Marriage for all
17 August 2012
Do you live in Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain or Sweden? Don't worry about it then. In these countries, same-sex couples can marry. However, in other European countries, the issue comes up regularly in political and social debates, particularly before and after elections.
In France, for example, the socialist Francois Hollande pledged during the presidential campaign to “extend marriage and adoption rights to homosexual couples.” Once elected, he announced legislation on the matter “for the spring of 2013” and it is likely that part of the right-wing opposition will vote for it. In Finland, a bill allowing marriage between same-sex couples was submitted last March. In Germany, where the decision of the Constitutional Court ruling that same-sex couples should have the same treatment as heterosexual couples is running into trouble on its way to becoming federal law, because of hostility from the right and the Liberals in power. In Luxembourg, the bill on “gay marriage” should come to a vote in 2013. And in the UK, the government has announced its intention to legalise same-sex marriage “by the end of this term.” In other countries, like Italy, Poland and Greece, the debate for now relates to civil pacts, the first step towards the recognition of marriage.
Where it exists, the debate is often passionate, even fiery. But it is flawed in our view by a misunderstanding that can be found whenever a social issue, such as abortion, divorce, euthanasia, gay marriage, crosses over into terrain where religious beliefs are involved.
It is possible to have a secular, liberal approach to these questions; however, it may clash with the beliefs convictions of part of the population, the fact of extending rights to another part cannot affect their own. Recognising a right does not mean making the exercise compulsory for all. To offer a choice does not require that a choice be made. To oppose a measure that concerns the intimate sphere of others, is intolerance.
In the case of “gay marriage”, the issue is about ending discrimination, which, from the moment we accept that two men or two women want to live together, has no place in the debate. The European Parliament was not wrong when in 2003 it passed a resolution demanding that member states “abolish all forms of discrimination – legal or de facto – that are still suffered by homosexuals, particularly in terms of the right to marry and adopt children.”
The opponents of “gay marriage” and adoption by homosexual couples highlight the fact that it would undermine the foundations of our societies, supposedly based on the heterosexual family, and that having same-sex parents would harm the stability of children. Nothing proves the first premise: Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain are still there, still democratic and peaceful. As for the second claim, no study has ever proven that having parents of the same sex has ever harmed children's development.
In fact, the question should be reversed: is there an objective reason – apart from the legal impediments – to prevent two people who love each other, regardless of their sex, to marry?