A major shift has been occurring not only in the legal arena, but also from a sociological stand point. This transition in the rights of those in same sex relationships to be acknowledged legally through marital union has been quite controversial with many groups throughout the Unites States who hold differing views on the subject. Regardless of which side of the spectrum one position’s themselves, the reality of the situation brings with it not only changes in the law, but also a major shift in society, creating a significant sociological event that must be noted and understood. One of the primary similarities of this event goes hand-in-hand with the historical changes in the legal system when interracial couples were finally allowed to marry and be acknowledged by law as a married couple. Diversity and new ideas have always been a difficult transition for society to embrace and the same sax marriage laws that states have adopted are no different. The following essay will look at the legal and social acceptance of same sex marriage from sociological standpoint and what it has and will mean for the groups most affected by these changes.
A Social Problem
For many people in the United States there has been major disagreement on allowing same sex couples to legally marry due to their conservative and/or religious beliefs. Those in favor of the right for same sex partners to marry obviously included those people directly affected, and of course those individuals in society with liberal views who felt withholding such a right was unjust. The concern from both groups holding opposing views creates a social problem for Americans facing the dilemma of same sex marriage legalization. From a sociological perspective, a social problem exists when it is a social condition, when the social condition is responsible for impairing a large portion of society, when limitations continue to harm the continuation of society, and finally when there is a widespread agreement that the social condition is unacceptable and requires change (Sapp, n.d.). With two groups split on such contrasting views on the issue of same sex marriage it is fair to place the topic under the category of becoming a social problem.
Depending on which side of the argument one supports, there appears to be a sense of harm or loss to society, which makes it crucial to consider for the well-being of the American society as a whole. The goal to allow the citizens to feel honored and heard is important, and with a disagreement of such rights as the right to marry it is critical to find a fair and justified decision to be made for society to function smoothly. Looking back historically, there was a time when racial differences created limitations on who one could marry because interracial marriages were not acknowledged by the system. In the 21st century it is hard to imagine in the nation’s large biracial population whose parents would not have been acknowledged in their marital union had the old policy of interracial marriage remained illegal. Perhaps the issues regarding same sex marriage should be reconsidered under the same guidelines as those that existed for allowing interracial couples to marry.
A New Social Norm
In sociology there is a concept of “the social norm” that comes into play regarding the issue of same sex marriage. Up until recent times, the social norm that appeared to be ideal for social order was to acknowledge only heterosexual marriage as the acceptable choice. Even the government strongly supported this as the appropriate set of circumstances when in 1996 law was passed “to help defend one-man, one-woman marriage from efforts to redefine it, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed - and President Bill Clinton signed -- the ‘Defense of Marriage Act.’ It 1) defined marriage in federal law; and, 2) enabled states -- even in the face of claims made pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause -- to decline to recognize same-sex marriages from other states” (Gacek, n.d., para. 3). Twenty years later, DOMA seems entirely unacceptable by even the large majority of politicians and government officials, which has encouraged the government to enforce the acknowledgement of gay marriage in all 50 of the United States as of June 26, 2015 by a US Supreme Court ruling (ProCon.org, 2016).
The change in legislation is likely to further encourage the adoption of a new social norm. This new norm will no longer exclude couples that are of the same sex, but will recognize their choices with complete equality. Not all groups may agree or even adjust to this new social norm; however, for those whose rights were infringed upon, the legal system will no longer be obstructing them from making the decisions that heterosexual couples and families have been making for many years. The importance of the advent of this new social norm is incredibly important as one begins to explore what this means for the social landscape of the U.S. and its citizens.
The Sociology of Marriage
Marriage, the union of two individuals who love each other and want to join in a legal bond/ union is one of the most significant social decisions most individuals will make in their lives, and is often referred to ask a “social contract.” Looking at marriage as one of the fundamental social acts of society confirms why the same sex marriage debate comes with such controversy. The traditional structure of marriage which has only acknowledged this union to occur between a man and woman is changing as a result of the legal acknowledgement of same sex marriage, which has and continues to result in social conflict.
Up to this point, the conservative (often religious) position on marriage as the union between a man and woman as the only acceptable way to concede marriage has been the status quo. Overall, the heterosexual people in society have had no problems with the position of the conservative groups considering it did not negatively impact their lives from a social or legal standpoint. Marriage has always had some degree of religiosity associated with it as a moral unification to only be recognized as nature intends, between man and woman, and for the purpose of procreation. According to Bold (2009), “Americans have historically conceived of marriage in both law and society as a sacred, religious, and pre-political institution that is the foundation of society” (p.185).
The pro-gay marriage group includes not only homosexual individuals, but also heterosexual liberals who find that marriage is a right that should be awarded to all people as a constitutional right to exercise their freedom of choice and equality. As far as this group is concerned, everybody “wins” by allowing same sex marriage legalization because those who choose to practice certain religious beliefs will still be allowed to do so without interuption. The biggest argument that those in favor have of the right to marry regardless of sexual preference is one imbedded in the right to marriage as a civil rights issue. Even on the most basic terms, this group strongly supports that the union between two people should be acknowledged in a way that honors their commitment to one another. For example, for a gay couple to be together for 25 years but not have a right to be considered family in the same way that a heterosexual couple is, is entirely unfair and goes against one’s simplest rights. Especially when there are important decisions requiring a legal marital status to be in place in order to participate in common practices that favor married couples, like filing taxes jointly or making important medical decisions.
Confirmation of the conflict theory as a feasible sociological theory to understand the challenges of the same sex marriage law is evident from a brief discussion of the thesis and antithesis of the two groups holding different views on this social issue.
Comparison to the Civil Rights Movement
In terms of American history and sociological events impacting the United States, the same sex marriage fight has been compared to the Civil Rights movement to help liberate the African American population. This is a comparison that has stirred up conversation disputing the challenges and restrictions the LGBT face to be nowhere near as severe or difficult as blacks and minorities faced in the nation.
Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR's Code Switch team discusses this comparison with Roland Martin, an African American TV host, and Reverend Patrick Walker of the New Macedonia Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. When Bates asks the two men what they think about the comparison, Martin responds stating (2015), “black Americans back in the '60s were more disenfranchised than LGBT people are now,” which the Reverend agrees with. One thing both men interviewed concur is that the LGBT movement towards equality may fit into a civil rights issue for America, but cannot be compared to the suffrage of the black American prior to the changes in policies in the U.S. allowing racial equality (Bates, “NPR,” 2015).
Something that can be compared is that the changes in society from a sociological standpoint forming two divisive groups do share similarity. Although this issue has to do with sexual preference verses race, there is still discrimination against the group creating a conflict in society.
The Impingement of Religious Liberty
Religion is another important factor in the organization of society involving behaviors, choices, and attitudes that are often dictated by religious belief. According to the Pew Research Center,
Many of the largest U.S. religious institutions have remained firmly against allowing same-sex marriage, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Jewish movement and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical Protestant denominations. The nation’s largest historically black church, the National Baptist Convention, and its biggest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God, also prohibit their clergy from marrying same-sex couples (Masci & Lipka, 2015).
This is a large portion of major religious groups in the U.S. who do not support the change towards accepting same sex marriage and even feel it will encroach on their religious liberties.
This invasion on religious freedom and liberty are additionally reinforced when the opposing groups mention the children. The concern for the way they raise their own children and what they want to expose the children to is another way that they feel offended by the passing of the same sex marital laws. It seems as though this group fears that their children will make sinful choices in their own sexuality as they observe this open expression of the “everything goes” attitude that is embraced by the LGBT community and its supporters.
What about the Children?
A concern for “the children” exists on both sides of the spectrum for the divided groups. It is obvious that the religious groups who are staunch and literal in their practice of religion are sincerely concerned for the affects this change in society will have on their children and families. However, there is also the LGBT group and their supporters, whose concerns address the rights of the children who themselves are homosexual, as well as the children being raised by same sex parents. It is important to sort out this issue as the nation moves ahead because the indifferences create trouble for the younger generations who are growing up in a mixed society where their parents condemn homosexuality, yet schools have clubs that are designated for and support LGBT teens.
Victimization of LGTB Youth
The mixed message has the possibility to create larger societal disputes, in addition to the victimization of LBTB youth, which has already been seen in the past and continues to make news. The hatred among opposing groups has resulted in acts of violence, which many members of the LGBT community have been victims of. The bullying of kids who are “different” has resulted in devastating outcomes involving physical violence and emotional abuse that has led many young teens to commit suicide. In one study done using 237 LGBT youth between the ages of 16-20 showed that the lifetime suicide attempt range was 30 percent higher than the general population in the same age group (Mustanski & Lie, 2013). Other problems with children and teens growing up with confusion on the issues surrounding sexuality are also an aspect of this social event that is important to consider in the analysis of the same sex marriage issues.
Some of these young people are the children of parents who hold strict religious views that allow them to dismiss their child’s sexuality as something that can be changed through prayer and devotion. It is often a difficult and devastating experience for these kids who cannot be themselves and are condemned by their own family for something that they did not choose. The lack of parental support has often resulted in a higher rate of homelessness among teens belonging to the LGBT population, often times at the request of the parent who cannot handle their child’s natural predisposition (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014).
Children of Same Sex Parents
Not only is the well-being of the LGBT child a societal concern, but also for the children who are raised in a household with same sex parents. It is important to allow these family dynamics to be legalized in order for the safety and well-being of children who may have two dads or two moms. Sadly, those groups that oppose gay marriage also question the lives of the children growing up in that type of household claiming that these individuals are growing up in a disadvantaged and damaging environment. However, numerous reports have shown that there has been no overwhelming data showing that same sex parented households have any additional disadvantages than the heterosexual households. Considering the numerous possibilities of the modern family that are not always run by a mom and dad, it is irrational to use this argument to dispute the legalization of same sex marriage.
Instead of creating all these troublesome problems, it would serve society to come to terms with embraces diversity. Along with diversity there should be protection by the law to honor the rights of the citizens with complete and total equality. The details of the sociological problems that arise as a result of how people choose to love and live their lives is quite tedious for a developed nation like the United States and it is important to address these differences from an empowering standpoint. Neither group should experience a loss of freedom or rights as a result of their religious views or sexual preference. As a society it is time to move beyond such pettiness and start working on the sociological problems that needs working on in both the homosexual and heterosexual communities that involve bigger problems than whether one should be gay or straight. In conclusion, the same sex marriage legalization has definitely made a mark as a sociological event impacting the conversations and lives of the people in America.
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