Legislation legalising same-sex marriage continues to be controversial within political parties and between them. It seems enough Liberal Senators, together with Labor, Greens and crossbench members, could push the legislation through the Senate in 2017. The Age and The Australian 27/6/17).
How may we explain sociologically the gradual acceptance of SSM and other sexual identities throughout the Western world? Explain the sociological reasons why some people and politicians may reject the legislative changes.
History of Same-sex Marriages
Same sex marriages popularly known as gay marriages are marriage relationship between people of the same sex. The issue of same sex marriages has raised a lot of controversial issues over whether the society needs to recognize such marriages or not. Herek (2006) suggests that proponents of the idea have been pushing for legislation and recognition of such marriages within the law. Many countries have faced such issues with politicians and human rights lobby groups taking sides on the issue. The first law ever enacted to recognize such marriages was enacted in 2001 in Netherlands. However today many countries have passed these laws with over twenty countries having passed such laws. Other countries of the world are in the process of passing such laws due to a rising support of these marriages. Most of the countries that have passed such laws have made legislative changes on marriage laws.
In Australia, such marriages are treated as de facto unions under the federal law but the Australian constitution allows each state to create its own laws regarding such marriages. This gives room for only civil unions but same sex marriages are prohibited by the marriage Act (1961). This essay analyses the controversial legislation of same sex marriages and how the Liberal Senators, together with Labor, Greens and crossbench members are pushing for this legislation. It attempts to look at the sociological reasons behind people and legislators opposing these marriages. Recognition of same sex marriages is a political, social issue and religious issue with debates varying across different sections of the population (Roseneil, 2000). The Australian political environment has been in tussle over whether the laws legalizing same sex marriages need to be passed or not. However, Perales & Alice Campbell (2017) suggest that pressure has been building for leaders to make changes in the legislation to allow for such marriages. This led to the drafting of the bill to legalize gay marriages through postal survey votes.
The same sex marriage vote has elicited reactions among the Australian community with over 20,000 before gathering in Sydney to show their approval of the gay marriages before the September 12th vote (Perales & Alice Campbell, 2017). Australians will be asked to vote on whether same sex marriages should be legalized in the country by allowing such couples to marry or not. Politicians, religious leaders, activists and the Australian community have taken different stands on whether the marriages should legalized or not. Some like religious leaders have argued that marriage is based on love and intimacy not sexual orientation of the parties.
Legislation on Same-sex Marriages in Australia
The society is divided over whether same sex marriages should be allowed or prohibited. Different sociological explanations and theories have been used to justify either point of view. The American Psychiatric Association had initially described same sex relationships as mental disorders until the rise of such rights in countries like the US (Roseneil, 2000). The recent rise of same sex relationship support has been seen as an explicit challenge to societal norms. This means that same sex marriage can be seen as a morality issue rooted in the responsibility of one’s freedom (Giddens, 2001). Proposers of same sex marriages argue that homosexuality is an in born powerful trait that cannot be controlled through religion or psychology. It has been argued that these people at first try to resist this drive but are overwhelmed by the force inside them to the point of accepting.
Hart-Brinson (2016) suggests that social imagination can be used to explain how society has recognized these marriages through tracing its history by analyzing how the social imagination changed twice from mental illness to deviant behaviour and from deviant behaviour to collective identity. These moments of change formed the turning point of social acceptance of these marriages. These changes altered societal discourses and practices to recognize homosexuality. This led to the development of personal ideas about freedom which led to development of different personal moral codes like homosexuality.
Post structural functionalists have attempted to understand same sex marriages by suggesting that subjects are not autonomous creators of themselves and thus they do not have control over who they become in a social world. People are determined by social relations that they engage in. Foucault attempted understand different ages that the western societies have undergone in history. These periods, give rise to different identities that may have given rise to homosexuality (Giddens, 2001). As people live in a changing society, they tend to identify themselves with certain identities even if the society cannot accept them. Rosario, et al. (2006) argue tha the society allows young people to go through sexual identity formation by facing the sexual identity milestones through questioning, experimentation, and conflict before settling on a homosexual identity. Once the identity has been selected, the individual embarks on a coming out process of revealing their identity.
Societal views on same sex marriages vary from society to society to society and culture to culture. Western societies are leading in acceptance of same sex marriages as compared to any other region in the world. This can be explained by increased democratic institutions, level of economic development and the religious context that people live in.
Sociological Reasons Behind Opposing Same-sex Marriages
The fight for freedoms and human rights in the western world has led to a permissive society that is individual centered rather than community centered. As democratic institutions grow, people become more independent and are ruled by their will rather than the choices of a few people (Balsam & Rothblum, 2005). This has led to pressure on governments to pass legislations that acknowledge these marriages. Since the society is developing every time now and then, social fiber of the society is wearing out allowing people to explore every opportunity that they have. In the previous periods, same sex relationships only happened in secrecy but this has changed over time allowing same sex couples to reveal themselves in public. Today many western countries have passed laws that allow same sex marriages. Functionalist perspective of sexuality have been based on recognizing all parts of the social structure and how they work together to achieve smooth running of the society (Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, & Braun, 2006). Therefore functionalists argue that since the society recognizes same sex marriages, then they need to be legalized to achieve cohesion.
The rise of democracies and the need to acknowledge human rights has moved the society away from religion. The society should focus on how subjective material can be addressed to meet the needs of people. Symbolic interactionist argue that people interact and enter relations to achieve certain benefits that they expect (Bourricaud, 2005). This means that people have freedom of sexuality to choose the relationship that they can join rather than being defined by the society. This leads people to choose between straight marriages and gay marriages so long as the relationship can meet subjective material needs that they have. People who choose same sex marriages have their own symbolized reasons for being gay.
Giddens thesis of reflective modernization that new personal freedoms are the reasons behind increased acceptance of same sex marriages. Giddens (2001) states that these are self-fashioned identities that allow the society of today to enjoy intellectual conditions that came into existence when religion began losing its hold and science became the order of the day. This dominant way of thinking led to the development of new ways of thinking making sexuality to come out as a strong force that had been contained by society (Roseneil, 2000). This led to the development of different social identities that led to the acceptance of same sex relationships.
Critics of same sex marriages base their arguments of religious and theoretical advancements over the way marriage as an institution should be handled. It is argued that homosexuality is a deviant behaviour that is a threat to social organization and the heterosexual norm of the society. According to Hart-Brinson (2016) conservatives argue that marriage is for procreation, which can only happen when people of the opposite sex have sexual relationships together. This means that children who will be born out of such unions or raised in them will not enjoy all benefits of parenting. Same sex partners can act as husband or wife but they can never be them. Such children will is heterosexual abilities that contribute to the social identity of the child (Roseneil, 2000). This means that the child has a higher possibility of developing into a homosexual under same sexual marriage. Socialization is based on nurturing children through role modelling, critics of same marriages challenge the parenting nature of such parents and the effects that they have on society. This means that such unions should not be recognized by law as a way of ensuring that they slowly diminish.
Debates on Same-sex Marriages
Structural functionalists believe in the existence of society as a complex system with parts that work together to achieve stability in society. The society exists through a set of institutions that play different roles to form the existence of the whole society (Fish, 2005). The family and marriage play the important role of procreation which ensures that there is continuity. Same sex marriages will pose a threat to this social order by reducing procreation since there is a limit on sexual orientation of the marriage. Although technology can be used to achieve procreation, functionalists will argue that it is not as sustainable as the functional family. Artificial insemination and surrogate mothers undermine the cultural understanding of reproductive units. Functionalists will propose that same sex marriages need to be opposed by all means since they are a threat to social existence of the society. Bourricaud (2005) suggests that to maintain the social structure of the society, all social functions must be addressed in their normal form rather than changing to accommodate new forms that threaten the society.
Natural law theory states that humans are guided by the law of nature and their reasoning to carry out activities that enable them survive and procreate. Good activities conform to this law while those that work against it are wrong. Helminiak (2000) states that religious people argue that there is a deity that created laws of nature that need to be respected. For religious and natural theorists, sex is for procreation and thus can only happen between people of the opposite sex. Therefore same marriages are wrong since they do not lead to any element of procreation. This also makes the act unnatural since it is an invention that people have discovered over time rather than what men and women were born with. This means that the acceptance of same sex marriages will lead to other new unnatural forms of marriage that may be discovered by humans.
Despite the fact that there are different arguments in relation to same sex marriages. It is evident that western societies have achieved democratic institution advancement that cannot allow the rights of people to be dictated upon (Balsam & Rothblum, 2005). Same sex unions exist within us and the society needs to recognize them and respect the feelings of those who are in such unions. Increasing public poll in support of these unions indicates that this is a force that can never be contained. Symbolic interactionism focusses on achieving cohesion through forming relationships with others. Whether gay or straight, these unions need to be recognized so long as they can bring harmony to the society.
However, it is also good to focus on the future of society and project how family codes and norms will look like based on allowing these unions to be legally accepted. With over twenty-three countries currently having legalized these marriages and Australia being another one on the line. There is a possibility where the world will experience a situation where all countries will legally allow such marriages. This means that the traditional family will lose meaning since surrogate mothers have taken over child bearing allowing same sex partners to have children. However, such children are denied opportunities that other children from straight unions have. The question is what will become of such children and how will they perceive society or bring up their children. It depends on which of the divide that fall on but as a straight, religious and an individual who believes in sanctity of marriage. I will go for a no in the 12th September vote to preserve the family heritage that we have enjoyed and wish to continue enjoying.
Balsam, K. F., & Rothblum, E. D. (2005). Victimization Over the Life Span: A Comparison of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Siblings. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(2), 477-487.
Bourricaud, F. (2005). The Sociology of Talcott Parsons. London: Chicago University Press.
Fish, J. S. (2005). Defending the Durkheimian Tradition. Religion, Emotion and Morality Aldershot. Ashgate Publishing.
Giddens, A. (2001). Sociology (4th ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hart-Brinson, P. (2016). The Social Imagination of Homosexuality and the Rise of Same-sex Marriage in the United States. Sociological Research for a Dynamic World , 2, 1-17.
Helminiak, D. A. (2000). What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. New Mexico: Alamo Square Press.
Herek, G. M. (2006). Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, 61(6), 607-621.
Perales, F., & Alice Campbell. (2017, August 31). Who supports same-sex marriage in Australia? And who doesn't? ABC News.
Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., Hunter, J., & Braun, L. (2006). Sexual Identity Development among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youths: Consistency and Change Over Time. Journal of Sex Research, 43(1), 46-58.
Roseneil, S. (2000). Towards an Understanding of Poatmoder Transformation of SexualityCathexis. Statistices and Theories for Understanding Social Change.
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