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Why people are for or against allowing same-sex couples to marry

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Why do people support or oppose same-sex marriage (SSM)?

There are lots of public opinion polls in both the U.S. and Canada that give accurate estimates of the percentage of adults in each country who are in favor of:

bullet Allowing same-sex couples to marry.
bullet Allowing them only to enter into civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc., with similar rights to marriage, but without the name.
bullet Not recognizing same-sex relationships at all.

However, polls only give part of the picture. Studies of why people hold these different opinions are harder to find.

There are lots of statements for and against same-sex marriage (SSM) that appear in newspapers' Letters to the Editor columns or in press releases issued by various activist groups. But these tend to be somewhat strident and often extreme in their demands; they do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the average American or Canadian.

Then, the Toronto Star newspaper published an cover story by David Graham. He had spent most of 2005-MAY driving his Saturn car some 5,000 miles (8,000 km) from Vancouver, British Columbia in the west to St. John's Newfoundland in Canada's east. He is a gay male who appears to be reasonably objective. He explains that he "...has no vested interest. I ain't the marrying kind." He disguised himself "as a middle-aged straight man..." but did reveal his sexual orientation if asked directly. He writes: "I took this cross-country trip to grasp the true voice of Canadians....I intuitively felt that this was not a simple yes or no issue. I believed the real voices of Canadians had more complexity, depth and nuance. It is a story that would be told in quite tones by unsure and often conflicted voices."

The results of his trek would probably have been similar if he had traversed the U.S. However the ratio of those supporting and opposing SSM would probably be quite different:

bullet In Canada, most adults favor allowing same-sex couples access to marriage. The level of support is gradually growing.
bullet In the U.S. the majority of adults oppose SSM. However, younger adults, religious liberals, and other groups support it. 

Graham apparently timed his trip so that his article would appear a few days before Bill C-38 emerges from committee and is debated in Canada's Parliament. This is the the legislation which would legalize SSM across the entire country. If it is approved, the law will be a bit of an anti-climax. Courts in seven out of ten provinces and one out of three territories have already made marriage available to same-sex couples. Together they encompass about 87% of the Canadian population.

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Responses pro and con:

bullet Rina Gray, 44, in Thunder Bay, ON: She has a brother who is HIV positive. She responded: "I don't know how I'd feel if it wasn't for my experience wit him. I know I've had to do a lot of soul searching because I love my brother. But I live in a world that doesn't even think about homosexuality, let alone gay marriage. I live in a blue-collar world of hunting and fishing and drinking beer. I have to say, though, that I am for it if it makes them happy. I would say I stand out, though....I worry it puts a lot of pressure on children who come from these homes."
bullet Ken Cameron, 64, Red Deer, AB: "Look at all the other great cultures of the world that fell. They don't exist anymore because they became dysfunctional. Even Alberta is inching toward destruction.... If I had livestock that didn't breed, I would have to destroy it....[Homosexuals]...are ill. But the system says they have the right to be treated like anyone else. If I owned livestock that was homosexual or if I had cows that were hallucinating because they were eating bad grass, they're gone."
bullet Bruce Penton, unknown age, Brandon, MB: "Young people and anyone who knows gay people are going to support same-sex marriage. I'm for it as long as they don't make it compulsory."
bullet Krystal Morrison, 22 of Kelowna, BC: She, along with Amy Clark (see below) identified themselves as devout Christians. They explained that their view of SSM were influenced by their religion. Morrison said: "It makes me sad that Christians are becoming known only for all the things we disagree with. It makes me sad because it detracts from the real purpose of the church. I'll tell you, my views are not shared by very many people in this area. Sometimes it's really hard to say I'm a Christian. I'm kind of a rebel." She lived in Washington State as a teenager, where she befriended some lesbians. They told her painful stories of discrimination that they had been subjected to. She wonders "How much of that pain was caused by Christians?" She would not take any effort to prevent SSM. She concluded: "My message to other Christians is that we are missing the point. I don't have to agree with you. I have to love you."
bullet Jim Langille, 55, Marie Joseph, NS: He favors SSM, saying: "Whatever floats your boat. It's a free country. People should live and die as they choose. I think men around here feel they have to do the whole he-man, workin' in the woods, workin' on the water thing. Even if they agreed, they wouldn't say it."
bullet Amy Clark, 19 of Kelowna, BC: She referred to John 8:7, the story about Jesus and the woman found guilty of adultery -- the "cast the first stone" passage. She remarked "He wasn't saying adultery was right. He was just saying 'Don't judge'."  
bullet An anonymous male in Broadview, SK: Instead of answering the question, he asked one of his own: "Which is worse for the family: prostitution or gambling?" He agreed with Graham that gambling is worse because it destroys marriages, ruins finances and alienates children. He said: "There. So why is the government in the gambling business but it criminalizes prostitution? You see? There is no consistency. So legalize same-sex marriage."
bullet Gary MacDonald, 41, Whitehorse, YT: "I don't care for it. I don't like it." He feels that the Yukon depends on procreation for its future survival. He said: "You can't do that with same-sex marriage." (Actually, same sex couples do raise children and increase the population. Many lesbian couples conceive children with donated sperm; many gay couples adopt.)
bullet Anna Trevelyn, 22, Ottawa, ON: "You can't give some people rights and not everyone. My friends and I do talk about this. I'd say girls are more supportive than boys...A lot of people are resistant to change and I believe it takes people with convictions to be trailblazers."
bullet Junad Amin, 37, Calgary, AB: "No to Stronach. No to same-sex marriage." He feels that his Muslim "religious and cultural background" is responsible for his strong beliefs. (Belinda Stronach is a Member of Parliament who recently left the Conservative Party to join the Liberal Party.)
bullet Simon Brulotte, 25, of Montreal, QC: "The key word is devotion. Religion is about devotion between man and God. Marriage is about devotion between two people."
bullet Jerry Bluda, 46, Lloydminster. SK: "Marriage is for a man and a woman." He mentions that he has a "queer" cousin in Ottawa. They don't communicate. He said: "We have nothing to talk about."
bullet An anonymous couple in Murphy's Cove, NS: They are not in favor of same-sex marriage, but they would not oppose it.
bullet Sylvia Sparling, Tavistock, ON: With her husband, she said: "Just don't call it marriage. We've been married for 27 years and we don't think it's [SSM] the same thing. Marriage happens naturally between a man and a woman." Sparling said that if her daughter, age 19, wanted to marry a woman, the would tell her: "Don't count us in on it. If its only a civil union, that's fine."
bullet Brad Sackfield, 18, Aurora, ON: He studied SSM in law class and has concluded that "not allowing gay people to marry is against the charter of human rights."
bullet Tamara Diallo, 21, Montreal, QC: She opposes SSM. She said: "Where will it stop? I can see it changing bit by bit so that eventually, its not marriage anymore." She is also concerned that clergy will eventually be forced to perform marriage ceremonies against their beliefs.
bullet Andrea Johnson, 39, Toronto ON: She has a sister who is a lesbian. Karen said: "My sister tried way too hard to get her approval and my mother only ever gave her lip service. I want to champion her cause." Referring to those who claim they believe gays and lesbians deserve all rights except marriage, she said: "Then they don't really mean what they're saying."
bullet Karen Harder, 38, Hope, BC: "I understand the homosexual thing, but I don't really know if they should be allowed to get married. I guess I wish there was another name for it, a different word. It makes me feel uncomfortable."
bullet Jibrqan Quraishi, 19, unknown location: "Happiness is important. If that makes them happy, then it's OK. I guess I'm not a typical Muslim. My family wants me to think for myself. It's not a topic we discuss at home. My parents don't talk about sex let alone gay marriage. I think if I brought it up they'd wonder: Why do you care? I'm thinking they are probably against it."
bullet Linda McMahon, 51, Vancouver BC: "I feel it's wrong. It's not natural. I don't believe God meant us to be this way. I have four kids. If one was gay and wanted to get married, I could not support it. But I'm not in that situation. I would always love them, but I would not be able to support that relationship."
bullet Edward Lemond, 63, Moncton NB: He apparently supports SSM. He said: "I lived in the United States during the civil rights movement of the '50s. I moved to Canada in 1969, but I still instinctively identify with people who are oppressed."
bullet Anonymous, 21, Ottawa, ON: "The whole issue is about sex. If they'd stop making it all about sex maybe they'd make it easier for people to understand."
bullet Thomas Cheng, 35, Vancouver BC: He supports SSM. He said: "Life should be about happiness. My mother sent me to a Quaker high school for four years in Ohio....I was a boarding student so I really absorbed the sentiment of the religion mainly through conversation with friends and teachers. Humanity, for Quakers, is very important. They value peace and freedom."
bullet Patty Blanchard, 47, and husband Marc Beaudoin,47, of Moncton, NB: Patty's mother confessed to her as a child that she had never wanted to have children. But she dutifully followed the teachings of her church and had eight. When Patty learned of her mother's sacrifice, she decided that the church was not going to control her life. She said: "I feel I understand homosexuality, and I support same-sex marriage." Her husband currently opposes SSM. He worries about the future of marriage. He said: "There is so much symbolism in the world, so much history. It is a union that protects the creation of the family." But he does believe that "gay couples should have an equal and parallel marriage." Both believe that he will probably "come around" eventually to be a supporter of SSM.

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References used:

  1. David Graham, "Voices of reason," The Toronto Star, 2005-JUN-12, Pages A6 to A8.

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Copyright 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JUN-12
Latest update: 2005-JUN-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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