issue guide: Same Sex Marriage

The Skinny

see also background & facts, pro & con, links

What's Up

In November 2003, a Massachusetts’ Supreme Court decision legitimizing gay marriages sparked a nationwide debate that had same-sex couples running to the altar and state governments scrambling to define who could and who could not get hitched. President Bush brought the debate to DC by endorsing a change to the Constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriages. So far there’s been more bark than bite to the national debate, with the status of DC's position on gay marriages little altered since '03. But at the state level, the pandora’s box of same-sex marriages was flung wide open; while most states immediately moved to limit or ban same-sex marriage, a growing number inched toward approval of same-sex partnerships and marriages.

What the Debate's About

What the debate is not about is whether same-sex couples can get married in a religious ceremony; that’s out of the states’ hands and no one’s really talking about it. It is about civic marriages and the rights and benefits states give a couple when they say “I do.”

The arguments for allowing gay marriage look at the things married couples get that unmarried couples don’t, such as Social Security benefits and hospital visitation rights, as well as the “expressive value” of being able to say “we’re married,” which has more to do with principle than goods you can grasp. Opponents point out that gay couples can reap the same benefits as married couples using other civil laws besides marriage, and that protecting the heterosexuality of marriage has both moral and societal perks.

Sifting through the material benefits of being married can be a messy matter. In 2004, the GAO (General Accounting Office) found 1,138 national laws where it mattered if you were married or not (each state also has laws of its own that benefit wedded couples). Bush and his supporters on this issue stress that they are not trying to stop gay couples from living together. They say private contracts - name changes, wills, health proxies and such - can give gay couples nearly all benefits that the law gives straight ones.

While some critics of gay marriage don’t seem to have an interest in denying benefits to gay couples, they are concerned with both the moral and societal harm they say would come with gay marriages. Here, the “evidence” on both sides is murky, each side pointing to studies that prove the positive or negative impact of letting gay couples form state-approved families. Gay couples also warn about the moral and societal harm of not permitting same-sex marriages, saying that to do so denies equality to gay citizens - both legally and symbolically.

Where Things Stand Now

With little chance the current Congress would move to ban same sex marriage on a nationwide basis, the gay marriage debate continues to be purely a state-level affair. While most states have banned same sex marriage - either by law or as part of their constitution - six states have now sanctioned same sex nuptials, and even more have given limited rights to same sex couples.

Updated June, 2009

Did we miss something, let some slant slip in, lose a link - or do you just have something to say? Drop a line below! In the spirit of open dialogue, cJ asks you keep it civil, keep it real and keep it focused on the message, not the messenger. See our policy page for more on what that all means.

I voted for same sex

I voted for same sex marriges because though I might not agree with that lifestyle I dont have to live it either.  Who and I to judge what you do with your life in a free country?  Same Sex marriges dont hurt me, they wont attack my children or me while I am on vacation and they wont drop a bomb on the country that I love.  There are more things to worry about than this.  I think that if a couple wants to be married no matter if its same sex or otherwise then they should have all of the bennefits and consiquences of being married, having children and going though a divorce if you decide to split.  I know three couples that have been married then split and simply move to another state where the marrige is not recognized.  One woman then married a man, so what about the other marrige?  Is it still legal?  What happens if same sex marriges become recognized nationwide?  Will she be at risk for being legally married to more than one person?  Its a twisted circle because no one knows the amswers.

a random Joe (not verified) | February 10, 2009 - 11:15am

They say private contracts

They say private contracts - name changes, wills, health proxies and
such - can give gay couples nearly all benefits that the law gives
straight ones.


How is this not a reincarnation of the unconstitutioanl "separate but equal" principle? 

Divorce lawyer (not verified) | January 23, 2009 - 2:37pm

why marriage?

I'm in a same sex marriage only because it would give me more rights in Japan during my stay there. It didn't after all, they changed the law, but that's another story. I've been thinking: if we call it something else and it will give you all the rights of a marriage, do we really need to get married? You can have your own ceremony in every way you like it. I think the majority of americans wouldn't have a problem with that and everybody (well, almost everybody) would be happy.

And then allow legal foreigners with the same kind of union their rights too!!! 

a random Joe (not verified) | September 23, 2008 - 7:25am

Majority protecting the minority?

When has a minority ever been able to count on the majority (or the "haves" protecting the "have-nots") for protection of equal rights? Just because something may not be overwhelmingly popular, does not mean it is not a valid infraction against the freedoms of our constutution (for all). The heterosexual custodians of marriage have not exactly been saints in holding the institution in high regards ("Sanctity of marriage"....really???? Come on! Heterosexuals change marriage partners like they change their underwear... i.e. A LOT!)?. Let the gays have their chance too. This is not the 1950's, people! Wake up and let freedom ring. If you are frightened by the "moral" aspect of this, then you need to befriend a law abiding, tax-paying, child-rearing gay American. It is not so easy to deny an actual person that you respect and value who you witness everyday being an outstanding parent and citizen. That is what is really immoral.

a random Joe (not verified) | January 27, 2008 - 10:20am

Same-Sex Marriage

You ask, << Did we miss something? >> You might mention in your article on same-sex marriage that in every state where gay marriage has been on the ballot it has been defeated by huge margins. The closest margin was in Oregon, where gay marrige lost by 58-42 percent. In every other state, it has received less than 30 percent of the vote, and in some cases right around 20 percent. I think pointing out these facts would give an important perspective to the debate and would show that the advocates for gay marriage are in a distinct minority.

a random Joe (not verified) | October 5, 2007 - 8:27am

So you think the fact that

So you think the fact that these measures have been defeated easily in most cases is relevant here? Am I understanding that correctly? What do these defeats have to do with the validity of the for or against argument?

a random Joe (not verified) | October 19, 2007 - 11:42am