Life in the USA
The American People
Understanding the Issue of Gay Marriage In America
This material courtesy of J. LaVelle Ingram, Ph.D.
The notion of gay marriage may seem foreign indeed to many immigrants to America, and in fact it seems alien to a great many Americans. However, a growing number of American citizens are supporting the notion that couples of the same sex should be allowed to marry in all of these United States. In many ways this issue reflects some core dichotomies in the American ideology of right and wrong. On the one hand America is built on the notion that individuals within a society should all hold certain civil rights, and that no government should be allowed to withhold these rights from any of its members. It is on this standard that African-Americans advocated for equal rights in the 1960s and were able to gain full voting, employment and other social rights guaranteed by our constitution. On the other hand, America has long held to a standard of rather strict social censure. The laws could be written to allow maximum freedom because the religious community held citizens to tightly controlled behavior. This pattern continued until the 1960s.
At that time the sexual revolution hit the American mainstream, and individual citizens (mostly young adults) began to take full advantage of their sexual options. During that time sex outside of marriage lost much of its taboo as did women engaging (almost) as freely as men in their choice of sexual activity. This freedom occurred primarily for the heterosexual population, while at the same time gays and lesbians were just starting to fight for their right to exist in America without the threat of death, arrest or other harassment. AIDS curtailed much of this perceived sexual freedom, and for some it brought a new attention to the status of gays. For some, AIDS reflected God’s judgment against gay men for their sexual practices, while for other Americans it brought home the reality that these men are our sons, brothers and fathers.
So today America finds itself in a quandary, with some citizens railing against their perception that America has lost ground in the world because of its social excesses (those same freedoms permitted since the sexual revolution). These Americans often express the sentiment that allowing homosexuals to marry reflects the extent of “moral decay” in this country. They see this advocacy as the “last straw” and act against it with righteous indignation. On the other hand the advocates for gay marriage see it as the latest civil rights struggle, and wonder why each oppressed minority in America must go through these long, difficult legal battles to gain the very rights guaranteed by our constitution, that is, to be treated like everyone else.
Of course gay marriage strikes to the heart of some Americans’ religious beliefs. With a predominantly Christian population, many Americans hold to the Biblical notions that marriage is not simply a legal institution it is also a religious institution. From their point of view, the only version of marriage that should ever be considered is that between a man and a woman. Also from a conservative Christian point of view, homosexuality is a sin, and certainly not one to be given explicit sanction with the blessing of marriage.
This conservative Christian view stands against a liberal Christian view that advocates for the rights of all people to participate in core Christian rites and blessings. Such Americans would recall that inter-racial marriage was also once banned partially on religious grounds. They would remind us that the strong statements against homosexuality are made in the Old Testament rather than the New Testament, and reflect that contemporary Christians are compelled to operate from the New Testament call to compassion rather than the legalistic stance of the Old.
In short, Americans are struggling with the issue of gay marriage, and will likely continue to struggle with it for some time. Because it reflects so many conflicting values, we may end up with a wide range of responses to this advocacy. Hopefully, this struggle can continue to occur with thoughtful reflection on our core values and dignified, safe consideration of the whole American family.
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