executive director of the Williams Project on Sexual Orientation
Law at UCLA |
very little. I think most people have understood marriage as a social
or religious institution, and not seen it as an institution defined
by statute and conveying a set of legal and economic rights.
However, I think the gay marriage debate is changing that and
having the very useful function of educating all Americans about
what it means to get married, and the serious obligations that
it entails. Hopefully, though this debate, all Americans will
have a greater respect for marriage. When you understand what
marriage really is, you realize how degrading the casual and
unconsidered marriages of many celebrities and reality TV shows
associate professor of law at Southern New England School of Law
State and federal
definitions of marriage provide a legal template for society's
conception of marriage. Up until now, the federal government and
the 50 states have agreed on the male-female understanding of
marriage that has reigned for millennia throughout the world.
With the Massachusetts decision in Goodridge set to go into effect
May 17, the conception of marriage as a unique, special relationship
open to procreation and mother-father parenting will necessarily
morph into something more like what Robert Louis Stevenson called
"friendship recognized by the police." It ain't the same thing.
There will be a consequent decadent effect on culture, with recreational
sex and procreational sex put on the same plane. School sex education
programs will have to not discriminate between the two. A preview
of things to come is the New York private school that cancelled
its Mothers' Day celebration on the grounds that it discriminated
against a student whose parents were both men.
professor of law and political science at Northwestern University
law has a powerful influence on culture. Often, when something
is legalized, attitudes toward it change. That's happened with
gambling, divorce, and interracial marriage, just to pick three
otherwise unrelated examples. So if same-sex marriage were legalized,
that would certainly help to change the way society views same-sex
professor at Boston College Law School
affects the way people regard marriage, and nearly any other question
a society faces. Law plays a pedagogical role in society: it tells
us in a very public way what sorts of behavior are acceptable
and indicates the kinds of activities that simply will not be
tolerated. Law is one of society's most important teachers. One
can take as examples the nation's civil rights laws, which have
helped to change opinions about race and sex roles.
exist in a vacuum. It may shape our beliefs and our mores, but
it also reflects and depends on them as well. Here, divorce laws
serve as a good example. The considerable liberalization of divorce
laws during the 1970s did not alone cause the meteoric rise in
divorces that occurred during that decade, and continued throughout
most of the 1980s. An ongoing change in the culture preceded the
adoption of "no-fault" divorce laws by many states.
However, the adoption of these laws gave official sanction to
the idea that marriage is a potentially transient relationship,
one that should be easily dissolvable, and that the prime concern
should be the happiness of the adults.
the definition of marriage will not affect most existing marriages,
but they will affect the next generation and what they think marriage
means. It will affect the ways schools teach children about family
relationships, conduct sex education, and the like. It also will
teach people that those who hold other views -- and these chiefly
will be religious minorities -- are bigots whose beliefs, no matter
how principally held, go beyond the pale of what is socially acceptable.
legal director at the gay rights group Lambda Legal
As noted two
questions below, it has not been part of our American legal tradition
for the federal government to be involved in the definition of
marriage unless there has been discrimination in access to marriage
that violates fundamental constitutional principles. Rather, it
has been the role of the states to manage the civil institution
of marriage. That said, it is also true that the various ways
in which the states regulates marriage, e.g., the rules surrounding
divorce, arguably have an effect on the institution of marriage,
on how society thinks about the institution of marriage and thus
on how society views married couples.
in the present context of marriage for same-sex couples, the
question of "definition of marriage" is narrower,
i.e., what couples are allowed access to the institution. Therefore,
this question seems to ask whether citizens ("society")
will be influenced to view married couples differently if the
state broadens access to marriage to include same-sex couples.
marriage is currently structured legally and how Americans
understand marriage culturally, it seems highly unlikely
that allowing access to marriage for same-sex couples will alter
in any way how our society views married couples. Both our law
and our culture view marriage today as a union of two equal individuals
forming a social unit of committed support and obligation often,
but not always, with children. Add same-sex couples to the rank
of "marrieds" means simply more married couples and
therefore an institution that is stronger because it is open
director of marriage and family studies at the Family Research
Government does not create marriage-it merely recognizes the importance
of that deeply rooted human social institution. However, government
recognition of marriage, along with the provision of certain legal
rights, benefits, and even subsidies that accompany it, provide
a strong incentive to participate in this institution. Marriage,
as social science has clearly shown, provides great benefits to
the individuals who participate in it, to their children, and
to society as a whole, and this justifies the public role in regulating
and even promoting it.
example of how changing the legal terms of marriage can affect
the institution in a negative way can be seen in the impact of
no-fault divorce. The "no-fault" system (which should really be
called "unilateral" divorce, because it does not even require
mutual consent) has resulted in a weakening of society's commitment
to the permanence of marriage, with negative consequences that
have become quite clear over the last thirty years.
remains society's ultimate stamp of approval upon a sexual relationship.
Indeed, that is probably the real reason why homosexuals seek
this legal status. It is not because they want to participate
in marriage as it has historically been understood, by engaging
in sexual fidelity, procreation and a lifelong exclusive relationship.
Instead, they seek an official public declaration that homosexuality
is the full equivalent of heterosexuality. However, neither the
nature of homosexual relationships nor their consequences bears
out such a conclusion.