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Talking About the Freedom to Marry
Key Points from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund

Today same-sex couples are not allowed to legally marry in any state — no matter how long they have been together, no matter how committed their relationship, and no matter how much their families need the protection, benefits, and responsibilities that come with civil marriage.

Marriage is an important personal choice and a basic human right. The decision to get married should belong to the couple in love, not the state.

This is not the first instance of government interference with people’s freedom to marry. Less than thirty years ago interracial couples were prohibited from legally marrying. Today, very similar discriminatory arguments are being used to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

Legally, religious and civil marriage are two separate institutions. Though many faiths do perform same-sex marriage ceremonies now, they have no legal recognition as civil marriages. The state should not dictate which marriages any religion performs or recognizes, just as religions should not dictate who gets a civil marriage license from the state.

Questions and Answers

Why do we need “gay marriage”
We don’t. We need marriage. The term “gay marriage” implies that same-sex couples are asking for special rights or privileges that married couples do not have. What we need is the equal right to marry the person we love and care for, just as heterosexual Americans can.

Why do gay/lesbian couples need or want to get married?
Most same-sex couples already take on many of the same responsibilities as married couples, but have none of the legal protections or benefits that accompany civil marriage. In fact, despite taking responsibility of their partner’s well-being, both economically and emotionally, same-sex couples are legally treated as nothing more than roommates! For example, one partner is often denied visitation and involvement when the other is in the hospital. Same-sex couples are refused “family” health coverage, taxation, and inheritance rights; and are denied protection in case the relationship ends — sometimes even resulting in a partner’s children being taken away. In addition, same-sex couples are denied the social and emotional security marriage provides for so many people in our society.

Isn’t marriage traditionally defined as a union between a man and a woman?
Traditionally, yes. However, marriage has also been “traditionally” defined as a union between two people of the same religion or the same race, and one in which wives were the property of their husbands. Those “traditional” elements of marriage changed to reflect the equality of individuals. Today we recognize the choice of a marriage partner belongs to each person, not to the state.

Isn’t marriage really about procreation?
No. Many people marry who cannot or choose not to have children. And many gay men and lesbians do have children, but are denied the right to raise those children within a marital relationship. Marriage is best understood as a relationship of emotional and financial interdependence between two people in love who make a legal and public commitment to each other.

Do all lesbians and gay men want to marry?
No. Lesbians and gay men are as diverse as non-gay people; some would choose not to marry even if they could. All couples, however, should have this choice. The government should not interfere in the decision of same-sex couples to exercise this basic human right, just like everyone else.

Is the gay community using this issue to support a broader agenda?
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities have always been very open about our goal of ending discrimination and supporting equality for all. It’s the Radical Right which is in fact using fear and misinformation regarding marriage to raise funds in support of its broader, extremist agenda, and to increase its influence on the government.

What about domestic partnership?
In certain cities and companies there is limited recognition of relationships between unmarried partners, including same-sex couples. No domestic partnership plan, however, provides the same responsibilities, benefits, and protections that marriage does. Domestic partnership is no substitute for civil marriage.

Is this the right time to fight for same-sex marriage?
Yes, in fact there has never been a better time. There have been positive court rulings in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont. These rulings have a supportive affect on gay and lesbian couples all across the country.

How does this affect couples outside should only one state allow legal marriage?
Same-sex couples who travel to a state offering legal marriage and return to their home state will expect to have their marriage recognized at home, just as others do. There are powerful legal and practical reasons why a lawful marriage in one state must be recognized by all others (this is, after all, one country, and if you’re married, you’re married). We have seen the wealthy and well-organized radical right to challenge these lawful marriages state by state by implimenting anti-marriage laws. We must prepare for the challenges.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
National Headquarters
120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10005-3904
212-809-8585; fax 212-809-0055

Western Regional Office
3325 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1300,Los Angeles, CA 90010-1729
213-382-7600; fax 213-351-6050

Midwest Regional Office
11 East Adams, Suite 1008, Chicago, IL 60603-6303
312-663-4413; fax 312-663-4307

Southern Regional Office
1447 Peachtree Street, NE, Suite 1004, Atlanta, GA 30309-3027
404-897-1880; fax 404-897-1884

South Central Regional Office
3500 Oak Lawn Avenue, Suite 500, Dallas, TX 75219-6722
214-219-8585; fax 214-219-4455

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