It’s important to participate in the dialogue on issues we believe to be important in our efforts to affect change. I believe that anyone should be allowed to marry the person they love, no matter what state they live in. Sadly, that’s not the case in most of the U.S.
Here are some things that get me: What if you spent your life with someone you wanted marry, but weren’t legally allowed? What if your loved one was injured or sick and in the hospital, and you weren’t allowed to visit them because you didn’t count as a family member? What if you weren’t allowed to file joint tax returns with your partner? What if you were denied rights given to a specific part of the U.S. population–but not you? Hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples experience this discrimination.
I have to admit that while doing a little research, it dawned on me that I didn’t know what in the first place had ever determined that it was NOT legal to marry someone of the same sex. The answer, as to be expected, is not so simple, but here is a little background if you’re interested (it get’s technical in parts…) The movement to obtain marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples began in the late 1960’s in the U.S. In 1970, gay activist Jack Baker filed a suit after being denied a marriage license to marry another man, and in Baker v. Nelson the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples did not violate the constitution. Baker later changed his name to Pat Lynn McConnell and legally married his male partner in 1971. Fast forward to 1993 in Hawaii, where three same-sex couples were bringing a case against the state, arguing that the prohibition of same-sex marriages violated the state constitution. The trial court dismissed the case, and it went to the Supreme Court of Hawaii, which in 1996 ruled that denying marriage to same-sex couples constituted discrimination based on sex, thereby violating the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee. The court ordered the state of Hawaii to prove that it had a “compelling” reason to deny such marriages.  It was this very decision that then prompted the U.S. federal government to pass the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA was the first thing that actually codified the federal government’s lack of recognition of same-sex marriages, and it did this by defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. DOMA was passed by both houses of Congress by huge majorities, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law on September 21st, 1996. This marked the first time that the federal government had it’s own definition of marriage–prior to DOMA, the federal government did not define marriage and accepted any marriage that was accepted by a state even if that marriage wasn’t recognized by all states, as with interracial marriage before 1967.
A little more about DOMA: There two (of three) sections that are important to know about. Section 2 reserves the power of each state to determine whether it will honor the marriage of same-sex couples married in another state. Section 3 defines the words marriage (you already know how), and spouse (as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife”), thereby codifying the non-recognition of same-sex marriage for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, social security survivor’s benefits, joint tax returns, etc.  The Obama Administration has given us hope in spite of DOMA. A letter sent from Attorney General Eric Holder to the Speaker of the House John Boehner, on February 23rd, 2011 states that the executive branch determined Section 3, as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, to be in violation of the 5th amendment’s equal protection component. What that has come to mean in practice so far is that the Obama administration will continue to enforce DOMA, but will not defend it in court.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 6 states, Washington D.C, Oregon’s Coquille Tribe, and Washington’s Squamish Tribe. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2004, and was followed by Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, D.C., the Coquille Tribe, and the Squamish Tribe. The states of Washington and Maryland have started on the path toward legalizing same-sex marriages, and voter referendums are scheduled for November. In California, same-sex couples could get married from June 16th, 2008-November 4th, 2008, when Prop. 8, prohibiting same sex marriages, was passed. The state recognizes all same sex marriages from around the world that took place before November 4th, 2008. Maryland recognizes all same sex marriages from other jurisdictions. Maine approved same-sex marriage in 2009, but the law was almost immediately repealed in a voter referendum. This fall they’ll vote again. In New Hampshire, Representative David Bates filed a repeal bill in January 2011 right after the Republicans took control over the legislature, but house leaders decided to put it off until a future date because they had more important things to focus on, such as the budget. Recent polls show that 59% of New Hampshire voters are strongly or somewhat opposed to the repeal, and 32% are in support of it. Most recently, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey vetoed a bill that was passed by the state legislature to legalize gay marriage last month. The state legislature has until January 2014 to override the veto, and it has to be by a two thirds majority.  Many were disappointed by this decision, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, who called the veto a “shameful act hidden behind the guise of a public referendum,” and said that Christie had “planted his feet on the wrong side of history.”  That leaves 44 states, as long as New Hampshire doesn’t reverse it’s decision, that do not give same sex couples the same rights as everyone else.
So, what are some actions we can take? To start, voice your opinion, write about it, talk about it. If you live in a state where you are able to vote on the issue, go out and vote! Make sure you update your address if you are registered to vote, or sign up if you aren’t. You can sign a petition for same-sex marriage (there is one here on the Human Rights Campaign’s website, or you can create your own (dosomething.org has tips on how to write or start a petition here). Write a letter to your state senator or representative letting them know how you feel about same-sex marriage (you elected them, voice your opinion!). Contact the white house–President Obama vowed to fight for gay and lesbian rights–keep reminding him of his promise! Support gay schools, such as the Hetrick-Martin Institute, whose mission is to alleviate harassment and violence directed toward queer youth. To support Hetrik-Martin, contact the NYC Department of Ed. You could also provide funding to the Harvey Milk School. Write to gay-friendly churches letting them know that you are in support–one friendly email goes a long way in confirming gay clergymen. You could volunteer for an LGBT rights organization (there are many different ones to choose from–Lambda Legal, The Trevor Project, The Mazzoni Center for a local Philly organization–choose one whose mission you feel you can really get behind). You can also lobby for gay adoption–the American Bar just recently agreed to endorse this cause and lobby state for equal adoption rights. If you have other ideas, please post!
 New York Times: “Homosexual Wins Fight to Take Bar Examination in Minnesota,” January 7, 1973
 H.R. 3396 Defense of Marriage Act
 Attorney General Holder’s Letter to Speaker Boehner on DOMA Appeal: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49404879/Attorney-General-Holder-s-Letter-to-John-Boehner-on-DOMA-Appeal
 Chris Christie says no to N.J. gay marriage bill, would agree to strengthen civil union law, MaryAnn Spoto, The Star-Ledger