A Quick History of the Movement to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th amendment gives LGBTQ couples “the fundamental right to marry.” This decision affects all 50 states, ending marriage equality bans that existed in the following 14 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

The ruling also means that same-sex couples can now adopt children regardless of the state they live in. The landmark ruling is based on 4 different cases that went all the way to the Supreme Court. 1)Jim Obergefell and John Arthur fought the state of Ohio to allow Obergefell to be named as the surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate. 2) April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse: fought for the right to jointly adopt each other’s children before proceeding to challenge Michigan state’s ban on same-sex marriage. 3)Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty were wed in New York before moving to Tennessee which doesn’t recognize gay marriage. In 2014, during the middle of their lawsuit against Tennessee, Valeria got pregnant from artificial insemination. Their child was the first born child to have a woman listen on the birth certificate as the father. Her pregnancy played a role in their case. 4) Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke began fighting anti-marriage laws in Kentucky in the summer of 2014. (For more information on these 4 cases click here)

These cases come after decades of lawsuits and rulings enclosed within a national cultural movement that has met a lot of resistance from legislators. The movement has had many wins and many losses while also facing resistance from within the gay community. Some felt that marriage was itself a problematic institution and preferred to reshape social norms rather than fit into them. Others felt the U.S. simply wasn’t ready to pass that type of legislation and folks should focus on things like housing discrimination and health care for AIDS patients.

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling has initiated a lot of similar conversations. Folks are questioning the institution of marriage. Meanwhile, activists are noting that the gay rights movement has been dominated by cis-gender gays and lesbians who are predominantly white and middle to upper-middle class (cis-gender refers to individuals whose gender identity matches their biological sex), and has excluded the perspectives and experiences of queer and trans people of color. For many folks, the inability to get married is overshadowed by more pressing concerns like safety and employment. At Chicago’s Pride Parade last Sunday, a die-in was done to draw attention to housing and job discrimination as well as violent attacks against transgender people.

This latest Supreme Court decision has kicked off numerous legal battles. In Louisiana & Mississippi some say they will keep refusing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Texas attorney general has announced that the state will defend clerks and judges who refuse marriage licenses because of religious objections. “Pike County, Alabama, has decided to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether.” And numerous justices, politicians, and US officials have expressed dissent over the decision.

In The Atlantic article called How Gay Marriage Became a Constitutional Right, Molly Ball gives a brief synopsis of the history behind the struggle for same-sex marriage.

The article begins with a 1970 case where Minneapolis County Clerk denied Jack Baker and Michael McConnell a marriage license and they sued in state court. In 1972, after the case was dismissed, Baker appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who refused to hear the case. Then, Ball jumps two decades forward to 1990 when the same thing happened to Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel when they applied for marriage licenses in Hawaii. The courts dismissed their case, refusing to even hear their argument so the couple appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court. On May 5th, 1993 the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the trial court was wrong and discriminatory in dismissing the claim, eventually concluding that “the state failed to prove that the public interest was served by denying marriage to same-sex couples.” Hawaii lawmakers pushed back and in 1996 Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act which federally defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The bill was signed by Bill Clinton and basically undid Ninia and Genora’s victory.

The article explains that a young lawyer named Evan Wolfson who was involved in Genora and Ninia’s case was disappointed with the federal reversal of their win in Hawaii. Wolfson decided to study the decision on interracial marriage from 1967 (At the time of that decision 70% of Americans did not believe in interracial marriage) before deciding that it was best to switch his focus to building public support that could lay the groundwork for eventual legal victory in litigations.

During the next few years, the movement to legalize same-sex marriage grew. The 2003 case Lawrence v Texas struck down sodomy laws that made gay sex a crime. In 2004 a Massachusetts supreme court became the first state to allow same-sex marriage (a year long lobbying effort led by a group called Mass Equality, was able to defeat legislators attempts to appeal the decision). Shortly after, Vermont legalized civil unions. And in 2013, the case United States v Windsor struck down a federal law denying benefits to same-sex couples.

But resistance to the movement had also continued to grow. By 2012 same-sex marriage bans were put before voters in 30 states and won each time. When it comes to discrimination, only 22 states bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. In March of 2015 Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which allows individuals and companies to deny employment to gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals on the basis of religious freedom. Shortly after, Arkansas passed a similar law (Click here for Democracy Now Coverage of this law).

There is indeed much conversation happening in this country about same-sex marriage and the recent Supreme Court decision. The next couple of months are guaranteed to be filled with litigations and political conflicts on the subject. Follow cosmosiris to get updates on the progression of these events.

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