We live in a world of hate, injustice and discrimination, even though the Declaration of Independence signed in 1776 clearly states that “all [wo]men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” This statement, however, does not in any way mean that everyone is treated equally. Certain rights, such as the right to marry, are not granted to all. More specifically, this right is denied to homosexuals. This is mainly because the United States states its definition of marriage as something that is between one man and one woman. However, “each individual’s journey through life is uniq ue. Some will make this journey alone, others in loving relationships-maybe in marriage, or other forms of commitment. We need to ponder our own choices and try to understand the choices of others. Love has many shapes and colors and is not finite. It cannot be measured or defined in terms of sexual orientation.” This statement was taken from the Statement of Affirmation and Reconciliation by the Quaker meeting in Aotearoa.
The institution of marriage has been in a state of flux for centuries. It was only after the civil war that African-Americans were allowed to marry in all areas of the U.S., and then it was only after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1967 that mixed race couples could marry anywhere in the U.S. But, until recently, same-sex couples could not marry anywhere, not just in the U.S., but in the entire world. In April 2001, Holland was the first country to change their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
After this, other countries followed suit, such as Belgium and Spain. Eventually all of Canada allowed same-sex marriage as well. Same-sex marriage, or its equivalent, is being actively discussed in a few countries of the world, including Ireland and Switzerland. Despite these great efforts in Europe and Canada to treat all equally, the United States is still far behind in this evolution.
For the longest time, only one man and one woman could be joined in matrimony and have their marriages recognized by the state. However, a group of residents of Massachusetts successfully won a court battle and are now allowed to marry partners of the same gender. In November 2003, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled that the state cannot refuse to marry same-sex couples. Marriage has been available for both opposite and same-sex couples since 2004.
Some states have not legalized same-sex marriage, but have set up civil union systems instead. For instance, in 2000, legislators in Vermont set up a civil union system. In Sept. 2003, a bill was signed into law in California to set up a system of domestic partnership, which is very similar to the civil unions in Vermont. This law went into effect at the beginning of 2005.
A number of other states have registration procedures for same-sex couples which grant them limited benefits. “Gay people deserve the same right to marry that everybody else does. We’re making the same commitments to each other. We have the same responsibilities to each other, and we deserve the same rights and responsibilities under the law that everyone else has,” said Harry Knox of the Human Rights Campaign.
The progress that is being made is honorable; however, when a look is taken at the other side, it just shows how America is not the “Land of the Free” at all. As of August 2004, 37 states have enacted “Defense of Marriage Acts” (DOMAs) that ban same-sex marriage. Other states have similar legislation in the works. Three states have amended their state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage, four states have marriage laws that specifically prohibit same-sex marriage and five states, along with Washington DC, have no explicit prohibition of same sex marriage.
“Promoting hatred and bigotry . . . is what destroys society, not the marriage of two loving people of the same gender,” Raymond Miller said in The Toronto Star.
It is through these restrictions that homosexuals feel less equal to heterosexuals. In depriving these people from their natural born rights, the stage is set for other injustices and forms of discrimination, such as homophobia.
“Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity, and personhood. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group,” the late Coretta Scott King said.
Taking the step to allow same-sex marriages all over the United States will not destroy this country, it will make it stronger. It will create a country in which all are welcome, free and not only created equal, but also treated equal.
Rebekah Balmer is a first year student majoring in secondary English education with a Spanish minor. She can be reached at RB649636@wcupa.edu.