The debate around homosexuality has been a topic of discussion for many centuries. Nowadays, there are many people who consider it to be a threat to society. In fact, condemnation of homosexuality roots in the time of Antiquity when the survival of a race, tribe, or community heavily depended on the procreation between the two sexes. If most people had been homosexual at that period, society would have been doomed as no future generations would have been born that could have driven to the extinction of society.
Thus, it remained sensible to put a strict taboo on homosexual contacts. However, while the taboo is still strong, the essential reason for it no longer exists. In fact, there is no threat in decreasing population, but quite the opposite. After elimination of legal sanctions in some parts of the world, the Gay Rights movement became more visible in society, and the number of people claiming themselves homosexual grew. It is obvious that homosexuals have always existed, but the social and legal pressures made them pretend they were heterosexual. Nowadays, a lot of countries debate on whether to legalize gay marriages or not. Since this is an ethical question, different ethical movements have their own opinions about this intention. This paper seeks to analyze how gay marriage is viewed by utilitarian theory, deontology, virtue ethics, egoistic approach, relativism, and emotivism. Moreover, it explains why utilitarianism is the most suitable and preferable ethical theory while discussing the issue of gay marriages nowadays.
Utilitarianism theory claims that there is always an obvious solution to the issue that is fair, and it may be the one that appeals to the common sense, as well. The theory states that actions of people are considered right if they promote happiness, and wrong if they promote the opposite to happiness. In this case, “happiness” means pleasure which includes both physical and intellectual satisfaction. According to the utilitarian theory, intellectual pleasures should be preferred as they are qualitatively better than the physical ones. Therefore, humans should prefer intellectual pleasures due to their natural sense of dignity (Bok, 2010).
The consequentialist nature of the utilitarianism theory and its focus on “pleasure”, which is resulted by an action, makes some scholars analyze sexual relationships considering how pleasurable they are, which cannot be more inappropriate. Obviously, gay marriage is not only about sexual relationships with a person of the same sex, but it is about having spiritual and intellectual relationships. If this concept is taken literally, only sex is taken as a physical pleasure, but not marriage. The theory states that homosexual marriages can only be immoral when the act of marriage will result in more harm than good to society. In this statement, the general principle of utilitarianism remains: not to estimate acts but the outcomes. Since people tend to view the outcomes of homosexuality as neutral or positive (such as decrease in world population, adopting orphan children, and increase in happiness), one may support the idea of gay marriages (MacKinnon, 2011).
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The theory of utilitarianism claims that the best way to decide whether to support something or reject is to look at the overall satisfaction and happiness it brings to the affected people. Therefore, the ethical issues considering gay marriages ought to focus on the overall happiness of the individual affected. In any marriage, happiness and love dominate within a married couple. As a matter of fact, if it is only through marriage that the couple, irrespectively of their sexes, can find happiness, there should be no rejection to their union in a domestic partnership or marriage.
Deontology is a theory also known as non-consequentialism. The supporters of deontology argue that wrongness or rightness of an action does not depend on the badness or goodness of its outcomes. This statement characterizes deontology as opposing to utilitarianism. This theory dominated in society for centuries and is supported by the Christian groups and conservatives (Traer & Stelmach, 2007).
As a matter of fact, deontological argument is mainly based on rights and duties. Therefore, deontologists’ argument is that same sex marriage is inherently bad, despite the consequences and influence of it on society. Some Christian groups claim that God considers homosexuality as sinful and wrong; however, this does not seem like a strong argument for the most people who are non-Christians. People and religions interpret the Bible differently, which results in a debate. During the medieval times, the church was able to control the beliefs of people. Now, even in fairly religious countries, not everyone is convinced to believe all the information the church spreads (MacKinnon, 2011).
One of the most famous representatives of deontological theory is the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. According to Kant, a moral agent is a being who has his moral autonomy to act in terms of his will and duties. At the center of Kant’s ethical system lies the statement that moral laws are categorical and not dependent on one’s desires. They are the rules that are created for all rational beings, and cannot be changed and influenced by anyone. Therefore, moral acts that one accomplishes ought to be estimated, not by their results and consequences, but rather by the principles on which the person relied while accomplishing them. Thus, the good can only be realized by the principle of good will, which has to be influenced by the perfect duty (Sander-Staudt, 2006).
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Consequently, according to deontology, one can decide if an action is moral by examining the intentions of an action. Therefore, homosexuality can only be considered moral if universalized or applied to every member of society. According to this theory, if everyone became homosexual, the society would die out since no children would be born. Therefore, deontology supporters stand against gay marriages. However, it is obvious that people are different, and the same rule cannot be applied to everyone. All people cannot become homosexual, which is one of the controversial points of this ethical theory.
Virtue ethics makes emphasis on the role of one’s character and the virtues or traits that one’s character possesses and embodies to determine or evaluate one’s ethical behavior. This theory states that in order to judge the morality of a person’s action one needs to assess the morality of an individual. At this point, it shows the main difference of this theory from deontological views, where the duty and morality are generally accepted and dictated. Therefore, one cannot access the morality of every individual while entering into a marriage of any form (MacKinnon, 2011).
Many advocates of the virtue ethics, such as Aristotle, maintain a position that the possession of the virtues and traits that make one a decent human are also acceptable for the person who possesses these virtues. Therefore, the virtues benefit their possessor. Consequently, the person who possesses such traits will tend to be healthier and happier than the one who lacks them (Brown, 2006).
On the one hand, advocates of virtue ethics often argue that the main figure of virtue is its universal applicability. In other words, any virtue must be universally regarded for all sentient beings. This fact brings homosexuality and gay marriage into question (Sander-Staudt, 2006).
On the other hand, one can notice the similarities of the virtue ethics with some of the concepts of natural law. Although natural law views reproduction as a main purpose and virtue, it would still be less evil to allow gay marriages than to forbid them since gay couples can play the same role in society as heterosexual couples, except for having children. However, it will still be similar to achieve an ordered society and “human flourishing”, which is often referred to as eudaimonia, or an objective state that characterizes a well-lived life (Brown, 2006).
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Therefore, the main point of virtue ethics is that homosexuality and gay marriages would only be immoral when the intentions of a homosexual marriage were immoral. Since intentions and ideas of marriage and love are neither immoral nor ill, some ideologists of the virtue ethics might support the legalization of gay marriages.
Ethical egoism can be defined as a normative ethical position which states that moral agents should do what is in their personal self-interests. The theory of ethical egoism supports the view that self-interests should be pursued despite the negative effect it can have on other people. For example, by refuting gay marriages, the church and other stakeholders try to pursue their own interests, notwithstanding the consequences of these interests on homosexual people. As a matter of fact, the church opposes gay marriages due to several reasons that lie in its own sphere of interest. First and foremost, the church accepts marriage as a God’s command to multiply and fill the earth. If people stopped multiplying, it would violate the God’s command. Secondly, while allowing homosexuals to get married, the role and duty of the believer will be forsaken, and consequently, it would mean that the church interests are forsaken. Religion has always remained involved in political and economic affairs, and loss in its influence would mean the loss of power and governmental aid. Therefore, the church will doubtfully ever support legalization of gay marriages. In this case, ethical egoism is represented as the theory where self-interests are presented on a global scale (MacKinnon, 2011).
The term of “ethical relativism” presents a number of beliefs, but they all agree that there is no universal and permanent criterion which could determine what is or is not an ethical act. Moreover, according to it, consequences have no bearing because each personality or society may percept the “goodness” of each consequence differently (Traer & Stelmach, 2007).
Ethical relativism supporters consider that society’s ethics develops over time and changes to fit new circumstances. Ethics defines what is right or appropriate and what is wrong or inappropriate. This opposes to morals, where an individual determines whether his decision is right or wrong. In fact, ethics and morality do not always align. For example, one may consider morally wrong to be involved in homosexual relationships, but also believe it is unethical to force homosexual people to become heterosexual (MacKinnon, 2011).
Therefore, the main idea of relativism due to gay marriages is that homosexuality is neither wrong nor right, and any judgments made about its righteousness are only true for the individual who makes the judgment.
While ethical relativism presents an idea of universal ethics, emotivism is a method of understanding the nature of a moral language. The emotive ethical theory was influenced by the school of Logical Positivism, proponents of which wanted to ground their basic knowledge on what could be learned through experience. The representatives believed that anything that could not be verified by logic or through sensual experience was deemed unverifiable. Therefore, speaking about unverifiable things was rather pointless and meaningless. In the sphere of ethics, it questioned the content of many ethical statements, as well as rejected moral absolutism and the existence of God. Therefore, as homosexuality could be experienced by many people all over the world, it could be learned through practical experience. Thus, the attitude to gay marriage of emotivism is positive. Despite the statement that homosexuality is right would only express an individual’s attitude to the discussed issue (MacKinnon, 2011).
It is generally accepted that the institution of marriage is rapidly changing, and with various sexual orientations, different approaches to gay marriage may be studied. The world is constantly changing and developing. The growth in population and religions all over the world started questioning deontological and egoistical approaches that dominated society for decades. In big cities, homosexual couples no longer seem surprising or shocking. Considering the fact that homosexuality is neither a disease nor disorder, one cannot reject such people in the community. People are born different, and each human wants to be happy, successful, and have family. Therefore, two individuals, despite the fact whether they are of different sex or the same, should be allowed to get married and be happy (Bok, 2010). Denying homosexual individuals an opportunity of marriage would be rather selfish and would violate their natural rights and need for love and sense of belonging. As such, no negative outcomes are expected in case of gay marriage. Therefore, the most suitable approach to gay marriage nowadays is utilitarianism.
The self-interests of homosexual people should not be discriminated in any way since all people are equal, and they deserve equal treatment, as well. Marriage in any form is not only a physical but also an intellectual pleasure, which is another supportive argument for utilitarianism. If people are denied this right, they feel miserable and outcasted. In fact, different people can either support gay marriages or reject it, but the state and government should be more objective in this question. Nowadays, very few homosexual people are in the government, which is also discrimination (Traer & Stelmach, 2007).
It is obvious that one cannot force one to change his or her sexual preference. Furthermore, it is ethically and morally unacceptable to allow one group of people to get married while denying the other group of people the same opportunity. Being homosexual does not make a person a criminal or alien; it is plainly a human being just with a different life perspective, love, and idea of marriage.
Those people who oppose to the concept of gay marriage owing to the fact that their marriage will not result in the having children also are quite judgmental in their views of gay marriage. Even heterosexual couples often choose not to have children. Moreover, many individuals who are over the child bearing age are allowed to get married and are not denied. As a matter of fact, the gay community can also adopt and raise children as their own in a proper family setup.
Having analyzed how gay marriages are viewed by utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, egoistic approach, relativism, and emotivism, it can be concluded that utilitarianism is the most suitable and preferable ethical theory in the debate around the issue of gay marriages. People are born different and all of them want to be happy and have family. Therefore, two individuals, despite the fact whether they are of different sex or the same, should be allowed to get married. The self-interests of homosexual people must not be discriminated since all people are equal, and they deserve equal treatment.
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