Marriage equality for same-sex couples is one of the most hot-button issues in United States politics today. While many politicians have actively supported legislation that would legalize marriage between same-sex couples, an equal number have actively opposed it. Such politicians have vehemently opposed any legislation having to do with marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, citing their belief that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman. In many recent elections at both the state and Federal level, these politicians have used same-sex marriage as a wedge issue to energize conservative religious groups. Most recently, this tactic was used in California's 2008 November elections to pass Proposition 8, which invalidated a California Supreme Court ruling that had enabled gays and lesbians in the state to marry.
As the U.S. battles these issues on a state-by-state level, other countries have begun to legalize same-sex marriage, including Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Spain. In the United States, only Connecticut and Massachusetts have passed equal marriage legislation, and many others have passed state constitutional amendments banning gay and lesbian marriages. New York has not yet passed its own same-sex marriage bill, but has passed legislation that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Civil Unions: A Compromise
While only a handful of states and countries have legalized same-sex marriage, an increasing number of U.S. states and countries around the world that have taken steps toward same-sex marriage equality by legalizing domestic partnerships and civil unions, many of which grant some of the same rights as a legal marriage. This is the case in states like California, New York, and New Jersey where same-sex couples can file state taxes together, take advantage of employer health benefits, and enjoy other rights enjoyed by married couples. However, because same-sex marriage is not recognized at a Federal level, these couples do not receive full tax benefits and end up incurring additional costs as they must file their state taxes together and federal taxes individually. It's a complicated process that often ends up costing couples more than the benefits they gain.
The Role of the Freedom to Marry Coalition in Equal Marriage
Just as the civil rights movement was an ongoing effort, so is the journey toward equal marriage. The Freedom to Marry Coalition is a partnership comprised of both LGBT and non-gay members who are working toward winning the right to legally marry for same-sex couples all around the United States. The stated goal of the Freedom to Marry Coalition is to end discrimination in marriage. This organization has partnered with numerous organizations and recruited volunteers from coast to coast in furthering the efforts to allow gay and lesbian couples to enjoy the same rights of marriage that their heterosexual counterparts are granted by law.
For Both Sides, the Battle Continues
While a handful of efforts toward same-sex marriage equality have been successful, in many conservative states opponents have won landslide victories opposing it. Legislation against legalizing same-sex marriages stands under the premise that marriage should be defined as a legal act of union between one man and one woman, not two men or two women. Opponents of gay marriage have cited religion and personal belief as the main thrust of their fight to ban same-sex marriages, while proponents of same-sex marriage legislation liken the fight to earlier civil rights battles and opposition to any form of discrimination.
The tide may slowly be turning. Recent studies have shown a general trend of a one percent per year shift in favor of same-sex marriage equality among Americans. If this shift continues, future generations of gays and lesbians may well have the same-sex marriage rights denied to most of today's same-sex couples.
In the end, married couples enjoy certain legal and financial rights that gay cohabiting couples do not. The legal right to file joint tax returns, employer health benefits, issues related to wills and estates, Social Security benefits, and inheritance issues are just a few of many legal reasons why same-sex couples continue to fight for the right to be married, not to mention the desire to formalize their love and commitment to one another.
Equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians is a complex issue. Want to learn more? View these useful resources for further information.