When taken at face value, many Americans would not think that forbidding gay couples to marry affects them. What many fail to recognize is that these kinds of discriminatory laws reach out and touch every life in this country. For a nation to intentionally and blatantly tell one group of people that they are not entitled to the same rights and protections as other groups of people sheds a dark shadow on the rest of the nation. If the government can interfere so wholeheartedly into the lives of those it is supposed to serve, then none of us are safe.
Very few people actually understand why gay marriage is an issue. The overwhelming trends of “changing values”, abandoning religion, and the adaptation of new lifestyles have brought this issue to the forefront. So, if everyone is so against gay “marriage”, the nation needs to extend the rights of marriage to gays, even if it means that it needs to be done under a different title. The Legislative Branch is responsible for making the laws which govern the country. It is never possible to please all of the people, but fairness is always an option.
While the traditionalists and religious majority are claiming that “Marriage is a holy union between a man and a women with vows taken before god” (“Same Sex Marriage? “); the government needs to find a position somewhere in the middle of protecting the traditional marriage, and allowing for equal rights and protections for all of its citizens. When the government stepped in and became a part of “marriage”, they essentially needed to remove the religious aspects of it in order to adhere to the long standing policy of “separation of church and state”.
This was never done, and because it was never a problem, it has remained a government/religious union that many felt the need to protect because of the religious attachments. Well, it is a problem now. There are hundreds of thousands of American citizens being denied rights and protections because while they are a strong and powerful part of our population, they are still heavily outnumbered by the religious majority seeking to protect the institution of marriage.
To see what must be done by the legislature to right the wrongs done by anti-gay legislation, one must understand the history of this battle and the causes for the recent influx of gay marriage supporters. This battle has been raging since the 1970’s when gay individuals first started questioning why they were not allowed to get married. At that time, most reasoned that they (gays) would just go away, that they were just looking to have the wedding, but cared little about actually being married.
No one could have guessed that forty years later, the “gay” population would be doubled in size, the American idea of the “traditional family” would be drastically changed, the religious majority would be experience a major power shift, and that our supreme court would be hearing these cases on a regular basis. If one were to ask the opponents of gay marriage how we got to where we are today, they would likely respond with some kind of comment regarding the demise of the traditional family, or how integrative teaching has changed the expectations of marriage (Sharp 71).
Those with a more liberal view may state that, throughout the years, science has opened the eyes of many to be more understanding of homosexuality and may therefore link it to a better tolerance for progressive ideas towards gay marriage (Bornman 30-33). The increase in the size of the “gay community” has made this an issue that must be addressed. In the 1970’s when the gay marriage debate began, it was fueled mainly by gay males, and lesbian females only. Since then, the “gay community” has increased to include gay men, lesbian women, bisexual men and women, and the transgendered community.
The additions of these groups to the supporters of gay marriage, has called for a numbers increase of great magnitude. An example of this increase can be shown based on statistical data (still widely viewed as an estimate only) obtained by the Williams Institute at the UCLA school of law; in 2011 there 9 million (3. 5% of the population) that identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender. When this number is broken down, it is reported that only 1. 7% of this 3. 5% are identified as gay men or lesbian women (Gates 1). That is less than half of the people.
This increase has led to stronger lobbying and more strength in numbers. The legislature cannot simply ignore the needs and wants of 3. 5% of the American population. Another significant cause of this increase in support for gay marriage can only be described in “the changing times”. (Sharp 71) History has shown that conservative attitudes have changed dramatically throughout the years. Just looking at the basic ways of life for example can attest to the change in attitudes. In the 1950’s life was centered around the family.
The wife stayed home, cooked, cleaned, and tended to the children. There were various images of the “perfect housewife” plastered all over the media- a smiling perfectly kept woman waiting at the door wearing an apron and holding a steaming hot turkey on a platter all while kissing her husband as he walks through the door from a hard day’s work. That was the image of the family that was portrayed and lived. Divorce was rare and those leading any lifestyle other than the mainstream norm, were frowned upon and shunned from communities. Obviously this is not the picture of life today.
More mothers are working outside of the home. The term “latchkey kids” is now the norm. Divorce rates are at an all-time high, with single mothers never having been married to their children’s fathers being considered normal. Obviously the American opinion of family and normal has changed, thus changing the opinions of who can be a normal family as well. A very concerning concept is that a vast majority of the groups that are fighting to keep the ban on gay marriage, are traditionalists and religious based groups. (“Same Sex Marriage?”)
As a country founded to escape religious persecution, it is highly concerning that in 2011, the opinions of the religious majority are still governing our nation. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the percentage of the population identifying as “Christian, Catholic, Baptist, or Protestant” (the four largest religious groups in the nation) has declined from 86% in 1990, to 76% in 2008 (U. S. Census 2011 61). In addition to this, the percentages identifying as “No religion, Atheist, or Agnostic” increased from 8% in 1990, to 15% in 2008 (U. S. Census 2011 61).
It can be speculated that based on the above mentioned “rule by the religious majority”, that the decline in religious individuals in America, coupled with the rise of those claiming to carry no religious beliefs, has helped the trend of supporters for gay marriage increase. An important fact that needs to be established is that gay marriage is not illegal. Each individual state has the right to create laws to govern their people. Throughout the years as couples attempted to secure marriage licenses that would recognize their same sex partnerships, states began passing statutes that define marriage as a union between man and woman.
Some states determined long ago that it was wrong to discriminate and therefore, they should allow gays to be married. (“National Conference of State Legislatures”) Other states have given the title “domestic partnership” or “civil union” to the union between same sex couples. This will allow them to be placed on the same insurance policies and even in some cases file state taxes together, but little other benefits are afforded to these types of unions, and the big question is “why are these unions allowed but only under a different title? ”. This calls to question the obvious. Why are the gays fighting for marriage?
Some states recognize it, so they can just go there and get married (or participate in a civil union ceremony) then go home to their states and live their lives. It makes sense in theory but the big problem is that while these states have taken the steps to allow equal protections to all of their citizens, the federal government refuses to recognize these marriages- essentially rendering them invalid. It is because of this, that the solution must lie in the hands of the Federal Government, if they do not make the change, then any change made will be insignificant and superficial at best.
In 1993 the Hawaiian Supreme Court ruled that denying marriage to same sex couples was unconstitutional. Uproar spread throughout the country as fear grew that this ruling would open the floodgates allowing gay marriage to be legal everywhere. As a precautionary move, in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into legislation. This put a federal ban on gay marriage, and is really where the battle begins. (“National Conference of State Legislatures”) In 2009 at the 111th congress, a bill was entered as a proposal to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
This act was called the Respect for Marriage Act. After some bureaucratic push and pull, in March 2011, this act was signed into legislation- officially ending the government’s long standing ban on state recognized same sex marriage. (“National Conference of State Legislatures”) While this act does not directly legalize or recognize gay marriage at the federal level, it does take away the only standing legal defense that federal courts were able to use in the many cases waged to allow gay couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
It is a move in the right direction for lawmakers to finally end the decades long discrimination of gay individuals and couples. While the apparent causes for the influx in gay marriage support is obvious, those not involved in the battle should understand why it is an issue that needs to be solved. Marriage is not only a union made between two people, but it comes with several rights and “rewards” that are afforded only to married couples. There is the obvious tax break that is available to those filing “Married” on their federal income tax returns.
The amount of money varies greatly depending on income, but it is a financial break nonetheless. There is also the issue of insurance, both health and life. While most states allow those in “domestic partnerships” to be placed on each other’s insurance, this is not guaranteed by all states and in all circumstances. This means that a gay couple cannot be on each other’s insurance. There are also issues of parenting and adoption. Each state has a different variety of laws, though some do not allow those not married to become adoptive parents.
A very large and concerning issue is that of Social Security Survivor Benefits. If a man or woman works all of their lives and pays into the Social Security system and then dies, the money is left to no one because the Federal Government refuses to accept the legal marriages performed in individual states. (“Center For American Progress”) According to the Center for American Progress, there is a total of “1,138 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges.” (“Center For American Progress”)
That is a total of 1,138 rights and benefits that require a legal marriage to be considered; which is also a total of 1,138 rights and benefits currently being denied to American citizens. The effects are obviously endless, and the solution should be obvious. To properly come up with a solution to this problem, the government must look at the opinions of the majority, coupled with the rights of the minority and find a happy medium.
If the government removed all ties to the term “marriage”, it would then be enabling the religious majority to continue protecting the “holy union” they so desperately feel the need to protect. This solution would require very little funding, or extreme measures, rather would just take some tricky new wording of the laws to cast a new shadow of fairness upon the nation. This idea makes plenty of sense when you break it down. In order for any man and women to legally be married, they must go to the clerk of court for their locality, and obtain a marriage license.
This marriage license is a legal document signed by an employee of a government agency, therefore making marriage a government institution instead of a religious one. There is no currently no requirement that makes it mandatory to get married in a church, or by a member of a church, which goes to reason that a couple can be married without their union being religious. So the government must then decide, do we strip the traditionalists and religious groups of their “holy union” and create an uproar which will no doubt further clog the courts with cases seeking a repeal?
Or should we remove our ties to this union and create our own union that is available to all citizens and would therefore afford them all of the protections and benefits of being “married”. When it is put this way, the answer is obvious. The federal government can rearrange the terminology of the laws in place today and replace all of the use of the term “marriage” with a new term. It could be “civil union” for example. This would, in turn, allow all men and women in the United States to enter into this type of union, and be protected by all laws that “marriage” currently affords to those married.
The traditionalists and religious individuals that want to desperately protect the “sanctity of marriage” can still do so without having any infringement on their religious beliefs. They can still participate in marriage ceremonies but instead of picking up a “marriage license” they would need to also obtain a “civil union license” in order to have their marriage protected by the government. While this idea may put most of the opposition at bay by allowing them to keep their “marriage”, others who were not previously opposed to gay marriage might consider it too much of a change.
For a country that has been “getting married” for hundreds of years, it is unreasonable to expect all of the people to suddenly change their way of thinking. To start having “civil union planners” instead of “wedding planners”, for example, is just asking too much of the people. The government must then ask the people, “is asking the American people to change their normal ways of thinking to allow for their fellow men and women to be treated fairly under the law really asking too much? ” When it is a matter of something being too hard, or too much change; individual rights and freedoms should always come first.
Our constitution was drafted in such a way to allow for future leaders to change or amend it as the changing needs of the nation are being met. There was a time when women were not allowed to vote. It had to be a big change for the people to suddenly change everything into such a way that would allow women to vote. There were times when whites were allowed to keep segregated from blacks and to deny blacks the use of public institutions. Laws were written to change these practices as well. People fought and died over the implementation of this new legislation, but it was put in place nonetheless.
The government has asked a lot more of the people in regards to changing popular ways of thinking, and all was done in the name of equality. In 2011 this should be an easy task to accomplish. As stated earlier in this essay, times have changed, views are more liberal. Yes it will be an adjustment, but it will be one that will benefit all people eventually. The ideas as to why gay marriage has now become an issue in the forefront of American politics are endless. The effects of the constant denial of rights to American citizen are obvious and in devastating numbers.
There is a plausible solution to the problem that will protect not only the wants, but the needs of several different groups of citizens. The resolution of those against it is so strong, as is that of those that carry favorable beliefs. The government has taken steps- both large and small to afford more protections to more people, but it hasn’t been enough. There needs to be new laws written, ones that can allow for all people to feel as though they are American and deserve American freedom. Studies have been done, research compiled, statistics published, and only one answer has been derived. Gay marriage is an issue, and it will not go away.