When I first started brainstorming ideas on a new blog I could start with a specific but broad enough theme to it, I assumed I would eventually broach the subject of marriage equality. I didn’t originally plan to talk about this topic so soon, or even as my first political entry. I think with marriage equality being at the forefront of the gay rights movement and with the fight reaching the Supreme Court that its important to discuss the topic now.
In March, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments about two major marriage equality questions. They first heard arguments about the voter-approved Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman only in California. The case is officially known has Hollingsworth v. Perry. It is unofficially called and more widely known as Proposition 8 or Prop 8. The following day, the justices heard oral arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act. Rulings on both cases are expected to be handed down sometime next month.
Opponents of marriage equality cite religion as the reason why same-sex couples should not be afforded the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. They also argue that the definition of marriage cannot be changed. A problem is that many religious people believe they have full ownership over marriage. Marriage actually predates many organized religions and same-sex marriage was not uncommon. Not until around 342 AD did rules start getting placed on marriage. The point here is that until religion came along, same-sex marriage was a common practice.
The problem with people claiming the definition of marriage cannot be changed is that the definition has changed throughout time. Marriage was once seen more of a transaction between a man and the bride’s father than about being in a loving and committed relationship. For a price, the man could trade something to the bride’s father for the right to marry her. The woman was seen more as property than an equal counterpart to the marriage. A woman was to be a baby-making machine that catered to the household needs. She would cook, clean, do laundry, etc. The man provided a house, money and protection for the woman. Today, in western culture, marriage is about one man and one woman having a loving, committed and equal footing on the relationship. The roles the man and woman have changed over time, therefore the definition of marriage has changed through time.
Several religions have also defined marriage in more than one way. The Bible defines marriage in many different ways, eight to be exact. Judaism also had multiple definitions of marriage, including polygyny. Islam also allows for polygyny. Hinduism used to allow for polygyny until 1955 and Buddhism believed in marriage to be more of a civil ritual compared to a religious rite.
People tend to forget that in American history, marriage is not only a religious institution. Marriage represents a civil contract and a religious union. The problem lies in the fact that marriage and religion have become so intertwined through history that it’s hard for most people to separate the two types of marriage from each other. The fight for marriage equality in the United States isn’t a fight for religious marriages, but a fight for civil marriage equality. We don’t live in a theocracy, or have a government that prefers one religion over another, or we’re not supposed to. Religion holds no bearing on the argument for or against marriage equality.
Since the defendants in Hollingsworth v Perry can’t argue that same-sex marriage would impede on religious principles, what have they decided to argue? They are arguing that same-sex couples can be discriminated against and treated differently than opposite-sex couples, because gay people can’t procreate. Yes, you read that right. Before the Supreme Court Justices, the defendants argued that same-sex marriage can be banned because a requirement for marriage must be about two people’s abilities to have biological children. The defendants were asked about infertile couples and older couples, but tried to sidestep those logical arguments. Marriage isn’t about procreation. Marriage is about two loving and consenting adults entering into a bond together.
The plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case are arguing that the defendants do not hold bearing to represent the state of California and do not have direct consequences as a result of Prop 8 being overturned. They also argued that banning same sex marriage is a violation of the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution.
While it’s a no-brainer where I stand on the issue, I don’t think this case is going to legalize marriage equality for the entire United States. The United States Supreme Court has a couple of rulings they can make at their disposal. The first, unlikely ruling is that banning same-sex marriage anywhere in the United States is unconstitutional and marriage equality must be provided to everyone. The second possible ruling is that states that have created a “separate but equal” type of state, in which gay people are provided with domestic partnerships or civil unions are unconstitutional and marriage equality must be given in those particular states only. These states would include California, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey. The third and more likely ruling will sort of be like a non-ruling in a sense. The Supreme Court Justices in a split 5-4 decision will uphold the ruling of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. In essence, same-sex marriage will be legalized in California and California only. They will agree with the lower court of appeal’s decision that the defendants do not have grounds to represent the state of California in the Prop 8 debate. I believe we will have to have another couple or group of couples appeal their denial of a marriage license in order to get the landmark decision we are all hoping for.
The Defense of Marriage Act is a law that was passed by the United States Congress in the 90s and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a democrat. The law defined marriage as between a man and a woman and gave states permission to not recognize marriage equality when two same-sex people are married in a state that recognizes marriage equality. I expect this court case to be a huge victory for equality in the United States. I’m a little less knowledgeable on what the specific vote will come down to, but I do believe the Defense of Marriage Act will be ruled unconstitutional. During the oral arguments in March, most of the Supreme Court justices seemed to question the constitutionality of DOMA. A ruling on this case is also expected sometime next month. It will likely be around the same time, if not at the same time when the justices rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. If DOMA is struck down as unconstitutional, this will put into place the federal government having to provide federal benefits to couples that are married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. We will start seeing states that do not already have a Defense of Marriage Act of their own passing these laws in order to make it so gay couples’ marriages in other states are not recognized in the state they are going to or may currently live in. I think gay couples that are not able to be married and get federal benefits simply based upon their state’s recognition of a “traditional” marriage will have better chances of getting a case to the Supreme Court and getting a more sweeping ruling in the future.
I hope to be able to write about these victories next month and I plan to eventually write a bit more extensively about same-sex marriage.