutional, unfair and unethical to bar someone to access rights only because she or he isn’t a mainstream member. The right of being different cannot mean receiving an uneven treatment by the state.

The same United States that now promotes an amazing reflection about the possibility of splitting its citizens by their sexual orientation was faced, 50 years ago, with a similar dilemma concerning African-American civil rights. At the time, inter-racial marriages where prohibit in many states, public places and schools were segregated, and in addition, for many white people it was natural to think that the African-Americans should be treated as second-class citizens. At the time also, moral arguments against the desegregation and the equalization of rights were common, but things changed and the idea that all men are created equal won. The Civil Rights Movement opened the doors for many other movements the came later, such as the Feminist Movement, the Latinos Movement, and the LGBT Movement, that helped America become more and more democratic.

Regarding same-sex marriage, the struggle has just begun, but there are no reasons to celebrate yet. Since Netherlands, in 2001, became the first country to offer full marriage civil rights to same-sex couples, things have changed a little bit. After Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, and Sweden allowed gay married with exactly the same rights of an opposite-sex marriage, and about 16 other countries have specific jurisdictions that allow civil unions of gays.

In the United States the gay marriage issue seems to be a complex process of give and take. Currently, Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut are states that allow civil unions of same-sex couples, while California had a brief period of liberalization in 2008, which was banned with the approval of the Preposition 8. Some states also passed constitutional amendments barring the possibility of same-sex marriage, and others places, such as New York, recognize same marriage performed in other places.

Unfortunately, the United States isn’t the only country where the same-sex marriage is an issue. The power of the moral disagreements seems to be more effective than an open-minded discussion about the necessity of taking this question as a central political-cultural dilemma of our time. However, the change is possible, but isn’t easy and must be a political change conducted by collective actions that show us that in a pluralistic society, ensuring equal civil rights is the most important thing to do to preserve diversity and democracy.

Who ensures that the history
It’s an abandoned carthorse
In a side-road
Or in a inglorious station
The history is a happy car
Full of happy people
Running over, indifferent
Those that denies the history
(Pablo MIlanes and Chico Buarque de Holanda)