Short Answers to Big Questions
Here are some basic questions and answers to get you started:
Why does our country need "gay marriage"?
We don't. The term "gay marriage" implies that same-sex couples are asking for rights or privileges that married couples do not have, or for something lesser or different. What gay people are seeking is the legal and equal freedom to marry the person they love and care for, just as non-gay Americans do. The Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and the right to marry belongs to us all.
Evan Wolfson explains why we don't say "gay marriage":
Why do same-sex couples need the right to marry?
Committed same-sex couples share the same responsibilities as married couples. However, without the freedom to marry, they do not receive the same recognition or protections for their families as married couples. In fact, same-sex couples and their kids face tremendous discrimination. For example, lesbians and gay men who have been their partner's primary caretaker are often denied:
- hospital visitation when there's been an accident or illness, or
- the ability to obtain "family" health coverage, or
- taxation and inheritance rights, or
- even protection in case the relationship ends.
Sometimes they see their children taken away, or their role as parents denied. Regardless of the fact that they have taken responsibility for their children's and their partner's well-being, both economically and emotionally, legally their status is, at best, that of a roommate. Denied the freedom to marry, same-sex couples and their kids are deprived of literally thousands of legal and economic protections and responsibilities, as well as the emotional, social, and spiritual meaning that marriage has for many.
Why change the definition of marriage?
Ending the exclusion of gay people from marriage would not change the "definition" of marriage, but it would remove a discriminatory barrier from the path of people who have made a personal commitment to each other and are now ready and willing to take on the responsibilities and legal commitment of marriage.
This is not the first time our country has struggled because of exclusion from and discrimination in marriage. Previous chapters in American history have seen:
- race discrimination in marriage (ended only in 1967),
- laws making wives legally inferior to husbands (changed as late as the 1970s and 1980s),
- resistance to allowing people to end failed or abusive marriages through divorce (fought over in the 1940s and 1950s), and
- even refusal to allow married and unmarried people to make their own decisions about whether to use contraception or raise children (decided in 1965).
In each of these struggles, opponents of equality claimed that the proposed change was "against the definition of marriage" and "against God's will." Many of the same claims are made today by opponents now seeking to prevent loving same-sex couples from taking on the legal commitment of marriage.
Fortunately, our country rejected the "sky is falling" claims of opponents of equality and made marriage a more inclusive and fair commitment of equals. Today we realize that government discrimination in marriage is wrong, and that the choice of a marriage partner belongs to the committed couple, not the politicians or pressure groups.
Evan Wolfson talks about the history of marriage:
Isn't marriage really about procreation?
No. Many non-gay people marry and cannot or do not have children. And many gay men and lesbians do have children but have been denied the right to raise those children within a marital relationship. Legally and in reality, marriage is best understood as a relationship of emotional and financial interdependence between two people who make a public commitment. Many people wanting to get married—gay or non-gay—wish to be parents; many others do not. The choice belongs to the couple, not the state.
What if my religion opposes same-sex relationships?
This is not about forcing any church to perform or extend religious recognition to any marriages it doesn't want to. This is about the right to the civil marriage license issued by the state, which religious groups should not interfere with (just as the state should not interfere with religious ceremonies one way or the other). Of course, many lesbians and gay men are active in their respective religion, of which some do and do not recognize and support their loving unions and commitments.
Evan Wolfson discusses the place of religion regarding ending the exclusion of gay couples from marriage:
Why aren't domestic partnerships or civil unions good enough?
Rather than ending marriage discrimination outright—the only way to provide equality—an increasing number of states are creating a parallel mechanism either with civil unions, domestic partnerships or some lesser package of protections and responsibilities.
While these mechanisms do provide same-sex couples with important responsibilities and protections previously withheld, we are constantly witnessing the shortcomings of such separate and unequal institutions. Learn more.
Evan Wolfson explains why we can't call it [marriage] something else:
Isn't this a bad time to fight for the right to marry?
To some, there is never a good time to fight any battle for equal rights. But same-sex couples are lining up by the thousands all across the country seeking marriage licenses, while legislatures and courts are grappling with ending discrimination. Meanwhile, opposition groups for their own political purposes and broader anti-gay, anti-civil-rights, anti-choice, and anti-separation-of-church-and-state agendas, are trying to stampede politicians into denying not just marriage, but any equal protections or recognition for America's gay couples and families. As always in the struggle for human rights, the outcome will depend on how those of us committed to equal rights engage in the state-by-state and national legal and political battles under way and on how many fair-minded (non-gay) Americans speak up against discrimination and division.
Where do state laws stand now?
Visit our states page to find out where state laws stand now.
Evan Wolfson talks about the landscape of the marriage equality movement:
How can I help?
Whether you are gay or non-gay, you can help by speaking out against discrimination and in favor of equal responsibilities and rights for all Americans. By telling your personal stories and explaining to your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow citizens why you cannot remain silent at a crucial civil rights turning-point. By supporting or joining the broad-based coalition of gay and non-gay individuals and groups that support equal marriage. By telling politicians, judges, neighbors, and others that it is time to end discrimination throughout the United States.
Evan Wolfson talks about the recipe for social change and how people can help:
Most of the above answers were taken from Evan Wolfson's Why Marriage Matters: America, equality, and gay people's right to marry (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), pp. 189-193.
Learn more at The Marriage Basics.
Support the Respect for Marriage Act by contacting your legislative leaders and friends.(Link)
Make sure LGBT families and people are accurately counted in the 2010 census.(Link)
A new report shows the past 10 years have been a period of dramatic gains in equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in America, including sharp increases in the number of LGBT Americans protected by family recognition legislation at the state level. (Link)
Learn more about the 13th annual Freedom to Marry Week, February 8-14, 2010. (Link)