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Is gay marriage America's next big legal battle?

By crisisification Dec 06, 2013 2062 Words
The United States of America, through its core democratic values, is greatly divided on civil rights issues because of the weight of consideration given to all who can voice their opinions. This gives rise to many topics of strong debate, delaying progressive action due to liberties granted by the Bill of Rights, and implications of impeding civil rights discrepancies. Currently there is a major debate in the white house, concerning the legal rights of gay people, mainly their right to have a marital status recognized by all levels of government. In 1996, there was an act, Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), that was approved that made clear what the definition was of the words “marriage” and “spouse”. This definition was: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’’ (Pub.L. 104–199, 110 Stat. 2419. enacted September 21, 1996, 1 U.S.C. § 7and 28 U.S.C. § 1738C). This act had not even been in effect for 10 years, when in July of 2013 the Supreme Court had struck down section 3 of DOMA, stating that it was “unconstitutional under the 5th amendment” (Mears, 2013). Is same-sex marriage America’s next great civil rights battle? Yes, The acceptance of homosexuality as being part of an individual’s identity through history of their rights, the public opinion on the issue, and finally, the fact that of the United States of America was meant to be a secular state are all points proving the significance the argument carries in todays society.

The acceptance for homosexuality has been ever growing in America. In the beginning of the 1900s, individuals of homosexual identity found ways of getting together, forming institutions to promote a sense of identity for themselves. When World War II began, it was seen as one of homosexuality’s critical social divides. Large numbers of these individuals left families, small towns, and closely knit ethnic neighbourhoods to join the military or migrated to larger cities for wartime employment. (Garraty, 1991) When the war came to an end in 1945, many of the homosexual persons made choices designed to maintain and carry on their identity. Some returned to their homes and home towns, but countless others decided to stay within the cities they were stationed at, or large cities where they knew they may find like minded company. Due to the overwhelming subculture that was maintained by gay communities formed around the country, many cities saw their first gay bars during the 1940s. (Garraty, 1991)

The new attention that these actions drew would attract prejudice in society. In the 1950s the public was so opposed to the gay people military discharges became frequent, president Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an executive order in 1953 barring gay men and lesbians from all federal jobs, causing many state and local governments and private corporations followed suit, and finally the FBI began a surveillance program against homosexuals (PBS). The actions of the federal government motivated the police to persecute homosexual citizens. Gay bar raids became frequent, sometimes seeing to the arrest of dozens of men and women at a time. This provoked political movements from the gay citizens. In November 1950 in Los Angeles, a small group of men led by Harry Hay and Chuck Rowland founded the Mattachine Society, consisting of mainly men, it merged with a lesbian organization from San Francisco in 1955, called the Daughters of Bilitis, which was established by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. In the 1950s these organizations had been small, but they had established contacts and ties to several cities and published magazines that showed others around the company that there was still hope. (Garraty, 1991)

In the 1960s the “homophile movement,” as the participants called it, became more outspoken. Activists picketed government agencies in Washington to protest discriminatory employment policies. By 1969, somewhere around fifty pro-homosexual organizations existed in the United States, where memberships were in the thousands. (PBS) On June 27, 1969, in New York City, police raided the Stonewall Inn, which was a gay bar. The citizens did not expect the gay community to retaliate, where rioting was sustained for three days with strong “gay power” slogans seen throughout the city. (PBS) The Stonewall riots, as they’re called, set in motion a social change that has now grown significantly, making it easier for gay persons to “come out of the closet”. (Androite, 2013) In 1970, 5,000 homosexual individuals in New York City marched on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots to pay tribute to those involved; By 1973, almost eight hundred gay and lesbian organizations existed; by 1990, several thousand. In October 1987, over 600,000 marched in Washington, to demand equality. (Garraty, 1991)

Over the next 20 years, homosexual behaviour became widely decriminalized. Large cities began to include sexual orientation in their civil rights, as did Wisconsin and Massachusetts, being the first states to do so. 1975 saw lift on the ban of employment of homosexual individuals in most federal jobs. The lesbian and gay society was no longer oppressed, but, in larger cities especially, a well-organized community, with businesses, political clubs, social service agencies, community centres, and religious congregations bringing people together. (Garraty, 1991) In a number of places, openly gay candidates ran for elective office and won.

That is not to say that there was no opposition to this movements. In 1977, Anita Bryant, a singer, campaigned to reject gay rights appeals in Dade County, Florida. She succeeded, the victory prompted others to follow suit, and by the early 1980s, a strong conservative force had been assembled to target the gay rights movement. Politicians, such as Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and fundamentalist ministers, such as Jerry Falwell of Lynchburg, Virginia, who formed Moral Majority, Inc., joined forces to slow the progress of the gay movement. (Androite, 2013)

Through the hardships that were endured by gay men and women over the years fighting for individual civil liberties and rights, and to be treated with dignity. Since getting rights and liberties was what the homosexual community was striving for, it is only logical that the state should grant the union of gay couples to be allowed and recognized in the eyes of the federal and state governments. The battle for gay rights marriage isn't a question of being the “next” battle, but the continuation of an ongoing debate, that has the public very heated in discussion. Having had such a difficult past only strengthens the will and driving force of the gay community and supporters, putting more pressure on the government for quick decisions to be made, and were discussed more hotly than other topics of civil rights debates.

Public opinion is an immense power for persuasion. When there are enough like minded people, they may be able to have their voices heard, and gain large power and persuasive ability to sway government politics. The dictionary defines democracy as: “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” (Dictionary, 2005). The public’s views are what should have a significant effect on government decisions since the government is there to represent what the people want. Obviously, there are checks and balances in the system so that neither government nor people get too powerful, but their power cannot be ignored. This is very plainly seen through the 10th amendment, where it states that unless it is expressly written in the constitution, that the federal government can, or that the state cannot make laws on a specific topic, then the laws may be decided upon by the state or the people. (U.S. Const. amen. X).

Since this is law, there is still a very great divide amongst the general populous and the opinion of the general public on this debate. Recent studies show that a very close split in the population on this topic is seen. On average, 52% of the American voters feel that gay marriage should be allowed, 46% believe that same-sex marriage doesn't belong in America, and 2% are undecided (Polling Report, 2013). The sheer divide of the citizens means that there is definitely a civil rights battle amongst Americans, proving this is a great struggle for legislature.

Finally, this topic has become the big civil rights struggle because of the implications that definitions and personal views have on one of the founding principles for the country. When the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were being written, one core value that had been strongly adhered to was the need for the country to be a secular state. This notion of separating the church from the state helped set the foundation for a country that would work towards the goal of having as little segregation as possible. This obviously did not happen as smoothly as was hoped for, since there are some conflicting interests.

The way the argument needs to be looked at, is by defining terms properly before a stance is taken, and the populations starts making decisions. “Marriage” is a religious institution, that is regulated by the Church, or other religious sects, where, by the theory of the United States of America being secular, the government should have no effect on this decision. The Church is separate from the state, therefore can make their own decisions on whom they wish to invite into their sacred institutions. That is their right, and no one should be forced upon them to be accepted. What needs to be done is the government should be recognizing the civil unions between two couples. There are heterosexual couples who get civil unions, and do not get the same privileges as married couples, which shows the bias of the government.

If the government honoured civil unions the same way as any heterosexual relationship through marriage, there would be benefits for homosexual partners, as well as the responsibilities that come with a partnership of this kind. For example, it wouldn't be as easy for couples to separate, causing less adoptive children secondary scarring, (PBC) there would be proper taxation and representation, making it equal for everyone, and finally, there would be an elimination of the exploitation of marital loopholes created by the discrepancies between states and countries, and weather certificates are honoured, or immigration loopholes being exploited through the non unified system.

When considering the history and development of homosexual acceptance, the public opinion, and separation of church and state, it is clear that same-sex marriage is the biggest civil rights struggle facing the American nation, right now. Gay couples have dealt with great deals of oppression, similar to other maltreated groups, and have come a long way to sway the popular belief in their favour, allowing them to be recognized and protected by civil rights. Now, the largest struggle will be ahead of the to try and convince the government for this one last civil right they are entitled to. Votes have already been drastically changed over the last 50 years, showing great signs of progression towards a more accepting and inclusive nation, even if the population is not explicitly decided. One thing must be kept in mind: 66% of the Senate and the House of Representatives need to be onboard with the civil rights movement so that there can be any kind of progress into a more accepting and equal world.

Works Cited
Androite, J. (2013, July 31). Marking a civil rights milestone, elitism is robbing lgbt movement of power to 'make good the promise of America'. Huffington Post. Retrieved from Democracy. (n.d.). The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Retrieved November 07, 2013, from website:
Garraty, John . The Readers Companion to American History. Houghton Mifflin, 1991. print. Mears, B. (June 27, 2013). Supreme Court strikes down federal provision on same-sex marriage benefits. CNN. Retrieved from (n.d.). Retrieved from Polling Report Inc. (2013). Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Rights. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 7, November, 2013]. Pub.L. 104–199, 110 Stat. 2419, enacted September 21, 1996, 1 U.S.C. § 7and 28 U.S.C. § 1738C . U.S. Const. amend. X.

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