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Legislating Morality: The Sanction of Marriage

By Virginia Bola, PsyD

Biologically, a coupling between male and female (with some very rare exceptions like aphids, mites, and some lizards) is required for procreation, critical for survival of the species. On the other hand, marriage is a human social contract, historically accepted as the optimum means of raising offspring who require years of care before they become independent.

Divine blessing on the union is important to many but marriage in the eyes of religion is totally separate from the civil contract of marriage itself. It is the civil contract which has legal standing for government programs like social security and which can be severed by the courts in divorce proceedings. As a social contract between two individuals, the presumption that one must be male and one must be female is irrelevant.

Marriage is certainly an emotional and legal commitment. Once two individuals make the choice that they will spend the rest of their lives together, society approves the decision, notwithstanding the fact that only half of us will be able to permanently remain in that relationship. It is approved because it is a force for stability and responsibility, both vital if a culture is to thrive.

Most married couples have children; many do not. Child rearing is therefore only one aspect of the state of matrimony, not the sole reason for its existence. So why the outcry against same-sex marriage which brings the same forces of stability and responsibility to society as do heterosexual unions?

I suggest that the widespread movement against gay marriage is not really directed at marital vows at all but is a revolt against homosexuality itself. Rather than supporting gays by letting them receive legal sanction for their relationships, we want to punish them. They have stepped outside the bounds of our experience. They make us feel uncomfortable. We see a young man and a girl kissing on the street and smile. We see two young men kissing and emotionally recoil. Most heterosexuals cannot understand gays and unconsciously think that there is "something wrong" with them. (Until 20 years ago, homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder!) If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, gays are from another galaxy.

Because of our discomfort or, in many cases, disgust, we try to legislate them out of existence. The courts, and the culture at large, will not allow us to get rid of them. All we have left is an ability to relegate them to a less-than-equal status by denying them an important social right: marriage. That denial, codified in 11 states on election night, 2004, revealed a fearful desire to legislate morality and conduct according to a pre-conceived idea of what is right and wrong for everyone regardless of their religious, moral, humanistic, or sexual preferences.

The morality crusade that was Prohibition was possibly the most destructive social experiment ever attempted. Not only did it fail to stop the use of alcohol, but led to the rise of organized crime which still holds sway some 80 years later. We can successfully legislate against behaviors that hurt society -- murder, theft, violence and other dangerous acts -- because society benefits when its members are safe and protected.

To suggest that the safety of the world can be threatened by two same-sex individuals reciting vows of commitment before a local official is preposterous. The will to legislate against such an act reflects only our idea to withhold, to punish, to declare before all that it is only our values which matter and that we are right, divinely right.


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