Same-Sex Marriage from a Utilitarian Standpoint

473 words | 2 page(s)

I will offer two arguments from a Utilitarian standpoint regarding same-sex marriage. Proponents of same-sex marriage might posit four reasons for the moral permissibility of same-sex marriage. First, they would support their central premise that a morally required act is the one that does the greatest good for the most people. Under this they claim that same-sex marriage relieves un-married gay couples of unequal treatment, leading to beneficial consequences—it allows same-sex couples to feel equal to heterosexual marriages, promoting man’s natural sense of dignity and recognizing a constitutional declaration. Second, they claim that those heterosexual couples who disfavor same-sex marriage experience less trauma than the same-sex couples who are not married. Therefore, the relief granted to gay couples through marriage is greater than the grief caused to heterosexuals who then live in a society that permits gay marriage. These first two arguments center on the emotional consequences of both parties. Third, proponents of same-sex marriage claim that permitting same-sex marriages in one society would cascade into other societies, thereby benefitting others in the same way. This may occur on a state level, it may occur on a global scale, spreading from country to country. Four, they may claim that economically, the combining of households and financial identities would simplify and promote the society’s functioning.

The Utilitarians who oppose same-sex marriage might draw from statistics that show that same-sex couples are less happy than heterosexual couples. For example, they may offer evidence of higher separation rates in same-sex couples than those of married couples. From this they would claim that, even though same-sex couples do not realize it, they should not be permitted to marry, for their own good. This claim depends upon variables that we cannot explore here, but would possibly bolster the case against same-sex marriage. Second, based on premise one and two, they would put forward the same argument regarding local and global effects of not permitting same-sex marriage. Third, they point to the controversy that arises due to arguing about same-sex marriage, particularly from religious societies, and claim that withholding same-sex marriage creates a more peaceful society. While this reasoning may appear unjust when applied to other issues, such as religion, atheists actually promote such a case, at least rhetorically, when they demand that religions adopt humanitarian values (e.g., A.C. Grayling).

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While these arguments do not exhaust the issues surrounding same-sex marriage, they do forward strong reasons from a Utilitarian standpoint for and against same-sex marriage. Based strictly upon the consequential standpoint, I favor the same-sex proponents’ case. Utilitarianism provides a helpful and at time compelling perspective on ethical issues. However, overall, it assumes a definition of good, that humans largely act benevolently, and overlooks the importance of motives and laws. Hence, I appreciate both arguments and tentatively accept that gay marriage should be permissible.

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