The public’s perception of same sex relationships has undergone significant changes in the past century. As of the early 20th century, homosexual relations were shunned and criminalized in many nations through a number of sodomy laws. This perception of gays was radically reformed thanks to the efforts of gay rights movements which trace their roots to the 1960s and the Stonewall Riots of 1969 which marked the birth of the gay and lesbian rights movement. These riots led to the formation of the Gay Liberation Front which demanded for the respect and the end of anti-gay legislation and police harassment.
The movement saw gay oppression as a social problem that required social structural changes to solve. The efforts of gay activists in the 1960s resulted in a decriminalization of same-sex conduct and to a large extent, an abolishment of most of the discriminations based on sexual orientation (Volokh 106). However, in spite of the significant victories which the gay community has won in its quest for equality over the decades, gays in the US today continue to suffer from various forms of inequalities. Arguably the most visible inequality is the denial or marriage rights to same sex couples. This paper will highlight causes of the struggles faced by the gay community and articulate some social justice solutions to the problem.
Before the beginning of the 21st century, no nations or state had ever considered affording same-sex couples legal rights.
Today, same-sex marriages have been realized in some countries and also a number of American states. Civil unions are acceptable to many and a majority of gay couples are able to enjoy some of the benefits that were previously restricted to heterosexual couples. Support in the US for legal recognition for homosexual relations was high from 1960s up to 1990s with many Americans supporting the efforts of gay rights activists. However, this popular support has experienced significant declines following the landmark Texas anti-sodomy law of 2003 which made some gay and lesbian activities not only legal but protected by the law all through the US.
This ruling was viewed by many social conservative groups as a precursor to even more gay civil rights and because of this, there has been a backlash against recognition of gay relationships by many conservative groups. As a result of the successes of gay right activists, many counteractions which are primarily aimed at preventing gay rights have been launched. The most significant of this has been the widespread efforts to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriages in many American states. Wardle notes that some states have gone as far as to make amendments to their constitutions so as to explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage.
Religion has played a major role in the denial of rights for gay and lesbian couples. As a matter of fact, the biggest opposition to same-sex unions stems from the religious beliefs of people with religions such as Christianity and Islam condemning homosexuality as evil and an abomination. The Vatican which is the head of the largest Christian population in the world strongly declares that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (Ratzinger and Amato 1). Denike articulates that in the US, there is fear among the Christian population that allowing gay marriages would be crossing the line of “toleration of evil” and the “approval or legalization of evil” (71).
This observation is corroborated by Alvare who notes that “leading communities of faith in the United States are on record opposing the legal recognition of same-sex marriage” (349).To this section of the population; while sexual minorities and their relationships should be tolerated, they should not be entitled to state-administered benefits and special rights. Volokh notes that it is because of the religious views of many public officials that the fight for legal recognition of same-sex marriages has enjoyed relatively limited success (1166). While the constitution calls for equality rights for all citizens, amendments have been proposed based on religious sentiments to “protect marriage” from the judicial system which fails to find compelling reasons to justify the discriminatory exclusion of gays and lesbians.
A lack of justice has led to unnecessary suffering and harassment to gay individuals.
Macgillivray reports that majority of openly identifying gay and lesbian students in America’s schools experience significant levels of violence from their peers (347). The struggle by gay activists to stop discrimination in schools has been opposed by morally conservative parents. For these parents, school policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation lead to an inclusion of gay and lesbian issues in the curriculum which helps promote and legitimize homosexuality as being equal to heterosexuality (Macgillivray 348).
The morally conservative parents therefore fiercely resist such policies since for them, the policies send out the message that “it’s ok to be gay” to their children.
Equality is one of the founding principles of the United States and since the formulation of the constitution; laws and amendments have been made to extend equality to all people irrespective of their races and religion. Social justice is concerned with whether a society distributes its benefits “fairly and equitably” among its citizens (Blackwell, Janice and Sophia 28). Social justice demands that equal rights and opportunities be afforded to all members of the society. As it currently stands, gay and lesbian couples are given certain rights and privileges in most states. However, these rights and privileges vary from state to state and there is a nearly universal denial of the right to marry for same-sex couples.
Due to the disparity in laws protecting gay couples between states, gay couples can be legally discriminated against in some states. The primary goal of marriage is to give social recognition to couples who have a close relationship and who would wish to spend their lives together. Denying same sex couples the right to enter this institute is therefore a form of discrimination. This discrimination denies gay and lesbian couples of their right to enjoy fulfilling lives with their partners. Culhane demonstrates that affording same-sex couples the right to marry is not a special treatment but an issue of fairness and equality and for a pro-democracy nation like the US, such a move should be natural (486).
Marriage has some tangible benefits that are acquired by couples who join this institute. Lack of legal recognition of same-sex marriages results in gay and lesbian couples not being able to enjoy these benefits that are a part of the marriage institute (Bell 195). Most opponents of gay marriages assert that they respect the rights of homosexuals and are opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, denying marriage rights to gay couples is discrimination. Gay rights activists argue that if marriage rights are fundamental for some (heterosexual couples) then they should be fundamental for all.
Gay rights activists have placed their hope for redress and justice in the mainstream Democratic Parties in our country. However, this move has not yielded major benefits since the government has mostly been complacent in the tribulations that face the gay population. While the government has constantly stated that it is neutral on the issue of gay rights and does not support anti-gay movements, it has been slow to take proactive measures to ensure that gay members of the community are protected from harassment by people who hold anti-gay sentiments. Our constitution is enshrouded in the principles of protection of equality and fundamental rights of all citizens regardless of their age, sex, creed, or sexual orientation. If our country is truly committed to equal rights, then legalizing same-sex marriages should be made a reality. Recognition of same-sex marriage is a fundamental goal if there is to be true equality between same-sex and opposite-sex union (Alvare 351). So long as same-sex marriages are not accepted all over the US, heterosexual unions will always be regarded as superior to homosexual unions.
Gay rights advocates have intensified their efforts to gain legal recognition for same-sex unions and while some successes have been achieved, they still faced strong resistance from social conservative groups.
Davis suggests that these minority group need to enlist the backing of heterosexual couples in their fight for equal right (44). By working as allies, heterosexuals and homosexuals can help to foster a changing attitudes towards gay and lesbians. Through these efforts, stereotypical views and prejudices can be identified and dealt with.
Increased awareness leads to tolerance and respect for those who have different sexual orientations from ourselves. As has been noted, there has been growing attempts to deny gay and lesbians their liberty and rights. In the US, many states have allowed religious sexual doctrine to dictate limits to the legal recognition of relationships (Denike 72).
Gay right activists should therefore focus their energy in resisting such forces and they should fight for legislation and judicial outcomes that will promote equality and ensure that gay individuals can thrive in society. There should also be a campaign to advocate for gay rights even if people do not agree with the gay lifestyle. While people are allowed to hold their own opinion regarding homosexuality, they should not be allowed to limit the freedoms of homosexual individuals on this basis. Truth and justice demands that full liberty be afforded to gays and all forms of discrimination must be abolished.
This paper has noted that while there have been significant achievements in the struggle for gay rights, there are still major obstacles to realizing full rights for this minority group. The most significant opposition comes from social conservative groups and religious organizations which are keen to ensure that gays do not achieve full equality with heterosexual couples. This is against the concept of social justice which advocates for equality for all people.
All citizens who endorse the concept of social justice should therefore support the enactment of policies that will give gay and lesbian people equal rights with the rest of the community and specifically legalize gay marriages.
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