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Running head: MARRIAGE EQUALITY

Marriage Equality: Moral, Civil Rights and Psychological Considerations Bryan Keith Liberty University

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Abstract In large measure, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community is vastly underserved by the Church and Christian community. This is particularly illustrated in the debate over marriage equality. This paper looks at the issue of marriage equality from moral, civil rights and psychological health perspectives. The research will show that theologically conservative churches and believers, who are most likely to see the issue from a moral perspective (as a sinful choice), oppose marriage equality based on the argument that granting LGBT couples the right to marry requires a fundamental redefinition of marriage and threatens the traditional institution of marriage. The opposing argument generally sees the issue from a civil rights perspective and argues for granting all couples--regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation--the right to share in the social and civil benefits associated with legal recognition of marriage. Additionally, the research will show that there are psychological benefits associated with the legal recognition and acceptance of an individual's close personal relationships, particularly when marriage equality is legally recognized.

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Marriage Equality: Moral, Civil Rights and Psychological Considerations

In a few short weeks, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on two important cases related to marriage equality: California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage and a case related to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which recognizes marriage as only between one man and one woman. The Supreme Court's ruling on these two cases will have historic implications as the Court essentially defines what constitutes equality. These cases, and the entire debate over same-sex marriage, truly center on defining what constitutes legal marriage and the equality of benefits afforded by that definition. For same-sex couples, the importance of legal recognition of their long-term, committed relationship means access to a variety of benefits that are simultaneously civil, material and psychological. These benefits are inherently available to opposite-sex couples and include access to more than 1100 rights and benefits on the federal level alone (Ghavami & Johnson, 2011). For this reason, many argue for marriage equality from a civil rights perspective. A generation ago, they argue, these same benefits were denied to interracial and interfaith couples, a position which is considered untenable today. Additionally, the stigma associated with samesex relationships which have no legal recognition (including, perhaps, worry over the lack of legal protection and benefits in the event of the death of a partner or the dissolution of the relationship) has been shown to have psychological ramifications. Studies have shown higher levels of psychological distress among same-sex persons in relationships that have no legal recognition compared to those in either heterosexual relationships or legally recognized samesex unions (Wight, LeBlanc & Lee Badgett, 2013).

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The contrasting viewpoint, which is most often espoused by those who hold a conservative theological and political perspective, sees the issue of same-sex marriage from a moral, rather than a civil rights, perspective. Related to marriage equality, the argument becomes one of protecting the traditional definition of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman, and also protecting the social and moral values of society as a whole. From this perspective, homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice, and is thus separated being a civil rights issue. In other words, because one chooses a homosexual lifestyle, the debate over affording equal rights and protection under the law for same-sex couples is different from the need to afford those protections to racial, gender or other minority groups who do not choose their minority status. Due in large measure to this moral viewpoint, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community has historically been tremendously underserved by the church, especially the conservative, evangelical branch. This paper will explore the issue of marriage equality from moral, civil rights, and psychological perspectives seeking ways in which the Christian human services professional might address the issue of marriage equality. The ethical responsibility of the human services professional is to advocate on behalf of the rights of all members of society, particularly those who have historically faced discrimination (NOHS, 1996). Therefore, it is the argument of this author that the Christian human services professional may, without violating their moral conscience, advocate for the equal treatment of LGBT persons under the law, with marriage equality serving as the particular issue, from a civil rights perspective.

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Moral and Philosophical Perspectives (Re)Defining Marriage Foundational to the debate over the complex issue of granting same-sex couples the right to legal marriage is the definition of marriage itself. Traditionally, marriage is defined as a lifelong, committed, consensual and contractual relationship between a man and a woman. This is the definition of marriage currently recognized and supported by federal law in the United States, and also the definition defended by most socially, politically and theologically conservative people. This traditional definition of marriage is supported, from a Christian perspective, by the Biblical picture of marriage in which God created man and woman and placed them in an intimate, life-long relationship. Thus, marriage, as defined as one man and one woman, is perhaps the oldest institution known to humankind. In recent years, however, same-sex relationships have gained greater acceptance in society as a whole. This increased acceptance has led to the call for full equality in terms of the right to marry and have access to the benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples. This call for equality precipitates something of a crisis for conservative Christians. The move toward greater societal acceptance of same-sex couples and the movement for the right to marriage necessitates a fundamental redefinition of marriage itself (Goldingay, LeMarquand, Sumner, & Westberg, 2011). This redefinition, however, would not be the first time that the nature of marriage has been debated or changed. According to Cushing Stahlberg (2008), the definition of marriage in the United States alone has been challenged and amended on at least three previous occasions. While marriage was initially defined as a contractual relationship between two consenting, nonAfrican American adults of opposite gender, this definition was challenged by the admission of

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Utah as a State in 1852. Utah accepted polygamous relationships and defined marriage as a relationship between a man and one or more women, a definition which was ultimately invalidated when polygamy was outlawed in 1862. Following the Civil War, African Americans were given the same right to marry as white Americans; thus marriage became defined as a consensual relationship between individuals of the same race and opposite gender. The civil rights movement in the 1960s brought about another amendment to the definition of marriage, granting the right to marry to any two consenting adults of opposite gender without regard for race. Granting marriage equality to same-sex couples would be a deviation from the traditional definition of marriage, but one must ask why this should be considered troublesome. When one considers the marks of a marital relationship, one must also question whether these defining marks can be found within a same-sex relationship. Lewis (2011), while ultimately arguing against same-sex marriage, states that proponents of same-sex marriage: Want marriage to be understood in broad terms as a stable bond between two persons bound by a faithful and self-giving love, who work together as equals to create a life together with all its shared joys and burdens and to form an enduring bond and social identity (p. 35). Lewis, it would seem, provides a solid definition for marriage in general, regardless of whether the couple is heterosexual or homosexual. If the goal of marriage is ultimately to create an "enduring bond and social identity" through a shared life marked by faithful and self-giving love, should it matter if the partners in that relationship are same-sex or not?

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Homosexuality: Nature or Choice? A prime factor contributing to one's opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage is one's attribution of the cause of homosexuality. Research has concluded that those who view homosexuality as the result of genetic or biological nature are more likely to support gay rights, including same-sex marriage, while those who attribute the cause of homosexuality to a sinful lifestyle choice are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage (Whitehead, 2010). There are several contributing factors to these opinions. First, conservative Christians tend to interpret Scripture from a very literal and authoritative perspective. The Scriptures have an inherent authority which is not conveyed or declared by the Church, but rather is merely recognized by the Church (Goldingay, et al., 2011). It follows from this literal perspective that the created order for sexuality is a man and a woman with the intended purpose of procreation. Homosexuality, then, is an inversion of the created order, and is therefore "unnatural" and ultimately sinful (Goldingay, et al., 2011). Second, conservative Christian leaders have taken a lead role in forming the debate over same-sex marriage as a moral threat to traditional marriage and family values (Dyck & PearsonMerkowitz, 2012). This vocal opposition has been particularly evident as public support for antidiscrimination measures has increased, and may be related at least in part to a perceived fear of the loss of heterosexual rights and identity if LGBT individuals should attain equal legal rights (Dyck & Pearson-Merkowitz, 2012). The opposition voiced by Christian leaders has an influence on those in the pew. Ghavami and Johnson (2011) note that a majority of Black Californians voted in support of Proposition 8, a factor which can reasonably be connected to religious practice. When church leadership takes an outspoken and oppositional view on

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homosexuality, it follows that those who are active in the church will have their opinions shaped, or at least influenced, by the leadership of the church. The result is a kind of civil religion in which one translates their religious and moral values into the political realm (Ellison, Acevedo, & Ramos-Wada, 2011). Finally, we must note the importance of intergroup contact in influencing one's opinions on inclusion in general, and support for same-sex marriage in particular. Dyck and PearsonMerkowitz (2012) found that there is correlation between increased intergroup contact and inclusion or acceptance between differing groups. They also note, however, that conservative, evangelical Christians are unlikely to experience substantial intergroup contact with same-sex couples. This may be due to moral opinion regarding homosexuality but also because the church is a closed social network in many ways. In other words, most Christians spend much of their time on church activities or interacting with other church members. Destruction of Family Values? Among the most popular arguments against same sex marriage is the notion that granting LGBT couples the equal right to marry will somehow destroy the traditional family. As noted above, this debate involves a fundamental redefinition of marriage to include any committed, consensual and contractual relationship whether between opposite- or same-sex individuals. We also noted above that the opposition to same-sex marriage is at least partly rooted in the fear that heterosexuals will lose some amount of legal rights or social identity (Dyck & PearsonMerkowitz, 2012). Booth (2009) argues, however, that traditional family values have not been destroyed in States which have recognized same-sex marriage. In fact, she argues, the very opposite has been

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true. Using statistical divorce rates as the primary factor for illustrating family stability, Booth shows that the States which grant marriage equality have the lowest divorce rates in the nation (several of which are below the national average), while many of those States which most strongly deny marriage equality have the highest divorce rates. Additionally, equality States also tend to be the most affluent and highly educated in the nation. Rather than having a detrimental and destructive impact on family values, Booth (2009) found that "gay marriage and strong families actually go statistically hand in hand" (p. 19). Additionally, some posit that same-sex marriage (and by extension same-sex parenting) is somehow harmful or detrimental to children. Using the moral/natural argument established above, some argue that the intention of marriage is procreation, and therefore homosexual relationships are wrong because two men or two women are incapable of procreating together. The argument would further contend that children brought into a homosexual relationship (through adoption or some form of surrogacy) would fare worse than children born to biological parents. Murphy (2011) argues that having homosexual parents has not been shown to cause any systematic harm to children or otherwise detract from the child's overall well-being. An additional argument is that a child of homosexual parents might be more likely to be homosexual themselves. Murphy (2011) identifies that the impact of having homosexual parents on a child's sexual orientation is not well studied or conclusive, and questions whether this should be considered harmful to the child. Civil Rights Perspectives A generation ago the Civil Rights movement sought to ensure that all people were afforded a level of equal protection under the law regardless of race. Many arguments in favor

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of same sex marriage draw on the same themes to argue that all people should have the same right to marry and have access to the rights and privileges associated with marriage regardless of their sexual orientation. Some argue that marriage equality is not a civil or equal rights issue for two reasons. First, where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized, both heterosexual and LGBT individuals are equally prohibited from marrying a person of the same sex, and second, LGBT individuals still have an equal right to marry a member of the opposite sex (Williams, 2011). Williams counters by arguing that this is a collective equal rights issue; while individuals may inherently have the right to marry a member of the opposite sex whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, same-sex couples are collectively excluded from the right to marry because of the nature of their relationships. Social Legitimacy Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people have long faced a certain amount of social stigma related to same-sex attraction. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness up until 1973 when it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and psychologists pledged to work to remove the stigma associated with its classification as a mental illness (Herek, 2011). As recently as 2003, several States still had laws which made homosexual practice criminal offenses. The Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated those laws, granting same-sex couples the liberty to engage in intimate personal relationships without fear of criminal punishment. Still, Lawrence did not address whether same-sex couples should be granted full recognition and legitimacy under the law (Boucai, 2012).

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There are a number of rights and benefits associated with marriage, to which heterosexual couples have almost automatic access on the basis that their relationships are legally recognized and legitimated. Same-sex couples, however, are denied the right to marriage and the access to these associated benefits. Herek (2011) summarizes that the current legal environment places marriage beyond the reach of same-sex couples, with the only basis for this denial being that the couples are homosexual rather than heterosexual. This, he argues, is a form of social and sexual stigma. This stigma, Herek (2011) continues, not only denies same-sex couples legal recognition for their relationship, but also fosters sexual prejudice by reinforcing and legitimizing the differentness of sexual minorities and assigning them to an inferior status compared to heterosexuals. Thus, LGBT persons face inherent discrimination solely on the basis of their sexual identity. When same-sex relationships are granted legal legitimacy, however, LGBT people reported experiencing a number of social and value-based benefits, which extend to both couples and individuals. Reporting results from studies in the Netherlands and the State of Massachusetts, Lee Badgett (2011) found that many LGBT couples experienced feelings of increased social acceptance and inclusion once the right to marry was granted. The sense of inclusion extended both to couples who chose to marry and those who did not. "About half of the couples reported that they saw the right to marry as reflecting and creating a more equal position for lesbians and gay men in the Netherlands. The most common words usedwere 'normal' and 'accepted'" (Lee Badgett, 2011, p. 323). Marriage equality is an important step in granting full acceptance and equality for all without regard to sexual orientation.

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Civil Benefits Marriage gives couples access to over 1100 rights and benefits which include Social Security benefits, property rights, parenting and adoption rights, health benefits, tax benefits, survivor rights and benefits, and immigration rights (Ghavami and Johnson, 2011; Lee Badgett 2011). For heterosexual couples, access to these rights and benefits is fairly automatic. Samesex couples, however, are excluded from many of the benefits on the basis that their relationships are not recognized as legal marriage. This is an injustice which must be addressed and rectified. Parallels to Interracial Marriage Discrimination, or the denial of rights to a certain group of people based on some perceived unacceptable difference, has existed for as long as anyone can remember. In early American history, for example, African Americans were denied almost all rights, including the right to marry, on the basis of race. Although African Americans were given the right to marry following the Civil War, as recently as a generation ago interracial marriage was not accepted. Societal opinion was that one should marry someone like one's self in order for marriage to be successful (Celello, 2010). This societal opinion, by extension, applies to the debate over samesex marriage today. As noted above, the traditional definition of marriage is that marriage must be between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples face the same kinds of discrimination as interracial couples did in previous generations. Interestingly, however, not everyone views the debate over same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue. Ghavami and Johnson (2011) found that a majority of Black Americans oppose same-sex marriage, likely on the basis of conservative moral and religious beliefs. Additionally, those Blacks who oppose same-sex marriage generally do not view the movement to sanction

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same-sex marriage as parallel to the Civil Rights movement. While all the reasons why some Blacks do not endorse these parallels is not fully clear, anecdotal evidence suggests that, while LGBT persons are excluded from the right to marry, the rights, privileges and overall treatment of LGBT persons is different than the way Blacks were treated prior to the Civil Rights movement (Ghavami & Johnson, 2011). While some reject the parallels between the Civil Rights movement and the Marriage Equality movement, there remain significant parallels related to discrimination and the restriction of rights which cannot be ignored. For example, many same-sex couples have long-term, committed relationships, but because there is no legal recognition of that relationship a surviving partner lacks legal standing and may be completely shut out in the event of the death of their partner (Kleinedler, 2009). We should consider marriage to be a fundamental civil right which should be available to all (Ghavami & Johnson, 2011). Psychological Perspectives Research suggests a positive association between marriage and the psychological wellbeing of individuals within a relationship (Wight, et al., 2013). Analyzing data from the California Health Interview Survey, Wight, et al. (2013) found that married heterosexuals reported the lowest levels of psychological distress, while LGBT persons who were not in any kind of legally recognized relationship reported the highest levels of distress. Same-sex couples in a legally recognized marriage relationship were significantly less distressed than LGBT persons who did not have a legally sanctioned relationship. There are many potential reasons for the high levels of psychological distress experienced by LGBT individuals. Fingerhut, Riggle and Rostosky (2011) suggest that minority stress, "the

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chronic stress that accompanies a stigmatized social status such as LGB or transgender," may account for the increased levels of distress reported by LGBT individuals (p. 230). The ongoing debate over same-sex marriage is also a contributing factor to distress. This debate, which is often passionate and heated, can in itself serve as a source of stress and discrimination for LGBT persons. According to Fingerhut, et al. (2011), study participants from States which had recently enacted same-sex marriage bans reported being subjected to increased negative messages about LGBT persons, including questions related to normalcy and morality, and accusations related to an agenda to encroach on the rights of others. Additionally, same-sex couples must deal with stress which comes from the uncertainty of the outcome of this debate. At present, the ability to enact laws related to gay rights rests in the hands of (usually) nongay majorities (Dyck & Person-Merkowitz, 2012). In recent experience, popular referenda have overturned the granted right to marriage for LGBT persons (i.e. Proposition 8 in California) (Lee Badgett, 2011). Until the debate is completed and the issue settled, LGBT persons are likely to continue to experience higher levels of distress. What appears clear from the research, however, is that legal recognition of marriage does have a positive effect on lowering levels of distress experienced by LGBT persons. Wight, et al. (2013) report that in their study there was no significant difference in the reported levels of distress between heterosexual individuals and either married LGBT persons, or LGBT persons in a legally recognized domestic partnership. The study authors conclude that an increase sense of social inclusion, related to the acceptance of LGBT persons in the institution of marriage, is a likely reason for the decreased levels of distress.

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Faith in Action: What role should the Christian human services professional play? The ethical code of the National Organization for Human Services calls on the human services professional to advocate on behalf of the rights of all members of society, particularly those who have historically faced discrimination (NOHS, 1996). As the research presented has shown, LGBT people have been historically subjected to certain amounts of discrimination. For a long time, homosexuality was labeled a mental illness. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals still face questions over the normalcy of their sexual attractions and behaviors. Often they are labeled immoral. And they are restricted from the right to marry, and the associated material, social and psychological benefits which accompany that institution. On this basis alone, it would appear that the human services professional has an ethical obligation to advocate for equal treatment for LGBT persons. A conflict may arise for some human services professionals whose moral and religious values dictate that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice, and is therefore morally wrong. The challenge for a professional in this predicament is how to balance the ethical responsibility to advocate for those who are subject to discrimination with one's personal moral values. Is it possible to advocate for the rights of someone with whom we disagree on the level of morality? Drawing from the example of Jesus' earthly ministry we must answer "yes." Even a brief reading through the gospels shows that Jesus regularly interacted with, and even advocated for the rights of, those who were radically different from himself. Consider the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26). Here was individual with whom Jesus, according to his religious and moral upbringing, should never have interacted. First, she was a woman and he was a Jewish male. Second, he was Jew and she was a Samaritan. Finally, she was a sinner and

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he was God. Yet, Jesus talked with her, showed her compassion and radically impacted her life. Consider also the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). Under the law of the day, this woman (and interestingly the man she was caught with) was subject to the death penalty. When the religious leaders brought her to Jesus though, he did not validate this death sentence, but rather advocated on her behalf ultimately saving her life. So often did Jesus do things like this that he was a major source of frustration for the religious leadership if his day. Can we take a lesson from the example of Jesus? The answer should be unequivocally yes. We must recognize that in advocating on behalf of someone with whom we disagree we are not compromising our moral values or principles. Neither are we offering an inherent approval of their position, beliefs, lifestyle, etc. Rather, we are offering help, seeking to right a wrong, or otherwise stating that all people are entitled to fair and equal treatment , protection and benefit under the law. Cushing Stahlberg (2008) offers a similar perspective drawn from the story of Ruth in the Old Testament. Ruth was a foreigner; not only that, she was a Moabite. Under Jewish law, Israelites were forbidden not only from marrying a Moabite, but from offering aid or abetment in any way. Yet Ruth returned to Israel with Naomi, her mother-in-law, was accepted into the community, and eventually married Boaz and had a son. The radical aspect of the story of Ruth, according to Cushing Stahlberg (2008), is not only that Ruth was accepted into the Israelite community in contradiction to the Law, but she became an ancestor of King David and ultimately Jesus. Cushing Stahlberg (2008) concludes: In the book of Ruth, a community rallied around two people whose marriage defied God's law. The community not only witnessed this union, it blessed it. And as a consequence of

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that blessing, the society was positively transformed. Admittedly, it took generations for the full fruit of acceptance to be known. No doubt it will take at least as long for the impact of same-sex marriage to be fully grasped in the United States (p. 475). Ruth, therefore, gives us the picture of a community willingly accepting and blessing a relationship which, according to all their religious and moral teaching, should have been considered wrong. The result of the Jewish community's acceptance of Ruth, and her marriage to Boaz, was ultimately a positive transformation of society, with an outsider forever holding a prime place in the ancestry of the Messiah. Perhaps it is time for the Christian community to reconsider our moral judgment and rejection of same-sex couples and reclaim our place as a radical, transformative force in society. Can we advocate for the rights of those whose relationships we may consider wrong because of our religious and moral upbringing? The answer must be a resounding yes! Not only must we answer yes, as Christian human services professionals we would make the argument that we have an ethical, and even moral, imperative to do so.

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Kleinedler, S.R. (2009). Five years later, marriage equality has settled in. Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 16(4). 4.
Lee Badgett, M. (2011). Social inclusion and the value of marriage equality in Massachusetts and the Netherlands. Journal of Social Issues, 67(2), 316-334. Lewis, B. (2011). The movement for same-sex marriage. Compass, 45(4), 33-37. Murphy, T.F. (2011) Same-sex marriage: Not a threat to marriage or children. Journal of Social Philosophy, 42(3), 288-304.

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