Same-Sex Marriage: The Fight for Equality Gains Momentum

By Cherrin, Amanda | National NOW Times, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Same-Sex Marriage: The Fight for Equality Gains Momentum


Cherrin, Amanda, National NOW Times


Although the United States Supreme Court has declared marriage a fundamental right under the Constitution, same-sex couples still do not have the ability to marry in any U.S. state. The fact that gay and lesbian couples lack this right results in severe financial disadvantages and a denial of critical rights and benefits, in addition to emotional hardships. Recently, significant legal gains made in U.S. and Canadian courts have contributed to eradicating discrimination against gays and lesbians. These advancements, however, have been met with fierce backlash from right-wing leaders who are attempting to block the road to equality with legislation that would undo years of social progress.

Where Are We Today?

The 2000 census reported 594,391 samesex couples living together in the U.S., and currently, none of them are eligible for civil marriage on the state or federal level. Thirtyseven states have passed legislation that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriage, and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents same-sex couples from receiving the same federal rights and protections, like Social Security, that are bestowed upon heterosexual married couples.

To date, Vermont offers same-sex couples the most comparable option to marriage in the country. "Civil unions" grant couples the same state-level benefits and privileges as heterosexual married couples, but due to the DOMA restrictions, they cannot receive federal benefits, nor will most other states recognize their union. This creates a secondclass, "just be happy-it could be worse" status for same sex-couples.

Both California and Hawaii have passed "domestic partnership" laws, which offer same-sex couples some of the benefits given to married people, but fall short of providing equal treatment.

Current challenges to the system include two state court cases that are questioning the constitutionality of withholding civil marriage rights from same-sex couples. In Massachusetts, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders filed a suit on behalf of seven same-sex couples who were denied marriage certificates because of their sexual orientation. A New Jersey court recently heard Lambda Legal argue for the rights of seven same-sex couples who also wish to marry. Both courts are expected to return verdicts in the near future.

Internationally, the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia have recently legalized same-sex marriage. They join the Netherlands in granting same-sex couples the full spectrum of rights and benefits that accompany a marriage licence.

Much at Stake

Same-sex couples across the country are denied more than 1,000 federal protections and rights. Most states deny committed lesbian and gay couples hundreds of additional benefits. These rights range from the ability to file joint tax returns to the crucial responsibility of making decisions on a partner's behalf in a medical emergency.

The inability to marry has both emotional and financial consequences. Same-sex couples are not allowed to share Social security, Medicare, Family and Medical Leave, health care, disability, military and other benefits. They cannot inherit 401(k)s and other property from their life partner without a will. …

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Same-Sex Marriage: The Fight for Equality Gains Momentum
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