Civil unions and marriages are some of the main topics that attract numerous controversies in the United States of America. Although they are mostly likened to marriages, civil unions are slightly different because they are not religious. They are usually partnerships permitted and controlled by state governments (Isenberg par. 1).
According to experts, people get into marriage or civil unions for individual, sacred, permissible, economic, and ideological reasons among others. Over the last couple of years, the institution of marriage in the United States has changed a lot. One of the main elements that have emerged over the years has been same-sex marriages.
This topic has resulted in one of the longest debates in America, with various human rights groups fighting for equality. They argue that the government should not restrict marriages to heterosexual couples (Isenberg par. 3). Since the 1970’s the debate over the need to give marriage rights to all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation has dominated major social and human rights forums. Over the years, a lot has changed because quite a number of states have passed laws that have extended the rights of marriage to same-sex couples.
Currently, 33 states have legalized marriages between same-sex couples, while the remaining ones are in the process of making the consideration to do the same (Viser and Levenson par. 2). From a human rights perspective, same-sex marriages are okay and the federal government should do its best to remove the restriction of marriage rights to heterosexual couples.
A study conducted in 2011, established that support for same-sex marriages in the United States has increased (Coscarelli par. 1). Since the turn of the century, more Americans have shown a positive attitude towards same-sex relationships and do not oppose if they end up in marriage.
This statistic was emphasized in 2012, when President Barrack Obama gave a public statement in support of the proposal to legitimize same-sex marriages in the country (Viser and Levenson par. 4).
According to experts, this move by President Obama played a crucial role in influencing numerous state governments to give people a right to decide on the issue by allowing a popular vote. Before the states started to recognize same-sex marriages, a number of people had gone to the courts seeking the recognition of their marriages, albeit under certain circumstances such as illness (Isenberg par. 4).
According to experts, it will take a long time for the United States of America to move from just recognizing same-sex marriages to legalizing them. The reason for this is that state and district courts across the country differed on whether the ban on recognition of same-sex marriages by the federal government qualifies as a violation of the American constitution (Viser and Levenson par. 5). A number of plaintiffs across the country have had contradicting results in terms of whether it is constitutional or not to recognize same sex marriages.
Legal issues same-sex marriages
In the United States, the federal government has the mandate to determine the kind of legal issues regulating this kind of marriages. However, the federal system also delegates responsibilities to state governments. They define crucial aspects such as an individual’s marital status. This is reason some states recognize same-sex marriages while others do not.
One of the most important federal legislation in the United States, touching on same-sex marriages is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (Coscarelli par. 3). Enacted in 1996, DOMA has played a crucial role in the agenda to push for recognition of same-sex marriages (Coscarelli par. 3). According to experts, section 2 of the law argues that all states should enjoy their independence in terms of whether to recognize gay marriages or not.
This means that one state cannot be compelled to recognize or fail denounce same-sex marriages because another state did the same. The law further argues that states have their own policies, which should not be altered because of a marriage recognized by a different jurisdiction (Coscarelli par. 3).
In the act, the federal government ignores same-sex marriages. It defines marriage as a union between heterosexual couples. However, this was changed in 2010 in a case filed in a district court in Massachusetts challenging this decision by the government to restrict marriage rights to heterosexual couples.
The case was called Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, and was determined by Joseph Tauro. According to the judge’s statement, the restriction of marriage rights to heterosexual couples violated a clause in the American constitution that provided equal protection to all citizens (Viser and Levenson par. 6).
This case became the first to recognize a same-sex marriage. This case was closely connected to the United States v. Windsor case, which sought to compel the federal government to remove restrictions on marriage rights because it was unconstitutional.
A ruling by the Supreme Court worked in favor of the plaintiffs because it recognized the third section of DOMA, as a violation of the constitution. Experts argue that the Massachusetts case has played a crucial role in the great strides made by the country in terms of extending marriage rights to gay couples (Viser and Levenson par. 8).
The ruling made in the Windsor v. United States case, changed the lives of same-sex couples because they started having benefits as those in heterosexual marriages. Some of the benefits enjoyed by couples in same-sex marriage include employment, federal tax, medical, immigration, and social security among others (Coscarelli par. 6).
In addition, the ruling compelled the federal government to adopt a legislation that allowed it to recognize same-sex marriages, as long as they were formalized in a state recognizing the same (Viser and Levenson par. 7). Studies have established that same-sex marriages were unheard of in the United States until 2004.
Through legislation, popular vote, and court rulings, 33 states currently recognize same-sex marriages under their jurisdiction. Others, such as the District of Columbia and Missouri are yet to accept same-sex marriages, but recognize those from other jurisdictions (Coscarelli par. 6).
Effects of recognizing same-sex marriages
According to experts, there are a number of reasons same-sex marriages should be recognized across the United States. Before the landmark ruling in the Windsor v. United States case, couples in same-sex marriages had a lot of disadvantages compared to those in heterosexual marriages.
Most federal benefits in the United States had references to an individual’s marital status, thus locking people in same-sex marriages from enjoying them (Isenberg par. 5). Therefore, recognizing same-sex marriage helped both the federal government and the couples in an economic way.
For example, the ability of couples in gay marriages to file their tax returns jointly helped them to consolidate their funds while the federal government improved on its annual collections. In addition, laws on intellectual property rights also allowed couples in gay marriages to have a chance of investing in businesses and acquiring property (Coscarelli par. 7).
Recognizing same-sex marriages can also have a negative economic impact on the federal government. Since 2004, the government has experienced an increase in the amount of money spent on benefits such as social security and employee health cover.
Experts also argue that recognition of same-sex marriages can have a positive impact on couples in terms of their mental health and emotional states. Studies have established that people in same-sex marriages suffered a lot of stigmatization from the society because being gay or lesbian was not socially accepted (Coscarelli par. 3).
However, following the recognition of these unions by the government people started developing a positive attitude towards same-sex marriages. This, according to psychologists helps to prevent couples in such unions from suffering mental instability. Other experts argue that recognition of same-sex marriages helps in boosting the physical health of couples (Coscarelli par. 9).
For several years, the United States did not recognize same-sex marriages. The society also contributed to this situation because of high stigmatization of gays and lesbians. However, numerous legislation and court cases covering the debate on equality in marriage compelled both the federal government and state governments to consider the need to treat everyone without discrimination.
Same-sex marriages are okay and the federal government should do its best to remove the restriction of marriage rights to heterosexual couples. The ruling made in the Windsor v. United States case, changed the lives of same-sex couples because they started having benefits as those in heterosexual marriages. 33 states currently recognize same-sex marriages in America.
Coscarelli, Joe. Gay-Marriage Pioneers Recall “Huge Journey”. 2013.
Isenberg, Sasha. Why a Gay-Marriage Court Ruling is a Hit at Straight Weddings. 2012.
Viser, Matt, and M. Levenson. Mass Helped Propel Marriage Equality Change. 2013.