Approximately 11 million Americans identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, yet despite this figure being such a substantial portion of the United States population, these Americans still have to battle for equal rights. Same-sex marriage is arguably the most exposed and tensest issue that surrounds the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Community. Currently, same-sex marriage is one of the most controversial political issues in the United States, making headlines on a near daily basis. This essay is to explore the growth of the acceptance of same-sex marriage in the United States, as well as the progression towards equality over time. In the past ten years, same-sex marriage has become legal in eleven states and Washington D.C., and the number keeps growing at a rapid rate. The fight for marriage equality, however, has spanned over decades. According to my research, more states are expected to change their laws as support for same-sex marriage grows around the country, as this is something that is effecting the whole country. The support for equality continues to grow, showing signs that the anti-gay bias in America is finally starting to subside. The difference between a same-sex marriage and a civil union between parties of the same sex is commonly overlooked. There are several differences between a civil union and marriage. Couples who have a civil union will not have any of the protections or responsibilities federal law provides to married couples. These include Social Security Survivors Benefits, Spousal benefits, filing joint federal tax returns, exemptions from income tax on your partner’s health benefits, and federal exemptions from inheritance tax. Same-sex or Opposite-Sex couples can get a Civil Union.
A Civil Union would guarantee that you could make medical decisions for your partner if he or she is unconscious, even if you are unable to show the hospital staff an executed power of attorney. Even in states where same-sex couples are legally able to marry there is another law in effect that is preventing them from the same protections and responsibilities federal law provides to opposite-sex married couples. Allowing same-sex couples to only be allowed to enter in a civil union does not grant the same rights that are afforded with matrimony. The United States has made huge strides in ending racism, sexism, and all together creating and keeping equal rights, however, members of the LGBT community do not have full equality, without the right to enter in a same-sex marriage. Recent history has shown large strides in the battle of marriage equality, but there is still work to be done. The issue of same-sex marriage impacts more than just the members of the LGBT Community. It also impacts the family members of that community, and this country. The majority of the public does not realize how long this has been a battle for the LGBT Community. It has effected millions of people, hundreds of thousands of children who have same-sex parents, and the battle for marriage equality continues to impact the future of our ever changing, evolving, free country I have chosen same-sex marriage as my topic because marriage equality impacts my life directly, and the right for marriage equality is something I am passionate about. I am personally in a same-sex relationship, and have family, friends, and acquaintances who are as well.
In my opinion, we all deserve the same rights and protections given to married couples of the opposite sex, should we choose to make the same commitment to one another. Being more exposed to this than most, I would say I have certainly seen some much happier same-sex couples than opposite-sex married couples. Although this is not to say that is always the case, it certainly does help raise the question why a same-sex couple is unable to have fair and equal treatment. The fundamentals of a relationship do not change when both parties are the same sex. This makes it hard for someone like myself to believe that in an era of unimaginable technological advancements, sexuality-based discrimination still exists. Although same-sex marriage has become increasingly more prevalent in the public eye, the battle for marriage equality has spanned over decades. This project will highlight some of the major events and factors that have impacted marriage equality, as well as setbacks and obstacles that still need to be overcome before all people are truly treated equally. Same-sex marriage doesn’t only impact member of the LGBT Community, it impacts our country and our world as a whole. Recent changes, statewide and nationally impact the world that we will live in, and the world that the next generation is coming in to. Through the history of same-sex marriage and the current changes that our society is implementing, I hope to show that the right for same-sex marriage is long overdue.
The battle for same-sex marriage changed drastically in the early 1970s. Prior to this time, the idea of traditional marriage is most commonly associated with the lifestyle of nuclear families in the 1950s. Marriage and having a family rarely deviated from a man and a woman getting married, having children, and staying married. “In 1971, The San Francisco chronicle declared that a “Gay Marriage Boom” was underway,” and “reports of increasing marital discord and rising divorce rates accompanied by the growing trend toward premarital sex and common-law living arrangements signaled an end to traditional marriage.” This shift in society served as a platform in the battle for same-sex marriage. Jack Baker and Michael McConnell, famous for their battle for same-sex marriage challenged the nuclear family ideals associated to the 1950s, stating “the United States that people will begin to think rationally about alternatives to the nuclear family and will begin to think of new ways to enhance the reproductive process of society.” The concept of a nuclear family is not something that is expected of the current generation fighting for marriage equality, as changes in society have led to more blended families. To my generation, a nuclear family is somewhat of a rarity. Despite the commonality of a nuclear family dissolving as social norms and expectations changed, same-sex marriage was not a liberty that was afforded as society evolved. Baker and McConnell, as well as several other same-sex couples fought throughout the 1970s and beyond for same-sex marriage. Pioneers in the fight for same-sex marriage, they are “still together today, living proof, one might say, of the power of same-sex love and commitment, and a testament to the legitimacy of the claim to marriage equality.”
The commitment shown by Baker and McConnell is, in my opinion, inspirational for all people, not just those in the LGBT Community. Although their personal crusade for marriage equality has not yet come into fruition, their relationship survived the discrimination they faced as openly gay males in the 1970s and beyond. Their commitment to one another and the fight for equality exemplifies the sanctity of marriage, although marriage is not a right yet afforded to them (The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 20.2 (March-April 2013): p19). The fight for same-sex marriage hit arguably one of its biggest obstacles when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law in 1996. The act “legally defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman; it also allowed each state to decide individually whether or not to recognize same-sex unions, regardless of what other states might allow.” The Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law as a preventative measure, “where sponsors described it as making explicit what federal law had implied for two centuries.” The federal government quickly moved this act in to a law due to questions and appeals in the state of Hawaii that would have allowed a same-sex couple to marry in Hawaii, and have that marriage transcend to their own state. The Defense of Marriage Act has been met with opposition, “arguing that its scope is beyond Congress’s authority and that it violates the Constitution’s pledge of equal protection (Government Printing Office. “Defense of Marriage Act.).” The Defense of Marriage Act still impacts United States citizens today, and is currently being reviewed on a federal level. To enact a law that restricts a person’s right to marry the person of their choice based on an implication was, in my opinion, a poor choice on the part of the federal government.
Although the original idea of marriage from a government standpoint may have been specific to an opposite-sex marriage, enacting the Defense of Marriage Act based on ideals from two centuries ago was a step backward for Americans everywhere. Drastic changes in society were not accounted for. Exceptions to the original intent of laws and revisions and amendments have been made for other forms of discrimination, however, the government implemented discrimination toward anyone with the desire to enter in a same-sex marriage. Federally, despite the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriage proved to be a controversial topic in the most recent Presidential Election. Typically, Democrats are proponents for same-sex marriage, making it ironic that the Defense of Marriage Act was made a law by a democratic president. Despite the travesty of the Defense of Marriage Act caused by the federal government, state governments have made enormous strides in the quest to grant marriage equality to their citizens. The start towards positive change began in the year 2000, when the state of Vermont “officially recognized same-sex civil unions, granting these partners the same legal rights and privileges accorded to heterosexual spouses.” Although a civil union is different than a same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage was legalized in Vermont in 2009. In addition to Vermont, same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Rhode Island, Delaware, Washington D.C. and the District of Columbia.
Additionally, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey recognize same-sex civil unions but do not yet allow same-sex marriage (CNN Wire. (Mar. 26, 2013)). The state of California has received copious media attention for the infamous “Proposition 8.” California law took the federal standpoint to the view of marriage in 2000, excluding the parties to opposite-sex couples. In 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco began marrying same-sex couples, justifying the marriages with the Equal Protection Clause included in the state’s constitution. Same-sex marriages in California have been granted and recanted several times since, and the issues surrounding have been heavily exploited by the media. (Stone, 1+) During the times that same-sex marriages have been allowed in California, “in the first three months that gay and lesbian couples could marry legally in California, an estimated 11,000 of them took their vows–a number that, according to a new study, is higher than the total in the first four years that gay marriage was legal in Massachusetts. (The Christian Century. 125.22 (Nov. 4, 2008): p18) This large number of marriages, however, only represents about 10% of the same-sex couples in the state of California The validity of said marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples during this tumultuous time in California have been questioned, which is an obstacle that opposite-sex couples have not had to face. Although the states granting same-sex marriage remain in the minority, it is undeniable that progress has been made towards equality for the LGBT Community. “By late June, wedding bells may be ringing for gay and lesbian couples in California. In nine other states and the District of Columbia, married same-sex couples could get full federal recognition and benefits.” (Wolf: USA Today 29 Mar. 2013) Same-sex marriage legalization is not exclusive to the United States. In 2001 The Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, and as of right now there are twelve other countries in the world who have legalized same-sex marriage including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Uruguay, and most recently, New Zealand, making it the first country in the Asia-Pacific to do so. Brazil and Mexico have a similar stance to the United States in that same-sex marriage is legal in some, but not all parts of the country. Statistics show that acceptance of same-sex marriage is increasing over time, and same-sex marriage is becoming more widely accepted. In 1996, according to the Gallup Poll, 68% of Americans were opposed to same-sex marriage but in 2012, that number dropped to 48%. Also according to the U.S. Census bureau there has been an 80.4% increase in same-sex couple households in the United States between 2000 and 2010. The U.S. Census also shows that there are 115,064 same-sex couple households with children in the United States. (CNN Wire. (Mar. 26, 2013)). In conclusion, although progress has been made in an attempt for marriage equality, there is still a long road ahead before the United States can declare all citizens have equal rights. Members of the LGBT Community have battled for equality for decades, and still have a long road ahead. Equality should be granted to all, and changes in society have not reflected in the marriage laws that govern the United States on a federal level.
The actions of individual states have taken steps to rectify the inequality that exists with the marriage, and the recent years have been eventful in terms of making marriage equality a possibility for citizens across the world. The rights that have been denied to members of the LGBT Community should be granted. As a country, the United States has made steps to protect citizens from racism and sexism, but sexual orientation discrimination is still prevalent in the laws that govern our country. In the short time I have been researching this topic I have had to edit my draft for the addition of two states and two countries which have legalized same-sex marriage, which gives me hope that we are moving in the right direction as human beings. It is exciting to bear witness to changes that will hopefully reduce the discrimination that exists within our country by granting equality to all citizens.