Given the recent debate over the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, a discussion on gay and lesbian matrimony is appropriate. In this entry, we provide a brief historical account of same-sex unions, showing the foundation of the ageless debate over gay and lesbian marriage. We also address the present frequency of marriage between same-sex partners, providing the reader with a current account of states that allow for the union of gay and lesbian partners. Additionally, we discuss the social issues surrounding gay and lesbian partnership, highlighting some of the concerns brought forth by those arguing for and against same-sex marriage. Finally, we conclude the paper with a brief discussion on the legal and political/tax issues surrounding the topic of gay and lesbian marriage. We hope to enlighten the reader about the various facets of this controversial issue.
History Of Same-Sex Unions
Despite the recent controversy over the issue of gay and lesbian marriages, same-sex couples have been acknowledged throughout history, appearing in both philosophical and historical documents. Plato thought of the soul as a single entity that, at birth, is separated into halves. Within the possible divisions, Plato explicitly states soul mates could be two male halves or two female halves, suggesting that same-sex couples were recognized in Plato’s time. Same-sex unions were at least acknowledged within ancient Greece.
Historical accounts of same-sex unions further support the presence of gay and lesbian marriages by suggesting that some societies formalized same sex partnerships in ceremonies similar to weddings between man and woman. Although historians have argued over the semantics of these historical documents, evidence suggests that gay marriages were performed in the Mediterranean during the 16th century. Similar accounts of legal unions between lesbians have been recorded in 17th century China; ceremonies marking the cohabitation of lesbian couples were conducted, including legal documentation that allotted a successor to the couples’ estate. Additionally, prosperous infertile women of Africa have been noted to buy wives, a process that includes giving the bride’s family a dowry and purchasing a house for the newly acquired wife (it is interesting to note that the wealthy woman in these unions is referred to as the husband). Finally, gay marriages within Native American tribes have been documented since the 16th century. Timucua, Navajo, and Crow Indians, to name a few, have openly recognized “gay” relationships as legitimate partnerships. Within these formal relationships, one half of the couple takes the traditional role of the male, whereas the other half, referred to as the berdache, assumes the role of a traditional Indian wife. Historically, same-sex couples have been recognized across the globe.
Currently, only a few countries formally recognize same-sex couples. The trend started with Denmark’s revolutionary acknowledgment of gay and lesbian marriage in 1989, inspiring a wave of legislation for equality in Northern European countries. States that have followed include Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland. Similar trends have been seen in South America; Brazil and Costa Rica have adopted legislation that allows same-sex couples to have some of the benefits associated with heterosexual marriages. Most recently, Canada adopted legislation to grant gay and lesbian couples marriage rights, whereas the legality of this issue is currently being debated in the United States. There appears to be a global trend towards recognizing same-sex marriages.
The most common argument against recognizing same-sex marriage is that matrimony is an institution defined by a divine entity, and as a result, public opinion cannot alter the definition. The argument continues that, because there is no conclusive evidence to support the biological basis of a same-sex sexual orientation, granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry would be unnatural and an abomination against nature. Furthermore, individuals arguing to keep marriage between one man and one woman suggest that this relationship is the moral thread that keeps society together; by altering this historical institution, we will be changing the norms of society.
Individuals advocating to keep marriage between heterosexual couples also argue that recognizing samesex partnerships would undermine the social value of monogamy, greatly upsetting the institution of marriage. These advocates continue by suggesting that gay men are promiscuous, citing research indicating that gay relationships in Amsterdam last an average of 1.5 years. They further contend that these relationships are marked by multiple extrarelational affairs. However, it is important to note that this research was conducted with an unrepresentative sample composed of gay men attending sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics and gay organizations, as well as through word of mouth. This greatly compromises the validity of this argument. Nevertheless, individuals arguing against recognizing same-sex partnership suggest that opening the institution of marriage up to promiscuous individuals will lead to polygamous and polyamorious—or group—marriages. This, they argue, would take all meaning out of the institution of marriage, greatly undermining the social values on which this relationship is based.
Additionally, individuals arguing that marriage should remain between a man and a woman contend that the development of children is dependent on this formal relationship. Gay and lesbian matrimony denies children, should a same-sex couple choose to adopt, the benefits of having a mother and a father. They further contend that it is impossible for gay or lesbian parents to teach a child traditional gender roles, concluding that it is cruel to deny children the benefits of having one male and one female parent. However, research suggests that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are just as well adjusted as those from heterosexual households. The social issues surrounding the debate over same-sex marriage range from the religious to the effects of recognizing gay and lesbian matrimony on children.
Legal And Political Issues
In addition to the numerous social issues invested in the topic of gay and lesbian matrimony, debate over the recognition of same-sex partnership has ramifications in regard to medical, legal, and political/tax issues. Currently, states failing to recognize the legitimacy of marriage between same-sex couples can deny gay and lesbian partners the right to make decisions about a life partner’s medical treatment. This also infringes on a partner’s ability to obtain visitation rights to see a partner or a partner’s child staying in a hospital. Similarly, under the unfortunate possibility that an individual’s same-sex partner becomes ill or even passes on, employers may have the ability to deny the individual the right to take a leave of absence to care or mourn for his or her partner.
Unfortunately, states that do not recognize the matrimony between same-sex couples can also have a detrimental impact on many legal aspects of a gay or lesbian couple’s life. A gay or lesbian individual seeking refuge from domestic violence may be denied the right to file for a protection order. Additionally, some states may be able to reject a foreign individual’s request for immigration or residency in his or her same-sex partner’s native country. Similarly, the surviving member of a same-sex couple does not have the right to determine a partner’s final resting place in some states that deny gay and lesbian matrimony. Furthermore, gay and lesbian couples may be denied the ability to obtain joint custody over children the couple may share, giving same-sex parents considerable legal limitations in countries that fail to acknowledge gay and lesbian marriages.
In addition to the aforementioned legal restrictions encountered by gay and lesbian couples, states failing to recognize same-sex marriage also have the ability to deny gay and lesbian couples numerous tax benefits associated with marriage. Same-sex couples may not be allowed to file joint tax returns, nor can they own property together. Similarly, employers in states that do not recognize same-sex unions may be able to legally refuse to grant a gay or lesbian partner health coverage, as well as restricting them from obtaining other employee benefits. Additionally, upon the unfortunate dissolution of a same-sex relationship, a dependent partner may not be entitled to receive an equitable settlement for property the couple may have acquired during their relationship. Finally, upon the death of a same-sex partner, the surviving member of the relationship is not entitled to the pension benefits of the deceased partner and, if a will was not created, may not be allowed to receive an inheritance. States failing to recognize same-sex unions greatly compromise many of the medical, legal, and political/tax rights of gay and lesbian individuals.
Although it is unlikely that the debate over samesex marriages will subside in the near future, we hope the reader has become enlightened about much of the debate. We have provided the reader with a brief overview of the historical nature of this controversial topic, while also elucidating the frequency of gay and lesbian marriages. Similarly, we discussed many of the social contentions raised both for and against states recognizing same-sex marriages as a legitimate institution. Finally, we concluded with an overview of some of the legal and political/tax issues associated with gay and lesbian marriages, illustrating many of the rights that may be denied to same-sex couples living in states that fail to acknowledge marriage between gay or lesbian partners. We hope that the reader has been provided with a comprehensive overview of the issue, while also generating further interest in the topic that can be answered in some of the recommended readings offered at the conclusion of this article.
- Anderssen, , Amlie, C., & Ytteroy, E. A. (2002). Outcomes for children with lesbian or gay parents: A review of studies from 1978–2000. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology,43, 335–351.
- Boswell, (1994). Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe.New York: Villard.
- Dexter, P. (2003). Countering the counterfeit: A case for traditional marriage. Available from http://www.pointofview.net
- Human Rights W (2003). Non-discrimination in civil marriage: Perspective from international human rights law and practice. Available from http://www.hrw.org/lgbt/
- Stanton, T. (2003, August 27). Is marriage in jeopardy? Retrieved from http://family.org/cforum/fosi/marriage/FAQs/a0026916.cfm
- Sullivan, A. (1997). Same-sex marriage: Pro and con.New York: V
- Xiridou, , Geskus, R., de Wit, J., Coutinho, R., & Kretzschmar, M. (2003). The contribution of steady and casual partnerships to the incidence of HIV infection among homosexual men in Amsterdam. AIDS, 17,1029–1038.