Same-sex marriage is an emerging social issue that is tremendously changing the conventional definition of marriage. For many centuries, society has held that, marriage is a union of a man and a woman to form family, which is the basic institution of society. However, the emergence of different sexual orientations such as lesbians and gays has introduced the concept of homosexuality as an integral part of marriage. Homosexuals claim that they have inalienable rights to pursue their sexual orientations just like heterosexuals without any undue discrimination. In Canada, homosexuals managed to fight for their rights as a minority group, which led to the legalization of same-sex marriages in 2005 when the House of Commons passed the Civil Marriage Act. According to Woodford (2010), proponents of same-sex marriage argue that, legalization of homosexuality is a way of enhancing equality and reducing discrimination, which allows homosexuals to access full privileges of marriage as heterosexuals (p.2). In contrast, opponents of same-sex marriage assert that, homosexuality is against procreation, which is the fundamental function of a family, and thus threatens the existence of family life. Therefore, since same-sex marriage is a social issue, this essay examines the issue in terms of homosexuality, sexual orientation, and social conflict theory.
The concept of homosexuality is an emerging sexual issue that has led to legalization of same-sex marriage in modern society in some legal jurisdictions like Canada. For many centuries, traditional, cultural and religious values and principles recognized marriage as basic institution of society made when a man and a woman unite. Moreover, most legal jurisdictions recognize marriage as union of a man and a woman; hence, same-sex marriage is illegal. Since homosexuality is a union of two people with same sex, it has provided gays and lesbians an opportunity to agitate for their rights and pursue their respective sexual orientation. Under heterosexuality, marriage and family were synonymous but due to the emergence of homosexuality and single parenthood, marriage and family became remarkably different entities. Although homosexuals cannot form a family, their union depicts a marriage made of two partners who have consented to marry legally. According to Woodford (2010), Americans are increasingly supporting homosexuality as an alternative form of lifestyle because about 40% are rooting for legalization while 56% are against it (p.5). Given that heterosexuality is a dominant form of lifestyle, gays and lesbians are advocating for legal recognition of homosexuality as an alternative form of lifestyle that deserves legal and social privileges as heterosexuals.
Sexual orientation defines sexuality of a person in terms of sexual attraction to a partner of the same sex, opposite sex, either sex or neither sex. Society has predominantly recognized the presence of the opposite sex orientation and perceived presence of other sexual orientations as aberrant. Aberrant sexual orientations such as gay, lesbianism and bisexualism are quite rare in society because people with aberrant sexual orientations are minority. In modern society, gender and sex have transformed tremendously because feminists have protested that perception of women in terms of sex is detrimental to their quest for equality, and thus they want dissociation of gender and sex. Similarly, proponents of homosexuals argue that their aberrant sexual orientation does not make them any different from heterosexuals. They assert that sexual orientation is an innate attribute that anyone can possess; hence, legalization of same-sex marriage provides an opportunity for homosexuals to explore their sexuality fully. Smith (1999) argues that, the presence of sexual orientation has given new meaning to sexual identity in society (p.6). In current society, although heterosexual has been a dominant sexual orientation, homosexuality has opened the way to others sexual orientations such as gay and lesbianism, which have received legal support in Canada in terms of same-sex marriage.
Although gays and lesbians have received legal backing of same-sex marriage, they still experience discrimination and stigmatization from heterosexuals, who are dominant members of the society. From the perspective of queer theory, society portrays homosexuals as having queer, unique and aberrant sexual orientations; hence, they do not fit into society. Adolfsen, Ledema, and Keuzenkamp (2010) argue that, societal attitudes towards homosexuality depend on religious, conservative, moral and social factors (p.1253). These factors have hindered homosexuals from enjoying equal rights of marriage as their counterparts in heterosexual marriage. Thus, due to societal prejudice, homosexuals have been incessantly fighting to overcome discrimination and stigmatization of their sexual orientation and same-sex marriage. Although Canada did legalize same-sex marriage, society is still adamant to accept and recognize the presence of homosexuals. To enhance equality and create a homogenous society, it is imperative that social workers need to promote social changes by formulating and implementing social policy, which recognizes and accepts same-sex marriage as an alternative form of lifestyle in the society.
Social Conflict Theory
Social conflict theory postulates that society is full of inequalities among various social groups that create conflict and ultimately lead into social change through a revolution. Karl Marx and Frederic Engels were proponents of social conflict theory, for they perceived that society of capitalism consists of class struggles between capitalists and proletarians. Currently, social conflict theory recognizes that apart from economic inequalities, other inequalities such as age, gender, religion, social class, race, ethnicity and sexual orientations exists in the society. In this view, different sexual orientation has created conflict between heterosexuals and homosexuals in the context of marriage.
Since equality between homosexuals and heterosexuals exists in Canada, it becomes a point of conflict in a society that will ultimately leads to social change that recognizes and accepts rights of homosexuals as a minority group. According to Adolfsen, Ledema, and Keuzenkamp (2010), homosexuals have been complaining that heterosexuals discriminate and stigmatize them in society (p.1240). Thus, homosexuals perceives that they do not achieve their rights and privileges in same-sex marriage because heterosexuals have dominated society and depicted them negatively as having aberrant sexual orientation. Therefore, from the perspective of social conflict theory, homosexuals and heterosexuals are going to struggle against one another to a point where changes are going to prevail in a society that will lead to acceptance of homosexuals as inherent members of society.
According to social conflict theory, change is only possible when the oppressed, or minority groups recognize their rights and advocate for them. In Canada, gays and lesbians have been holding a series of demonstrations since 1970s that culminated into legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. Although gays and lesbians movement in Canada started weakly, it progressed gradually but steadily. During 1970s, most heterosexuals did not want homosexuals since societal fabric had strong traditional and religious values that denounced same-sex marriage. However, to achieve their objective of ‘freedom to love’ gays and lesbians employed legal means to secure their rights from adamant society. Smith (1999) contends that, legal strategy is an effective means of achieving social change in community (p.4). Thus, homosexuals in Canada focused their attention to achieve legal support so that they could bring social change to conservative society that refused to accept and recognize same-sex marriage.
Since homosexuals recognized their rights and made sure that they have entrenched them into the constitution of Canada, what remained is a revolution to transform societal perception of homosexuals. Smith (1999) debates that, homosexual movement in Canada is akin to social movements that transformed Western Europe and North America in 1960s (p.5). Since these movements brought about enormous social and political changes, homosexual movement in Canada is also following a similar trend that is going to revolutionize societal perception of marriage and sexual orientations. The contemporary society still has some reservations regarding legalization of same-sex marriage because, revolution is yet to nullify factors, which cause discrimination and stigmatization of homosexuals in society despite their legal recognition. Thus, Canada is awaiting social revolution that is going to create a fair and homogenous society that recognizes equality among varied sexual orientations and different forms of marriage.
Same-sex marriage is a social issue that has dominated social sphere in Canada for decades. Homosexuals have constantly agitated for their rights, for they hold that, heterosexuals have been hindering them from accessing rights and privileges that society bestows them. Since concepts of homosexuality and sexual orientation have been new concepts in the society, gays and lesbians received a whopping deal of discrimination and stigmatization from heterosexuals regarding the essence of same-sex marriage. However, according to social conflict theory, struggles between heterosexuals and homosexuals have brought significant social changes in Canada that are yet to culminate in a social revolution. Thus, social revolution is going to create a homogenous society that recognizes rights of homosexuals and same-same marriage.
Adolfsen, A., Ledema, J., & Keuzenkamp, S. (2010). Multiple Dimensions of Attitudes About Homosexuality: Development of a Multifaceted Scale Measuring Attitudes Towards Homosexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, 57(6), 1257-1257.
Smith, M. (1999). Lesbian and Gay Rights in Canada: Social Movement and Equality-Seeking, 1971-1995. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Woodford, M. (2010). Same-Sex Marriage and Beyond. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Services, 22, 1-8.