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The history of gay marriage spans decades, even centuries of undocumented ceremonies and commitments. While I would like to delve into the long history, I must stick to modern accounting of gay marriage and government’s role in this record keeping. Denmark became a trailblazing country, leading the way for the concept of registering same-sex couples in what we know as a civil union. This pioneering country voted on a law to register domestic partnership of gay couples on May 26, 1989. The law went into force on October 1, 1989. Shortly after the groundbreaking decision in Denmark, other European countries followed suit with registration for gay partnerships. The following countries have some type of registration for homosexual partnerships: Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, The Netherlands, France, Belgium, Portugal, Germany, and Finland.
While European countries were progressively trying to resolve the gay marriage issue, in the United States there were struggles to support gay marriage as a governmental approved institution. The first success was in Hawaii on December 3, 1996 at 11:03 a.m., when a lower court found that the constitution of the state of Hawaii was discriminating against homosexuals (known as the Hawaii 6). After this ruling Hawaii’s government set up a program offering “Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationships” where 62 spousal rights on the state level were given to homosexuals.
This was a short-lived victory.
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To date, there have been some small advances towards same-sex civil unions in the United States. Vermont in December of 1999, and Connecticut on April 20, 2005, set into law that civil unions for gay couples would now be available statewide. Following these civil union decisions, New York State on April 7, 2005, made it state law that the cities of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Brighton, Ithica, and Nyack will respect gay marriages and/or civil unions from other jurisdictions.
In a prolonged act of civil disobedience the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, issued over 4000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples during the early part of 2004. Newsom argued that California’s state constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law, precludes discrimination against gays and lesbians who want to get married. In February of 2004 Newsom stated, “A little more than a month ago, I swore to uphold California’s Constitution, which clearly outlaws all forms of discrimination. Denying basic rights to members of our community will not be tolerated.”
As the world opens its eyes to social change, there are some places that offer full and equal marriage to gay couples. The Netherlands on April 1, 2001, set into law that gay marriage legal for Dutch citizens and legal residents. Two years later, Belgium on January 30, 2003, passed legal gay marriage for Belgium citizens. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, legalized gay marriage in the provinces of: Ontario (June 10, 2003), British Columbia (July 8, 2003), Quebec (March 18, 2004), Yukon Territory (July 14, 2004), Manitoba (September 16, 2004), Nova Scotia (September 24, 2004), Saskatchewan (November 5, 2004), and finally Newfoundland and Labrador (December 21, 2004). In Canada, gay marriage is available to anyone, residents and non-residents. However there is a stipulation. To obtain a divorce a partner would have to reside in Canada for one year. Finally, we come to the one state that has stood up to national criticism in favor for gay marriage, Massachusetts on May 17, 2004, was the first to offer legal gay marriage on the state level; the federal government system refuses to recognize any of these marriages.
There are many people who oppose gay marriage. Some of their arguments against gay marriage are as follows. Gay marriage is an abomination according to the bible, because God doesn’t approve of homosexuality. Gay marriage promotes other interest groups to change marriage laws such as polygamists and people who will want to marry their animals. Amazingly, Stanley Kurtz, a scholar at Stanford University argues that gay marriage will shatter “traditional marriage” because all gay men are promiscuous. “Traditional marriage” is only for heterosexual people to procreate, because they are the only ones who can create a family. Dr. Kurtz also states that gay marriage will corrupt the straight neighbors to become gay and leave their spouses for an alternative lifestyle.
In response to this opposition, there is a separation of church and state so no matter what your religious beliefs are, you cannot deny someone a government sanctioned license based on what the bible says. Gay marriage and polygamy are two separate issues and comparing the two makes the argument irrelevant. During the civil rights movement of the 60’s this comparison was also made of interracial marriages and polygamists. That gay men are promiscuous is a sweeping overstatement, and the same could be said about men in general. So if this is true of all men, should straight men be held to the same standard? If so, then adultery and/or cheating would become grounds for denying a straight couple a marriage license.
Traditional marriage is only for people who can procreate. If this were true, then infertile/sterile couples, asexual couples, and women who are menopausal should be refused marriage licenses as well. Finally, the opponents are scared that gay marriage will corrupt the straight neighbors to lead alternative lifestyles. Call me crazy, but being gay isn’t like the flu. You can’t catch it from someone. It’s not a game of “TAG! You’re gay!” If the neighbors are going to leave their spouses for an alternative lifestyle, then there was something wrong with their marriage to begin with and that has nothing to do with the gay neighbors.
There are 1049 legal reasons why gay couples would want marital status to be recognized by the government. Did you know that there are 1049 laws that are given to married heterosexual couples? These rights include: hospital care choices for yourself and your partner; power of attorney for you and your partner; right to visit your partner in the ICU; rights to retirement plan decisions; rights to survivor benefits from social security, and the list goes on. To deny the right to marry is a violation of an elementary human right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Keeping gay marriage illegal also violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. According to the American Civil Liberties Union in 1996 “The law [against same-sex marriage] discriminates on the basis of sex because it makes one’s ability to marry depend on one’s gender.” The ACLU goes on to say, “Classifications which discriminate on the basis of gender must be substantially related to some important government purpose...Tradition by itself is not an important government purpose. If it were, sex discrimination would be quite permissible; discrimination against women has a pedigree in tradition at least as long and time honored as that of discrimination against same-sex couples in marriage.”
Gay marriage would be a positive change for the social climate of the United States. Some personal reasons that gay couples list for wanting to marry are that they want to enrich each other’s lives; they want to commit and profess their love to one person; they want to emotionally mature and grow with the person of their dreams; they want to learn about life with someone they love; they want to experience the world and create wonderful memories with their partners; and they believe that gay marriage benefits society. Stable gay couples invest in real estate and pay taxes. They help fund public schools with taxes yet won’t use resources by sending children to these schools. Marriage will allow for society to know gay people as human beings. It will help to take the weirdness away for a new understanding and awareness of gay couples.
In all of this controversy to protect the traditional institution of heterosexual marriage, the government has not provided one good reason (other than a religious argument [separation of church and state]) to deny gay couples the right to marry. Homosexuals are not asking for special rights or even separate but equal rights. They only want the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts receive.