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Same-Sex Unions

Should they be legal? Should they be called marriage? Who should decide?

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As of September 2003, marriage between individuals of the same sex is only legal in Belgium and The Netherlands. However, Canadian provincial courts have recently struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriage and legislation may soon be passed in its favour. It seems that many other countries, including the UK, are considering doing the same, although often through the provision of same-sex unions as opposed to 'marriage'. One notable exception is the US, where President Bush has declared his intention to "codify" his belief that marriage should be solely reserved for a union between "one man and one woman". This subject is clearly a contentious issue and should be debated. Before we start, I would like to make a few points.

1) This page is about the arguments for and against the provision of legal rights to same-sex couples in a committed long-term relationship. It is about whether they should be married in the eyes of the law and not God. See her for what legal rights are at stake.

2) I believe that some arguments made against same-sex marriage have not standing. I ask that any Intellectual Loafer be very careful when making any of the following arguments:

A) Homosexuality is wrong because it is "unnatural" and therefore, it should not be encouraged by making same-sex marriage legal.

Why? Because 'unnatural' is not sufficiently well defined. Do you mean

i)  unnatural as in uncommon? Homosexuality is unnatural in this sense, but so is left-handedness. This is statistical notion of unnatural is not an inherently negative quality.

ii) unnatural as in divorced from its natural purpose? Gay sex is divorced from procreation (perhaps the natural purpose of sex) and therefore in this sense gay sex is unnatural. But the same reasoning is equally applicable to oral sex, masturbation, sex with contraception, sex by people who are impotent, sex by women after menopause etc. It is also 'unnatural' in the same sense to use one's legs for playing hockey or ones hands to build sand castles. Clearly, this sense of unnatural does not have a negative quality either.

iii) unnatural as in "contrary to what is considered right"? If this is the case then the argument 'Homosexuality is wrong because it is unnatural' is the same as stating 'Homosexuality is wrong because it is not right' i.e. the argument is a tautology; it goes around in circles.

If you have a different take on the meaning of 'unnatural' then please let me know. (Credit given to James Rachels The Elements of Moral Philosophy.)

 

B) The purpose of marriage is to provide a situation suitable for procreation and it should be illegal to marry for other reasons 

Why? This seems wrong on two accounts. Firstly, homosexual people can procreate before or during a same-sex marriage and with advances in science, they might be able to produce children with each other. 

Secondly, even if you believe that a same-sex marriage is not suitable for procreation (see 3), if the above argument was true then women past the menopause, celibates and people who were impotent, or did not want to have  (more) children would be prevented from marrying. Why should individuals who have committed themselves to each other should be prevented from the many legal benefits of marriage simply because they do not wish or are not capable of having children? Surely the institution of marriage does not exist solely to provide encouragement for people to have kids? 

 

C) Homosexual marriage is damaging to family values/ devalues heterosexual marriage and should thus be illegal

Why? Because I know of no evidence that proves this is the case. Marriage, be it between two individuals of different sexes or the same sex, can still be held up as a declaration that two people are committed to each other for life, which seems a suitable starting place for a family. There is no reason to believe that homosexuals should form a less committed that heterosexuals. If you wish to put forward the above argument, please provide some evidence that it is true or at least a plausible argument for it's validity. 

It is also worth pointing out that, in many eyes, the ability for people to get married in Las Vegas drive-thrus while drunk devalues marriage, but I note very little attempt by people to make it illegal.

 

D)  Any argument founded in religious beliefs 

Why? Because we live in a society that has agreed to be against all arbitrary discrimination on grounds of race, religion, handicap, sex or sexual orientation. Everyone has the right to their religious opinion, but they do not have the right to force it on other people when by doing so they would infringe the fundamental rights of those other people.  A religious viewpoint would not be a valid reason for discrimination against a racial minority so neither should it be a valid reason for discrimination against homosexuals.

If you have any other arguments, points of interest, witticisms, or comments on the above, then please contribute.

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See what legal rights marriage infers?


  1. For me, the word marriage has a religious meaning that excludes the notion of a same-sex marriage. I take your point D above; religious beliefs are not sufficient grounds for withholding  human rights, but they are sufficient grounds to withhold the use of language in inappropriate circumstances. The UK government has the right idea in making available to same-sex couples a "civil registration" process and not a marriage process.

  2. Surely [1] is still discrimination. You are saying that some people should be able to get "married" and others only "registered" based solely on their sexual orientation. Perhaps, with majority approval, we should change the meaning of the word 'human' to exclude black people; perhaps they should just be called conscious. 

  3. [1] and [2] are arguing about semantics and not rights. It is not a fundamental human right to call your legal union a marriage. I believe that some people should not be able to call their relationship heterosexual and I do it solely on the basis of the sexes involved. Yes I'm discriminating, but it is not arbitrary and is therefore perfectly acceptable; the sexes involved are very relevant to the question of whether a relationship can be called heterosexual. For some people the sexes involved are also very relevant to the question of whether a long-term committed relationship can be called marriage. In response to [2], skin colour is not relevant to the question of whether an organism is a human.

  4. Re [3]. How many people do actually consider that the question of whether a long-term committed relationship can be called marriage does depend on the sexes involved? Are not most marriages civil registration processes devoid of any religious content? 

  5. Surely the semantics argument is only a legal one. In all practical use, people will refer to their civil registration as a marriage and their 'registered partner' as a spouse. 

  6. The issue of same-sex marriage is one of equal human rights for homosexuals and discrimination against people because of their sexuality is equivalent to discrimination against an ethnic minority. As such, it should not be open to a majority vote. Even if the majority of people voted tomorrow that blacks should not have equal rights with whites it should not be made into a law.

  7. The state has been letting homosexuals marry for years; surely it's about time they started letting them marry each other.

  8. Re family values: legalisation of same-sex marriage could hardly do more damage to families that prejudice against homosexuality does. 

 

View the UK governments consultation document "Civil Partnership - a framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples"

See what legal rights marriage infers?

 

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Marriage: the legal rights and responsibilities

As an example of the rights and responsibilities that go with becoming married or registering a civil partnership, here is an extract from the an extract from the executive summary of the UK governments consultation document "Civil Partnership - a framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples".

Q: What would be the legal consequences of registering a civil partnership be?

A: Couples would acquire a package of rights and responsibilities that would reflect the commitment they had made and help them organise their lives together. These legal consequences would follow from registration:

 

 

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