The legalization of same-sex marriage benefits both LGBT people and America as a nation. As two major Supreme Court decisions about same-sex marriage (Proposition 8 and DOMA) loom on the horizon, it's an opportune time to refocus attention on the many advantages associated with the pursuit and achievement of marriage equaility.
There are at least seven ways in which the legalization of gay marriage is beneficial for LGBT Americans and the United States of America.
1. Promotes Equality and Non-Discrimination in Society
Millions of LGBT people contribute daily to American life in a multitude of ways culturally, socially, financially, politically, vocationally, and spiritually. We are fundamental to this nation's continued growth and evolution and the U.S.A. would suffer greatly from the withdrawal of our many contributions. The legalization of same-sex marriage affirms the inherent worthiness of LGBT people as valued American citizens deserving of equal rights under the law.
This promotion of equality and non-discrimination plays an extremely important role in reducing homophobia and in affirming a minority group in society which has for so long endured significant discrimination and stigmatization. Legalizing same-sex marriage communicates to millions of people across the country that gay relationships are of equal value to straight relationships, thereby helping to reduce intergroup prejudice and supporting cultural diversity.
2. Fosters Psychological, Physical, and Social Wellbeing Amongst LGBT People
Same-sex couples are excluded from the institution of marriage in 38 states. Furthermore, the federal government denies legally married same-sex couples more than 1000 federal rights and benefits associated with marriage. This discrimination and institutional exclusion negatively impacts LGBT people in a variety of tangible and practical ways. It can also cause psychological distress, social conflict and ill-health. Equal allocation of marriage rights and benefits to same-sex couples assists LGBT people in a practical sense and the elimination of relationship discrimination helps promote psychosocial and physical well-being.
It is to America's benefit when LGBT people are given the freedom to achieve their full potential in life without having to waste precious time and resources battling for basic equality. The act of discrimination is an essentially destructive societal behavior which, ultimately, brings negative consequences both to the oppressors and the oppressed. Ending discrimination in marriage laws goes some way to correcting this.
3. Promotes Family Stability and Validates LGBT Family Units
Today's children represent America's future and it is in the country's best interest to support their development, regardless of whom they are parented by. Marriage, as an institution, helps to foster the wellbeing of children by providing married couples with various rights, benefits and protections which can strengthen relationship bonds and family units. Around the nation there are millions of children being raised in households led by same-sex couples, many of whom are denied the right to legally marry in their home state.
The denial of equal marriage rights unfairly disadvantages children who are raised by same-sex couples residing in states where gay marriage is not legal or not recognized. This lack of support for LGBT families denies children within them the same type of protections afforded children in "traditional" families headed by married straight couples. It also sends a damaging message to children within LGBT families that their parents are inferior, second-class citizens who are not worthy of equal treatment in society. The legalization of gay marriage helps to address this injustice by supporting family stability and validating the worthiness of families led by same-sex couples.
4. Provides Economic and Business Opportunities
The legalization of same-sex marriage has consistently been shown to provide an economic boost to those states and countries that have embraced marriage equality. The marriage and wedding industry is a significant one. Allowing gay couples to marry provides businesses in this industry with a large and new market to access. Nearly $260 million was injected into the New York City economy in the year following the legalization of same-sex marriage. Gay marriage tourism benefits those regions which permit same-sex marriage by attracting gay couples from other states and countries where it is not legal.
Most large businesses understand the importance of recognizing gay marriage because it enables them to more readily retain LGBT staff and customers. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of national and global companies are now expressing support for marriage equality and speaking out in favor of gay marriage.
5. Fosters True Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion allows a person or group to pursue the practice of their religion without governmental interference. It also protects those who do not follow a religion by shielding them from being forced to live in accordance with religious beliefs and values they do not agree with. The legalization of same-sex marriage is consistent with freedom of religion in that it removes from marriage laws religious notions that may have initially shaped those laws.
There is no hierarchy of religions in a society which truly honors freedom of religion. Accordingly, the religious views of no one particular group should be given preference in the development of marriage laws. While some religions don't support same-sex marriage, others certainly do support it. The most fair and ethical approach -- which treats all people equally regardless of religious affiliation -- is to factor out religious points of view when crafting marriage laws within a secular context.
6. Assists With the De-politicization of LGBT Rights
The politicization of LGBT rights as a left vs right issue has been one of the many "culture wars" that has plagued American society in recent decades. The battle between pro-equality "liberals" and anti-equality "conservatives" continues to characterize the state by state legalization of same-sex marriage. Democratic politicians have successfully led legislative efforts to legalize gay marriage in nine states. President Obama's support of marriage equality, Bill Clinton's abandonment of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and Democratic voters' support of marriage equality contrast strikingly with the situation on the Republican side. Opposition to same-sex marriage remains a key part of the GOP platform and a majority of Republican politicians and GOP voters do not support marriage equality.
This unfortunate construction of marriage equality as a left vs right and Democratic vs Republican issue wrongly politicizes what is essentially a human rights matter. In this sense the legalization of same-sex marriage plays a central role in de-politicizing the quest for LGBT equality. It provides Democrats and Republicans with an opportunity to refocus their efforts on addressing other problems in society and to stop wasting valuable resources on a manufactured culture war.
7. Strengthens National Identity and International Reputation
"Liberty and justice for all" is a phrase often used in descriptions of the U.S.A. which seek to capture the nation's collective psyche, spirit and identity. Historically, America has presented itself as a global leader in matters of freedom and democracy. It's unfortunate and ironic, however, that back on home soil one particular group of people is consistently denied full access to the "American dream." The fact that same-sex marriage is not legal in thirty-eight states of the U.S.A. and not recognized by the federal government has damaged America's international reputation in relation to LGBT rights.
Fifteen countries have moved ahead of the U.S.A. in providing federal marriage equality. The removal of anti-gay discrimination in all state and federal laws that apply to marriage would play a key role in enhancing America's international reputation in matters of social justice and in restoring our integrity as a global leader in the provision of civil and human rights. The tag of "liberty and justice for all" will become more believable when same-sex couples are granted equal access to marriage laws across the country.
Supreme Court Rulings and Beyond
It is with hope and optimism that I anticipate the decisions to be soon made by U.S. Supreme Court in relation to Proposition 8 and DOMA. The sincere hope for equality advocates is that both laws will be struck down, that same-sex marriage will become legal in California once again, and that the federal government will no longer be allowed to deny rights and benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
It is time to stop playing politics and to stop "debating" whether LGBT Americans should have equal rights in society and whether same-sex relationships should be valued equally under the law. Allowing same-sex couples to marry harms no one. Conversely, it enhances the lives of millions of LGBT Americans and their families and also benefits broader society economically, cuturally, and politically. I look forward to the day when the provision of marriage equality is embraced and valued as a core feature of American culture and when "we the people" can rightly be claimed to include everyone.
Murray Lipp is the Administrator of Gay Marriage USA on Facebook.
(Photos by Murray Lipp, 3/27/13, Washington D.C.)