There is growing attention to the issue of marriage equality for gay people in this country. As of the writing of this paper, 16 of the 50 states in the United States of America have legalized gay marriage, either by legislation or by popular vote (Wisniewski, 2013). The discourse regarding the issue becomes quite contentious largely because of non-secular ideology that has demonized the concept of homosexuality for many years. As a sociological issue, the conflict has become a divisive force for many, from political powers as far down to the family level. The constitution guarantees equal rights for all in this country; freedom of religion, speech, etc. yet appears to stall when equal rights for the gay community are involved. There has been significantly more popular support for the cause recently, but the stigma and prejudice continue to linger. Is this a moral debate or has an outdated ideology become so embraced by many that the battle has only just begun?
Are Rights Really Equal?
When asked if one believes in equal rights for all citizens, the typical, rote response is a resounding “Yes”. If the question becomes more specific as to include the right for homosexuals to marry, a hesitation follows. The concept of gay marriage is far deeper a societal problem for most because its roots lie in prejudicial perspectives that have permeated us for years. Before the fight for the right to marry, the gay community has long endured simply the right to exist openly without feeling pariah-like. The United States is not a theocracy, of this we are certain. However, there are many more religiously affiliated citizens than not. The First Amendment gives us freedom of religion, which should also include freedom from religion. The truth of the matter meets somewhere in between the two, especially when US currency bears “In God We Trust” boldly on its face.
There are political leaders who continue to evoke the name of God in their speeches, even though the fact is that our founding fathers were mostly non-theists and the motto on our money did not initiate until 1958 or so. But people continue to view homosexuality as a “sin”, therefore gay marriage is not an option. This issue has created a divide in this country, much like most other civil rights have. When slavery was abolished, it took years to establish anti-segregation laws. Civil change takes time, historically, and gay marriage is no different. Protests continue either in support of or against gay marriage, at times becoming violent. Families become divided when a member openly announces his or her orientation and disapproval prevails, sometimes resulting in families disowning or ostracizing that offender from the family.
Government has been forced to become involved, due to an outcry for the various rights that are bestowed upon a married member of this society. Rights to inheritance and to personal medical information and decision making are two examples of spousal rights. Monogamous homosexual couples are denied these rights, since without marriage, the rights fall to their closest relative. Functional Sociology and Gay Marriage
Society has long viewed traditional marriage a fundamental and necessary building block. Marriage is the institution by which our population is regenerated and offspring are socialized then integrated as functioning members. Functional theorists might argue that if the paradigm is changed to include same sex couples, social decay may follow, as the family unit is unable to function if not in the traditional way. Single parent households have been faulted with producing children that score lower in school than those from the traditional, two parent family, as well as have higher rates of unacceptable social behavior, such as drug abuse or teenage pregnancy. Functionalists believe children benefit from each gender parent in a different way, therefore require both to be whole. (Tischler, 2011)
Conflict Theory and Gay Marriage
Conflict theory maintains that society functions when a more powerful or accepted sector exerts its will and exceeds at the expense of less powerful or accepted portions. (Tischler, 2011). Since homosexuality has been regarded taboo by the majority for so long, heterosexuals have maintained their position of acceptance and normalcy in the US. Vocational positions, especially powerful ones such as political leaders, have historically been heterosexual. We have a “President” and a “First Lady”; expected heterosexuality. For the stigma to be removed, traditionally expected and understood ways of life would drastically change. Would traditional, heterosexual marriage decay in the process? The Future of Marriage
Regardless of sociological theory, religious belief, and cultural expectation, the movement towards acceptance of gay marriage is gaining momentum and losing the attached stigma. Gay marriage is legal in 16 states (Wisniewski, 2013), and gay couples right to adoption has increased. Heterosexual divorce rates remain hovering at a 50% mark, and have been for many years prior to homosexual marriage. Society is resilient, proving itself over years of change. The ideal aspiration would be for both homosexual and heterosexual married couples to simply co-exist; neither having any real influence over the others’ success or demise.
Tischler, H.L. (2011) “Introduction to Sociology”. Retrieved from https://online.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781285396835/pages/55834839 Wisniewski, M (2013) Update 1-Illinois Governor Signs Same-Sex Marriage Into Law. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/20/usa-gaymarriage-illinois-idUSL2N0J524N20131120.