“In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do…” sings Alicia Keys.
New York City joins Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Washington, D.C., in legally recognizing gay marriage. Although in the US, same-sex marriages are not recognized federally, but other countries have nationwide legal recognition of same-sex marriage like Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. (Check this 2008 world map on where homosexuality is legal and illegal.)
Talks of same-sex marriages resurfaced in the Philippines after the legalization of same-sex marriages in New York. And almost on the same weekend, the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) performed wedding rites for eight gay and lesbian couples in Baguio City.This sparked strong reactions from the Catholic Church and even local officials of Baguio City.
But why should LGBT people be allowed to get married? Although I cannot reconcile disputes about core values brought about by this controversy, I can only address factual questions and provide answers from psychological empirical researches.
Gregory Herek, a social psychologist, summarized research studies on why marriage is not only for opposite-sex couples but also for same-sex couples in his article, “Legal recognition of same-sex relationship in the United States: A social science perspective” published in American Psychologist (September, 2006).
Most LGBT political organizations emphasized the legal and economic benefits of same-sex marriage but there are psychological benefits too.
A lot of researches have shown that married men and women who are satisfied with their relationship generally experience better physical and mental health than their unmarried counterpart (single, cohabiting, or its complicated status). But Herek wrote that the positive health effects of marriage result from the “tangible resources and protection accorded to spouses by the society.”
Herek summarized these points:
- Married couples have greater economic and financial security than unmarried couples. This is due to tax, employment, death, and entitlement benefits. Studies have shown that financial security is an important predictor of mental and physical health.
- Married couples have greater social support than unmarried couples from parents, friends, and even priests! The wedding ceremony, afterall, is a public commitment by the couple and the attendees to make the marriage work. This public commitment ceremony increases each relationship partner’s sense of security that the relationship will last.
- Married couples have buffers against psychological stress associated with stressful life events. Spouses have a sense of personal control during different types of stressful situations because of their legal status. For example, a spouse can make health decisions to continue or end the life of a sick or injured partner, and can make funeral decisions and burial arrangements. Also, a spouse can choose not to testify against one’s partner who is under litigation because (at least in US laws) it is part of the marital privileges.
- Married couples have a harder time in ending their relationship compared to unmarried couples because of the barriers and constraints of dissolving the relationship. Feelings of obligation to one’s spouse, children, and family, moral and religious values about divorce, legal restrictions, financial concerns, and the expected disapproval of friends and the community are barriers to terminating a marriage. In turn, marriage can be a source of relationship stability and commitment.
Without legal recognition, same-sex couples lack both the practical benefits of marriage and the buffers that marriage provides against the consequences of traumatic events and relationship dissolution. According to Herek, these are consequences of non-recognition of same-sex couples:
- Same-sex couples do not enjoy the many economic protections of marriage in areas such as taxation, property rights, employment, and health benefits. (I am not well versed with the Philippine laws but I still think that the financial situation of opposite-sex married couples is still way better than those of same-sex couples in the country.)
- Same-sex couples lack the protections that marriage provides when a lifetime partner dies. Although some couples are well-informed and create legal protections when these things might happen through wills and contracts, these are still expenses for the couple -- and even these measures do not always protect the partner! (For example, if partners didn’t create legal protections, the house built by both partners over the years of their relationship can easily be “stolen” by the biological family of the deceased partner.)
- Same-sex couples may have problems with exclusion of one’s partner to medical care, hospital access and visitation, and health decision making. When one partner dies, the surviving partner will have to face possible exclusion from funeral and burial arrangements by the biological family. This might result to the inability to cope from this stressor and therefore increasing the risk of physical and mental illness in the future.
- Same-sex couples do not have the barriers to relationship dissolution that the institution of marriage provides to opposite-sex couples. We always think and say that gay relationships do not last. But we are not also given a chance. Same-sex relationships are most likely to last longer and be more stable if the partners received the same levels of social support and public recognition of their relationship that opposite-sex couples enjoy.
I am happy for New York. I am happy for the Filipino LGBTs who are living in New York. At least, they have a chance to live a married life, a chance to a better life. Marriage has psychosocial benefits and protections and when it is denied to same-sex couples, it is unjust, inhuman, and maybe to my definition, even sinful.
But for the Philippines? I sigh.
I dream of becoming married one day – married to a man. I want my Mom and Dad, my brothers, nephews and nieces to be there – happy for me, happy for us. And of course, I want his family to be there too… and my friends and his friends. And on our wedding night and beyond, I will be dashing and he will be handsome. And there will be music… and poetry... and theater (some drama and some comedy!). We will laugh… and sometimes cry, sing… and sometimes shout, but we will dance… to forever.
Herek, G. (2006.) Legal recognition of same-sex relationship in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, 61 (6), 607-621.