Samuel Kerr looks at movements toward marriage equality in the United States.
It is looking likely that the Supreme Court of the United States will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which has been used to explicitly frame marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. This will effectively mean that, in the eyes of the US government, a same sex couple has the same legal status as married heterosexual couples – thereby ending the active discrimination of certain US citizens by their government.
Section 3 of DOMA has been found unconstitutional in eight federal courts on issues including bankruptcy, public employee benefits and immigration. The Supreme Court has heard an appeal in the case of United States v. Windsor, with oral arguments on March 27, 2013. While we still await the court’s final decision, it is likely that DOMA will be struck down. This would make a definitive statement about the constitutionality of anti-gay marriage legislation.
Naturally, this has resulted in an eruption of dialogue from both sides of the argument, who have turned on each other with vitriolic malice. Facebook and Twitter have become forums of moral arbitration, and one cannot fail to notice the usually blue home feed being dominated by red equals signs as people show their support for marriage equality. It is therefore with trepidation that I wade into this debate, knowing that I will likely offend someone. However, this can’t be helped.
Marriage equality must be viewed through the prism of legality. It should not be equated to religious experience or divine will. The reason that this is the case is that it will not currently affect religious institutions.
Here in the United States, there is no suggestion of forcing religious bodies to conduct marriage ceremonies that are contrary to their beliefs. This is the same in the UK. If this was not the case then I would protest it most vehemently. The Supreme Court ruling will not even force the 33 states that have passed laws against gay marriage to adopt the measure. All this decision will change will be the status of gay married couples in the United States. They will finally be recognised as equal to their heterosexual counterparts in the eyes of the federal government, and from a socially liberal perspective this can only be a positive thing.
The great thing about the United States is the fact that all citizens are equal by virtue of being Americans. Therefore, to have a system in place that suggests that gay and lesbian couples, who have made a vow of commitment to each other, are somehow lesser than heterosexual couples, is state-sponsored madness – and the court is right to strike it down.
For the religiously-inclined, marriage is sacrosanct because a sacred vow has been taken before God. Legal recognition of gay marriage does not change this. The commitment that traditional marriage offers is no less special because others have now been given an opportunity to do the same.
The idea that marriage is about love and commitment is a relatively modern one. Marriage used to be little more than a legal contract concerned with property and wealth. Love played only a minor part. If you were in love with your spouse then that was considered an added bonus. However, we have thankfully moved on from this and a positive stance towards marriage equality is a step in the same direction. For the opponents of marriage equality this is unlikely to satisfy, but I would hope that those opponents who are married themselves can look at their own relationships and see that it is not wrong to allow others the chance to be happy.
Anyone who spends enough time with same sex couples will realise that the commitment and love that exists in these relationships is no less than that shown by straight couples. To give them the same legal rights and recognition as heterosexual couples is not unreasonable in the supposedly compassionate 21st century.