Who else loves hypocrisy? For years, straight people could get hitched after one crappy picnic-date while LGBTQ+ individuals in long-term relationships were accused of “ruining the sanctity of marriage.” Because clearly they were lacking something three-time divorcée Karen had. Finally, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. officially called B.S.
Marriage Equality Timeline
1993 – Hawaii’s Supreme Court rests in Baehr v Lewin that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates the Constitution
1996 – President Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law
2000 – Vermont recognizes same-sex unions
2003 – Massachusetts Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage
2009-2013 – Sixteen states legalize marriage equality
2013 – United States v Windsor overturns DOMA
2015 – Obergefell v Hodges legalizes same-sex marriage across the nation
Everything Leading up to Marriage Equality
From DOMA to Obergefell
So how did the U.S. finally come to the realization that LGBT+ people deserve equal rights? Well, it definitely didn’t happen overnight.
Hawaii got the ball rolling in 1993. Three same-sex couples approached the court in a case known as Baehr v Lewin. They argued that the state’s refusal to issue them marriage licenses violated their rights. The Court agreed. Hawaii’s Supreme Court ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
The first major success set off a wave of celebration across the country. LGBT+ activists recognized that because of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, hope remained alive for a nation-wide transformation. The Full Faith and Credit Clause of Article V, Section I states that “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each state to the public Acts, Records and judicial Proceedings of every other state." In other words, “If it happened in Hawaii, it could be legally required to happen in other states as well.
Unfortunately, homophobes weren’t as stupid as they were bigoted. Their response? DOMA.
President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in 1996. The Defense of Marriage Act (ironic name, no?) prevented same-sex couples from collecting federal benefits. Because, you know, that’s cool and not totally evil.
Luckily, DOMA made enough activists’ blood boil that real change started to be seen in certain states. In ’99, California passed a domestic partnership statute. In 2000, Vermont legalized civil unions. Then in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Goodridge v Department of Public Health.
Between 2009-2013, 16 states legalized marriage equality, with others stuck in legal battles trying to make it happen.
One of the marriage cases concerning DOMA was United States v. Windsor. Petitioner Edith Windsor married her wife Thea Spyer in Ontario in 2007. Following a court decision in 2008, the state of New York agreed to recognize their union. Spyer died in 2009 and left her entire estate to Windsor.
However, DOMA prevented Windsor from claiming federal state tax exemption from surviving spouses—something straight couples can do all the time without issue. In a 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court ultimately sided with Windsor. The Court agreed that DOMA violated the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee.
And with that, DOMA was repealed.
That leads us to Obergefell v Hodges, a case so substantial even non-law grads know it (even if you don’t know you know it). Not ringing a bell? You may know Obergefell as the last domino in the U.S. marriage debate.
Here’s what went down: in 2015, same-sex couples in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee sued their respective state agencies challenging that the states’ bans on same-sex marriage violated the Constitution. Specifically, they argued the bans violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In another 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court finally settled the fight for marriage equality. The Court rested deny the fundamental liberty to marry to same-sex couples did in fact violate the Constitution. With Obergefell’s decision, same-sex marriage became legal across the United States of America. Hallelujah.
So what laws and governing doctrines finally helped convince the courts? Montclair State University professor Danné Davis helped shed some light. “According to Amnesty International, a global movement advancing human rights since 1961, consenting adults have the ‘right to marry and to found a family’,” said Davis. “In another governing document, Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibits gender and sexual orientation discrimination.”
Davis continued, “To that end, if heterosexual or ‘straight’ people— (as opposed to curved or irregular humans???)—have the right to marry, then people who live beyond the expected woman-man relational binary also have the right to marry. In other words, marriage is afforded to human beings be they lesbians, gays, pansexuals, non-gender conforming, beneath and beyond the ‘cultural rainbow.’"
Only hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, President Barack Obama delivered the following speech in support of the Court’s ruling:
Marriage Equality in the Rest of the World
The U.S. finally rang the rainbow wedding bells across the nation, but we still have work to do. Less than 15% of countries recognize same-sex marriage.
The arguments against marriage quality around the world echo the ones heard in the States: religion, the need for procreative relationships, preserving the “sanctity” of marriage. And, of course, you can’t forget the completely logical argument that allowing two people of the same sex to marry is a slippery slope to allowing people to marry animals. Completely logical.
Luckily, people have been seeing through these fallacies more and more. The Netherlands came to their senses first in 2000. Since then 27 other countries followed suit, including Australia in December 2017. Here’s everyone who’s jumped on board as of today:
- South Africa
- New Zealand
- United States
Australia legalizing marriage equality sparked Australian politician Tim Wilson’s proposal video which went viral:
Twenty-eight countries? Is that really it?
Well, yes and no. A few others allow same-sex marriage with restrictions, and some others have it in the works. Mexico, for example, allows same-sex marriage in certain jurisdictions. Armenia, Estonia and Israel recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-country.
Taiwan also jumped to the center of the marriage equality convo last year. In May of 2017, Taiwan’s highest court ruled that current laws preventing members of the same sex from marrying were unconstitutional.
The courts mandated that parliament must amend current laws or create new ones within the next two years. That’s the good news. The bad news? The new laws could still be restrictive and discriminatory to LGBT+ folks, just in a less obvious way. However, the Taiwan discussion leaves us with a hopeful question: Will other countries in the region soon follow suit?
According to OutRight Action International’s Deputy Executive Director Maria Sjodin, yes and no. “I think for a lot of LGBT movements around the world, marriage equality is not necessarily what the people are fighting for,” said Sjodin. “If the measure [of progress] is marriage equality, then here is still quite a long way to go, but if the measure is more about acceptance of LGBT people, I definitely see more progress happening in Asia as well as in other regions.”
10 Reasons You Should Fight for Marriage Equality
“Despite the claim that sexual diversity and LGBTQ matters are beyond the scope and grasp of young children, most youth know about queer family diversity from personal experience,” explained Davis. “Everyone benefits when students see themselves and their community reflected in the curricula.”
“The amount of discrimination against homosexual couples trying to adopt is outrageous,” said University of Michigan student Ryan Cole. “My future partner and I can now adopt in the US, but it would be great for LGBT couples all around the globe to be able to give children loving homes too.” Cole added, “If for no other reason, do it for the kids.”
“Marriage existed before the concept of countries and it’ll exist after—we should all get to be in on it,” said statistician and Portland native Celina McDowell.
“If one person in this world deserves the ability, the right, and the privilege to have a marriage, a coming together based on the word love, commitment, values, tax breaks, or to share one’s life with someone then all should have that right,” said Michael Knote of international non-profit Have a Gay Day. “There should be no separation in rights when it comes to color, gender, faith, sexual orientation, or anything else. We may not all believe the same way or follow the same paths but all humanity should have the same opportunities to share in what is Love.”
How wild is that? Turns out that when a woman marries another woman or a man marries another man, the world keeps turning and nobody spontaneously combusts. And as Davis eloquently put it, “Absent any harm or foul, grown-ups should be able to live and love as they wish.”
Literally. Homosexuality is still illegal in 72 countries and punishable by death in 10. “For minorities, especially same sex couples facing discrimination, harassment and mortal peril, a marriage recognized and protected by the government of the country in which they reside is the most effective form of providing safety and security to the lives and liberty of these at-risk families,” said Polk State College Political Science and Humanities graduate Ra Logan.
Yep, according to San Francisco native Kelly Mathers, her sexual orientation does not mean she is of a different species or deserving of lesser rights. “It’s crazy, right?” said Mathers. “Turns out you can be a lesbian and human, too!”
“I wish that people would speak out against the murder of trans women of color as much as they show up for marriage equality,” said secretary of Cornell University’s LGBT+ Alumni Association Hutch Hutchinson. “Sure, it’s a great step for the community, to be seen as equal counterparts with the same rights as straight people, but I find it hard to celebrate ‘equality’ when trans, non-binary and queer humans remain underserved and overlooked within the greater LGBTQ+ community.”
“There are movements [for LGBT rights] almost in every single country now. That is something that didn’t exist if you go back 10, 20, 30 years,” said Sjodin. “You can see that same thing here in the U.S.—if people hadn’t been fighting for marriage equality or fighting for trans rights, this change would not have come automatically. There’s nothing automatic or given that progress on these issues will happen. It happens because people are standing up and saying, ‘I want my rights, too.’”
When asked why we should fight for marriage equality, University of Portsmouth psychology student Char Mantle summed it up perfectly. “I'll pose a different question—why shouldn't we?” asked Mantle, who identifies as pansexual. “If your answer is homophobic - that's why we have to fight. If you cannot think of one - then it should be a thing already.” Well said.
So keep fighting the good fight with these LGBTQ+ organizations, and don't let our current governmental bigotry get you down.
Main Photo Courtesy of Lauren and Linda Dalton-Stern.