The issue of same-sex marriage has been extensively debated in the recent years. While marriage has become an intrinsic part of our lives, not all couples seem to enjoy the same rights and the same benefits. For a man and a woman, deciding to spend the rest of their lives together is natural and spontaneous, and the State provides them with the administrative and judiciary support they need. However, when two men or two women decide to follow the same path and to create their own family, they often face obstacles, discrimination and legal impediments.
To date, same-sex marriage is legal – nationwide – in several countries, including:
- The Netherlands (2000)
- Belgium (2003)
- Canada (2005)
- Spain (2005)
- South Africa (2006)
- Norway (2009)
- Sweden (2009)
- Argentina (2010)
- Iceland (2010)
- Portugal (2010)
- Denmark (2012)
- Brazil (2013)
- England and Wales (2013)
- France (2013)
- New Zealand (2013)
- Uruguay (2013)
- Luxembourg (2014)
- Scotland (2014)
- Finland: (signed 2015, effective 2017)
- Ireland: (2015)
- United States: (2015)
However, in many countries – and even within countries where gay marriage is legal – LGBTI persons continue to face threats, discriminations and administrative and judicial barriers.
Legalization of same-sex marriage: Pros
Equality of rights
According in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most important document in the history of human rights proclaimed in December 1948, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Furthermore, article 2 of the Declaration reads, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”
Moreover, important international conventions such as the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights as well as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination insist on the importance of equality and individual freedoms. In addition, even national constitutions often provide for universality and equality of rights among all citizens.
Therefore, denying some people the right to marriage on the basis of their sex and their sexual orientation is a discriminatory practice that hinders their enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Same rights, same benefits
Indeed, marriage is (or should be) an expression of mutual love and should be the concretization of two persons’ willingness to spend the rest of their lives together. Yet, it also involves a bureaucratic, administrative and judicial component. In fact, depending on the country of concern, married couples enjoy several benefits, including:
- Hospital visitation during illnesses;
- Access to family health coverage;
- Family reunification;
- Possibility of reducing the tax burden;
- Inheritance rights;
- Child custody and child support (in case of divorce); and
- Retirement benefits.
Not allowing same-sex persons to get married deprives them of all the just mentioned benefits and rights, and forces them to live a life of uncertainty. In fact, after spending years together, after living together and loving each other, they might not be able to visit their sick partner in the hospital, and they might be denied all rights and benefits concerning inheritance, retirement and health coverage.
Marriage is not all about procreation
Religious bodies and governmental institutions often argue that the main aim of marriage should be procreation. For instance, according to the Catholic Church, sexual intercourses should only happen after the marriage and with the sole scope of procreating.
Indeed, same-sex couples cannot have children, but the same holds true for infertile couples or couples not wishing to have children. Gay couples are not the only ones who are not naturally able to procreate. According to a recent survey,
- From 1970 to 2012, around 30% of US households were married couples with no children; and
- Around 6% of American women aged 16 to 44 are infertile.
Furthermore, if the sole purpose of marriage was procreation, old couples could not get married. If we consider that women over 50 are, generally, no more able to have children, then all couples in which both partners are over the age of 55 should not be granted the marriage license.
“Traditional marriage” is over
With the passing of time, social habits change and the structure of societies continues to evolve. What we consider “normal” today, few years ago was most likely a taboo. The evolution of costumes and habits involves every aspect of our lives: the way we dress, the way we interact with other people and the way in which we live relationships. Furthermore, while conservative societies continue to ban and oppose gay marriages, studies have shown that same-sex marriage was already common in the 13th century in several countries.
Good parenting and happy childhood
The debate on same-sex marriage inevitably leads to the issue of adoption. Skeptics often argue that a gay couple cannot create a healthy environment where children can grow up. According to the conservative paradigm, children need both a female and a male model to internalize the values our society is based upon. However, a gay married and loving couple is able to care and provide for the child just as much as any other male-female couple.
Furthermore, while cynics believe that children raised by same-sex couples are at risk of being targeted and stigmatized, studies have found that, in fact, the opposite is true. The legalization of same-sex unions and marriages creates a favorable environment and de-stigmatizes gay relationships. Conversely, if gay couples continue to be targeted and denied fundamental rights, stigma and isolation will not cease.
Moreover, being raised by a legally married couple gives stability to the child. For instance, if no legal and official tie is established, the infant is not sure he/she will receive financial support from the non-biological parent nor is he/she entitled to inheritance rights if the parent dies without leaving a will.
While in our western societies gay relationships are more or less accepted, in some countries LGBTI persons continue to face grave discriminations, imprisonment and, in some cases, torture and arbitrary killing. To date, 73 countries have anti-homosexuality laws, and 10 nations – mainly with large Muslim populations – provide for death penalty for same-sex activities. Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan and Qatar have such laws in their Constitutions, but no execution of homosexuals has been reported, whereas in Sudan, Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia executions continue to be carried out. Moreover, in countries such as Iraq and Syria – in particular in the areas controlled by the so-called Islamic State – homosexuals face torture and persecutions even if death penalty is not provided for in the Constitution.
Killing and persecuting homosexuals violates international law, international human rights law, infringes on the victims’ fundamental rights and freedoms, and violates Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”
Marriage is the expression of love between two persons, and it is a commitment that the two make to each other for the rest of their lives. When a man and a woman make this decision, the society is happy to accept it and to share their joy, but when two men or two women decide to get married they face social and judicial discriminations. Yet, none of the arguments used to oppose gay marriage is compelling.
The right to marriage is outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all men and women should enjoy the same rights and the same individual (and collective) freedoms. Furthermore, statistics have shown that children raised by gay-couples only suffer discrimination and stigmatization if the society does not accept diversity. Conversely, if the social environment is favorable to same-sex couples, there is no reason to believe that children will not grow healthy and happy and will not internalize the fundamental values our society is based upon.
Finally, not allowing same-sex marriage deprives the couple of certain important benefits (hospital visits, inheritance rights, health care coverage etc.) and inevitably creates a second class of citizens.