Moral Philosophy I


The debate on whether it is morally right for the same sex couples to marry has been in existence for a long time. What makes this debate unique is the fact that no country can claim to be immune to it, and that it touches on all the aspects of the human life. For instance, the debate on same-sex marriage rights has been ongoing in philosophy, legal circles, the Church, political arenas and within the oral traditions. This paper seeks to evaluate the arguments for and against the same sex marriage from the philosophical underpinnings of Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.

Immanuel Kant on Same Sex Marriage

In its most basic form, Kant’s philosophy, an action is considered morally right if it meets the criteria outlined in relational account of justice. In the context of the same sex marriage, Kant would argue that as long as consent exists, any sexual activity between adults is morally right. In essence, Kant’s philosophy is clear that insofar as sexual actions are attributable to persons who are legally responsible and voluntarily undertaken, they are morally right and legally justifiable. Same sex marriages are also in line with the Kantian position on “status relation.’ (Marino, 561) Based on this position, the right of the same sex couple to marry is less of an equal rights concern, and more of the right of two individuals to establish a rightful domestic sphere with each other. Under Kant’s doctrine of right, it is possible to understand the conditions under which a person’s choice can be reconciled with the choices of others. Kant’s universal doctrine of right clearly exonerates that an action is moral ‘if it can exist within the freedoms of everyone else.’ (Marino, 563) On the other hand, an action is immoral if it cannot coexist with the other people’s freedoms of if it hinders the other people’s capacity to exercise their rights.

Borrowing mostly from the contracts law, Kant would argue that by a contract provides parties with right of “possession of the other partner’s choice”, but under a condition that the capacity of one party to the contract to determine the other party’s choice is in line with the law of freedom (Marino, 447). By the virtue of an existing contract, a united choice of two persons is created. Thus, anything belonging to one party belongs to the other, as long as it is not through a ‘negative act.’ Through what Kant referred to as the ‘common will’ (Marino, 473), the acquisition of a moral right can only require a ‘positive act of transference.’ Based on the Kantian doctrine of rights account, these rights are not same as those for real property or for purchase of services. Instead, the marriage rights involves acquisition of a thing in a form of a person, and for this reason, they establish lawful domestic relations that take the form of domestic, parenting or spousal services. It is at this point where Kant places the definition of a marriage contract in the same sex marriage context. Upon marriage, each of the spouses acquires two categories of rights: right to the sexual capacity and the right to the sexual organs. Theoretically put, Kant is for the opinion that sex part of human nature, thus it is inevitable, and for that matter, cannot be condemned. Kant agrees that as part of nature and falling in the class of animals, it is not surprising that sex and sexual desire can reduce even a human being into an animal, bereft of responsibility and free will.

Same Sex Marriage Based On Mill

Kant’s sentiments about the same sex marriage are shared by John Stuart Mill, where he concurs that individuals have a right to express themselves as long as they do so in a manner that does not harm others. According to Mill, the only freedom that qualifies to be a natural freedom is the one that involves an individual’s pursuit of their personal good in their own way (Marino, 455). The most notable thing enshrined in the Mill’s philosophy is that pursuit of the legitimate freedom does not deprive others of their freedom; neither does it deprive their effort towards obtaining it. Based on this perspective, Mill would hold that someone’s sexual identity does not cause harm to anyone’s rights than the heterosexual couples’ marriage would (Marino, 479). After all, being compelled into a life that is not desirable to one’s heart even causes more suffering than letting others live the life that appear good to them. In fact, what Mill seems to propose is that people may exercise their freedoms and rights as long as they pursue things that do not prevent others from pursuing their own. The other quite notable observation that Mill would make about homosexual marriages is that governments have to encroach on the rights and freedoms of its subjects if it becomes an issue of protection of the community. According to Mill, it would only be fair if the society would justify the same sex marriage the same way it does to marriage between individuals of heterosexual orientation. After all, none of these marriages would harm the community than the other. An equally notable thing is that as much as the citizen’s rights could be restricted in the event they violate the community, Mill points out that any action ought not merely to be restricted for violating the moral standards of the society.

A Comparative Analysis

While a Kantian would support the same sex marriage based on the principles of equality and human autonomy, an advocate of the Mill philosophy would do the same based on freedoms of expression and natural human rights. The first notable similarity is therefore that the same sex couples should have no serious moral challenges when it comes to formation of lasting marriage unions. While the Kant’s philosophy builds more on human consent as far as sexual relations are concerned, its Mill’s counterpart advocates on an individual’s right and freedom that respects the rights of others. Nevertheless, the similarities between the Kant’s and the Mill’s philosophies on same sex marriage do not go beyond merely advocating for the practice. First, while the power of consent is overstated in the Kant’s philosophy, the Mill’s was flexible enough to accept that there exist some circumstances under which the governments have to impose restrictions. On the other hand, Kant insists that the same sex unions are part of the human state of nature as well as part of the man’s goal to attain his or her personal good and in a quite unique manner. It can therefore be concluded that, while restricting actions that potentially poses community security concerns, it is always important to consider that some events merely violate universal social values, thus are not inclusive enough.


Marino G. D. (2010). Ethics: The Essential Writings, ed. New York, Modern Library.


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