Allowing same-sex marriage would make all equal


The notion that “all men are created equal” has inspired the patriotism of generations of Americans since the Declaration of Independence. However, most of us are aware that this notion has never really been reflected in government policy.

The right to vote has been restricted based on class, sex and race in our not-so-distant past, but the modern inclusion of groups across these categories does not mean that all Americans enjoy equal legal rights.

The federal government and 44 states do not recognize the legal status of same-sex marriages, and the result is an unacceptable miscarriage of justice. A truly egalitarian government that respects the inherent worth and dignity of all Americans is impossible to attain while legal marriage rights are denied to same-sex couples.

The idea of the social contract undergirds our notion of democratic rule and has since the American Revolution. As citizens of the U.S., we give up certain rights in exchange for benefits provided by the government. We follow laws, pay taxes and serve on juries, among other duties. In exchange, we benefit from national defense, social services and legal recognition of documents like contracts, to name a few.

A government-issued marriage certificate is no different and bestows a number of important benefits. These include tax benefits, access to a spouse’s employer-provided insurance, the ability to be with a spouse in intensive care at the hospital, death benefits and many consumer benefits. Homosexual citizens give up certain rights and resources to the government just like every other U.S. citizen and should receive equal rights in return.

Discrimination based on arbitrary factors, like skin color or social class, have been rejected by the American populace, and rightly so. The denial of a marriage license to same-sex couples is just as un-American and undemocratic as denying a marriage license to a mixed-race couple or an impoverished one.

Many people assert that homosexuality is a deviant behavior that ought to be discouraged, but evidence from the natural world indicates that, far from deviant, homosexuality is a standard practice. More than 1,000 species of animals — from penguins to killer whales, bonobos to giraffes — have been observed regularly exhibiting homosexual behavior.

It seems that a strict definition of sexual orientation is more a social construct than verifiable science. Homosexuality isn’t a new feature of the human condition either. The ancient Greeks, respected for their democratic and philosophical tradition, embraced a homosexual relationship called “pederasty” among the aristocracy. A close look at many ancient societies reveals the same tolerance for what many today view as base and unnatural.

The separation of church and state ought to be respected for more reasons than I have space to elucidate. This means two things for same-sex marriage: first, that the government should not deny marriage benefits based on religious doctrine, and second, that no church has the obligation to grant a marriage ceremony to whomever they choose to exclude. If same-sex marriage were legalized in the United States, as it undoubtedly should be, that doesn’t mean that your church has to recognize these marriages or provide a church ceremony.

If same-sex marriage is a religious issue to you, then feel free to restrict it within your church. As American citizens, however, our tradition of recognizing all persons as “created equal” demands that we cease denying important benefits to our fellow citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Beth Mendenhall is a senior in political science and philosophy. Please send comments to