The issue of same-sex marriages has been a hot topic for many years, but not nearly as hot as it has been the past few. The most recent nation to legalize same-sex marriage is one that is very close to us, both physically and politically. On the 20th of July, Canada became the fourth nation to officially deem same-sex marriages the same as heterosexual marriages. With such a major influence so close to home, this decision could greatly influence the culture and attitude of the United States. Gay marriages have never been more relevant, and the entire debate is a sociological one. It has forced us to address the definitions of some of the most fundamental aspects of our society, and reopened dialogue about discrimination based on sexual-orientation. Sociologists can use data to reinforce or contradict popular opinion, which seems to be the driving force behind this entire issue.
The social problem with this issue can be viewed more-or-less in one of two ways. First of all, the perceived problem that many conservative or traditionally-minded people would use is that marriage is to be defined in the “traditional” sense as a union specifically between a man and a woman. From this perspective, same-sex marriage devalues the definition of a sacred institution. However, one quick look at the rest of the world, or in history books, reveals that there is no so-called traditional definition of marriage. It would seem, then, that the social problem here is the heterosexist nature of our society, not the threat posed to only a quarter of the population (Curran & Renzetti, p.235).
The Canadian Senate voted 47 to 21 to legalize same-sex marriages (5). Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada are the only nations in the world that currently recognize same-sex marriages (5). The Civil Marriage Act (which is the Canadian piece of legislation that effectively legalized same-sex marriages) consequently had the effect of amending eight of Canada’s federal acts (1). Same-sex marriages are now equal to heterosexual marriages, allowing them to get married at any courthouse or church in Canada (2). The Roman Catholic Church, which is highly opposed to same-sex marriage, is the most dominant religious group in Canada (3). The United Church of Christ (a church with 1.3 million members) became the largest Christian denomination to endorse same-sex marriage in the United States on July 4th, 2005 (4).
Many people fear that allowing same-sex couples to wed would weaken the institution of heterosexual, or traditional, marriages. Still others contend that marriage is not as sacred as it is believed. Traditional marriages exist in a minority of households, and more than half end in divorce (Curran & Renzetti, p.234). Traditional marriages have been legal since the formation of the United States, and same-sex marriages have never been legal, yet problems persist. It is therefore hard to claim that same-sex marriages have any bearing on the success of traditional marriages. Debate remains open on the issue, despite the lack of evidence. Meanwhile, lifelong partners are refused the same legal rights as their heterosexual counterparts in our society. The recent change in Canadian law could greatly influence American opinion on the issue.
The Bush administration has not responded specifically to Canada’s newest marriage law, but its position on same-sex marriages has been clear for a while. President Bush does not support legislation that would legalize same-sex marriages in the United States; in fact, he has proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. It is very likely that he, and his administration, feel the new law in Canada is flawed and potentially disruptive to their campaign to ban the same practice.
The reaction to the Bush administration’s stance has been as divided as any of the most controversial issues we Americans talk about. While Canadians see this issue as the divisive topic it is, distracting the populace from more important issues (5), Americans tend to keep the debate alive. And since this is a highly emotional and caustic topic, people find themselves clearly split along a single line. Many conservatives want to see Bush fulfill his promise to bring the Federal Marriage Amendment to Congress, while many liberals continue to push for the legalization of same-sex marriages. These two ideas leave no room for compromise, a hard position for a president to place its citizens.
The irony of the debate over same-sex marriages is that it seems that the main concern people have with it is unfounded. There is little or no proof that allowing same-sex couples to wed will disrupt the current institution of marriage. Heterosexual couples would be unaffected by same-sex couples, and proving otherwise seems so difficult as to border on impossible. Given this, it could be concluded that this a debate over nothing, except that this nothing keeps potentially millions of Americans from experiencing one of the fundamental aspects of living in our society. This cultural alienation becomes national discrimination when our laws reflect this prejudice. And now with our closest and most progressive neighbor is paving the way to a new shift in paradigm, putting extra pressure on the debate that may be a needless debate to begin with.
It seemed that, of the sites I visited that were biased in one way or the other, almost all of them were highly in favor of Canada’s decision. It is unlikely that all of these sites represented an equal cross section of opinion, as I could only find one or two of the dozens I searched through that were decidedly conservative. It could be that the reason there is not as much conservative news on the matter is because these news organizations are practicing symbolic annihilation of the issue. Perhaps they realize that the largest undefended border in the world is now between the United States and a nation that allows same-sex marriages.
Though it could be argued that the historical trend is moving towards a leniency of same-sex marriages, it could just as easily be argued that opposition to it is also gathering momentum. However, people who are opposed to these unions generally base their decision primarily on an emotional response. Once more studies are done on this sociological issue, perhaps it will shed light on this relatively-unexplored topic. Only then, with qualitative and quantitative evidence, will we be justified in taking severe measures. Limiting the rights of a minority for the good of the majority is a tough decision to make, and one we should not make lightly. At this stage most opinions on the issue are simply opinions, and few are based in actual knowledge (on both sides). Sociologists, and other scientists, can do their part to discovering and explaining the facts of the issue so that the populace can make more properly-informed decisions.
List of Works Consulted:
Curran, Daniel J.; Claire M. Renzetti. (2000). Social Problems: Society in Crisis (5th edition)
1. Liberal Party of Canada. Civil Marriage Act Receives Royal Assent . http://liberal.ca/
2. MyKawartha. Same-sex marriage legislation ‘a victory’. http://mykawartha.com/
3. MTV. Canada Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage. http://mtv.com/
4. Charlotte Observer. Church role is to welcome all. http://charlotte.com/
5. Washington Blade. Canada becomes 4th nation to OK gay marriage. http://washblade.com/
6. CNN. Vatican paper denounces gay marriage in Canada. http://cnn.com/
7. FOX News. Pope: Gay Nups a Form of ‘Anarchic Freedom’. http://foxnews.com/