Society values those who have formed families because of the social stability and productivity such constellations provide. A family may be described as a unit of interdependent and interacting persons, related together, over time, by strong social and emotional bonds. Its central purpose is to create, maintain and promote the social, mental, physical and emotional development, and well being of each of its members.
Same-sex couples form the same kind of family structures as the general population. Numerous surveys have shown that more than 60 percent of gay men and lesbians are in a relationship. It is now time to support same-sex relationships in the same way opposite-sex relationships are supported — by allowing the option of legal marriage.
While some religious groups have attempted to impose their views into legislation and court decisions, this is really not a religious issue. Legal marriage is a matter of civil law, a contract that invokes legal obligations and benefits for a couple. All citizens are constitutionally allowed equal access to all laws. Religious bodies provide ceremonial services, which do not carry the weight of law.
Same-sex couples have, for many years, observed religious and ceremonial marriages in many denominations. Because of the fact that religious organizations have a wide variety of responses to the needs of same-sex couples, and gay man and lesbians in general, no one group can rightly claim that they represent all religions.
The ceremonial marriages undertaken by same-sex couples provide spiritual as well as social benefits, but have little effect on the couple’s economic affairs, or ability to cope with a catastrophe.
Marriage is a symbol of being a grown-up. It is the principle sign of social maturity.
Legal marriage was denied — as a means of social control — to black people in the early decades of the United States. It was also used to deny the humanity of an entire class of people.
Interracial marriage was illegal in 13 U.S. states until 1967 when it was finally rectified in Loving v. Virginia. This is why the complaints against same-sex marriage sounds identical to those used against black people — for instance, the idea that allowing marriage would somehow “dilute” the institution of marriage.
[Please see our article: Marriage Quiz: What kinds of marriage do these quotes describe?]
To deny access to marriage is to keep lesbian and gay families in a perpetual state of childishness, one subject to the whims and controls of the “parental” state. This psychologically damaging denial refutes the reality that same-sex households are legitimate and genuine families.
Every U.S. state has 170-350 rights and responsibilities that are triggered by legal marriage. The number and exact rights vary from state to state. Federal laws relating to marriage number more than 1,138.
[See our article: U.S. Federal Laws for the Legally Married.]
These laws are often designed to support the family unit in times of catastrophe, such as a health crisis when only next of kin are allowed to make health care decisions.
No matter how long the relationship, nor how deep the commitments, as long as same-sex couples are unable to marry, they are considered legal strangers. This means they have virtually no standing in the eyes of the law.
The consequences for these couples are diverse and substantial. For instance, even with a power of attorney form, partners have been denied access to each other in hospitals which allow blood relatives access, some of whom have not been in contact for years. The partner is the one who would know the latest health information, medications, and allergies, not a blood relative.
Workplace benefits are often granted to married partners because it is a way of attracting quality employees. Married employees are also seen as being more stable. And it is recognized that the spouse of the working partner generally gives invaluable (usually unpaid) assistance and support to the worker, which can allow a worker to do a better job.
Over a 10-year period, a partnered worker earning $40,000 a year may earn as much as $55,800 less in benefits than a married co-worker.
Additionally, a same-sex partner who outlives the worker by ten years, misses out on $4,900 in Social Security benefits, and could lose $8,000 in pension payments.
[See our article: Marriage: What’s it to ya?]
Besides domestic partner benefits, there are discounted club and other memberships offered to married couples, which are not offered to domestic partners.
Further, in one fee — usually about $35 — a legal marriage license replaces the expense of drawing wills, powers of attorney, custody, and relationship agreements, which can run into the thousands of dollars. Adding to the expense is the fact that theses documents need to be updated every few years.
While married people may also want to prepare these documents, unmarried couples must have them to protect the legal standing of their relationship.
[Please see our article: Legal Precautions to Protect Your Relationship]
Legal marriage is designed to protect intimacy in the relationship. It does this through the rights of visitation, medical decision-making, survivorship, child custody, redress for wrongful death, etc.
Marriage partners have priority over other next-of-kin concerning the disposition of property, funeral rites and body remains. Even those couples with wills and related agreements have been sued by relatives — sometimes on grounds of dementia and/or undue influence — because they weren’t, after all, legal spouses. Frequent news reports confirm that same-sex life partners often have been denied a voice in their partner’s medical decisions, funerals and burial sites.
Married couples cannot be compelled to testify against each other in court. States recognize that the possibility of being called to testify can impair the intimacy of the relationship. This right allows marriage partners to be trusted confidants. Of course, unmarried same-sex partners can be forced to testify against each other — or face fines and imprisonment.
If married, a partner who was a U.S. citizen can quickly become one. Same-sex families, who are barred from legal marriage, are denied access to immigration. This effectively destroys relationships, as there is no way same-sex couples can be recognized for immigration.
[See our: Immigration Roundup]
Arguments Against Legal Marriage
These statements summarize the most often heard arguments against treating same-sex couples as full and equal citizens.
“Marriage is designed for procreation.”
Many opposite-sex couples choose not to, or are not able to, procreate. They are still allowed to marry. Gay men and lesbians can, and, often do, bear children. Many same-sex couples jointly care for their children. They also can foster parent and adopt children in most states.
“A one-man, one-woman marriage is best for children.”
This is an assertion for which there is no supportive data. In fact, all evidence points to the simple fact that love is what makes the best environment for children.
“It will open the door for siblings (or various animals) to be married.”
This assertion is also an insult to single-parent households. It is also a denial of the numerous multi-wife (and a few multi-husband) cultures that have existed throughout the history of the world, most notably those mentioned in the Bible, and those historically forged by Mormons.
This is a smoke screen from the real issue, which is equal treatment of our families. Marriage law already forbids a host of relationships from legal marriage; same-sex marriage would not change any of that.
“Gay men and lesbians are sinners, and therefore are not worthy of marriage.”
Not all religions hold that entire classes of people are sinners. And even if one believes that they were automatically sinners, state laws provide, and high courts have ruled, that sinners, such as murderers, convicted felons, wife-beaters, and adulterers — even if they are in prison — have the constitutional right to marry. Again, civil marriage laws are not defined by a few select churches.
“Marriage doesn’t work for heterosexuals — just look at the high divorce rate.”
Gay and lesbian couples would probably not be immune from the trouble and stress that befalls all couples. This is no reason to deny the many social and legal benefits of marriage.
“Marriage is a “heterosexual” institution.”
Making a safe and mutually-supportive family is not inherent to any particular sexuality. In fact, long before modern state marriage laws were devised, the very first European church marriages were conducted between men. [Source: “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe” by John Boswell.]
“Marriage is patriarchal.”
[See our: Media Resources: Ceremonial Marriage]
There is nothing inherently patriarchal — or even heterosexual — about legal marriage. Contemporary state marriage laws are largely blind to the sex of a couple. No longer — as in Biblical days — do males own females and their children; he is not allowed to treat them as slaves.
“Not the right time for legal marriage — what about backlash?”
What some perceive as sex-role stereotyping in marriage has nothing to do with marriage per se. It is a reflection of social attitudes, which attribute behaviors selectively according to a person’s sex.
These stereotypes fall apart when considering a couple of the same sex; they cannot follow the old role models. This shift in roles may be the real, underlying threat for those who wish males to continue to dominate.
For some people, it is never the “right” time to fight for civil rights. They think it is too dangerous, scary, or politically disadvantageous.
The very emotional, and illogical, reactions show how effective the arguments have been for legal marriage.
It is a hot issue because demanding equal rights and treatment pushes the boundaries of discrimination. Discrimination does not change without taking a stand against it — and there has always been reaction.
In reality, a backlash was evident with the gaining of the very first domestic partnership workplace benefits in 1982. The radical right was appalled because they saw these — and domestic partner registration measures — as recognition of same-sex families. They saw it as a wedge to get legal marriage, long before marriage was on the radar screen for gay political groups.
Since 1971, there have been 46 suits for legal marriage against various states. Until 1992, all were launched by individual couples, and not by gay organizations.
[See our article: Legal Marriage Court Cases — A Timeline]
Remarkably, the cases in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont all won the right to marry. However, in reaction, the legislators in Hawaii and Alaska changed their state constitutions, effectively destroying the basis for the suits.
The Vermont court gave the state a choice of providing full legal marriage, or a parallel status. The Vermont legislature chose to create a second-class status know as “Civil Unions.”
[See our article: Marrying Apartheid]
Most of Europe now offers some sort of domestic partnership status to same-sex couples.
To date, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, South Africa, and three U.S. states (California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) are the only governments in the world that allow same-sex couples the freedom to legally marry. No other state or country provides, under any other name, same-sex couples the same range of protections, responsibilities, and benefits that come with civil marriage.
The U.S. does not recognize same-sex marriage from any of these governments.
Social structures and state laws are not monolithic, frozen entities. Through the years, they have undergone tremendous changes. Frequently, state structures lag behind the emerging social understanding. This is because states make laws that attempt to keep the old social order in place.
The social environment sometimes keeps the old prejudice and inequities in place. It is also the same environment from which new understandings and civil rights emerge.
It is our job, as a democratic nation, to press for new laws, and removal of the old ones that no longer reflect the reality, or best interests, of society. We do this in order to keep the state current with the best thinking on civil rights and equal treatment of all people. These are the highest ideals of our founding Constitution and Bill of Rights.
However, these questions remain:
- When will all American states treat its own citizens as adult equals, and finally offer the right to marry?
- When will the U.S. federal system stop denying recognition to those who are legally married?
© 2008, Demian
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Couples in the Hood: Percent of Gay Men and Lesbians in a Relationship
Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage
South Africa (2005)
New Zealand (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
(England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
United States (2015)
US States & Territories
New Hampshire (2009)
District of Columbia (2009)
New York (2011)
Rhode Island (2013)
New Jersey (2013)
New Mexico (2013)
Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
West Virginia (2014)
Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
North Carolina (2014)
South Carolina (2014)
U.S. Supreme Court (June 26, 2015):
Ruling: All U.S. States must now
allow same-sex couples the
freedom of legal marriage.
Native American Tribes|
Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan, (2014)
Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)