The Public Purpose of Gay Marriage

gaymarriageThe issue of gay marriage has topped the news in several countries of late. Great Britain and France are both on the precipice of their Parliaments voting on the issue, with their respective Prime Minister and President in support.

Across the United States, the issue has taken center stage in Rhode Island, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Colorado, while the Supreme Court has begun listening to arguments in two related cases now before it. Politicians are quoted as saying that this is the civil rights issue of our time.

Since issues that deal with human rights are inextricably tied to issues of peacebuilding, we are called upon to review the merits of this case. Perhaps the crux of the debate was best summarized by Jason Adkins, Executive Director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference when he said, “We’re talking about the public purpose of marriage.”

One’s position on gay marriage would seem to hang in the balance of how its pubic purpose is defined. The arguments against gay marriage almost invariably hinge on issues of procreation. It is true that society is best served by encouraging family units with children to legally bond. However, one has to ask, “Doesn’t this bond serve society well regardless of whether or not children are involved?”

Prior to the new millennium, society seemed rather comfortable marginalizing people who were gay. On one hand, gay and lesbian individuals were denied the societal acceptance that would support open, stable relationships. On the other hand, society used its success in preventing permanent bonds among gays to label them as promiscuous. One thing is clear: when society casts any group outside the mainstream, it removes societal incentive for ascribing to mainstream values. It is the codification of a vicious cycle.

Marriage provides society many benefits. Bonded couples add stability to a community. They share financial resources. They care for each other in sickness. Research positively connects issues of psychological and physical health to committed bonds. Society knows this, and has never attempted to distinguish categories of marriage based on those who plan to bear children and those who do not. Couples well passed childbearing years are not discriminated against when it comes to marriage. Nor are those who are unable, or choose not, to have children. If procreation were always seen as the reason for marriage, one would have expected all these issues to be raised prior to any debate of gay marriage.

Although society struggles with redefining marriage to include gays, it has enthusiastically embraced redefining it through divorce—even though this guarantees children do not live with both biological parents. It is suspect that heterosexual society has codified this flexibility for themselves, only to then use an idealized version of marriage to prevent gays from legally bonding.

It should be clear to society at this point: it is no longer empowered to keep gay couples from forming committed bonds, nor from having families. Rather, it is only now facing its meting out of civil law justly and without prejudice for the betterment of the body politic.

By William Repicci

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