Legal Discrimination: Same-Sex Marriage in America
Gay marriage has become a hot-button issue in the American consciousness particularly in recent years, and most vehemently since the 2004 presidential election and the proposal to amend the Constitution to prohibit homosexuals from getting married as a response to the May 2004 decision of Massachusetts to allow gay couples to apply for marriage licenses. Since then, amendments have passed in several states prohibiting marriages and civil unions among same-sex couples. Opponents of this social movement argue that the moral fabric of society is based upon the traditional family structure of a man and a woman raising their children, and that departure from this model will create wide-scale moral corruption. However, most importantly, the issue of same-sex unions fall under the umbrella of civil liberties and I oppose discrimination of American citizens in any form, especially one that is detrimental to children of gay partnerships.
Marraige provides more than just personal affirmation of a relationship under the law. With same-sex couples who are married and have children one partner may decide to work and the other partner may choose to stay home with the children. Married couples and dependants qualify to be on each others’ health insurance plans. The same is not true for a gay partnership without a legal civil union. If a lesbian couple decides to conceive from a sperm donor, and the one who opts to have the child is the non-working partner, both her and the child are not eligible for health insurance on the other partner’s plan. Health insurance is not the only concern for same-sex couples without the protection of marriage either. Married couples have protection under the law in the following areas that are currently being denied to same-sex couples:
• Social Security survivor benefits
• child support obligations
• state and federal tax advantages
• recognition as legal parents in schools
• medical decisions
• immigration status
• passing on inheritance
• applying for passports
• visitation rights
• family medical leave (Family Pride)
These benefits are being denied to same-sex couples because of their sexual orientation and the view of many fundamentalists that same-sex partnerships are morally corrupt. In a society shaped by the separation of church and state their argument of morality should not be sufficient to deprive American citizens of their right to live their lives as they see fit. Many hospitals have the policy that in the event an individual is hurt or sick and unable to make medical decisions for themselves, the individual’s family may make the decisions for them. In the case of the same-sex couple described above, if the working partner became incapacitated the non-working partner would not be able to make those decisions, receive death benefits of any kind, and in some cases have no claim to even see her partner. In the event that the non-working partner (and biological mother of their child) was incapacitated the working partner would be unable to receive these benefits as well as losing all legal claim to her child. Is this fair?
In July of 2004, the president of the American Psychological Association, Diane Halpern, spoke out in support of gay marriage: [keeping gays from marrying] “puts a particular stress on them just because of their sexual orientation. It’s a health issue and a mental health issue…There’s no evidence that kids raised by gays have poorer mental health than those with straight parents.” (Elias 2004) With no detrimental evidence regarding children of same-sex couples, detractors do not seem to have a leg to stand on, so to speak.
The American Constitution guarantees people equal treatment under the law, a guarantee which is sadly failing millions of Americans. Before 1967, some states refused to recognize interracial marriages – an idea that seems absurd now, nearly forty years later. Ten years ago, the Defense of Marriage Act was passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. This act had two effects:
No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) need recognize a marriage between persons of the same sex, even if the marriage was concluded or recognized in another state.
The Federal Government may not recognize same-sex or polygamous marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states. (Wikipedia)
Effectively this means that American citizens are being deprived of their rights, denied their rights in terms of the legal protection that marriage provides for same-sex couples and children of their unions. Like interracial marriage was once considered taboo in our society and managed to take root and find legal status, it is my hope that same-sex unions will be recognized under the law in the future. This issue goes beyond the basic moral question of “is it right to be gay?” and into the heart of American democracy and citizens’ rights. It speaks to Americans’ rights to choose their own parnters, to make their own lives and be protected under the law.
Defense of Marriage Act. Wikipedia.
Elias, Marilyn. Psychologists to Endorse Gay Marriage. USA Today. 7/28/2004.
Marriage Equality and Our Families. Family Pride.