Friday, January 28, 2011

The 21st Century: Marriage Equality

As America entered a new century the LGBTQ community had taken on a new goal: marriage quality. The 1993 Hawaii case had alerted lesbians and gay men to the importance of being legally recognized, and still bitter from the failed promises of Bill Clinton gay activists began to take the battle to the courtroom. In December of 1999 Supreme Court case Baker v. Vermont ruled that same-sex couples are "entitled under Chaper I, Article 7, of the Vermon Constitution to obtain the same benefits and protections afforded by Vermont law to married opposite-sex couples." Though the court did not require Vermont to marry homosexual couples, it was implied that a similar licensing process as marriage could be issued. The law went into effect on July 1st, 2000 and Vermont became the first state to grant civil union status with the same benefits and rights of marriage.

In 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court  ruled that there was not yet a constitutionally adequate reason for the denial of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Massachusetts would have six months to rewrite marriage laws to account for this. However, conservatives began work on an amendment to the Constitution which would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.  In 2004 San Francisco, California began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The first to be married were gay actvists and co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin (pictured below) followed by 80 other gay and lesbian couples.

On February 24th, 2004, President Bush decided to be a huge party-pooper and announce support for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Thanks a lot, Bush. 

Thankfully on May 17th Massachusetts began to grant marriages licenses to same-sex couples, however by the end of the year voters in 13 states had voted to ban same-sex marriage: Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentuckyh, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah. By 2005 Oregon's Supreme Court had nullified nearly 3,000 marriage licenses granted to homosexual couples, and California's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had vetoed an almost successful bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Over the next few years the same general pattern would follow; most states would debate and inevitably ban same-sex marriage. The LGBTQ community became distraught with the fickle nature of state government and the rights for same-sex couples to marry. It seemed that for every step made towards marriage equality, several more states would ban gay marriage. 

In the 2008 California elections Proposition 8 was put up for a vote. Proposition 8, also known as the California Marriage Protection Act, added a new provision to the California Constitution which stated that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." By restricting the rights of same-sex couples to be married, the proposition overturned former California Supreme Court rulings that granted gay couples the right to marry. Proponents of the amendment argued that LGBTQ individuals did not have the right to change the institution of the timeless tradition of marriage. Proposition 8 passed and the LGBTQ community reeled. In the following years across the nation LGBTQ activists protested and fought against Proposition 8. Unfortunately in Strauss v. Horton Proposition 8 was upheld but allowed existing same-sex marriages to stand. However, in 2010 Prop. 8 was overturned in Perry v. Schwarzenegger and put on hold pending appeal.

Currently the federal government of the United states does not recognize same-sex marriages and is legally unable to do so by the Defense of Marriage Act. Across the country gay marriage is legal in only five states, one district, and one Indian tribe. 

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gay Rights and Gay Marriage --
History of Gay Marriage --
Timeline of Same-Sex Marriage in the US --

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