Same-gender marriage

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(This article discusses the politics of same-gender marriage in the United States. The issue has been addressed differently in other countries.)

Equality of marriage rights for same-gender couples, often called "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage", has long been a concern of the gay rights movement. Same-gender couples in the U.S. have been officially applying for marriage licenses since at least the 70's, but this was generally understood as a protest gesture with no prospects of legal success. Religious marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples have been possible in many churches for several decades, but these alone do not confer the rights and privileges of legal marriage.

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State and federal actions in the 1990s

The issue first flared on a national level in 1993, when the Hawaii State Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting same-gender marriage was a violation of the state constitution. A lower court concurred in 1996 and referred the case back to the Hawaii Supreme Court. Before that court could discuss the case again, Hawaii voters approved a 1998 state constitutional amendment to ban same-gender marriage. A similar situation occurred in Alaska, with a court stepping in to validate same-gender marriage in May '98 and Alaska voters approving an amendment in November '98. Meanwhile, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, an attempt to limit the recognition of any future legalization of same-gender marriage by states.

Legal marriage by states and localities in the 2000s

The issue passed through courts in New Jersey and other states before the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) of Massachusetts (Goodridge v. Massachusetts) legalized same-sex marriage in November 2003 by declaring discrimination on the basis of sex of an individual in marriage unconstitutional. However, the effect of the SJC's decision was delayed, as the SJC gave the legislature a six-month deadline to take action as the legislature deemed appropriate in light of the SJC's opinion; the legislature responded with a proposal for "civil unions," which the court rejected as failing to grant full equality.

On February 13, 2004, the first same-gender marriage licenses were issued, after an executive order by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom removed the gender restrictions from the city's marriage ordinances. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, longtime lesbian rights activists, were the first couple married, after 51 years together. Days later, a New Mexico county clerk issued same-gender marriage licenses for a few hours before being ordered to stop; she is currently under a restraining order to keep her from issuing further licenses. Around the same time, the Green mayor of New Paltz, New York, Jason West, along with several ministers, performed same-gender marriages before they were brought up on charges and the state government declared a halt to the process. Several thousand couples from all over the country were married before the state of California halted the marriages. Multnomah County, Oregon (around Portland) began granting marriage licenses to same-gender couples as well, although this too was stopped awaiting court hearings; a lower Oregon court ordered a halt to the weddings but also ruled the thousands of marriage licenses to be legally recognized. In summer 2004, Attorney General Hardy Myers went to court to get the licenses invalidated. Although they were not invalidated, a judge did put them on hold. Meanwhile, the ACLU and anti-gay groups agreed to a fast-track deal to get the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court. Meanwhile, anti-gay groups, working with the Oregon Republican Party, gathered enough signatures to get an anti-gay benefits state amendment on the November ballot. The amendment banned same-gender marriage, but not other benefits (although the Oregon GOP opposes ALL benefits, as well as adoption by same-gender couples).

On May 17, 2004, as no legislative act had changed the previous court decision, Massachusetts became the first state in the union to make same-gender marriage completely legal on a state level; the couples still do not get federal benefits due to the Defense of Marriage Act, nor are couples who live out of state currently recognized, due to a 1913 law Republican governor Mitt Romney resurrected. Legal challenges are pending.

Constitutional amendment proposals

The Massachusetts state legislature is currently attempting to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage but grant civil unions. The amendment passed an initial vote, but requires an additional vote and a referendum in order to take effect; thus the law will not change in Massachusetts until at least November 2006.

On the state level, an amendment that bans marriage only was passed by over 70% of the vote in Missouri in early August 2004. An anti-benefits amendment is on the Louisiana ballot for September 18, 2004. Amendments that will ban all legal benefits and perhaps even wills for same-gender couples are on the November ballot in Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah, Mississippi due to bills passed by the state legislature, and Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon, Arkansas, Montana, and likely Ohio due to petition drives to get the most extreme of anti-gay amendments on the ballot. There was a coordinated effort to get amendments on the ballot in swing states for the Presidential election (many believe these amendments will help Bush get reelected), but efforts in some areas failed, sometimes only by 1 vote in a state legislature. Amendments failed in state legislature voters in Kansas, Iowa, New Mexico, Maryland, and Maine. South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, and Idaho, amendments failed due to maneuvering that led to the state legislature never bringing the bill up for a vote in both chambers.

On a federal level, the Federal Marriage Amendment was proposed in 2003 (the amendment had been kicking around since 2001 but only gained momentum in the summer of 2003). It would go beyond the Defense of Marriage Act to prevent states from even interpreting their own constitutions to legalize same-gender marriage. The amendment was put up for a vote on July 15, 2004. 60 votes were needed to break cloture. The measure failed by a vote of 48-50.

same-gender marriage and religious institutions

The fight against the legalization of same-gender marriages has been led principally by conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family. Most religious organizations either oppose same-sex marriage or list it as an issue of "concern." Only a handful of groups authorize religious services for the recognition of same-gender marriage. Among Christians: the Unitarian-Universalist Association, the Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ; in the Jewish faith, the Reformed Association.

"Same-sex marriage" refers to civil and legal rights of same-gender couples. Despite much fear from conservatives, there is no legal basis for forcing a church or other religious group to conduct a same-sex wedding or recognize a same-gender marriage.

Maine Question 1

Maine has a gay marriage law. Repeal is on the ballot. Opponents make the following bogus arguments:

  • Preserving the marriage law will "push homosexual marriage on Maine children"
  • Preserving the law will open up our schools to pedophile counselors
  • Preserving the law will force schools to teach gay sex to kindergarten students
  • Preserving the law will make us "lose all that we once cherished"
  • Preserving the law will give legitimacy to a class of people who are alcoholics, spouse beaters, the chronically diseased, the mentally ill and problem gamblers all rolled into one
  • Preserving the law will destroy the institution of marriage
  • Preserving the law will mean the state "has abandoned its commitment to promoting monogamous marriage"
  • Preserving the law will put the state into the hands of radical extremists
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