10 USA Same-Sex Marriage Facts - WMNews Ep. 34
10 USA Same-Sex Marriage Facts - WMNews Ep. 34

10 USA Same-Sex Marriage Facts - WMNews Ep. 34

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Sean Harris

The events on Capitol Hill of June 2015 will surely go down as some of the most significant civil rights moments of this generation. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we're counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about USA same-sex marriage.

10 USA Same-Sex Marriage Facts - WMNews Ep. 34

#10: When Did the Issue of Same-Sex Marriage Begin?
The History

U.S. same-sex marriage issues were first brought under significant scrutiny during the 1950s, but the push for change truly gathered pace in the ‘70s! Delivery of the August 1953 edition of “ONE Magazine” was delayed by the Post Office amid concerns that its front cover headline question, ‘Homosexual Marriage?’ was radical to the point of obscenity. The Post Office would then take major qualms with the October 1954 edition, featuring lesbian fiction entitled, “Sappho Remembered”, subsequently refusing to deliver ONE Magazine at all. ONE went all the way to the top, until the Supreme Court ruled in ‘One, Inc. v. Olesen’ that homosexual writings could not be banned from mailing under the guise of obscenity. Same-sex marriage continued as a controversial idea for over a decade, until a string of high profile court cases gave the issue even greater emphasis. 1970’s ‘Baker v. Nelson’ and 1973’s ‘Jones v. Hallahan’ heaped perhaps the most pressure onto U.S. lawmakers, despite neither cases resulting in a positive ruling for the homosexual cause - with the Kentucky Court of Appeals claiming in the latter that the lesbian relationship proposed was not a marriage.

#9: When Did the First Legal Same-Sex Marriage Occur in the U.S.?
The State

Resistance against same-sex marriage continued throughout America for the rest of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, before the first major homosexual victory was enjoyed in the state of Massachusetts. On May 17th, 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled, in ‘Goodridge v. the Department of Public Health’, that to only allow opposite-sex couples to marry was unconstitutional within the state laws. Establishing itself as the only sixth jurisdiction worldwide to legalize same-sex marriage (behind the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec), the actual ceremonies began happening the very same day. With couples lining up from midnight to obtain their marriage licenses, Tanya McCloskey (tonya) and Marcia Kadish (kay-dish) are regarded as the first to wed, having been together for eighteen years previously. They tied the knot in the city of Cambridge at 9:15 a.m... In the week that followed, almost 2500 same-sex couples applied for licenses in Massachusetts – as over 150 couples had travelled in from other states.

#8: Who Opposes Same-Sex Marriage?
The Conservatives

In terms of political opposition, the Republicans are America’s major political party that is providing the most resistance to same-sex marriage. In recent history, George W. Bush (the last Republican president as of July 2015) went on record on several occasions during his time in office to declare an anti-same-sex marriage stance. In fact, in February 2004, Bush actually announced his support for a constitutional amendment that would’ve actively banned same-sex marriage. 2015’s ruling that same-sex couples can marry nationwide was by no means a landslide victory, however, and opposition to the movement still remains. The 5-4 ruling shows how close the Capitol’s decision was, with Justice Anthony Kennedy proving to be the crucial majority vote. Conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote separate opinions, varying their degrees of opposition to the bill. Alito offered some of the clearest cut arguments, claiming ‘Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage’, while Chief Justice Roberts said the majority opinion was ‘an act of will, not legal judgment’. Many strongly religious organizations, ranging from Christian to Jewish, to Muslim and beyond, also oppose same-sex marriage in the U.S.

#7: Who Supports Same-Sex Marriage?
The Liberals

For the four against the 2015 legislation, however, there were five in favor of it! Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the aforementioned Anthony Kennedy in support of same-sex marriage. ‘No longer may this liberty be denied’, said Kennedy of the issue, describing marriage as a ‘keystone of [America’s] social order’ before underlining that the homosexual community could now enjoy ‘equal dignity in the eyes of the law’. Lead plaintiff in the historic ruling, Jim Obergefell (oh-brr-geuh-fell) (who was seeking recognition as the ‘surviving spouse’ on the death certificate of his late husband John Arthur), also received direct support from some of the nation’s leading politicians, most notably taking a congratulatory phone call from president Barrack Obama shortly after the ruling was made. Obama said that Obergefell’s leadership had ‘changed the country’, before summarizing his thoughts during a Rose Garden speech later that same day, hailing the decision as a ‘victory for America.’ In addition to many LGBT movements, other supporters of same-sex marriage throughout the years have also included members of the Democratic, Libertarian and Green parties.

#6: What Is the Defense of Marriage Act?
The Federal Law

In short, the Defense of Marriage Act is a piece of legislation that’s now been entirely overturned by the Supreme Court. Enacted September 21st, 1996, DOMA defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman at the federal level, allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages if they so chose, and in turn refuse to grant same-sex marriages the benefits enjoyed by heterosexual unions. DOMA, which was controversially signed by Democrat president Bill Clinton, also defined the word ‘spouse’ as a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife. Section 3 of the law was famously overturned in 2013, with the landmark ‘United States v. Windsor’. In this civil rights case, Edith Windsor fought to have DOMA reviewed as unconstitutional following the death of her partner Thea Spyer and the subsequent realization that she would not be recognized as a ‘spouse’, which meant she also wouldn’t be eligible for estate tax exemption, and was therefore compelled to pay over $350,000 to the IRS. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Windsor, and following 2015’s ruling on ‘Obergefell v. Hodges’, the remainder of the act is now deemed entirely unconstitutional.

#5: What Is the U.S. Public’s Opinion?
The Majority

Opinion polls indicate that the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is a fair reflection of U.S. public opinion in general. Since 2010, national polls have consistently shown majority support for same-sex marriage, with many votes creeping closer toward 60% by 2015. An August 2010 opinion poll conducted by CNN showed that 49% of voters believed that gay and lesbian couples have the constitutional right to marry, while 52% believed that they should. Those figures had increased by July 2013, when a USA Today poll found that 55% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while 40% did not. Finally, a Human Rights Campaign poll held in February 2015, a few months before the Obergefell ruling, found that 60% of Americans favored same-sex marriage, with only 37% against it.

#4: What Was the Supreme Court’s Decision?
The Landmark

What happened on June 26th, 2015 will likely be remembered as a clear landmark day in the history of American civil rights. The 5-4 decision made by the Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriages has enabled gay and lesbian couples to obtain a marriage license in any state, and have their union recognized on an equal level with heterosexual partnerships, throughout America. Drawing significantly upon the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, and in particular its equal protection clause, swing voter Justice Kennedy wrote that previously ‘challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality’. The decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide also means that there is no longer a variance between state laws - something that, if left unchanged, Kennedy believes would have ‘promote[d] instability and uncertainty’.

#3: What Was the Dissenting Opinion?
The Traditions

Dissenting opinion drew upon the traditional view of marriage as something held between a man and a woman, and upon the argument that the June 26, 2015 ruling was actually less democratic than one might immediately think. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that ‘Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept’. Essentially, Roberts is worried that in legalizing same-sex marriage throughout America, the Supreme Court may have ‘stepped on the toes’ of those states that were yet to legalize it independently, damaging America’s democratic fundamentals in doing so, and potentially paving the way for future protests as a result. In relation, Justice Alito’s concern is that the ruling ‘will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy’, therefore creating a politically tenser environment than that which had already existed.

#2: What Was the Case Based On?
The State Law

While history will likely remember the Supreme Court case title with most prominence, ‘Obergefell v. Hodges’ was based upon more than just Jim Obergefell’s personal claim. There were actually several significant cases, encompassing some thirty plaintiffs that ultimately decided the ruling, which were merged together to apply greater pressure and urgency onto the court. ‘DeBoer v. Snyder’ (de-bore) is a 2012 lawsuit filed in Michigan by a lesbian couple that found themselves unable to jointly adopt their three children because of the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. ‘Tanco v. Haslam’ is a 2013 lawsuit filed in Tennessee on behalf of three same-sex couples that had been legally married elsewhere in America, but found that the state would not recognize their marriages. ‘Bourke v. Beshear’ is a 2013 lawsuit filed by a same-sex couple married in Ontario and living in Kentucky, where their union was not legally recognized. And finally, ‘Love v. Beshear’ is Bourke’s companion case, filed after two same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses in Kentucky, in 2014. These cases were merged with Obergefell’s, a move that resulted in June 26th’s historic ruling.

#1: What Does This Mean For Gay Rights Going Forward?
The Future

Recent events will likely have significant bearing internationally as well, but domestically the focus will now shift to how exactly the new legislation is implemented across the country. The conservative dissenters voting in the Supreme Court fear that those Americans who are anti-same-sex marriage will now face difficulties in voicing their alternative opinion, and that various conflicts between religious belief and national law could arise. In turn, it may yet prove difficult for same-sex marriages to become socially accepted into some communities, even if they are legal. The challenge ahead seems very much a balancing act. However, in terms of the LGBT community itself, the recent ruling is a massive step forward for Gay Rights. Before ‘Obergefell v. Hodges’, thirteen U.S. states had continued to ban same-sex marriage and there had been uncertainty in recognizing it. After ‘Obergefell v. Hodges’, every jurisdiction in the USA is now compelled to allow same-sex marriages, and to equally recognize them. Speaking shortly after the ruling, lead plaintiff Obergefell voiced his hope that ‘the term gay marriage will soon be a thing of the past, that from this day forward it will simply be marriage,’ and that America ‘will be better off because of it’. Going forward, that notion is likely to dominate, as gay and lesbian couples look for seamless integration that asks for no special treatment, only simple equality.

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