The numbers game on marriage in America is a mixed bag. Some numbers are up; others are down. The number of interracial marriages is rising. The number of married couples is falling. The average marriage age is rising, with men and women choosing to focus on education, careers, and financial milestones while delaying marriage and starting a family.
By most measures, it appears that more Americans than ever are choosing to marry based on love and commitment, rather than shared cultural or racial backgrounds, financial necessity, or familial pressures. But one group still seems to be stuck in marriage limbo – same-sex couples.
Currently, twenty states plus the District of Columbia provide some state-level legal status or protections to same-sex couples, but only Iowa, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington D.C. allow same-sex couples to marry.
Sadly, many states have passed laws that prevent full recognition of same-sex relationships, including some states that have passed state constitutional amendments invoking such restrictions. Moreover, pursuant to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal law expressly grants states the authority to refuse to recognize marriages of same-sex couples in other jurisdictions and denies benefits, such as Social Security payments, health insurance and burial services to same-sex couples.
Massive change could be on the horizon, however. On May 31, 2012, a federal appeals court struck down the part of DOMA that concerns federal benefits, finding that there is no valid reason to treat same-sex married couples differently from heterosexual married couples. An appeals request to the U.S. Supreme Court was filed in June 2012.
“as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
Perhaps most telling, though, is the shift in public opinion regarding same-sex marriage. According to the Pew Research Center, polls in 2011 indicated that 45% of Americans favor allowing same-sex marriage, compared to only 37% in 2009 and 27% in 1996. The research found that about 46% of Americans oppose gay marriage, which is marked decline from the 54% that opposed same-sex marriage just three years ago and the 65% who opposed marriage equality in 1996. The poll results marked the first time in 15 years that the public has been evenly divided over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry.
Not only is marriage is a basic human right, but it is a significant personal commitment that deserves the respect of one’s family, friends, and society. Marriage is about bringing individuals together, creating families, and sharing love – all of which benefit society.
With any luck, the same-sex marriage injustices will soon be thing of the past much like interracial marriage bans are now a thing of the past. Until the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, interracial couples were not allowed to marry, and now one in ten opposite sex married couples are interracial.
When I think about the fact that some states are spending significant time and resources to pass laws and constitutional amendments to deny certain individuals a basic human right – one that promotes love and harms no one – I am in dismay. I am confused, angry, and sad.
But then I remind myself that change takes time. It takes time to change centuries of prejudice. It takes time to crack open the hearts of those who have never known a same-sex couple and seen firsthand the commitment that they share. It takes time to break down stereotypes, mend hearts, and open minds. It takes time. With any luck, it will take less time…