This year, the California Supreme Court will decide whether or not to overturn Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2005 veto of a bill legalizing same-sex marriages. This should be a fairly easy day on the bench. The following are a collection of the most common arguments against gay marriage and some opinions as to why they are simply insufficient.
1. ‘The country, as a whole, has a right to determine what it will and won’t accept.’
This is a valid point. America is a democracy and we vote to express our opinions so we can be accurately represented. However, there are certain things the majority has the right to determine and then there are those it doesn’t. Our government has built-in checks against simple majority rule, because it’s incredibly dangerous. The majority of our country was, at various points in our history, in favor of slavery, segregation and President George W. Bush. Today we recognize those stances as regrettable and foolish. Might we be saying the same of this debate in 50 years?
2. ‘Gay marriage would destroy the sanctity of marriage.’
If this is their primary concern, opponents of gay marriage should unleash their frustration elsewhere. Since they comprise less than 10 percent of the population and are in fact campaigning for monogamy, gay couples would be hard-pressed to cause as much ‘damage’ to the institution as their heterosexual counterparts. As anyone who has failed to avoid the Britney and K-Fed debacle can attest, nearly every celebrity couple makes a mockery of marriage. Even among ‘civilians,’ divorce rates are high: 36 to 50 percent of married couples divorced in the past year, depending on which statistics you believe. Clearly the institution has already been through the wringer. Opponents of gay marriage might protest that they crusade against gays because they’re saddened but powerless in the face of failed heterosexual marriages. On the contrary, there’s much they can do, such as lobbying for turning back the clock a bit and outlawing adultery. A preposterous invasion of an individual’s civil rights, you say? Indeed.
3. ‘Marriage is a word associated with and belonging to religion, but civil unions should be allowed for gay couples.’
While I applaud the spirit of giving at work here, this gesture simply makes no sense. The freedom of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment means that no one can be persecuted for practicing their faith. It also means, however, that Christianity is not our state religion.
It’s true that many of the Ten Commandments show up in our laws, and for good reason. No reasonable person would suggest that ‘Thou shalt not steal’ or ‘Thou shalt not kill’ are attempts by the religious right to overtake our legal system. However, these rules are fundamentally different from a ban on gay marriage. Murder and theft deprive their victims of life and property. Gay couples make some people feel squeamish. Marriage may indeed have originally been a religious institution. However, in today’s society, two heterosexual atheists can get ‘married’ in every sense of the word. Couples of faith may feel that their union has something the atheists’ lacks, but as far as the government is concerned, the two couples are alike under the law. This equality demonstrates the degree to which, legally, marriage is a secular bond. If a civil union is like a marriage in every respect save the name, then it is a marriage and should be called such. We can’t have one ‘equal’ institution with ‘separate’ names. That’s discrimination, remember?
4. ‘Marriage is an institution designed to raise children.’
Like the religious ownership argument, this statement is simply misleading. Yes, the heterosexual two-parent nuclear family is an ideal environment to procreate and raise well-adjusted children but today it really doesn’t matter for what purpose marriage was ‘designed.’ Couples are allowed by law to marry and not procreate. Their union is just as valid in the eyes of the law as that of a couple who has 11 children. Hence, gay couples should not be denied the ability to wed because they can’t reproduce.
Essentially, marriage is about two people who have decided to join forces and face life together. It’s a hard decision, but the couples that make it should receive equal treatment, regardless of sexual orientation. There’s no denying that marriage is the bedrock of our society. Gay marriage will not change that. Its proponents simply want to participate in a basic institution of American life. There is too much hatred in the world right now to be concentrating any resources on keeping people apart who love each other.
Julie Schechter is a fourth-year dance major.