Frank and Elizabeth Simoni have generously created a special essay scholarship award available to Norwood High School students. Seniors are invited to write an essay based on any curent issue (i.e., one that has been in the news during the past twelve months) which has its roots in American history. The paper should be 1500-2000 words in length (six to eight pages minimum), word processed in two copies, double spaced, conforming to Norwood High School format, accurately researched, and persuasively presented. Students should use a minimum of six sources.


The Case for Same-Sex Marriage

by Elizabeth Sweeny
[M]y not quite 3-year-old daughter, Elizabeth and her slightly younger friend, Amy, were animatedly dancing a few feet away from me, announcing joyfully that they were getting married. "Having a wedding" was one of Elizabeth's favorite games of the moment. ... To Elizabeth weddings have something to do with love, but more importantly at the moment, something to do with music, dress up, dance, and celebration. (Benkov 113-114)

What a beautiful and innocent image of marriage. Unfortunately for thousands of couples, marriage is a joy denied them for the sole reason that both partners are of the same gender. Having started as a largely Puritan society, the United States of America has never been very fond of homosexuals, dating back to the time when the anti-sodomy laws were put on the books. This has begun to change within the past fifty years, though. Hawaii's 1996 Baehr v. Lewin case and Vermont's legislation recognizing same-sex civil unions have many states as well as the federal government scrambling to pass "Defense of Marriage Acts" refusing to recognize same-sex marriages or marriage-like unions between to people of the same gender. Less than two months ago, Massachusetts Representative John Rogers proposed one for his home state. The argument against same-sex marriage is, ostensibly at least, based on history, religion, and concern for the welfare of children. There are also some radicals who wish to totally eliminate the institution of marriage. The defenders of same-sex marriage argue that the right to marry is a fundamental right, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence's avowal of the protection of the "inalienable" right of the "pursuit of happiness," and that homosexuality and same-sex marriage pose no threat to the fabric of society and have actually been present throughout history.

One of the most important issues in this debate is that of just what marriage is. Many Christians argue that marriage is for procreation, but that begs the question as to why couples who know they will not be having children, either by inability or by choice, are allowed to marry. The Catholic Church has stated that sex within marriage has two purposes: procreative and unitive. Apparently the procreative requirement can be waived for heterosexual couples but not for homosexual ones, even though one papal encyclical, the Casti Connubii, actually states that the love between the two partners is the "primary purpose and meaning of matrimony" (McNeill 47). According to this encyclical:

The mutual inward molding of the partners ... can in a very real sense ... be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of children, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof. (McNeill 47)

Paul Halsall defines marriage as a union having the following components: domestic cohabitation, communal recognition, customary rules of conduct, some sort of ceremonial inception, and some extension of time. He also adds that modern American and Western European society has added new elements–emotional commitment, legal recognition, and monogamy (1). This criteria is quite accurate, but in order to be accurate it must also be very broad. Marriage has meant many things to many people throughout the ages and E. J. Graff has the right idea when she compares marriage to Jerusalem, saying that it is

an archaeological site on which the present is constantly building over the past, letting history's many layers twist and tilt into today's walls and floors. As with Jerusalem, many people believe theirs is the one true claim to this holy ground. But like Jerusalem, marriage has always been a battleground, owned and defined first by one group and then another. While marriage, like Jerusalem, may retain its ancient name, very little else in this city has remained the same—not its boundaries, boulevards, or daily habits—except the fact that it is inhabited by human beings. (Marriage xi)

Many argue that same-sex marriage is a completely new phenomenon, but this is inaccurate. While ancient societies certainly had a vested interested in forcing people into stable, procreative unions to propagate the race, same-sex relations were common and in some cultures same-sex marriages were sanctioned. In ancient Greece, though most everyone married, the love between two men was considered as surpassing that between a man and a woman because the men were on an equal level with each other while women were considered inferiors. In many Early American societies, there were some who were considered "Third Sprits," possessing both male and female spirits. These people were greatly revered and often acted as shaman. Many of them also married tribe members of their own sex. One example of same-sex union far from the Western tradition is in China during the Yuan and Ming dynasties, as evidence by the writings of the seventeenth-century Li Yu. Many of his stories tell of love affairs between men, and one actually describes a wedding between two men, emphasizing that the couple adhered to the formal requisites of marriage (Eskridge 31). Paul Halsall provides further clarification of the same-sex love found in Li Yu's stories in his lengthy essay on the history of same-sex marriage. One passage he provides reads:

In Fujian the southern custom is the same as that for women. One tries to discern a youth from whom this is the first marriage. If he is a virgin, men are willing to pay a large bride-price They do not skip the three cups of tea, or the six wedding rituals - it is just like a proper marriage with a formal wedding. (1)

Halsall cites many other marriage-like unions throughout the centuries and across the world, some of which were more likely "marriages" than others.

Even if marriage had always been between a man and a woman, however, this might still not be valid ground for refusing same-sex marriage. After all, for most of history marriage has been a union between two people of the same race and usually of the same class in which the male essentially bought the female from her family. Wives gave up what little autonomy they might have had before getting married and spent the rest of their lives taking care of their husbands, their home, and their children. As society has evolved, women have gained more human rights and marriage has become a more equal partnership. Would anyone now argue that because historically there has "always" been slavery America should reinstitute it?

The most surprising opposition to same-sex marriage has come from within the gay rights movement itself. Paula Ettelbrick, who opposes same-sex marriage, admits that it would provide many benefits for homosexual couples, but despite these advantages she believes that marrying will cause homosexuals to assimilate even more than they already have and strengthen the societal division between the married and the unmarried. Both of these results, she believes, run counter to the goals of the gay liberation movement (120-121). She argues that if homosexuals won the right to marry, they would lose the incentive to work for the rights of life-partners who choose not to marry and multiple adults sharing in the responsibilities of rasing a child (123). Frank Browning concurs, stating that homosexuals "might be better off seeking ... civic and legal support for different kinds of families that can address the emotional, physical and financial obligations of contemporary life" (133). He points out that in homosexual families, there are often three parents (the couple and a sperm donor or surrogate mother) or several adults committed to raising the children and marriage might relegate to second-class status important members of the extended family which is so crucial to the homosexual community (134).

Others believe that the right to marry is an important goal of the gay rights movement. Though not all same-sex couples want to marry, many do, and it is unfair to deny them this right. "As conservatives tirelessly and rightly point out, marriage is society's most fundamental institutions. To bar any class of people from marrying as they choose is an extraordinary deprivation" (Rauch 172). This is not only a fight for principles, though.

There are practical benefits: the ability to share insurance and pension benefits, care for our ill partners, inherit automatically, protect our children from desperate custody battles. And marriage will end a negative: Our sexual lives can no longer be considered felonious, which stings is in fights ranging from child custody to civil rights (Graff, "Knot" 137).

Some argue that homosexuals are by nature more promiscuous than heterosexuals and would, if allowed to wed, further weaken the institution of marriage by increasing the rate of infidelity and divorce. What those who raise this argument fail to remember is that just as not every committed heterosexual couple chooses to marry, neither will every homosexual couple. Those who do choose to marry will probably in fact be more committed than many heterosexual couples because they know the eyes of a nation are upon them. This can hardly be a bad thing, for as Amy E. Schwartz stated, "Doesn't every successfully, publicly, monogamous committed for life bolster the resolve of every other couple that aspires to that achievement?" (196). Though some are still offended at the idea of homosexuals "demeaning" their sacred institution, Congressman Barney Frank asked something which seems rhetorical: "How does anything I do in which I express my feelings toward another demean the powerful bond of love and emotion and respect of two other people" (House 226)

Marriage also has a settling effect on its members, something that would seem to make same-sex marriage a good idea for society given the debilitating effects of promiscuous sex not just on the social stability of a community but on its general health as well, AIDS and many other sexually-transmitted diseases running rampant through gay subcommunities.

One of the main benefits of publicly recognized marriage is that it binds couples together not only in their own eyes but also in the eyes of society at large. Around the partners is woven a web of expectations that they will spend nights together, go to parties together, take out mortgages together, buy furniture at Ikea together, and so on—all of which helps tie them together and keep them off the streets and at home. ... The power of marriage is not just legal but social. It seals its promise with the smiles and tears of family, friends and neighbors. ... "Domestic partner" laws do none of this. (Rauch 178-179)

While most want same-sex marriage for the seriousness of the commitment to the relationship, the seriousness of a break-up is a point worth considering as well. Kathy Duggan had a commitment ceremony with the woman she thought was going to be her life partner but then they broke up. Although she still considers her marriage as real as any failed marriage between a man and a woman, she can no more check "divorced" on a census form than she could "married" a few years ago (302). After the breakup she wrote:

What I want is a forum where I can act out all the anger, frustration and disappointment of a failed relationship. One where I can hand responsibility for the haggling over our possessions to a professional—a lawyer who can be ruthless on my behalf when I'm likely to just dissolve into tears and say, "No, really, you take the flatware." I want a ritual that takes apart our relationship as deliberately as we put it together. (301)

One problem with not allowing the seriousness of some same-sex relationships to be recognized in marriage ceremonies is that if the couple ever breaks up, it is hard for outsiders to comprehend the seriousness of that, while one needs only say the word "divorce" to be greeted with a wave of condolences.

Some argue that for homosexuals to raise children would be unfair to those children because they would probably face harassment from peers. This is not so much a judgement on homosexuals, though, as on an intolerant society. Clinical psychologist April Martin states this eloquently:

Is it unfair to raise a child who may experience antigay bias because of his or her parents? Well, yes. It's as unfair as raising a female child in a sexist world or a child of color in a racist society. Prejudice is a tragic fact and one that I expect our children will make a contribution toward fighting when they grow up (44).

The debate as to whether children raised by homosexuals will be more likely to grow up homosexual (those arguing that this will happen believe homosexuality to be an immoral sexual deviancy and therefore something to be prevented) seems somewhat foolish when one considers that being raised by heterosexuals, in a largely homophobic society, still did not cause these parents to be heterosexual. Some reactionaries claim that homosexuals "recruit" children, try to bring them over to the "dark side" so to speak. This is foolish. If anyone is doing the coercing, it is this heterocentric society. As April Martin stated, "We lesbians and gay men choose to become parents for the same reasons heterosexuals do: to impart our love, our knowledge and our heritages to our children" (42).

The issue of whether homosexuality is a choice or a biological given is an important one in this debate, though, because if homosexuality is a choice than it goes against nature and the teachings of most of the world's major religions and society probably should not sanction it. Though studies have produced nothing conclusive yet, the general consensus is that homosexuality is not a choice. This seems to be a common-sense point. After all, why would anyone choose something which would force them to keep part of themselves secret from most of the world, risking rejection and when they finally revealed it? Even those who believe homosexuality is "curable" seem to have trouble fully rejecting the idea that homosexuality is not a choice. Robert H. Knight, director of cultural studies and the Family Research Council, says, "Do homosexuals choose to be gay? Mostly, no, but they can choose their behavior, and they can change their orientation" (60). Knight seems to be saying that homosexuals do not choose that path but can choose to leave it. A problematic and fence-sitting statement to be sure, but one held by many. Unfortunately for Knight's argument, it is highly doubtful that homosexuals can change their orientation. Dr. Rembert S. Truluck relates:

Michael Bussee told me that after he and his partner Gary spent 5 years in counseling for EXODUS, they knew of nobody who had really changed from homosexual to heterosexual but that he did know of great emotional damage, self mutilations, suicides, and attempts that resulted for the EXODUS ministries. (1)

However, even if homosexuality were somehow proven to be immoral, that might not prove sufficient grounds to deny homosexuals the right to marry. After all, prisoners, "deadbeat dads," and many who would be considered "sexual deviants" by many (e.g. pedophiles, transvestites, sadists, masochists) are all allowed to marry. There are very few restrictions on who may marry. Both parties must be above a certain age, not be related too closely by blood, and be of different genders. Zablocki v. Redhail, 1978, gave the right to marry to "deadbeat dads" and Turner v. Safely, 1987, gave the right to marry to prisoners, criminals who can't even vote. This latter ruling included the pronouncement that "inmate marriages, like others, are expressions of emotional support and public commitment ... having spiritual significance" (Graff, Marriage 35). Now how exactly are criminals but not homosexuals allowed to declare their "expressions of emotional support and public commitment" through the institution of marriage?

The religious argument is still worth addressing, however, in the hopes of persuading some that they are misguided in their interpretations of the Bible. Homosexuality, as we think of it today, did not exist in ancient times–there was no concept of a homosexual "orientation," only homogenital acts–and most of the passages cited as supposedly condemning homosexuality are probably references to cult prostitution and are concerned more with Jewish purity than with same-sex attractions. It can in fact be argued that God approved of homosexual relationships such as those between Jonathan and David or Ruth and Naomi.

The sin of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-11) has been immortalized in the modern word, "sodomite," but the sin of Sodom is not so much homosexual sex acts as homosexual rape acts. Almost every time this story is cited, it is in regards to inhospitality, or sometimes idolatry. Ezekiel 16:49-50 for example, states clearly: "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me" (NIV).

Leviticus contains what is probably the second most cited "condemnation" of homosexual acts. Leviticus 18:22 reads: "‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable" (NIV). Many translations go even further and call it an "abomination." What exactly was meant by "abomination," though? The Hebrew word used was toevah and the Greek used bdelygma. These words refer to a ritual impurity or uncleanliness, or a taboo, and are sometimes even associated with idolatry. Both the Hebrew and the Greek had other words (zimah and anomia, respectively) that could have been used to indicate something wrong in and of itself, but those words were not used in reference to homogenital acts in this context (Helminiak 52-53). Leviticus 18:1-5 states,"The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord'" (NIV). It seems clear that the "abomination" of homogenital acts referred to in Leviticus refers to nothing more than Jewish purity. Homogenital acts were common in much of the Ancient World and were often an important part of pagan rituals, particularly fertility ones. Men often had sex with temple prostitutes as a way of indirectly offering their seed to the goddess. Though these prostitutes were usually female, some were males who had voluntarily castrated themselves, sacrificing their manhood to the goddess (Horner).

1 Timothy 1:9-10 states that, "We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine" (NIV). The word translated in this version as "perverts" is the Greek word malakoi meaning soft and could have meant morally loose, unrestrained. Through the ages, its translation has ranged from child molesters to effeminate to masturbators (Helminiak 88-89).

1 Corinthians 6:9 reads, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders" (NIV). The phrase translated as in this version as "nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders" is the Greek phrase oute malakoi oute arsenokoitai. Arsenokoitai seems to refer to the active (penetrating) partner in male-male sex (Helminiak 89). Coupled with the word for soft, this is probably a condemnation of both partners in male-male sex. Given the religious practices of the Canaanites, it is likely another reference to the practice of male worshipers having sex with male temple prostitutes. It could also refer to abusive male-male sex.

Paul's letter to the Romans, which includes the only Biblical mention of lesbian sex, is the most complicated. Too long to quote in full here (Romans 1:18-32), it basically says that God was angry because of all the godlessness and wickedness of the people and therefore gave them over to unnatural lusts. Romans 1:21: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened" (NIV). So it seems that their sin was rejecting God. Romans 1:26 "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones" (NIV). Now what exactly does Paul mean by "unnatural." He seems to mean out of the ordinary. In 1 Corinthians 11:14 he says it is a violation of nature (physis) for a man to have long hair. In Romans 11:24 when he describes God grafting the Gentiles onto the tree of the Jews he uses para physin, for it is unusual to graft a wild tree into a cultivated tree. In Paul's time, many sexual acts besides homogenital ones were considered "unnatural," and few if any of those would be considered immoral today. In verses 26 Paul uses the term "shameful lusts" (NIV) and in verse 27, "indecent acts" (NIV). The Greek word translated "shameful" is atimia, meaning merely "held in ill repute" or "socially unacceptable;" this is the same word Paul uses when referring to men having long hair. The Greek word translated "indecent," aschemosyne, means literally "not according to form," or "inappropriate." Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 7:36 to refer to the father who refuses to give his daughter in marriage; that is not the socially acceptable thing to do (Helminiak 62-64).

Besides not condemning homosexual acts as morally wrong but merely at that time associated with idolatrous practices and socially unacceptable, the Bible may in fact hold the story of a loving homosexual relationship, that of Jonathan and David. 1 Samuel 18:1-4 tells that, "After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt" (NIV). Later, when Saul is angry with Jonathan, he tells him in 1 Samuel 20:30, "You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don't I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse [i.e. David] to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?" (NIV). Shame being a common Old Testament way of referring to sex, it is highly possible that Saul is referring to a sexual relationship between Jonathan and David. And at Jonathan's death, as David nears the conclusion of his passionate speech of mourning he says, "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women" (2 Samuel 1:26 NIV).

It is also arguable, though there is less evidence, that Ruth and Naomi were lovers. Despite the lack of evidence for this hypothesis, it is worth noting the declaration of love Ruth makes to Naomi: "Don't urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried" (Ruth 1:16-17 NIV).

And on an ending note, Jesus himself said nothing on the subject of homosexual relationships but consistently preached a gospel of love. When asked which of the commandments is the most important, he replied

The most important one is this: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:29-34, NIV)

Some argue that the majority of the population does not approve of same-sex marriage and therefore it should remain illegal. However, popular opinion is often no measure of moral rectitude. As Congressman John Lewis of George said,

[W]hen I was growing up in the south during the 1940s and the 1950s, the great majority of the people in that region believe that black people should not be able to enter places of public accommodation, and they felt that black people should be able to register to vote, and many people felt that was right but that was wrong. I think as politicians, as elected officials, we should not only follow but we must lead. ("House" 227)

And so Americans must become leaders. The evidence is compelling that there is insufficient social, moral, or historical grounds on which to condemn same-sex marriage, that on the contrary it may in fact strengthen communities. However, in this country 34 states and one federal government have passed "Defense of Marriage" acts refusing to recognize same-sex marriages (LeBlanc A6). Something must be done.

Works Cited

Benkov, Laura. "Yes, I Am a Swan: Reflections on Families Headed by Lesbians and Gay Men." Mothering Against the Odds: Diverse Voices of Contemporary Mothers. Ed. Cynthia Garcia Coll, Janet L. Surrey, Kathy Weingarten. New York: The Guilford Press, 1998. 113-133.

Browning, Frank. "Why Marry?" Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader. Ed. Andrew Sullivan. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 132-134.

Duggan, Kathy. "I Earned This Divorce." Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader. Ed. Andrew Sullivan. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 300-302.

Eskridge, William N. The Case For Same Sex-Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment. New York: The Free Press, 1996.

Ettelbrick, Paula. "Since When Is Marriage a Path to Liberation?" Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader. Ed. Andrew Sullivan. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 118-124.

Graff, E. J. "Retying the Knot" Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader. Ed. Andrew Sullivan. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 134-138.

Graff, E. J. What is Marriage For? Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.

Halsall, Paul. Lesbian and Gay Marriage through History and Culture. 1 Jun. 1996. 1 Mar. 2001. http://www.bway.net/~halsall/lgbh/lgbh-marriage.html

Helminiak, Daniel A. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. San Francisco, CA: Alamo Square Press, 1994.

The Holy Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.

Horner, Tom. Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1978.

"House Debate on the Defense of Marriage Act." Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader. Ed. Andrew Sullivan. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 227-228.

House Judiciary Committee. "Transcript of the Mark-Up Record of the Defense of Marriage Act." Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader. Ed. Andrew Sullivan. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 221-226.

Knight, Robert H. "Same-Sex Marriage Should Not Be Legal." Gay Marriage. Ed. Tamara L. Roleff. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1998. 58-63.

LeBlanc, Steve. "Rep. Rogers' marriage bill stirs controversy." Neponset Valley Daily News. 7 Feb. 2001. A1+.

McNeil, John J. "Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies Affirm Gay Love." Gay Marriage. Ed. Tamara L. Roleff. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1998. 46-51.

Martin, April. "Being Raised in a Gay Family Does Not Harm Children." Gay Marriage. Ed. Tamara L. Roleff. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1998. 41-45.

Rauch, Jonathan. "For Better or Worse?" Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader. Ed. Andrew Sullivan. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 169-181.

Schwartz, Amy E. "Gay Marriages and the Affirmation of an Ideal." Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader. Ed. Andrew Sullivan. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. 193-196.

Truluck, Dr. Rembert S. "Sexual Orientation." Steps To Recovery From Bible Abuse. 2001. 25 Mar. 2001. http://www.truluck.com/html/sexual_orientation.html


Back to the Main Page