This week may very well be an historic one for the issue of marriage equality – at least in the United States, where the Supreme Court is currently debating whether or not to change the legal definition of marriage from being exclusively between a man and a woman to allow for legal same-sex unions. Specifically, the Supreme Court is debating Proposition 8, a ban on gay marriage in California that was approved by voters in that state in 2008.
As of January of 2013, 9 states recognize same-sex marriages (Connecticut, Maine, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington) as well as the District of Columbia.
Much of the points of the current debate are, not surprisingly, some of the same rhetoric that has come up over and over when it comes to same-sex marriage. What are the effects on the children if raised by same-sex parents? While perhaps there are not a huge number of long-term studies on children raised by same-sex parents, there is a plethora of examples of abused, neglected, and emotionally unwell children raised in toxic straight households. Some of the debate centers around the issue of same-sex couples adopting children.
A question that would be very interesting for sociologists to examine is if children raised in same-sex households actually do better than raised by single parents, regardless of whether or not the adults in the home are actually a couple. Logic tends to leads to the conclusion that there would be more stability and structure in a home where there is more than one adult present, whether it is another family member, a friend (and his or her children) who choose to be part of the household or – yes – a same-sex partner of the parent.
Then, there is that recurring argument that marriage is intended for procreation. One of the judges astutely pointed out that if having children is the purpose of marriage, then a legal union between a man and a woman outside of child bearing years would be redundant. The counter-argument that most men remain fertile even into old age falls rather flat. Unless that sexy senior marries a woman decades younger than him, there likely won’t be any children from a marriage where both partners are over 50.
Changing an institution that has been a certain way for thousands of years is a decision not to take lightly, but sometimes things have to change in order to keep with the times. Some of the judges recognize that couples need to have the protection and support marriage provides, regardless of the gender makeup of those couples.
If “just because it has always been that way” is a compelling argument, then women would never have gotten the vote and slavery in the U.S. might still be legal. Whatever the U.S. Supreme Court decides will be a landmark decision for the future of gay rights in that country, and likely resonate throughout North America.
Listen to the Supreme Court argument below.