by Miriam Stienhans
Marriage. A man in a black suit looking down the aisle at his promised woman, who walks towards him. She wears a white dress with a long train. Children are throwing leaves of roses. Tears are dropping down the faces of their mothers. Now finally they find their peace blessed by God.
Stop! Does this really reflect how we see marriages today? Do we still perceive it in the idealised, traditional way we used to imagine when we were young? Or is marriage simply an agreement between two adults, who want to show the world that they belong together – socially and legally?
In the majority of religions marriage is understood as a “union of one man and one woman”, blessed by God. The prime purpose of marriage is often procreation, the continuance of the relationship and the passing of faith to the children. Fundamentalist Christians argue that these goals only fit to a heterosexual partnership but gay Christians would also strive for these aspects to their marriage.
Legally speaking, marriage is not more than a civil contract. Many non-religious people get married for stability, known paternity, spousal support, survivor’s right and procreation. The gay movement strives to modify the civil marriage so that they are included and can also receive the benefits of this civil contract.
But if we take a look at the United States the answer is clear. Nearly in all states gay marriage is forbidden. Just in seven States (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia) it is allowed. The question arises why there are different legislations concerning this issue? There is no definition of marriage in the federal constitution of the United States, so it is left to the separate States to define it and make legislation accordingly. And mostly they decided to forbid it.
There are exceptions; five States (Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island) which recognize a “civil union” of gay couples. It is simply a union recognized by law. This legislation, however, seems quite half-hearted as it attempts to recognize same-sex relationships legally, but nevertheless treats them as something inherently different. Somehow those “civil unions” appear to be “second-class marriages”: equally handled by law but nevertheless separated.
Another exception is the recognition by eight States (California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Maine, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia) of “Domestic Partnerships” and giving these some spousal rights. Domestic Partnerships can be understood as a legal relationship of two persons who live together and share a common domestic life without being married or having a civil union. Against the backdrop of America’s history, especially the Civil Rights Movement, it can be questioned whether the US really wants to continue with its discriminatory practices by treating citizens differently due to their sexual orientation.
So why is the USA so reluctant to treat gay marriages as they do heterosexual marriages? Religion.
Some who interpret the Bible as being against homosexuality or those who have more fundamentalist backgrounds, tend to be more opposed to gay marriage. On a day-to-day basis, religion plays a greater role in the United States than in Europe. Over 90% of the Americans believe in God and in Europe just 60%. But aren’t the majority of all western governments supposedly meant to be separated from the church and religion? Should they not govern in adherence to equality, fairness and freedom?
The gay movement doesn’t claim a new definition of marriage in the religious sense, but that the government modifies the current conditions for civil marriage so that gay people are equally included. Barack Obama supports same-sex marriage. However, the Federal Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 denying the federal recognition of gay marriages in the Constitution is still in existence. Furthermore, a strong and influential resistance of religious groups stands as an obstacle for the movement. Nevertheless, 42% of the Americans stated that same-sex couples should legally be allowed to get married, and 25% support civil unions. Shouldn’t the constitution present the will of the people? Arguably, and this is a topic which has been discussed extensively, the constitution is out-of-date and needs to be updated. And the inclusion of this issue is one of the changes that must be made.
Photo courtesy of the Telegraph (ironically)