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Why and how is this possible?  Why do people of the same sex feel the need to legally marry?  What about the effect on children?   How is same-sex marriage really viewed?  What about religious organizations?

Same-sex marriage is marriage between two people of the same biological sex and/or gender identity.   Legal recognition of same-sex marriage or the possibility to perform a same-sex marriage is sometimes referred to as marriage equality or equal marriage, particularly by supporters.  The legalization of same-sex marriage is characterized as “redefining marriage” by many opponents.

 The first laws in modern times enabling same-sex marriage were enacted during the first decade of the 21st century. As of the 19th of August 2013 (2013-08-19)[update], at least fifteen and several sub-national jurisdictions allow same-sex couples to marry. A law has been passed by the Westminster Parliament in the United Kingdom, effective in England and Wales, which will be fully in force on March 29, 2014.  The Scottish parliament has passed a bill that allows same-sex marriages to take place from October 2014.  Polls in various countries show that there is rising support for legally recognizing same-sex marriage across race, ethnicity, age, religion, political affiliation, and socioeconomic status.

Introduction of same-sex marriage laws has varied by jurisdiction, being variously accomplished through a legislative change to marriage laws, a court ruling based on constitutional guarantees of equality, or by direct popular vote. The recognition of same-sex marriage is a political, social, human and civil rights issues, as well as a religious issue in many nations and around the world, and debates continue to arise over whether same-sex couples should be allowed marriage, or instead be allowed to hold a different status (a civil union), or be denied such rights.   Same-sex marriage can provide LGBT taxpayers with government services and make financial demands on them comparable to those afforded to and required of male-female married couples. Same-sex marriage also gives them legal protections such as inheritance and hospital visitation rights.

 Some analysts state that financial, psychological and physical well-being are enhanced by marriage, and that children of same-sex couples benefit from being raised by two parents within a legally recognized union supported by society’s institutions.   Court documents filed by American scientific associations also state that singling out gay men and women as ineligible for marriage both stigmatizes and invites public discrimination against them. The American Anthropological Association avers that social science research does not support the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon not recognizing same-sex marriage.

 Same-sex marriages can be performed in a secular civil ceremony or in a religious setting. Various faith communities around the world support allowing same-sex couples to marry or conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies; for example: Buddhism, Church of Sweden, Conservative Judaism. U.S. Episcopalians, Humanistic Judaism, Native American religions with a two-spirit tradition, Druids, the Metropolitan Community Church, Quakers, Reconstructionist Judaism, Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ and Wiccans,  as well as various other progressive and modern Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish groups and various minor religions and other denominations.

The institution of civil marriage confers a social status and important legal benefits, rights, and privileges. … Same-sex couples are denied equal access to civil marriage. … Same-sex couples who enter into a civil union are denied equal access to all the benefits, rights, and privileges provided by federal law to married couples … The benefits, rights, and privileges associated with domestic partnerships are not universally available, are not equal to those associated with marriage, and are rarely portable … Denial of access to marriage to same-sex couples may especially harm people who also experience discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and gender identity, religion, and socioeconomic status … it is believed that it is unfair and discriminatory to deny same-sex couples legal access to civil marriage and to all its attendant benefits, rights, and privileges.

There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and any measure of a child’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with 1 or more gay parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families.

A recent  that studied the effects of institutional discrimination on the psychiatric health of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals found an increase in psychiatric disorders, including a more than doubling of anxiety disorders, among the LGB population living in states that instituted bans on same-sex marriage. According to the author, the study highlighted the importance of abolishing institutional forms of discrimination, including those leading to disparities in the mental health and well-being of LGB individuals. Institutional discrimination is characterized by societal-level conditions that limit the opportunities and access to resources by socially disadvantaged groups.

Numerous polls and studies on the issue have been conducted, including those that were completed throughout the first decade of the 21st century. A consistent trend of increasing support for same-sex marriage has been revealed across the world. Much of the research that was conducted in developed countries in the first decade of the 21st century shows a majority of people in support of same-sex marriage. Support for legal same-sex marriage has increased across every age group, political ideology, religion, gender, race and region of various developed countries in the world.      Recent polling in the United States has shown a further increase in the American public’s support for same-sex marriage. When adults were asked in 2005 if they thought “marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages”, 28 percent replied in the affirmative, while 68 percent replied in the negative (the remaining 4 percent stated that they were unsure). When adults were asked in March 2013 if they supported or opposed same-sex marriage, 50 percent said they supported same-sex marriage, while 41 percent were opposed, and the remaining 9 percent stated that they were unsure.

The first historical mention of the performance of same-sex marriages occurred during the early Roman Empire.  These were usually reported in a critical or satirical manner.  The first Roman emperor to have married a man was Nero, who is reported to have married two other males on different occasions. His first marriage was with one of his freedmen, Pythagoras, to whom Nero took the role of the bride. Later, as a groom, Nero married Sporus, a young boy to replace his young teenage concubine who he had killed and married him in a very public ceremony with all the solemnities of matrimony, after which Sporus was forced to pretend be the girl concubine that Nero had killed and act like they were really married. A friend gave the “bride” away as required by law. The marriage was celebrated separately in both Greece and Rome in extravagant public ceremonies.

 It should be noted, however, that conubium existed only between a male Roman citizen and a female Roman citizen, so that a marriage between two Roman males (or with a slave) would have no legal standing in Roman law. Still, the lack of legal validity notwithstanding, there is a consensus among modern historians that same-sex relationships existed in ancient Rome, but the exact frequency and nature of “same-sex unions” during that period is obscure.  In 342 AD Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans issued a law prohibiting same-sex marriages in Rome and ordering execution for those so married.

Scientific literature indicates that parents’ financial, psychological and physical well-being is enhanced by marriage and that children benefit from being raised by two parents within a legally recognized union (either a mixed-sex or same-sex union). As a result, professional scientific associations have argued for same-sex marriage to be legally recognized as it will be beneficial to the children of same-sex couples.   Scientific research has been generally consistent in showing that lesbian and gay parents are as fit and capable as heterosexual parents, and their children are as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as children reared by heterosexual parents.   According to scientific literature reviews, there is no evidence to the contrary.

Most same-sex-marriage states allow the joint adoption of children by same-sex couples, while Portugal is a long-standing exception to this rule. In addition, several states which do not have marriage equality nonetheless permit joint adoption by unmarried same-sex couples: The United Kingdom, Western Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania within Australia, Coahuilla and Chihuahua in Mexico, a number of US states (Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, Oregon), and in at least a few cases, Israel. Several additional states allow second-parent (‘step-child’ or ‘step-parent’) adoption by unmarried same-sex couples.

A gay or bisexual man has the option of surrogacy; the process in which a woman bears a child for another person through artificial insemination or carries another woman’s surgically implanted fertilized egg to birth. A lesbian or bisexual woman has the option of artificial insemination.

In the United States, transsexual and intersexual marriages typically run into similar complications. As definitions and enforcement of marriage are defined by the states, these complications vary from state to state.

While few societies have recognized same-sex unions as marriages, the historical and anthropological record reveals a large range of attitudes towards same-sex unions ranging from praise, through full acceptance and integration, sympathetic toleration, indifference, prohibition and discrimination, to persecution and physical annihilation. Opponents of same-sex marriages have argued that recognition of same-sex marriages would erode religious freedoms, and that same-sex marriage, while doing good for the couples that participate in them and the children they are raising, undermines a right of children to be raised by their biological mother and father. Some supporters of same-sex marriages take the view that the government should have no role in regulating personal relationships, while others argue that same-sex marriages would provide social benefits to same-sex couples. The debate regarding same-sex marriages includes debate based upon social viewpoints as well as debate based on majority rules, religious convictions, economic arguments, health-related concerns, and a variety of other issues.

Arguments on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate are still often made on religious grounds and/or formulated in terms of religious doctrine.  One source of controversy is whether same-sex marriage affects freedom of religion.  Some religious organizations may refuse to provide employment, public accommodations, adoption services, and other benefits to same-sex couples.  Some governments include freedom of religion provisions in marriage equality laws.

The world’s largest religions vary widely in their views on same-sex marriage.  Among larger Christian denominations, the Roman Catholic Church’s official position is to oppose same-sex marriage, as does the Orthodox Church, some Protestant churches, a majority of Muslims, Hindu nationalists and Orthodox Jews.  Buddhism is considered to be ambivalent on the subject as a whole. On the other hand, many churches and denominations, including a number of progressive and liberal Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Hindus, as well as modern Hindu communities and Buddhism in Australia support same-sex marriage. Some smaller religions, as well as groups (religious or not) who embrace humanism, are also considered to be supportive

With several countries revising their marriage laws to recognize same-sex couples in the 21st century, all major English dictionaries have revised their definition of the word marriage to either drop gender specifications or supplement them with secondary definitions to include gender-neutral language or explicit recognition of same-sex unions.

Opponents of same-sex marriage such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Southern Baptist Convention use the term traditional marriage to mean marriages between one man and one woman.  There are those that oppose same-sex-marriage argue that equating same-sex and mixed-sex marriages changes the meaning of marriage and its traditions.

There are differing positions regarding the manner in which same-sex marriage has been introduced into democratic jurisdictions. A “majority rules” position holds that same-sex marriage is valid or void and illegal, based upon whether it has been accepted by a simple majority of voters or of their elected representatives.   In contrast, a civil rights view holds that the institution can be validly created through the ruling of an impartial judiciary carefully examining the questioning and finding that the right to marry regardless of the gender of the participants is guaranteed under the civil rights laws of the jurisdiction. 

Kathy Kiefer

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