Same-sex marriage and the big divide

Protesters campaigning against Proposition 8

Gay rights protestors campaigning against Proposition 8, which provided that California would only recognise heterosexual marriage. Photo credit:

By Helen Winter

In the US, same-sex marriage is a divisive voting issue for people across the political spectrum.

Homosexuality inherently challenges conservative America’s fundamentalist approach to Christianity. Religious fundamentalists support the traditional patriarchal family model, but homosexuality threatens that model. Other issues such as abortion and contraception are also hot-button topics for conservatives, so it is not surprising that homosexuality is so polemic.

Only six states allow for same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. And while two-thirds of young people in the US support the idea of same-sex marriage, according to a Gallup poll released earlier this year, there was still 48% of the country that did not.

“Religiously I stand against it [gay marriage],” says Adrian Moss, a Southern Californian student studying in the UK, “but as a political scientist, I think that it is a human rights issue. I do associate with people who feel oppressed by their inability to have rights to visit their partner at the hospital and things like that.”

Homosexuality, in terms of the conservative right, challenges the norms of what it is to be a man and a woman; homosexual men, according to fundamentalists, assume a ‘feminine’ identity, while women assume a ‘masculine’ identity, according to Huffington Post blogger, Mugambi Jouet.

According to the 2010 census, there were 646,000 same-sex households in the US, though only 7% of those were in states that actually recognize same-sex marriage. And, though marriage in the US brings somewhere in the region of 1,100 federal benefits to couples, 39 out of America’s 50 states have banned same-sex marriage, or do not recognize even a civil union.

Because of the controversy that surrounds same-sex marriage in the US, it stands to reason that this would be a critical issue in the US Presidential election.

Homosexuality as a campaign issue

President Barack Obama became the first sitting US President to publicly declare support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage. He has also been pushing for an end to the Defence of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. (Embed video here. Code at bottom of page)

Rev. Dwayne Morgan is an American Pastor of Bournemouth Metropolitan Church and is openly gay: “I think it would be unfortunate to have a President who would take us back in time on gay rights, so I do think Obama’s public statement is very positive for gay people,” says Rev. Morgan. “But I’m not voting [just] on this issue.”

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney takes the socially conservative view that the institution of marriage between one man and one woman should be preserved – a view espoused by his own church and  77% of Republicans.

Although Romney has consistently said that he opposes the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, he states that he is, however, respective of gay rights.

Joseph Musgrave, political director of the UK pro-gay marriage group, Out4marriage, who have links with the American LGBT group, It Gets Better is not entirely convinced by Romney’s claims.

“He can’t call himself respectfulof gay rights if he does not respect gay relationships,” Musgrave said. “If he’s saying they can have civil partnerships, then he’s respecting gay rights, but then there are some people in the gay community who want to go further and say that, as I would argue, a civil partnership is not the same thing.”

He added: “The question is, if marriage is a good thing, and most people agree that it is, then if you open out the institution, who do you open it out to? It’s how we regard gay and LGBT people. If we regard them as a valid members of society, why are we excluding them from a institution that we have promoted?”

Romney has made his position clear, but Musgrave believes he should at least make some concessions to people in same-sex relationships: “I do think that where he needs to show off his position, is if he is against marriage – what sort of security is he offering gay relationships? Hospital admission access, social security benefits and pensions benefits?”

Gay pride parade, New York 2011

Challenging the norms

David Skelton, Deputy Director of Policy exchange from Core Issue Trust said his Christian initiative opposes same-sex marriage.

The Trust believes that homosexuality is a choice, and with the right professional help, individuals are able to move away from homosexuality. That choice, however, has to come from the individual, Skelton said.

Skelton deems redefining marriage would be a step back to a “much more primitive idea of association between people.”

Core Issue say that the development of same-sex marriage would be harmful to those in the community trying to release themselves from homosexual tendencies:

“There are people in our population who have tried gay and it does not work for them, but they are in the position now that if they seek professional help…they are denied the right,” Skelton said. “We think this is part of the whole problem which is very much an advancement of the gay agenda, and at the forefront of this is gay marriage; the normalisation of homosexual relationships… we think it is something that is moving far too quickly and without proper debate.”

Like Romney, Skelton perceives the redefinition of marriage as a threat to society.

“The love between gay people, and people of opposite sexes are categorically different,” Skelton said. “When we talk about redefining marriage, I would argue that we would actually be redefining fundamental concepts such as monogamy and fidelity. It does not mean the same thing in both contexts…families will be completely redefined…we’ll have families that are not necessarily composed of a male and a female, but two females and one male, we’ll have polygamy; we’ll have potentially a huge number of different ways of doing family. I think that that’s potentially disastrous to our civilisation.”

Joseph Musgrave however, disagrees with this in regard to other countries where same-sex marriage is already being recognised. “Canada has not exploded. Spain, a catholic country, has not self-imploded,” Musgrave said.  “[In] all of these places that have gone ahead and legislated for equal marriage, we have not seen the types of things that the opponents of gay marriage and equal marriage talk about.”

“But the real point,” he added,  “The human point that gets lost in the debate, the misery you cause, the uncertainty that you cause people – and this is what it is about, it’s about offering people a choice of how they want to recognise their love.”

Listen to our briefing on same-sex marriage and the US election.