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The Gay Marriage Debate: A Misleading Issue?

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The paper examines the parallel development of marriage and gay issues converging on contentious controversy surrounding gay marriage. The author contends that marriage and gay issues are two different things with different histories though converging on the question of human relationships, specifically same sex unions or relationships.

The article examines in depth the different views and arguments as well as the historical trends to show that gay marriage may not actually lead to social equality between the sexes.

            The diversity of human sexuality is a universal fact. Humans simply cannot be confined neither by their physiology and nor by society. It is from this however that issue arises as diversity meets convention. We will find that the debate on social acceptability for the various manifestations of human sexuality that has been previously marginalized, even condemned, rages on and in the midst of this is the question of same sex marriage.

In a news account for example, from Hill Times (Sept, 2006), traditional marriage advocates were reportedly mobilizing towards repealing a one and a half year old Canadian law recognizing gay marriage. If any indication, the vitriolic statement of its advocates, equating greater democratic participation in parliament would result to “the less likelihood of extremism such as same-sex marriage and prostitution and Euthanasia and legalization of drugs. These issues will not come forward [as problems] if more good people get involved;” is emotion and prejudice laden (Rana, 2006).

There appeared to be a need to be cautious in approaching such an issue. This paper, aims to shed light on the validity and appropriateness of the same sex marriage proposition in the light of questions on marriage as a convention that is both changing and waning and its capacity to effect real social acceptance for homosexuality. The focus will be on cultures that adhere to the Judeo-Christian point of view, at least for the purpose of facilitating an easy discussion.

A debate focused on marriage

            Public opinion on the issues including marriage, homosexuality and homosexual marriages are varied and utterly divided. This paper aims to give a fair accounting of these opposing views before ultimately arriving at a logical conclusion. Essentially traditionalists insist that the matrimonial ceremony is a sacred rite and that it should be duly protected and recognized. The primary purpose of marriage is for procreation and the rearing of socially productive ad God-fearing offspring. Consequently, pre-marital sex is discouraged as well inter-marriages between different cultures and beliefs. On the other hand, progressive views on marriage recognize that there is more to marriage than convention and childbirth. They believe that one need not wait before the marriage vows are said to consummate what is traditionally reserved for married people.

            Homosexuality and society’s constantly varying views on it, is also a main concern of this paper. Western cultures particularly have a love and hate relationship with this phenomenon of humanity. Traditional views condemn homosexuality as a sin “not fit to be named among Christians” while the progressives argue that the God who advocates love and understanding for all must surely have included homosexuals. 

Marriage from the Catholic Christian

Catechetical Viewpoint

Traditional thinkers in the West to a large extent adhere to Judeo-Catholic beliefs. For the purposes of this paper, focus will be on the catechisms of the Roman Catholic Church which claims ascendancy over a large number of independent churches.

“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

–Hebrews 13:4, New American Standard Bible

 This verse summarizes what may be construed as the Western world’s traditional treatment of marriage. Marriage is a rite ordained by God. It is therefore sacred and holy.

            The Roman Catholic Church’s Catechism, defines marriages as:

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”(Vatican)

The catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is part of God’s plans. His Scriptures begin with the creation of a pair of man and woman in the image of God. Marriage is the consummation of the love of God for man and God Himself is the author of marriage. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, one of the Trinity, became human incarnate so that he can unite with man. He did this to save all of mankind. He taught of the original meaning of marriage as planned by God is that it is indissoluble so that “what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder…” therefore, the absolute prohibition on divorce. The marriage bond then, if established is understood to be perpetual and exclusive; the couples being strengthened and consecrated by a special sacrament. God himself by the power of his fidelity makes it irrevocable. Consequently, divorce is absolutely not permitted under the Catholic Church (Vatican).

             “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”

Matthew 19:9, New American Standard Bible

The Lord said, “I hate divorce and him who covers his garment with wrong…” (Malachi 2:16, New American Standard Bible) and as such the Catholic Church declines to recognize the second or subsequent marriages if the first was dissolved under conditions tat will lead to the direct contravening of God’s mandate. The Catholic Church believes that God meant marriages to be symbolic marriage and commitment to the welfare of his creation(Vatican).

            The wedding ceremony is celebrated in a Latin Rite during the Holy Mass. This is because; Christ gave himself up for his bride, the church, in the New Covenant. By doing so, He was united forever to the Church. Thus it is only fitting that spouses seal their vows in the same Eucharist that celebrates Christ’s sacrifice, making them one body in Christ(Vatican).

            It is essential in the Catholic marriage for the couple to exchange consent. It must be a mutual giving of themselves to each other, binding them to each other. It is this exchange of consent that makes the marriage possible.

Again, it is stressed that the spouses must be duly prepared for the vows that they will exchange and their friends and family are to play a great part in the education of the young couple from the start of an honorable courtship to the consummation of the wedding ceremony.

The Catholic Church values virginity for the bond with Christ precedes all else. It is an unfolding of baptismal grace. It signifies the strength of a man’s bond with Christ and a testament to the expectation of Christ’s return.

Furthermore, marriage demands a conjugal love that demands the totality of a person. It includes all aspects of a person, his mind and body, his, heart, and his will. It requires inviolable infidelity or the spouses are united beyond the unity of flesh, the spouses are united in one soul; thus the age old prohibition on adultery, polygamy, and infidelity.

            In the Book of Genesis, God, after granting man a companion that he should not be alone mandated them to go and multiply.  Their love must then extend to their offspring. Parents will be their children’s first and foremost instructors and thus the primary task of the family and marriage is to be of service to life(Vatican). The Apostle Paul said: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church…. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:25, 32, New American Standard Bible)

These views when put in conjunction with traditional views on homosexuality produce outlooks that totally condemn homosexuality and furthermore homosexual marriages. Traditionalists looked at homosexuality throughout history in varying degrees of tolerance, support, condemnation, and persecution.

“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:13. The Holy Bible (KJV)

Homosexuality across history and across cultures

Homosexuality is the attraction and sexual inclination towards members of the same sex. It covers both male and female sexual preferences and in a loose way bisexuality and other sexual orientations associated with same sex behavior. Male homosexuals are often known as gay men, faggots, and queers, among other names while female homosexuals are known as lesbians. It is a social phenomenon to which there have been varied reactions and beliefs ranging from encouragement, approval, tolerance, punishment, banning, and/or condemnation. This term distinguishes transsexuals who feel that they are really members of the opposite sex trapped in the bodies that they have (Homosexuality).

Until much recently homosexuality was viewed by many Western societies in mostly negative terms. In America it was viewed as a mental illness ( by the American Psychiatric Association) until recently; and earlier as a crime “not fit to be named among Christians” (1987 Illinois court) and as a crime against nature.

The term which was invented by 19th century theorists to denote same sex behavior (1869; Hungarian physician Karoly Maria Benkert), has now evolved to homosexual orientation; a reference intended to neutralize the age-old hostility by Westerners towards gay people, labeling them pathological and immoral. It must be noted however, that being gay is no big deal among many other cultures. This is according to a 1951 survey that says that in 190 societies, 70% or 133 consider homosexuality an acceptable behavior.

The term is also somehow used to denote the now popular notion that the dichotomy between heterosexuality and homosexuality is not automatically rigid. This is as studies by modern theorists, most notably by Alfred Kinsey’s study on human sexuality in the 40s, suggested.

The practice of homosexuality is also common in ancient Greek and Roman cultures. There is still considerable debate over the prevalence of the practice of homosexuality in these cultures but it is certain that homosexuality in many forms is practiced and even institutionalized to an extent.

The practice of pederasty is widely practiced across different Greek cultures for a long time. It must be noted though that the Greek had no separate social classifications for a differing sexual orientation. The Greeks considered it normal to prefer members of either sex exclusively or otherwise and they did not have a notion of homosexuality yet.

Pedagogical pederasty is the institutionalized practice of an older more accomplished man taking on a younger man in a teacher-student function. But, to say that the said relationship was everything pederasty is about would be oversimplification. However, the homosexual aspects of it interest only us and not the Greeks themselves. What is remarkable though is the value that the Greeks put in the beauty of the male body and the maintenance of that ideal.

Although information on lesbianism is limited, it is known from literature by Sappho, who lived in the island of Lesbos (from which lesbian is derived), that the practice of homosexual love between females existed. However, since women had unequal status with men and their emotions are never paid any attention there is very little information about them.

Homosexuality is also practiced among many other ancient cultures. In China, it is called the passion of the cut sleeve, after the Emperor Ai who cut his sleeve rather than disturb the sleep of his boy lover, Dongxian. It is also known as the half-eaten peach after the Duke of Wei’s affair with a beautiful young man who shared a half eaten peach with him.

In China, homosexuality did not receive extreme persecution like those in western countries as a lot of their emperors had boy lovers at one tine or another. Also, many traditional religions like Confucianism and Taoism do not condemn homosexuality as long as a man is able to fulfill his duties. He cannot therefore be exclusively homosexual but instead he has to produce a son. Lesbianism is also evident from ancient literature and art.

In Japan, likewise, it is not viewed as a sin, rather it was permitted so long as it des not interfere with the performance of their duties as procreators. Homosexuality was only restricted periodically after exposure to western beliefs. The terms used for homosexuality are wakashudo, shudo, and nanshoku. Here same sex love is also practiced in teacher-students functions like a samurai training an apprentice. It is believed that Buddhist monasteries were the first centers of homosexuality before the ruling classes and the military class adopted its popular practice.

The earliest records of homosexuality were from Mesopotamia. The epic of Gilgamesh contains some homosexual matter.

Theories on Homosexuality

            The views on homosexuality changed with the way people thought about its origins and how “becomes” gay. Proponents of theories like the natural law (Aquinas) lead the way for an anti-homosexual culture in the west.

Various theories have been developed to explain gayness. They are generally psychiatric and biological in nature. Some say that homosexuality is a sort of regression to the Freudian Oral Stage of childhood development. Others argue that most families with homosexual members have domineering mothers and absent fathers. Still others say that homosexuality is the reflection of an aversion to adult responsibility. Another contention, one associated with conservatives is the assumption that either a homosexual person had homosexual relations at an early age and liked it or the person was sexually molested. Then again there’s always scorned love and abusive relationships that sour people from heterosexual relations.

Biological theories however include contentions based on recent research on gayness. One such research found that there is a significant difference in size of a region of the hypothalamus among straight and gay men. According to Simon Levay’s study, homosexuality at least in males is related to brain functioning as part of the hypothalamus is smaller in homosexual men. Another explanation is that hormonal changes during pregnancy cause homosexuality. Other studies include homosexual reaction to certain “human pheromones” and slight differences in the X chromosome among straight and gay men.

            The differing treatments and views about homosexuality across cultures and time periods is of course determinate of the social reactions to issues such as same sax marriages. In America, as well as in many other Western countries, the battle for gender quality has been a long and arduous one. The law’s treatment of homosexuality has varied across the states. Anti-sodomy laws were rampant in many of the states, calling for severe punishments most notably death or “curing”, and was thus the target of many early movements. Late in the 19th century, homosexuals were able to meet and organize themselves in increasingly anonymous cities in certain venues such as theatres, clubs, and bathhouses, etc. thus a gay subculture came to be.

After WWII, many homosexuals who had left home decided it was time to come and they did in increasing numbers. As numbers arise so did persecution, police officers were even at one tome encouraged to harass gay people and to raid gay meeting places. As a reaction to increased pressure may gay people started groups such as the Mattachine Society that remained small but with many chapters all over the country. However, after an incident at the Stonewall Inn in July 1969, where the raided gay men fought the policemen instead of surrendering, a cultural revolution sparked that changed America forever. By the late 20th century all states have decriminalized sodomy or homosexuality and eventually laws restricting social mobility and equity for homosexuals were removed. However, that did not stop the prejudice as the AIDS epidemic arose, the civil rights movements became a matter of survival.

            It is a happy note though that the gay rights movement was instrumental for the gradual recognition of the various contributions to humanity by numerous homosexuals including Da Vinci, Alexander the Great, Walt Whitman, Silvia Plath, Katherine Lee Bates, Langston Hughes, and Oscar Wilde, among many others. Their lives and their works are slowly being re-evaluated in light of their social orientations (Homosexuality).

Is marriage liberating?

            Apparently, marriage and gay issues are parallel with each other and the issue of gay marriage demand that we ask the question, is marriage liberating? William Eskridge, Jr. who authored several books and manuscripts on the legal aspects of gay marriage debunked the conventional view that gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage, he cited that the institution of marriage is wrecked with its own internal problems as the law veered toward more liberal definition of relationships including no-fault divorce making it easier to exit marriages, common recognition of prior agreements and arrangements, and the recognition of legal rights and benefits of the contracting parties to a marriage

            Eskridge moreover maintained that same sex marriage is in fact is helping in the strengthening the institution of marriage as there are accounts of heterosexual marriages inspired by gay marriages (Eskridge, 2006).

            Following the line of thinking of Eskridge and pushing it a little bit farther, we could say that the institution marriage is a no factor in attaining equality or acceptance of gays in general. It seems that a paradigm on human relationships which organically recognizes same sex unions is yet to be formulated.

Social acceptance and liberation

Same sex marriage is intimately linked with the problem of social acceptance. Social conventions are a product of centuries of acculturation; and marriage and the attendant social institutions supporting it are but a social construct which may change over time. This may be true but such changes may or may not be a solid enough foundation for total social acceptance of gays in society. Thus, what is the use of pinning hopes of understanding and acceptance for a socially marginalized group on a waning tradition? In effect homosexuals are only getting into the mainstream culture but not really getting a deep rooted social acceptability. They are simply made to fit into the traditional view of marriage and human relations while the issue of social acceptance remains buried beneath the wedding cake. Sweet this may be but it does not mean fulfillment of the aspirations for equality.

            May be we can view development as progression, that at one stage could be speeding up towards a clearly discernable change pattern.  How people relate with each other, how they form partnerships or unions would change along with it. It may do well to consider that may be same sex unions could find better definition and meaning outside the traditional conventions on marriage based as they are on deeply embedded conventions which may have or may not have served its purposes. To equate then social acceptance to the conventions of marriage may be useful, true but would it still be perpetuation of the convention of marriage – relationships and codes of conduct as defined by such conventions. Same sex unions should be defined under an altogether new paradigm free from the confines of previous belief nomenclatures. Social equality without prejudice of sexual orientation is achievable which is possibly related to the liberation from mindsets hammered by conventions since childhood and up to the end in life.  We take note that this liberation of the mind applies more to the people who still cling on to conventions on marriage and human relationships which could be on the verge of obsolescence as new paradigms are put forward to better explain the world of people and their relationship with each other.


Archer, Bert. “The End of Gay (and the Death of Heterosexuality).” 1999. 7-10.

Cockburn, Alexander. “Gay Marriage: Sidestep on Freedom’s Path”. November 17 2006. <http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn03202004.html>.

Harris, Kathleen. “Free to Oppose Gay Marriage Tories Eye Protection for Critics If Motion to Reopen Debate Falters”.  2006. November 17 2006. <http://ottsun.canoe.ca/News/National/2006/09/12/1829020-sun.html>.

“Homosexuality.” Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2006. Answers.com 23 Nov. 2006. http://www.answers.com/topic/homosexuality

Homosexuality. (n.d.). The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Retrieved November 23, 2006, from Answers.com Web site: http://www.answers.com/topic/homosexuality

Homosexuality. (n.d.). The Reader’s Companion to American History, Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors, published by. Retrieved November 23, 2006, from Answers.com Web site: http://www.answers.com/topic/homosexuality

“Homosexuality.” The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. Answers.com 23 Nov. 2006. http://www.answers.com/topic/homosexuality

“Homosexuality.” The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. Answers.com 23 Nov. 2006. http://www.answers.com/topic/homosexuality

Rana, F. Abbas. “Same-Sex Marriage Fight: Traditional Marriage Lobby Planning on Spending ‘Tens of Thousands’ of Dollars to Lobby Lawmakers This Fall”.  2006.  (November 17, 2006). <http://www.hilltimes.com/html/index.php?display=story&full_path=/2006/september/4/samesex/&c=1>.

William Eskridge, JR. . “Same-Sex Marriage: For Better or for Worse?”  2001.  (November 17, 2006). <http://islandia.law.yale.edu/GayMarriageBook/>.

Vatican. ARTICLE 7: THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY.   Retrieved November 20, 2006, from http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p2s2c3a7.htm

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