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Same Sex Marriage: Civil Right Or Decadence?

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Since the beginning of history, marriage has been one of the most important organizing principles of human society, because it is the instrument through which the first cell of the society, the family, is founded.

Because of being an inseparable part of the nature of the family, the regulation of human relationships, and because it gives stability for human society, there is little doubt that it is a suitable area for ethical analysis.

Since the nature of marriage has been changing over time, with people marrying for love and companionship rather than mere social need for reproduction, should marriage be a traditionally man-and-woman only club, or should it admit same-sex members? Even if this was not a new issue, in the United States, gay marriage entered the scene in 1996 when several gay couples from Hawaii sued for the right to marry legally. Since 1996, there has been a series of developments in the gay movementÐŽ¦s struggle. While some gains have been obtained at the state level, the federal government has maintained an anti-gay conservative position.

The institution of gay marriage is the subject of my paper. I talk about the ethical problem of recognizing marriage, or other forms of unions, as a civil right for homosexual couples, the context in which this issue is being raised. To do so, this work will be divided into three parts. The first part provides a brief history of same-sex unions to prove that in the modern West gays and lesbians have been denied full acceptance. Taking into consideration the federal level first, the second part illustrates the legal context that gay couples face in the United States. The, I focus on the state level, and I try to point out the different opportunities provided by each state as clearly as possible. Finally, based on the impact that the various alternatives have on selected criteria, in the third part I draw a Criteria-Alternatives-Matrix to suggest the best solution to the problem.

The history of same-sex marriage

Most, if not every, twenty-first century American considers marriage to be an institution for heterosexual couples. While many Americans have acknowledged and are willing to tolerate homosexual relationships, not so many of them consider these unions as marriages. In contrast, history and numerous documents serve as testimony that same-sex marriages or other same-sex unions were common in history. If not institutionalized, in some cultures homosexual unions were at least accepted.

Same-sex unions have been demonized by Western society since the thirteenth century, while they were pretty common and tolerated in most other societies. The cultures taken into consideration are the classical Greek, Roman (pre-Christian and Christian), the attitude of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches during the Middle Ages, as well as the Native American society. After that, I proceed to the modern United States with the Boston Marriage and the roots of the gay marriage movement.

To draw this section of my work, the main source used is William N. Eskridge, Jr. and his ÐŽ§The case for Same-Sex MarriageЎЁ (1996). If I use other sources, the citation appears in the text.

Classical Greece

Classical Greece demonstrated a very deep interest in same-sex unions. Some of them were considered real marriages. The most interesting document to understand the Greek approach toward same-sex unions is PlatoÐŽ¦s Symposium, in which we find a real hymn to Love, with relationships between men at the center. In this work, he reports that the ideal Love, the purest one, is the love between two men, because they ÐŽ§find pleasure in what is by nature stronger and more intelligent (as cited in Eskridge, 1996)ЎЁ.

The Symposium is thought to be the best example of how gay relationships were considered, at least in the Greek city-states. There is no proof of any law that prohibited homosexual unions. Actually documents show the existence of institutionalized relationships between free male citizens. Even if these relationships were not considered real marriages, the rituals performed were very similar to those of traditional marriage.

Pre-Christian and Christian Rome

As the Classical Greece, pre-Christian Rome grew tolerant of same-sex relationships. In fact, during Imperial Rome, some of them were also considered real marriages. There is proof of that from the description of emperorsÐŽ¦ marriages. Such marriage is found in the description of Emperor NeroÐŽ¦s marriage provided by the Roman historian Suetonius (as cited in Eskridge, 1996). The emperor Nero participated as a groom in a real wedding ceremony with a man dressed as a woman with rich veils and the entire Court attending. There are also documents proving that this emperor was married a second time with another man. In addition to Suetonius, other Roman historians, like Martial and Juvenal, indicated that same-sex unions were not allowed only to emperors but also to free male citizens (as cited in Eskridge, 1996).

The late Roman Empire was less tolerant to same-sex unions. This was due to the increasing influence of Christianity which through its Judaic heritage began to link the institutions of marriage with procreative purposes. Since gay liaisons were not functional for reproduction, they were considered to be merely a form of sexual pleasure, and thus not acceptable (Eskridge, 1996).

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Justinian Code outlawed same-sex unions in the surviving Eastern Empire, placing them in the same categories as adultery. Also in the Western Empire, the Visigoth in Spain prohibited same-sex intimacy. Up to now, it seemed that same-sex unions have seen the end of the opportunity to be accepted, and, in a certain way, legalized.

Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages the situation appears to be confused due to the ambiguous response of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches to same-sex unions. In fact, even if on the one hand the Church was critical towards gay unions because they did not have procreation as a final goal, and because they represented sex outside the marriage, on the other hand it favored same-sex companionate intimacy (Eskridge, 1996). The literature shows the existence of rituals as very similar to heterosexual marriage rituals called ÐŽ§brother-makingЎЁ rituals, or ÐŽ§enfraternizationЎЁ, performed for same-sex couples (Eskridge, 1996). The only difference between these homosexual liturgies and the heterosexual marriage was that the former emphasized the sense of companionate, while the latter emphasized the unionÐŽ¦s final aim of reproduction.

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