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Today, more than ever before, pertinent questions have been raised on same sex marriages. While these kinds of debate are not entirely new given that they have persisted nearly as long as humanity itself has been around, they nonetheless refuse to die. Besides, in as much as the same sex marriages have been receiving international acceptance within certain geographical regions, the same has however remained largely restricted. Among the most critical issues that has belied the debate on same sex marriages is the question on the role of same sex couples in parenting, where religious views remain largely conservative: same sex couples cannot be effective couples. This paper therefore critically discusses the current political and social responses to the dominant religious discourse that same-sex couples are not fit parents.
Key words: sex, same-sex, couple, lesbianism, gay, discrimination, human rights, parents and parenting
Political and Social Responses to the Dominant Religious Discourse that Same-Sex Couples are not fit parents
Before delving into the gist of the discussion offered by this paper, it is imperative that the paper sets straight, through definitions, the key words as outlined above. This would help to provide this discussion with the appropriate grounding that would appropriately drive the discussion forward.
The first term that is to be considered is sex which has been defined to mean the sum of the peculiarities of the structure and function that distinguish a male from a female organism. It may also be defined on the one hand as either whether a person, plant or an animal is a male or female or on the other hand as all men, considered as a group, or all women considered as a group.
The term couple, on its part, refers to two people or even things of the same kind. Given this adopted definition, same-sex couple would therefore be used and understood to mean either a couple made up of either two males or two females. Same sex couple derives from same sex marriage which is the ceremonial union between two people of the same sex.
Conservatives however do not consider this kind of union as construing marriage in the strict sense. Consequently, they define this kind of union as being pseudo-marriage, i.e., a marriage-like union between two men or two women. Same sex coupling are often times referred to as homosexuality. Homosexuality has two distinctive forms, i.e. gays and lesbianism. The former refers to male homosexuals, while the latter refers to female homosexuals.
Coupling, more often than not comes from marriage, which on its part refers to a union, deriving legally, of a husband and wife. Variously, the term has also been defined as being the relationship that exists between two married people, or even the state of being married. A marriage is generally considered to be legally valid where there are three essentials. These include, firstly, the parties to the union must capable of contracting to marry. Secondly, the parties have to mutually consent to the union, and lastly, the parties have to actually contract the union within the form stipulated by law.
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The term parent refers to the mother, or father of a person or animal. It thus means the lawful mother or father of a person. This term may connote any of the following four possibilities; firstly, it may refer to a person’s natural mother or father. Secondly, it may refer to a person’s adoptive mother or father.At the third level, the term may also be used in reference to a person’s putative parent who has acknowledged paternity to the child and lastly, it also may mean an individual or even agency whose guardianship status has been determined via a judicial decree.
Based upon this understanding, parenting therefore may be taken to mean the performance, by a parent, of their parental duties. Other authors have defined parenting as being the skill or activity involving the looking after of one’s own children.The process of parenting generates parenthood, which on its part means the state of being a parent.
The term discrimination, on its part, refers to the effect of a law or established practice which confers privileges on a certain class or denies privileges on a certain class because of such factors as race, gender (sex), religion, age, nationality or handicap. Besides, the term discrimination has also been defined as the practice of treating one person or group differently in an unfair way.
Human rights are, primarily, rights. A right is that which a person is morally, legally or officially allowed to do or have. Besides, a right may also mean either that which is proper under ethics, the law or morality. In a nutshell therefore a right may be taken to mean entitlements that a person may claim based on a legal or moral predisposition. Based on the definitions tendered for rights, the phrase human rights it thus follows that human rights are the entitlements due to a person by virtue of their being human beings. Such rights may be derivable out of moral or legal based claims.
Given the circumstances under which same-sex marriages exist or are founded, such unions cannot produce forth offspring. The corollary therefore is that couples in such unions may become parents in two possible ways. Firstly, this may be in circumstances such as when they begat the child(ren) from other heterosexual relationships. The other scenario under which same sex couples may become parents is when they adopt the child (ren) in question.
Just like the whole concept of homosexuality has certain times been fraught with credibility challenges, the same fate has befallen parenting rights obtaining for same sex couples. This is largely out of the fact that the existing dominant religious view among most religions is that same sex couples are not fit as parents. This is largely a debate that arises out of the deep-seated questions on the morality of same-sex marriages, especially in light of the fact that most religions consider that sexual relations should be heterosexual.
The archetypal dominant religious position concerning the matter of same-sex couples and same-sex parenting may best be captured by the position of Family Research Council, a Christian organization. The organization states that families are constituted from ties of blood, marriage and or adoption. However, the group goes ahead to strictly confine the term and concept of marriage only to the union obtaining between a man and a woman. Consequently, marriage must first and foremost be of heterosexual nature, not homosexual.
Aside from the above, other religious organizations have opposed same-couple parenting on the very basis of their opposition to homosexuality. This has been because homosexuality, they argue, is inherently wrong in promoting non-procreative sex. Sex, most religions aver, is primarily for procreation, not just the mere gratification (ibid). Islam through, Holy Qur'an, 4:16-17, for instance reiterates that it forbids lewdness between male and male, female and female over and above between male and female who are not their wives.
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The strict quintessential definition, and construction, of marriage as being the union between a man and a woman did inform the legal understanding of marriage in the olden times. This may best be demonstrated by house of lords with the decision passed where Lord Penzance, in Hyde v. Hyde [L. R.] 1 P. & D. p. 130, adopted the position that a marriage is the voluntary union for the for life of a man and a woman, all to the exclusion of all others.
The, Family Research Foundation, group does not stop there and goes ahead to illustrate that the law should only, as a matter of course, recognize and protect marriage as construed within the traditional sense. Besides, the group emphatically states that public policy would do better, by encouraging only the formation of families formed through the union of a man and a woman. The corollary is that public policy principles must do all in its power to discourage the formation of other alternative forms of families, read same sex marriages. In the group’s view, a family must be respected as an autonomous form of government which is at par, not inferior, to the civil government.
While this has remained the dominant religious position, the most convenient argument that has been relied upon to counter this position is that sexual orientation is a matter of natural rights, i.e. rights conceived as being part of the body of natural law thus existing independently from rights created by the government. Consequently therefore, natural rights form part of inalienable human rights. Consequently, arguments founded upon this dominant religious view breach such couples’ human rights, thus discriminatory.
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The Family Research Council asserts that heterosexual unions have far more advantages than homosexual unions. For instance, they offer that based on social research evidence, parents are able to discharge their parental duties in much better ways than can ever be envisaged in homosexual unions. In the organization’s view therefore, children do well when they are raised by their own biological parents who remain committed to each other in a life ling marriage. The converse, based on this assertion, is that even adults do better within heterosexual family unions.
The reasoning that informs the group’s position is that the other forms of family unions like single parenthood, same sex unions as well as divorce come up as a result of varied reasons. The reasons are noted as including rejection, ambivalence between the parents both about the institution of marriage thus leading to cohabitation or through the rejection by either of the parents to cause divorce or remarriage. The reasons, being themselves defective, end up undermining the family units founded therefrom.
Because of the merits that come with stability in heterosexual family unions, Family Research Council strongly roots for adoption of children by families in such kinds of unions, and not any other. In the group’s view, adoption provides a better and fitting alternative to such practices like abortion, single parenthood or foster care. Adoption, it argues, should be for the purpose of providing for children the families that would give them the ultimate experience of an intact married family life so as to achieve stability for the child(ren) as they grow up.
The consequence for adopting the foregoing, as the purpose of adoption, it seems is to extinguish the notion that has always contended that the purpose for adoption is to provide children for adults who want them. This second purpose has been held, and is hugely popular among same sex marriage couples who see it as the only way they can have children. This is out of the fact that such couples cannot be in a position to get children from their union. The flipside of this argument therefore is that this second purpose for adoption is perverted since the couples abuse the process for their selfish ends, not for the right purpose. Following in the same argument therefore, it should be the policy initiative of governments that adoption should be in preference for the placement of children with heterosexually married parents, and not any other kind of family relationships. This would ensure the adopted children grow up while being provided with the requisite family stability.
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This dominant religious position, on the issue of parenting, has largely defined debate even within the political circles. This has seen political parties developing policies based upon the family values that they consider best for their nation. This state of affairs is most excellently played in the West where political values are ideals that greatly inform national political debate. For instance in the United States of America, the two main political parties, The Grand Old Party, Republican and the Democrats best capture this poison.
The Republican Party presents very conservative value systems regarding the family. These values include the assertion that a family must be construed and understood within the Christendom view that was brought out through the decision in Hyde v. Hyde already discussed herein before. This position has been reiterated several times on end, especially during the 2008 United States Presidential Elections. The party presents the argument that parenthood is best when the parents are in a heterosexual union hence its call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union between man and woman.
On the same issue of marriage, the largely liberal Democrats take a paradigmatic shift. Unlike the Republicans who remain stuck with the traditional concept of marriage, the Democrats vouch for the protection of the rights and interests of the same sex unions. The party reiterated its support for the full inclusion of all families; which families include same sex couples within the United States. These two parties’ positions are diametrically opposed to each other.
The question which may therefore be posed at this stage is why such a diametrical shift? While it may not be so clear as to why two parties within the same jurisdiction can adopt very extreme positions upon an issue which greatly affects the people in equal measure remains a matter of conjecture. However, aside from the value divergent value systems, there may still be some covert reason outside that touching on the membership values that the party sought to utilize in its establishment as a political institution. This is because generally speaking, most Westerners are liberal with respect to same sex unions, as compared to those from Africa and even Asia.
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The ultimate intention of political parties, as institutions of governance, is to identify with the electorate on issues that they identify as mattering most to the said voters. On this basis therefore, the Democrats, realizing that same-sex unions are hot contemporary issues that are here to stay, have strategically sought to stick out their necks for this growing important voting bloc.
This is because the Democrats realize that homosexuality is very critical in determining present and future value systems. Therefore it borders on being realists since the issue is one that is already with us and cannot be wished away. As prudent politicians, the Democrats have opted to insure the party’s political future in the issue. On the other hand, the Republicans seek to appeal to those who remain steeped into the old conservative ways and value systems. The whole idea therefore about the two parties’ stance on this issue is primarily as a vote hunting gimmick, not that the leadership really may care about the question of traditional and same-sex marriages.
The realistic position adopted by politics and social discourses are informed by the argument, fronted by the same-sex adherents that ‘we exist’. A census report in 2006 identified up to 780,000 same sex couples. Besides, it is not only that the group exists, it also a fact that they form a substantial portion of parents who have adopted children just like their heterosexual union counterparts. In an earlier census in 2005, it was further reported that in 2000, up to 39% of the same-sex couples had adopted and were parenting more than 250,000 children below eighteen years. This has made same-sex people very important therefore not willingly ignored.
Besides being a strategic political tool within politics, there are certain other far reaching reasons as to why there are varied political and social responses to the issue of parenting among same-sex couples. One such reason, as was highlighted above, borders upon parenting and sexuality being issues that are inalienable to human beings. Consequently, they properly derive as human rights, hence the dominant religious position is seen as being discriminator and a breach of fundamental human rights.
Human rights issues ensue from same sex parenting from two points of view. Primarily, it arises from the fact of the ethical issues that belie the very idea of homosexuality in general religious discourse. This is because among most religions, especially those that have their beliefs rooted in the creation theory, they teach that the deity created a man and a woman as the first spouse. Consequently, there cannot be a reinvention of the wheel of marriage by man. This is particularly true of Islam, Yahweism and Christianity. To the conservative base of these religions therefore, raising the question of same-sex marriages is by itself an ethical one.
From a jurisprudential point of view, the theory of Natural Law may be both a shield and spear to the same-sex couples. Consequently, both shades of political responses (such as the Republicans and Democrats in the United States), may rightly find support for their positions. In its capacity as a shield, same sex couples would readily submit themselves to the argument that being gay or lesbian is by its very nature their human rights since human rights are not ascribed on the basis of communal rights, but instead as individual rights. This being the case, then their sexual orientation cannot be used as a bar that informs the debate on whether they can perform the duties of parenting. Rather, parenting remains an independent issue that must standalone within the discourse of parenting.
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Depending on the perspective that one looks at this argument, it may be true and false almost simultaneously. The truth of this position is that it may not be true that by being homosexual, one would automatically be a poor parent. This is because parenting has more than just the physical show of heterosexual parental unity so as to put up a show for the child(ren). Over and above that, the duty of parenting requires love and affection to the children coupled with the appropriate level of understanding. These are aspects of humanity which are very personal and unique to each individual.
This argument is lent credence by the principle of individualism as well as the constitutional right to individual liberty. This helps to defend an individual from the pressures of the need to conform with the masses as well as stifling egalitarianism (ibid). The natural law thus makes man believe in their individual uniqueness, as opposed to communal uniformity. The urge for the expression of individual uniqueness and non conformity therefore informed the political and social responses to the dominant religious position on parenting by same sex unions.
Consequently, they do not exclusive to heterosexual relationships as they are availed to people in their individual, rather than sexual orientations capacities. Towards this end therefore, same-sex couples do have an equal chance to become as effective parents like their heterosexual counterparts. This therefore vindicates position adopted within both the social and political cycles to the effect that what is relevant in parenting is the necessary support for anybody who avails themselves of the responsibility. Once anyone opts to become a parent, then the question as to their sexual orientation is irrelevant since each person has the inherent capacity to become a successful parent when given the right support.
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On the other hand, Natural Law again seems to take away its support for the same-sex couples in equal measure. This, it does, by presenting the argument that it is only natural for human beings to act in a certain way, based on the observations of certain behaviour patterns. The observable behaviour patterns that inform human being’s behaviour thus become generally accepted as their moral instincts.
For example, flowing from this analogy, it is natural law for mankind to reproduce since reproduction is a general human pattern. Based on this reasoning therefore, natural law would then frown upon all activities that impede human reproduction. Such activities may include contraception, abortion and more importantly for this discussion, homosexuality The argument therefore is that those who have willingly availed themselves to those activities that stand in contradiction to the natural mores of human beings, such as reproduction, need to be precluded from having anything to do with the products of such processes.
On this basis therefore, parenting being a natural process of heterosexual relationships, homosexual couples should partake of that product if they abhor the process. This therefore, vindicates the hard-line positions adopted by Conservatives, such as the Republicans of the United States. The Republicans, like the dominant religious position advocate that heterosexual unions are the most ideal for parenting. This is because such unions provide the most suitable environment for child stability discipline and responsibility. In such kinds of unions, boys and girls would be offered the opportunity to have either parent as a role model, as opposed to the case of homosexual unions where the children do not have the benefit of heterosexual parents.
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In conclusion, it becomes of importance that this essay revisits the fact that the paper sought to critically discuss current political and social responses to the dominant religious discourse, that same-sex couples are not fit parents. In presenting the discussion, the essay was to present at least an example within the last three years. These tasks have been achieved sequentially. Firstly, the essay laid its groundwork through the definitions of the central terms.
Once the groundwork was laid, the essay then explored a few specific reasons as why there exists the dominant religious position followed closely by the political and social responses to the religious position. It then moved further to provide the jurisprudential bastion for same-sex relationships within the discourse of human rights. Under this, the same has been considered under the theory of Natural Law. Finally, the discussion has then discussed parenting among both the homosexual, as well as heterosexual couples.
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