We can’t change the definition of marriage, but…
Some argue that marriage must be open only to one man and one woman because this union is the backbone of society; it creates the opportunity of having and raising children. It is through this form of marriage that society continues through the creation of subsequent generations and their growing up to contribute positively to society.
Because this tradition has long been the backbone of society, many people fear that legalizing same sex marriage will alter this tradition and send negative shockwaves through society.
Legalizing gay marriage, however, will not destroy traditional marriage because traditional marriage as the backbone of society has already been abolished. Because marriage has already shifted from its traditional form, it makes no sense to use its supposed protection as an argument to continue disallowing same-sex marriages.
When you read books like Jane Austen’s, it’s easy to see that marriage played a different role in society then. It certainly has a lot of similarities, but there are some major differences. The women must marry in order to leave their fathers’ houses, they cannot support themselves, and no children in that society are legally recognized unless born in wedlock. Such customs constitute traditional marriage.
…too late, we already did.
Several things that have happened since then have changed this. The industrial revolution created the middle class and opened jobs for a lot of people. Coupled with the women’s rights movement which had some overlap with it, women started entering the workplace, and throughout the 20th C. it became highly respectable for women to work and support themselves and even their families. Thus, many women do not need marriage to have financial support, and this is reflected by the rising ages of first marriages in both men and women. It is not a social necessity.
In the mid-20th century, no fault divorce laws were introduced. This has profoundly affected marriage in society, and has helped shift the purpose of marriage away from social necessity to a temporary option.
On top of all this, the sexual revolution has created an environment in which women who have children out of wedlock are not completely ostracized from society, and the children born out of wedlock are socially and legally recognized quite readily.
But isn’t this change bad?
I’m not saying that all of these things are good; I think many of the consequences of these circumstances are highly problematic: there is an increase in single mothers and teen pregnancies and broken families.
These things have affected the change of marriage from its traditional role in society. The basis of traditional marriage, procreation and child rearing, are no longer the basis of marriage already. Legalizing gay marriage will not change the fact that marriage is now optional and tends to be entered into for romantic reasons. More and more people are choosing not to marry, even when they are in a long term committed relationship, and there has been an increase in married couples choosing not to have children. Today, only 48% of households are married couples (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-05-02/living-alone/54585114/1)
Legalizing gay marriage, from this perspective is a decision that reflects the reality of marriage in society and its actual purpose in this day and age: Romantic commitment and partnership. Procreation and child rearing are optional for marriage, and do not require marriage in order to be carried out.
Single parents, divorced families, childless families and unmarried parents raising their children are all legally protected iterations of the new operating definition of marriage in society. The only form of family outlawed under the new definition is that of gay people, and this simply because they are gay (The biological arguments and possible harm to children growing up outside the home are not here overlooked, but they are limited to gay people. A single mother cannot procreate by herself, but there is no legal bar to her raising children. Studies indicate that children do best in two parent homes, but there is no law against single parents and many of them are working extremely hard to raise their children well, and are succeeding.)
The change has created problems, but legalizing gay marriage can help solve them.
I think one of the greatest problems facing our society today is not the danger of cessation of procreation (there are lots of kids, even more globally) but the need to raise healthy children. Recent studies indicating that two parent families are the best for children and that the gender of those two parents doesn’t seem to make a difference reveal that gay couples can help society by raising healthy children. (Of course, this does not require their being married.)
Personally I am a strong proponent of adoption, for all people, not only for the purpose of compassion to those who are without parents, but also because children growing up in foster care moving endlessly between homes are often never adopted and grow up in very unhealthy environments. The only way to stop this is for the biological parents to reconcile with the children in a healthy manner, or for the children to be adopted. Most are never adopted. When they reach 18 they are kicked out of the state system and often become homeless because they have no family or government support system during those vital transition years when they enter society. Those who enter college and find a way to pay for it often have nowhere to live over summers and breaks. This is a huge problem for our society, and its going unresolved self-perpetuates the problem.
As far as the child-rearing aspect of marriage, gay couples are more likely to adopt simply because they cannot produce their own child. There are, of course, other methods of having children, many of which are highly controversial, but I think those need to be dealt with separately and will continue to be an ethical problem for society to deal with no matter what happens with gay marriage.
And one of those problems is our continued disallowance of marriage equality.
Some argue that the exclusivity of legal marriage does not disparage or disadvantage gay couples, but this is incorrect. Giving “separate but equal” legal status to same-sex couples creates a distinction where none is necessary. Already gay people are growing up feeling ridiculed and belittled; why perpetuate it by excluding them from marriage. Straight people have the legal right to marry simply for love and never have children by choice, and since I believe the contemporary definition and nature of marriage has already shifted to committed romantic partnerships instead of the sole method of procreation and child rearing, it is discriminatory to disallow gay marriage on the basis of marriage’s former function in society.
The easiest way to guarantee all the same legal rights is to give the same legal right to marry: the rest will then follow (insurance, visitation, etc.)
The Guardian has a fascinating look at gay rights in America, which highlights the lack of equality throughout the 50 states (though notedly they did not include civil unions separately from marriage): http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2012/may/08/gay-rights-united-states