One of the most interesting social issues in modern times is the issue of same-sex marriage. The core of the issue is whether marriage should be strictly limited to persons of the opposite gender and whether such limitation is ethical.
Legally, the states within the United States have always had jurisdiction over marriage laws, but surprisingly, many of the states had never defined marriage to be a union a man and a woman. It was only after some states began granting gays the right to marry that many other states decided to preemptively bar gay marriage by creating laws that define marriage to be a union between persons of the opposite gender. Even Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which defined marriage as a legal union that is exclusively between one man and one woman.
The moral question is: is it ethical or moral to define marriage to be a union between a man and a woman, and to be ban gays from marriage?
One of the arguments used by opponents of gay marriage is that the Christian Bible defines marriage to be between one woman and one man, and that “God” forbids homosexual acts, and therefore, opposes gay marriage. But isn’t deferring to the Bible or Christian ideology or any religious ideology to justify state legislation a violation of the Constitutional tenet of the separation of church and state? I believe it is. I believe the separation of church and state protects the rights of all who choose to practice their chosen religion as well as the rights of all those who choose not to practice any religion; therefore, one cannot cite religious beliefs to deny or allow gays the right to marriage.
Another argument put forth by opponents of gay marriage is that marriage is a tradition, and as a tradition, we must look to the past for its definition. Same-sex marriage opponents affirm that historically, marriage has always been between one woman and one man, and therefore, same-sex marriage cannot be allowed.
Then, by the same argument, can we also look to the past to define other traditions that have been altered in modern times. One can argue that one should look to the past in order to craft laws governing the handling of estates because historically, estates are handed down through paternalistic lines of lineage. Property can only be bequeathed to men. Women were not allowed to own property. Can one not say that the tradition of bequeathing estates to the male lineage be honored and that all estate laws be altered to honor such tradition? I think to follow such logic, there would be grave injustice.
By the same token, should we allow humans considered to be subclass, whatever that may mean, to be enslaved as history proves to be the case? Should we overturn universal suffrage because traditionally, only white men were allowed to cast ballots? Should we also turn back the hand of time, and overturn the rights afforded by the Civil Rights act? One may argue, traditionally, discrimination was a common practice and therefore, should be sanctioned by law. Should we also institute the separate but equal traditions in the American South? Traditionally, blacks and whites attended different institutions and used different public facilities. Should we also look to the past and uphold such “traditional” practices, albeit discriminatory and unjust?
As an example that serves as a better parallel the issue of same-sex marriage, I refer to the laws that had banned interracial marriages in several American states, and which had been upheld from colonial days to 1967. If one were to uphold the argument that we must look to history for definitions of marriage, then we must declare all current interracial marriages null and void.
Clearly, the argument that we must use history as a reference when dealing with current social issues is an inadequate one. History is replete with social injustice and abuses; therefore, history serves as poor reference when we confront ethical issues in the...