Athens, Greece - Societies that accept homosexual marriages have citizens who see those who are "different" as equals. This is why acceptance of homosexuality appears to be a very new phenomenon -- very different from the dominant mentality of groups for thousands of years. Yet as it stands complete acceptance looks like it will be reached only in the future.
The issue of homosexual marriage directly affects a relatively small minority in any country. Yet it is a touchstone of where each society -- and by extension, humanity -- is headed. There are countries in which rights and the institution of marriage have already been broadened to include homosexuals; there are countries which are vociferously debating the issue; and there are societies (the vast majority) where the subject is taboo.
So where are we, as humans, with regard to this question? In my view, we are at a junction between a past in which sexual behavior was dictated very strictly by religion and its partner, social mores, and a future in which the individual has greater rights to define himself or herself and to be treated as an equal member of society regardless of sexual orientation. Which way we will go, as an adaptive race, is unclear.
The question is, after all, a very personal one for those involved. Even for societies that have enjoyed a liberal, democratic tradition for any length of time, it is still difficult to come to terms with the fact that the rights of the individual are sacred and should be protected against the dictates of the majority. In this case, even the way the question is framed ("Should homosexuals be allowed to marry?") comes across as intrusive and betrays the authoritarian nature of one side of the argument. We are talking about human beings who are in love with each and who believe that they will want to live together for the rest of their lives.
If they feel that they need to express this love by conforming to the behavior of heterosexual couples, that should be their decision alone. If they feel that they should share the rights of married couples with regard to the benefits offered by the state and the law, then that is something that concerns both the individual and the society as a whole.
But most societies still feel that the institution of marriage, already sorely tested in many countries, will be rocked by its extension to non-traditional units. So we have the social whole concerned about the behavior of individuals, and this gives rise to political populism which distorts the debate. This insecurity has begun to affect even the most progressive societies. In some cases, this has prompted a new devotion to religion. If there is a conservative backlash, homosexuals may remain stigmatized and societies locked mid stride between their future and their past.
For those countries where it is still difficult to introduce homosexual marriages, perhaps the easiest step forward is to introduce full equality under property, social security, tax and inheritance laws for all couples (whether married or not, heterosexual or homosexual) who request it. If we are to honor our respect for individual rights we cannot make exclusions -- at least as far as where the secular state is involved.
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