There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing a couple in their living room reading the newspaper. The husband turns to his wife and reads the headline: “Gays and lesbians getting married” whereupon she adds: “Haven’t they suffered enough?”
Apparently not, for there is a growing trend toward making same sex marriage legal. To date Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa—and Washington, D.C. permit gay and lesbian marriages. When I first heard about Iowa, I thought the mere fact that this icon of middle America legalizing the union was enough to predict a trend and highlight the importance of gay marriage; but there are additional reasons. It also turns out I didn’t know much about Iowa history. Despite the fact that Iowans may not always agree on a controversial issue, they do agree on a society which embraces freedom, fairness and tolerance; perhaps because many of its settlers were folks who came to the United States because they were denied liberties in their home countries.
The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously found a state law banning same-sex marriage to be a violation of the state Constitution. In historical context this is highly congruent for Iowa, for in 1839 the Supreme Court, in what was then the territory of Iowa refused to recognize a slave as a possession; then in 1868 and 1873 the court issued rulings favoring desegregation schools–a century before the US Supreme Court ruled the same in Brown v. the Board of Education. Iowa was also the first state to allow women to practice law.
Now if you ask the average Iowa citizen if he or she approves of same sex marriage, the answer will be no 62% of the time, but they do believe in equity and privacy, almost 100% of the time. As a republic we are not a nation whose people always decide, we are a nation of people who decides who will decide. And for this very reason I believe gay marriage is important: the overwhelming majority of the USA wants to live in a country of freedom, justice, civil rights, equity and opportunity, even though these bigger goals sometimes allow the likes of certain talk show hosts to spew information that some of us find incendiary and greedy financiers to annihilate our 401K.
I tend to agree with Dr. Martin Luther King when he said “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” In my mind gay marriage is important because it is just.
As homosexuality becomes more acknowledged, understood and accepted, young people are coming out earlier and experiencing a more normal and satisfactory adolescence which includes sexual exploration, dating–even senior prom. By their twenties and thirties more and more gays and lesbians are feeling the age-appropriate desire to settle down with one partner, make a commitment and increasingly, to even plan a family.
A large part of the acceptance experienced by the homosexual (LGBT) community is supported by current and ongoing research making it clear that sexual orientation is largely influenced by genetic and biological factors.
In an article by Dennis McFadden, Ashbel Smith Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Texas, Austin, he writes:
“Physiological differences suggest that homosexuality is not a choice made by people who wish to buck traditional society or simply to be different. Rather, the physiological differences between heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals appear to be the result of biological processes occurring early in development, not unlike those that lead to left-handedness.”
The comparison of homosexuality with left-handedness is particularly interesting because historically many societies have disliked left-handed people with much the same intensity as seen in some circles nowadays against homosexuals. The Roman term for left-handedness was a variant of the word “sinister,” Christianity long associated left-handedness with the Devil, Islam views the left hand as unclean, and for many years educators in the US believed they could “change” left-handers into right-handers. Modern studies reveal that there are marked brain differences correlated with hand preference, and there is a strong biological contribution of handedness that operates early in development. The same holds true for sexual orientation. Interestingly, there are more gay left-handed people than heterosexual. If you select a lesbian or bisexual woman at random, she is about 90% more likely to be non-right-handed (left-handed or ambidextrous). For males it’s about 35%.
Another fact pointing to a biological basis for homosexuality is that there are group differences in height. Namely, gay males, as a group, are shorter than straight males, as a group, and lesbians are taller than straight females.
In addition finger length ratios are different in heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals.
Another physiological measure that shows differences between heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals is auditory evoked potentials (AEP), which are brain waves that are produced in response to a brief sound like a click. The AEP brain waves of gay males are different from those of heterosexual males and the same is true of lesbians and heterosexual females.
Another auditory measure that shows differences between heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals is otoacoustic emissions (OAE). These are sounds produced by normal-hearing ears (not ringing in the ears–tinnitus). OAEs are stronger in females than in males, this is true in infants and adults. OAEs are weaker in non-heterosexual women than in heterosexual women. It is extremely difficult to imagine how a personal choice about sex partners could affect the acoustic emissions from one’s ears.
Just as it is difficult to justify discrimination against a newborn because of its handedness, finger length ratios, eventual height, auditory evoked potentials, or otoacoustic emissions, it is difficult to justify discrimination based on its eventual sexual orientation because all of these characteristics appear to have a strong biological basis that has nothing to do with personal choice.
Likewise, there is little evidence that homosexuality arises because of upbringing. The vast majority of homosexuals had heterosexual parents, grandparents, siblings, and playmates. Some homosexuals came from families that strongly disapproved of homosexuality and some from families that were more accepting. Children raised by one of more homosexual parents are overwhelmingly heterosexual as are those who might have had a homosexual teacher or two.
While we are talking about parents and families, twentieth century psychiatry had us believe that homosexuality was not a biological trait at all but a psychological defect. It was a mistake brought on by bad parenting. Freud considered homosexuality a form of arrested development brought on by a distant father or overprotective mother. Homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychological Association (APA) and that gays could and should be cured.
But modern scientific research has dispelled this belief, it turns out that parents of homosexuals are no worse or no better than heterosexuals’ parents. And homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom as well; homosexuality in sheep, for example, arises naturally, not brought on by aloof rams or overbearing ewes .
So how and why homosexuality?
Sex hormones testosterone and estradiol are known to be responsible for a large number of sex differences in body, brain and behavior and during prenatal development, males and females are known to be exposed to markedly different levels of sex hormones, especially testosterone. However, at birth, and all through childhood until puberty, the circulating levels of sex hormones do not differ between the sexes, so any hormone-caused differences in physiology or behaviors that exist in infants and children must be attributable to prenatal sex differences in hormone exposure.
According to Ray Blanchard of the University of Toronto in Canada, the probability of a male being homosexual goes up by about one-third for each additional older brother that was born to his biological mother. Older sisters have no similar effect. The fraternal birth-order effect is important because it suggests that biological factors do contribute to homosexuality, in support of the view that people do not consciously choose to be homosexual any more than they choose to be heterosexual or left or right-handed.
One of the main reasons research has begun shining light on so many heretofore unknown etiologies is that we now have far more sophisticated assessment methodology. The fMRI alone has transformed the field of neurophysiology. Now that we can look at brain activity without opening the skull, we have far more volunteer subjects. Likewise, we now have measures that are sensitive to the degree of exposure to androgens a developing fetus receives. No doubt the next few years will provide further elucidation of the Homo sapien species.
So what if you were born gay, many still believe it is a sin to act on it. Some Christians believe homosexuality is unChristian and goes against the Bible. But there is difficulty in using the Bible as a guide for marriage:
Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel were all polygamists. In many cases, marriage, Biblical style was between a man and as many wives as he could pay for . Monogamy became the norm in the Christian world in the sixth century; husband’s frequent enjoyment of mistresses and prostitutes became taboo by the beginning of the 20th. By the 1970’s most states had gotten rid of their “head and master” laws, which gave husbands the right to decide where a family would live and whether a wife would be able to take a job. Rarely today do you hear the preacher at the end of the wedding ceremony say “I now pronounce you man and wife” as was the custom for several centuries.
The Bible does condemn gay male sex in a handful of passages. Leviticus refers to sex between two men as an abomination; but this same text devotes far more verses to cleanliness rituals for menstruating women, and the correct way to sacrifice a goat, lamb or a turtle dove. In addition, the Bible endorses slavery, a practice that much of the world now considers shameful.
Some might say, “Well, you are talking about the Old Testament and Jesus came to do away with the old laws.” But the New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments–especially the family. (“Leave your families and follow me.”) The Apostle Paul–also single–regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust.
Paul was tough on homosexuality, though recently progressive scholars have argued that his condemnation of men who “were inflamed with lust for one another” (which he calls a perversion) is really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debaucher.
In his book The Arrogance of Nations, scholar Neil Elliott argues that Paul is referring to the depravity of the Roman emperors, Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would have grasped instantly. “Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all. He’s talking about a certain group of people who have done everything in this list. He was not addressing gay love or gay marriage. Rather talking about really, really violent people who are judged by God.”
Regardless, it’s a matter of record that Paul actually argued far more strenuously against divorce than homosexuality and at least half of the Christians in America disregard that teaching. Jesus may have had the last word in this debate when he said in Matthew: “There will be no marriage in heaven.” BTW, Jesus never mentions homosexuality.
So why all the fuss about marriage?
As a religious institution marriage offers a commitment of both partners before God to love, honor and cherish each other–in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer–in accordance with God’s will. In a religious marriage, two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them. As a civil institution, marriage offers practical benefits to both partners: contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; medical care and inheritance. For many, marriage is seen as a civil right.
Some of you may recall the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia in which Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving who got married in Washington, D.C. were charged guilty of miscegenation or cross-racial matrimony, which was considered by many states a crime at the time. According to the judge “The fact that (God) He separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” But the Supreme Court , which eventually heard the case, declared “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights… fundamental to our very existence and survival.”
Mildred Loving, mother and grandmother, who once had cops burst into her bedroom because she was sleeping with her own husband, was quoted in a rare public statement saying she believed
“all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. That’s what Loving (the court case), and loving, are all about.”
It seems evident to me that marriage is a civil-rights issue. If you don’t want to take my word for it, after all I’m no lawyer; what about the opinion of Ted Olson, one of the more prominent Republicans in Washington who was the head of the Office of Legal Counsel under Ronald Reagan and in 2000 he took the “Bush” side in Bush v. Gore. He states unequivocally: gay marriage is a civil-rights issue. Furthermore,
“same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize…We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs…conservatives should celebrate this rather than lament it. ”
But what about the homosexual affect on the sacred institution of marriage and procreation? Olson again:
“Preventing lesbians and gays from marrying does not cause more heterosexuals to marry and conceive more children. Likewise, allowing gays and lesbians to marry someone of the same sex will not discourage heterosexuals from marrying a person of the opposite sex. How then, would allowing same-sex marriages reduce the number of children that heterosexual couples conceive?”
Speaking of procreation, let’s take a look at that issue. First of all, it takes seconds to make a baby—but years to raise one. While it is true that conception still requires an egg and a sperm, child-rearing is another matter. Research has weighed in on the implications for children raised in same sex marriages.
Studies show that children with two moms or two dads fare just as well as children with heterosexual parents. In fact, one comprehensive study of children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers concluded that children raised by same-sex parents did not differ from other children in terms of emotional functioning, sexual orientation, stigmatization, gender role behavior, behavioral adjustment, gender identity, learning and grade point averages. Where research differences have been found, they have sometimes favored same-sex parents. For example, adolescents with same-sex parents reported feeling more connected at school. Another study reported that children in gay and lesbian households are more likely to talk about emotionally difficult topics, and they are often more resilient, compassionate and tolerant.
Why would children from same-sex relationships fare so well? It may have something to do with happiness and stability of the marriage/partnership.
Decades ago Robert Beavers and his colleagues at Southwest Family Institute found that adjustment in children was most highly correlated with marital happiness and stability. In fact, acting out behavior in children was more about how the parents got along with each other than their particular parenting style. So it makes sense that children in families with gay and lesbian parents do well because research is clear that these relationships are actually happier than heterosexual relationships.
John Gottman, a University of Washington emeritus professor of psychology who conducted research along with Robert Levenson, a University of California psychology professor published the first observational studies of homosexual relationships. Their research posited what Pepper Schwartz, founder of Peer Marriage observed many years ago, i.e. “Gay and lesbian couples are a lot more mature, more considerate in trying to improve a relationship and have a greater awareness of equality in a relationship than straight couples.” Schwartz looked to homosexual relationships to find a more equitable design for marriage than the traditional model based on sexual stereotypes.
The Gottman/Levenson findings had more findings of interest: Straight couples start a conflict discussion in a much more negative place than do gay and lesbian couples. Homosexuals start the same kind of discussions with more humor and affection, are less domineering and show considerably more positive emotions than heterosexual couples. The way a discussion starts is critical. If it starts off in a bad way in a heterosexual relationship, we have found that it will become even more negative 96 percent of the time. Gays and lesbians are warmer, friendlier and less belligerent. You see it over and over in their discussions, and their partner is receiving the message they are communicating. In turn, their partner is allowing himself or herself to be influenced in a positive way. With married heterosexual couples a discussion is much more of a power struggle with someone being invalidated.
Another interesting thing that emerged from their research is that gays and lesbians are more honest. They talked explicitly about monogamy and sex. “Those topics don’t come up in 31 years of studying heterosexual couples,” states Gottman.
“Heterosexuals are uptight in talking about sex and you don’t hear explicit sexual talk. In reviewing the tapes of their conversations, you really don’t know what they are talking about. Same sex couples talk about sex, and are more mature and honest and less fragile in talking about it.”
“The overall implication of this research is that we have to shake off all of the stereotypes of homosexual relationships and have more respect for them as committed relationships. Gays and lesbians may be more competent at having a mature relationship. Our data suggests our society needs to reconsider its policy and that we should value and honor love wherever we find it. I think that in 200 years heterosexual relationships will be where gay and lesbian relationships are today.”
A final note: I want to quote Jennifer Donnelly from a special to the Washington Post: Seven years ago she entered into a domestic partnership with the love of her life. They realized that even without full legal status their vows were a lifetime commitment to each other, so they chose to include in their ceremony the African American tradition of “jumping over the broom.”…(Slaves in this country did not have the legal right to marry but this did not stop them from making a lifetime commitment to each other which was signified by the ritual of jumping over a broom.
When gay marriage became legal in California (for a nano second) she and her wife went to the courthouse to hear the legal words saying “The state of California declares you married.” Since then, well you know the history of proposition 8, but in response to that she wrote:
“For months, it made me indignant to think that my neighbors, and the entire state of California were going to vote on my marriage–something so deeply personal and spiritual and uniquely mine and my wife’s. I wondered How could they? Why would they? Then I realized they wouldn’t.”
Because on Election Day, California, you did not vote on whether or not I exist; I am here, and I live in your neighborhood. You did not vote on whether your children will learn about same-sex couples; they will…You did not vote to prevent your children from growing up gay; they already are who they are. You voted on whether to give my family the same status that other families have. You voted on civil marriage rights, not rights having to do with religious marriage or spiritual marriage.
No vote can pass judgment on my actual marriage.
I was deeply saddened when Californians approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But I remain married to the love of my life. I jumped the broom with her six years ago!”
Distinguished professor, Certified Love Educator, Pat Love, Ed.D. is known for warmth, humor and commitment to learning. For more than twenty-five years, she has contributed to relationship education and personal development through her books, articles, training programs, speaking and media appearances. Visit Pat on the Relationships and Transitions pages and at www.patlove.com.