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The morality of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriages must be rooted
in a theory that holds as one of its main principles the idea of universality. Any theory that holds
at its core relativist tendencies does not answer the question about whether same-sex
relationships and their legalization are morally right or wrong.
Although all theories have their drawbacks, the one that takes into account personal rights, individual actions, and universality is likely to provide the best judgment of homosexuality’s moral accuracy.
I will argue that Kant’s deontological theoryprovides an adequate framework with which to approach this moral issue because it is universal, reliable, and takes into account human rights.
The theories of Mill, Kant, and Aristotle are absolutist theories. They prescribe one way
of thinking that should be implemented universally. Before I can address these theories, I must
consider ethical relativism. Normative ethical relativism is a system that claims what is right
varies between cultures.
Ethical judgments are comparative only within the confines of a culture and not outside of those borders.
Before I say what is wrong with the argument of ethical relativism, I want to address the advantages of this theory. To see things from a relativist lens, one must refrain from judging others cultures. Thus, one must be tolerant and avoid imposing one’s cultural and ethical ‘rights’ on other cultures.?
I have argued that the principle of tolerance found in ethical relativism makes it an
attractive theory, but someone might object that tolerance can only go so far as a main principle.
Tolerance as a principle cannot be considered paramount when dealing with issues such as
genocide, the death penalty, and other pressing issues.
One need only turn their eyes towards African and Middle Eastern countries—areas of the world known for their criminalization of same-sex marriages and open brutality toward homosexual individuals—to see that cross-cultural judgments are sometimes necessary. In some cases, the principle of tolerance does not outweigh the principles of equality, individuality, and love, which are equally important principles at the core of same-sex relationships.
Ethical relativism fails to address present-day cultural overlap due to increased
globalization and multiculturalism. Following the premises of ethical relativism, cultural
contexts would dictate an individual’s ethical decisions. Followers of this theory would agree
that when in Rome, do as the Romans.
The lens of ethical relativism provides descriptive judgments that are right for their
perspective cultures. I conclude that this theory is at best a means of recognizing cultural
differences. At its worst, ethical relativism does not provide a universal moral answer to the
question of whether the legalization of same-sex marriage is right or wrong or even whether
homosexuality itself is permissible.
Now that I have explained the shortcomings of normative ethical relativism, I am going
to choose a different type of ethical system to evaluate the morality of same-sex marriage. Since
ethical relativism did not provide a framework with which to work, possibly absolutism will. But
before I address the absolutist theories of Mill, Kant, and Aristotle, I will discuss divine
command theory, ethical egoism, and their relation to the failures of relativism.
Up until this point, I have discussed theories that deal with society, cultureculture, or the
collective. In the following paragraphs, I will address normative universal ethical egoism, an
individualistic theory. In this system, everyone ought to act solely on his or her self-interest.“
Within this ethical systemsystem, each individual has the right and freedom to marry who they
want based on their own self-interest. Therefore, it is morally unacceptable to not follow their
self-interest. This ethical system seems to offer a reasonable answer to the question of right or
wrong. For example, if someone wants to marry another person of the same-sex, then it can be
assumed that this union is in accord with their self-interest. Based on ethical egoism, they must
act in accordance with it.
This theory assumes that the legalization of homosexuality is already a standard. For
example, if you think that stealing is in your best interest, then under this ethical system you
should steal. However, just because it is in your best interest does not mean that you will not be
punished for this action by the law.
Again, this ethical theory is reduced to the neutral stance of a relativist point of view. For one to follow their self-interest, one would have to relocate to a place that allows same-sex marriages and does not condemn them. The argument of normative universal ethical egoism fails because it allows some locations to prohibit same-sex relationships and their legalization while other locations can allow them.
Individuals who want to prohibit the legalization of same-sex marriages or homosexuality
do not seem to be vested in their own self-interests. One must wonder to what extent the
relationships, feelings, and actions of another person affect one’s own self-interests.
For individuals who want to prohibit same-sex marriages, their self-interest is based on
the preservation of traditional’ values. Here, there seems to be a direct conflict. The self-interest
of one group is to deny the self-interest of another group. Ethical egoism seems to be hitting a
road blockroadblock on the issue. Thus, ethical egoism is not sufficient in providing an answer to
the question of morality about this issue.
The subsequent paragraphs will return to an absolutist theory. In John Mill’s theory of
utilitarianism “the ideal moral agent is an impartial calculator, who adds up the hedons” The argument over same sex marriage can be split it in two separate camps: those who want to marry the same-sex versus those who do not or those who support same-sex marriage versus those who do not.
Therefore, since this theory champions the greatest good for the greatest number, you
would look at the groups who support marriage equality and those who do not support marriage
equality. Based on sheer numbers and size, the greatest number would be those who do not
support same-sex marriage or homosexuality. Polls and numbers show that America is still split
on the issue although the same cannot be said for the world.
A drawback of the utilitarian perspective is that it involves lengthy “utilitarian calculus”
to figure out whether the hedons outweigh the dolors for every possible action, i.e. whether to
legalize same-sex marriage or prohibit it. One would need to take in consideration the pain of
not being able to marry the one you love, the pleasure derived from marriage, the satisfaction of
those who do not support homosexuality if it is prohibited, the anger of those who do not get
what they want, and countless other factors.
One can simplify this calculus by only looking at the two individuals in a same-sex relationship. For two consenting people of the same-sex, the greatest happiness would be to marry one another.
A second drawback of this ethical system is the fact that it chills moral feelings towards
individuals. Utilitarianism is cold and impersonal. It ignores fundamental human rights and
principles, reducing everything to a number. Mill claims that if a person does not listen to his
own judgment based on his opinion then this claim is not one to be made by followers of
utilitarianism but to be said of people that have no moral fiber at all.
Mill argues against the impersonality of utilitarianism because not only does it take into account the consequences but it also takes into account the qualities from which those actions emanate. Utilitarianism gives each action its recognition and each party its voice. Utilitarianism does not only value what is pleasurable but also what actions and consequences have a high quality of pleasure.
Utilitarianism seems to offer a good model to determine the ethical nature of homosexuality and its legalization. If we are provided with the universally agreed upon value for hedons and dolors assigned to each action, then we would be able to make a normative judgment on whether the legalization of same-sex marriages is morally right or wrong. However, we do not have these universally agreed upon values.
Mill counters this by saying that we have had all this time thus far to ascribe values to all emotions and human experiences, so we as a population are at fault for that. Mill’s rebuttal does nothing to further the answer on whether the issue is ethically right or wrong. The lack of a definitive answer makes utilitarianism an ethical system that is plausible in theory but offers little reliability in practice.
I have just explained why utilitarianism does not offer a solid system for determining the
morality of homosexuality and its legalization. Now I am going to argue why Kantian
deontology provides a nice ethical framework for this issue. “In the Kantian tradition, the ideal
rational agent is one who acts on the basis of maxims that can be willed as universal laws of
humanity.”10 For Kant, morality depends on whether an action aligns with duty.” Duty is defined
as acting out of good will and good will is what you ought to do in a situation. What you ought to
do in a situation is based on the categorical imperatives that he provides for us in his three
Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative is viable. Unlike hypothetical imperatives,
categorical imperatives are not flexible. They are not based on the whims of inclinations or
feelings.12 In comparison, Mill’s theory can be said to be based on a hypothetical imperative [e.g.
if you want to produce the greatest amount of utility, do X].
This first formulation of the categorical imperative offers the solution, “Act only on that
maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become universal law.”13 To
evaluate this action, we must find the maxim underlying the issue of homosexuality- Following
the example, if you are confused about something then ask a question, the maxim behind same
sex marriage follows: if you love someone and want to marry them, then marry them.
Most would agree upon the maxim stated above. However, some may see the maxim of marriage as
the desire to reproduce. This objection fails because heterosexual couples that cannot reproduce
are still allowed to marry one another. Therefore, the maxim of marriage is not reproduction.
In order for love to be the maxim of marriage, it must pass the contradiction in conception test. This test allows us to generalize the maxim to ensure it makes sense. One can easily imagine a world in which two consenting individuals in love have the will and the right to marry each other. In this type of situation, reality does not capsize and the maxim still makes sense.
The maxim also passes the contradiction in will test. One would choose to live in a world
where this maxim is followed by everyoneeveryone follows this maxim. Having shown that love
as the maxim of marriage passes the test for generalizing maxims, it follows that this maxim can
be willed into universal law. Kant’s theory provides a universal answer to the question of
homosexuality and its legalization. Consenting individuals regardless of sex should be able to
marry one another. Therefore, same-sex marriages should be legalized.
Secondly, Kant also states that “the equality of each with every other as a subject” creates
a purely lawful and moral state.14 All laws, or in this case maxims, that are applied to one subject
must be applied to all. This ensures that each individual is equal to the next. The legalization of
same-sex marriage in some areas but not others violates the inherent rights of the individual.
Thus, same-sex marriages should not only be legalized, but legalized everywhere without
Now I will address Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics. Aristotle’s system of ethics varies
vastly from Mill and Kant. Instead of being act-centered, Nicomachean ethics is agent-centered.
This means that instead of focusing on actions, Aristotle focuses on character and virtue.
Aristotle holds the view that one should always strive to act virtuously, meaning to have a stable
“state” or mean of action.
The turn from an act-centered morality to an agent-centered makes Aristotle’s theory hard
to apply. In this case, it seems relevant to turn our attention toward Greek culture and the context
within Aristotle wrote his ethical system. Aristotle posits that the human being has a function.
Aristotle does not explicitly state that human beings have behaviors that are natural and
unnatural, but it seems to me he is assuming it anyway because functions are innate. Following
this argument, we must address whether homosexuality is natural or unnatural.
Aristotle calls pederasty, the Greek custom of an adult male forming a relationship with
an adolescent male, a “morbid state”..” By definitiondefinition, a morbid state is one developed
by habitat or sometimes by nature. Aristotle argues that these morbid states that arise by nature
are outside of the spectrum of deficiency and excess. Thus, one cannot call these actions
incontinent, intemperate, or lacking virtue because they are completely off the grid of self
However, if we were to extrapolate from the Greek culture surrounding Aristotle,
pederasty was an acceptable practice. With that being said men were still obligated and expected
to take a wife and produce a family. I can conclude that Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics alone
does not provide an ethical system with which to determine the morality of homosexuality.
The purpose of this paper was to address the morality of same-sex marriage and their
legalization. I have shown that any argument that can be reduced to a relativist standpoint
ethical relativism, divine command theory, and egoism—does not provide a solid framework
with which to address the issue of homosexuality. Mill’s utilitarianism offers a plausible but
impractical ethical theory. Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics places natural homosexual behavior
outside the moral ballpark of virtue and vice.
Thus, Kant’s ethical theory provides a system that takes into account individual rights and
offers a universal solution. Through this system, same-sex marriages and their legalization are
Although Kant’s ethical system provides an objective framework and this situation, many scholars have argued over the existence of an objective morality, showing that one solid ethical theory cannot be considered the only factor determining the morality of such a complex issue.
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