Gay marriage is a topic of extreme contention across the United States. The debate took off to new levels of concern when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004, just one year after the Supreme Court reversed standing anti-sodomy laws in the landmark case Lawrence vs. Texas. Since the passage of gay marriage in Massachusetts, 15 other states have also legalized gay marriage.
While the arguments for the support of gay marriage across the United States are strong and based on the idea of the broad concept of equality, there is a counter argument primarily focusing on the concern of the preservation of religious freedom. It will be demonstrated in this sample essay that the fear surrounding the loss of religious freedom is unfounded and consequentially, is part of the reason why the gay community of America are denied the same basic rights that members of the straight community enjoy.
Gay marriage legality in California
While Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage, the state that ignited the fight for equality was California. After the court ordered legalization of same-sex marriage in California, several entities, mostly consisting of religious characters, came together to put forward Proposition 8. The proposition passed by a very narrow margin and temporarily overturned the court’s mandate (now California has reestablished itself as a same-sex marriage legal state). This event is an example at the heart of the argument for same-sex marriage: equal protection.
The legalization of gay marriage is important for several reasons. First, it ensures that the government is not discriminating based solely on sexual orientation. The current treatment of the gay community across much of America is similar to the once accepted idea of “separate but equal.” Unfortunately, in the majority of states in America, this idea is supported. Secondly, there is a deep concern in the consideration of family. Contrary to what anti-gay marriage advocates claim regarding the “preservation of the family”, denying a same-sex couple the right to marry automatically labels and treats their family as second class.
Children being raised by same-sex couples, an increasingly common reality in America, suffer as a result. Thirdly, the legalization of same-sex marriage prevents government from interfering in religion as well as religion interfering in government. Through analyzing the current landscape of America, the latter is of greater concern. Lastly, there should be a great amount of consideration given to the muddying of the constitution, particularly within the Equal Protection and Full Faith and Credit Clauses.
Religion and gay marriage legality
The two most important factors discussed above are the third and final point. Religion has been a driving force against gay rights, and also in the stunting of nationwide same-sex marriage legalization. In his argument against same-sex marriage, Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow at the Family Research Council, states,
“Religious liberty means much more than liturgical rituals. It applies not only to formal houses of worship, but to para-church ministries, religious educational and social service organizations, and individual believers trying to live their lives in accordance with their faith not only at church, but at home, in their neighborhoods, and in the workplace” (2).
This statement is crucial to the points made after which attempt to explain why religious freedom is in peril should the legalization across America of same-sex marriage occur.
The main mistake that Sprigg makes is to expand religion and subsequently religious freedom beyond its predetermined boundaries as sanctioned by the constitution. Religion is a private institution, voluntarily practiced and is not an institution that has the power to override the government. Also, the constitution guarantees that government will not favor or discriminate against any one religion. It is to remain neutral. While, “living in accordance with their faith” at church and at home, as stated, is fine, expanding this into the workplace, as Sprigg suggests, is a violation of boundaries.
This violation is much the same as religious institutions encroaching on the civil contract of marriage. When religious entities, respected fully in the constitution, crossover as the main reason for public intrusion and influence (such as in the case of Proposition 8) religious liberty is not being exercised but rather abused.
Legalized gay marriage does not restrict religious freedoms
Restriction of religion out of government protects both sides:
“marriage equality should not be forced on religious institutions…there is no more justification in the religious being forced to accept things they claim to be against their beliefs than there is in the religious forcing their beliefs on everyone else” (Murray 1).
In the case of gay marriage, religion should be made an optional addition or exclusion but not a required addition or exclusion. This key distinction shows clearly that religious freedom is not in danger should same-sex marriage become fully legalized within America.
In the case of the constitution, the most egregious violation in regards to the blockage of nationwide same-sex marriage is the Equal Protection Clause and the Full Faithand Credit Clause. The Equal Protection Clause was originally created to protect people of color but in the current times, it can be argued that the gay community has become marginalized and has been discriminated against in a way that mandates the extension of this clause to them. Businesses have also began to discriminate against gay marriage, going as far as to deny baking wedding cakes for the couples getting married.
The Full Faith and Credit Clause protects countrywide recognition of documents. Obviously, marriage licenses and certificates would qualify under this definition. Therefore, “what happens when a same-sex couple from Vermont moves to a different state because of a job transfer?” (Schaff 134). These and other events that occur on a daily basis have brought attention to the overt discrimination occurring against same-sex couples in crucial life decisions.
If only 16 states are currently offering equal protection as well as recognition of marriage from other states, this leaves 34 states that will look at two women or two men as second class. Is this something that a man and a woman have to consider? No, it is not; thus, the violation of Equal Protection under the law.
This problem was exposed explicitly when the Defense of Marriage Act was an active law,
“…there are strong reasons to suspect that they conflict with fundamental liberty interests that individuals are guaranteed by the constitution. Where such conflicts are thought to exist, the courts play an important role in protecting the rights of individuals” (139).
The courts, which have been a controversial vehicle in the progression of equality in same-sex marriage, have been instrumental in several states. Recently, the Supreme Court removed DOMA and as a result, removed the unconstitutional blockage of equality under the law with respect to the Equal Protection Clause and the Full Faith and Credit Clause.
Final thoughts on gay marriage
While gay marriage continues to be argued as a very sensitive topic the truth is gay marriage is a representation of the beauty of American freedom. As a crucial equality issue of modern times, the legalization of gay marriage should be fought for with fervor for the reasons of the preservation of religious freedom rather than the destruction of religious freedom and for the constitutional aspects of the Equal Protection Clause and the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Members of the gay community deserve full equality under the law and the right to marry the person they love without interference from religion, governmental discrimination or through the dismantling of the constitution.
Murray, Douglas. “Gay Families Are Not a Threat to Religion.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Gale, 1 Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.
Schaff, Kory. “Equal Protection and Same-Sex Marriage.” Journal of Social Philosophy 35.1 (2004): 133-47. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.
Sprigg, Peter. “Gay Marriage Should Not Be Legal.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Gale Cengage, 5 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.