Next week, I’m going to be the best man at a good friend’s wedding. Technically, it’s not a wedding, but a commitment ceremony. See, my friend is a lesbian and same-sex marriage is illegal in Arkansas.
Same-sex marriage is, and will continue to be, a topic of debate in the United States. Currently only five states and Washington D.C. perform same-sex marriages. New York, Rhode Island and Maryland recognize same-sex marriages, but it is still illegal to perform the wedding. According to the 2010 AP-National Constitution Center Poll, support for allowing same-sex marriage rose to 52%, the highest in history. It’s almost shocking to see that, in a country that prides itself on freedom, we still can’t overcome our homophobia. Many would argue that civil unions, which are allowed in some states, are the same thing. Yet in some states, civil unions grant same-sex couples only some of the rights of married couples. Really, the only form of marriage that isn’t discriminatory is titled marriage.
The movement in support of same-sex rights received a prominent push in 1996 with the public backlash to Congress’ passing of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage on a federal level as a legal union between a man and a woman. This means that only legally married opposite sex couples receive federal benefits. Furthermore, the provisions established under DOMA allow states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. And while this may appear to be unconstitutional under the Full Faith and Credit Cause, which establishes states’ obligations to recognize one another’s public acts, records, and judicial proceedings, the clause also allows Congress to decide which acts must be recognized. This restriction on gay rights is clearly an inappropriate exercise of Congress’ power. The Defense of Marriage Act has been challenged in court many times since its passing, but has yet to see any headway. The closest repeal of DOMA occurred in 2009 when the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced to the House of Representatives. RFMA would overturn DOMA’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. However, it does not require states to recognize same-sex marriages. Almost a year after its introduction, Congress still hasn’t enacted the Respect for Marriage Act.
In 2008, California became the second state to legalize gay marriage, however Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that sought to restore the definition of opposite sex marriage, passed later that year, taking away the right for gay couples to marry. Proposition 8 has also received much opposition in court, and on August 4, 2010, a US District Court ruled in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that the proposition was unconstitutional. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear the appeal in December, with its outcome expected to affect all same-sex marriage bans in the United States. In addition to issues of constitutionality, it seems that the majority of opposition to same-sex marriage is from religious organizations. In fact, in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, expert witness and political scientist Gary Segura offered testimony stating that religion is “the chief obstacle to gay and lesbian political advances.” As a stern supporter of separation of church and state, it’s unfortunate that, when it comes to same-sex marriage, the two couldn’t be any closer. As a gay man who grew up in a largely religious, conservative part of the country, I have experienced the most hostility from the religious community. And as the evidence shows, religious groups are largely responsible for propagating this homophobia.
In 2009, The National Organization for Marriage was accused of serving as a “pass-through committee” for $2 million from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints toward the passage of Proposition 8. In fact most opponents of same-sex marriage, including the Alliance Defense Fund, Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, are conservative religious organizations. These organizations have various reasons for their opposition, the most prominent and personally offensive of which include the argument that same-sex marriage could eventually lead to laws against bestiality and sex with consenting children being overturned. Similar claims have also been made for polygamy and prostitution. These claims are remnants of arguments made against homosexuality since the issue of equal rights to same-sex couples was proposed. At one point, homosexuality was diagnosed as a psychological disorder and that it could be cured. This disorder supposedly involved the compulsion of gays and lesbians to convert young children into homosexuals. While not only ridiculous to consider, these claims send the message that same-sex relationships are comparable to bestiality, statutory rape and prostitution. And although the American Psychological Association has agreed that homosexuality is not a disorder, many opponents of same-sex rights still use these discriminatory defenses.
Ultimately, the government’s denial of equal rights to same-sex couples is a civil rights issue. As a group of stigmatized individuals, gays and lesbians have suffered a well-documented history of discrimination, violence and death. Psychologists agree that this form of negative exposure, especially in the states that grant or recognize no same-sex couples’ rights, leads to minority stress, a chronic social stress that results from minority-group stigmatization, and psychological distress. Under the current marriage laws, same-sex couples are excluded from over 1,000 federal laws that marital status is a factor in receiving benefits, rights and privileges. For example, same-sex couples are ineligible for spousal and survivor social security benefits. In addition, same-sex couples face higher taxes and higher health costs because only 18% of insurance companies offer coverage for domestic partners. There are also economic benefits to legalizing same-sex marriage. The 2004 Congressional Budget Office study said that if only 0.6% of adults entered into same-sex marriages, it would improve the budget’s bottom line by an estimated $1 billion in each of the following ten years due to an increase in government revenues.
I’ve been in a steady relationship for almost a year and, while I have no intention of getting married soon, I would like to have the ability to marry whomever I want without moving to another state in which my rights are respected. But regardless of state’s rights, I feel that same-sex rights should be recognized on the federal level so gay and lesbian couples can receive the same benefits as opposite sex couples. Any legislation that opposes those inherent rights is simply discriminatory and homophobic.Powered by Sidelines