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Gay Marriage Debate

Know the pros and cons of same sex marriage that are being cited in the gay marriage debate. Learn the rights of gay couples in California, New York, and Hawaii.

1. Gay Divorce Negates Marriage Need

The argument that gay marriage raises divorce rates is not panning out, according to an article on Findlaw by a Boston divorce attorney. A paper by Jonathan Eggleston of the University of Virginia also shows the same findings.

In fact, research from the newest census, along with studies from the Center for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics System, shows that states allowing gay marriage have lower divorce rates. Of the eight states that allow same-sex marriage, five of those have the lowest divorce rates in the United States. Data taken from 2009 showed the average divorce rate at 41.2 percent, while states that did not allow same-sex marriage had an average divorce rate of 53.2 percent, not counting Nevada. Nevada skews the statistics because it performs so many out-of-state marriages in Las Vegas.

Two other states were not used in the data gathering because they allowed same-sex marriage after 2009; and those two states were Iowa and Vermont. It is possible that the divorce rate is lower in these states because eight of 10 states where males marry later in life also allow gay marriage. These states also show that males have a higher education level.

Eggleston found that research by Silver (2010) showed that states that allowed gay marriage had lower divorce rates. He also found that those states that found gay marriage unconstitutional had higher divorce rates. A 2009 study by Langbein and Yost found that the legalization of gay marriage did not have an effect on divorce rates. This could be possible because there were not as many states that legalized same-sex marriage in 2009 as there were in 2010.


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2. Cultural Pressures

In considering the pros and cons of same sex marriage, the cultural pressures on gay couples are rarely mentioned. Gay couples face a wealth of prejudice, including the assumption that gay men and lesbians are promiscuous and incapable of sustaining a committed relationship.

One reason to end the gay marriage ban is that gay marriage would further integrate gay culture into open society. In addition to legal obligations to care for spouses, there are also social expectations that make marriage a stabilizing element in a relationship. Society expects people to care for their spouses and stick with them through difficulties. Friends and acquaintances, family and work mates regularly check in on the health of a spouse and how the relationship is going. Divorce, although no longer socially crippling, is seen as a blow to confidence.



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3. Gay Marriage – the US Benefits

Obtaining gay marriage benefits is among the most legally advocated-for reasons to constitute gay marriage. Spousal benefits are where civil union and gay marriage begin to separate. A civil union has minimal legal implications behind it, which usually translates to a lack of the many benefits that heterosexual couples take for granted, such as medical, dental, tax, child support and life insurance.

While civil unions may grant certain state level benefits, no federal protections exist for them. This is, perhaps, the most predominant legally implicated rationale behind the need for gay marriage. Below are a few marriage-related benefits that gay couples miss out on in civil unions:

Medical Benefits

  • Partners cannot make medical decisions out of their home state.

Life Insurance

  • In the case of death, the deceased's partner gets no pension or life insurance, which would legally be granted to the spouse in a marriage.

Child Support

  • If the civil union is dissolved, no child support or spousal benefits are guaranteed out of state, which would otherwise be legally mandated in a marriage.

Tax Benefits

  • Those in a civil union can only file a joint tax return on the state level; no such joint tax return can be filed on the federal level.

Marriage features more than 1,000 federal and state level benefits. Civil unions feature only around 300 state level benefits with no federal implications.


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4. The San Francisco and California Gay Marriage Debate

San Francisco tested California's gay marriage laws in 2004 when the city began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Although the licenses were revoked, the San Francisco gay marriage action heated up the California gay marriage debate. Judge Richard Kramer of San Francisco's Superior Court ruled that California's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional and likened the ban to racial segregation in schools.

Every couple deserves the right to the dignity and benefits that come with marriage, but most states in the United States deny same-sex couples equal rights, such as financial stability and the ability to make critical medical decisions for each other. Gay marriages occurred in California from May to November of 2008, but they are currently on hold as California continues the debate that has already lasted more than a decade.

California, a traditionally tolerant and liberal state, currently allows gay couples to enter domestic partnerships, according to Human Rights Campaign. You have the state-granted legal rights and responsibilities of marriage, but other states may not recognize your status.

The arguments heated in 2000, when California allowed same-sex partners to receive health insurance coverage and hospital visitation rights, according to the “Los Angeles Times.” In the same year, 61 percent of voters approved a statement that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman. A series of steps forward and setbacks occurred over the next several years. In 2007, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legalization of gay marriage, but gay marriage began in 2008 when the California Supreme Court ruled that the veto denied equal protection under the law.

Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, is the most recent driving force behind the debate. Voters approved the measure in 2008, but a series of legal battles ensued to oppose and support the law. In 2010, San Francisco Chief Judge Vaughn Walker rejected Proposition 8, but proponents argued that Judge Walker had a stake in the case because he was gay. In 2011, Chief U.S. District Court Judge James Ware agreed with the decision to reject Proposition 8. Currently, legal stays are preventing gay marriages to move forward.

Gay marriage is not officially illegal in California, but same-sex couples are not currently able to obtain marriage licenses because of the legal debate over Proposition 8. Gay couples can obtain domestic partnership status as you wait to see how the court battles unravel.


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5. Gay Marriage in New York

The debate over same-sex marriage in New York State has a long, eventful history. Within the last 10 years, the biggest spark to the push for gay marriage came in 2004, when the mayor of New Paltz, New York performed 25 same-sex wedding ceremonies in the town, according to the Liberty Counsel. That action prompted one mayor of another small town to declare that his town would recognize the validity of same-sex marriages that were performed elsewhere. A judge later barred these ceremonies from being performed and while charges were initially raised against the mayor of New Paltz, they were eventually dropped.

The gay marriage debate picked up even more steam four years later, when in March 2008, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned from his post. He was succeeded by David Patterson, who committed himself to making same-sex marriage legal throughout all of New York State, according to “The New York Times.” According to a May 2008, article published in the “Times,” Patterson issued a mandate requiring all New York state jurisdictions to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Although this was met with initial opposition, a judge upheld the mandate.

The heat turned up on the gay marriage debate when Patterson entered into office, causing both sides to discuss the merits of such a policy change as the potential to allow same-sex marriage became more realistic. Ultimately, the New York State Assembly had to pass a same-sex marriage bill four times between 2009 and 2011 before the New York Senate finally approved the bill in 2011. In July of 2011, the Marriage Equality Act was enacted, making gay marriage legal in New York State.

Today, gay marriage continues to be legal in New York, although many opponents to the institution remain. While debate over the merits of gay marriage may continue, it is likely that gay marriage will continue to be upheld in New York.



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6. Gay Marriage and Religious Freedom

Anti gay marriage groups often argue that allowing gay marriage, which is against the teachings of many churches, is an impediment of religious freedom. This argument comes from a misunderstanding of marriage and, indeed, the law. In order to guarantee freedom of belief and religion, governments separate the state from religion. Laws are designed to allow people to act according to their beliefs. The benefits that a government bestows on married couples are a part of law.

Marriage, for social purposes, is a civil and religious event. In some ceremonies, the two are celebrated at once, but couples must always undergo a civil marriage in order for the marriage to be considered legal. Religious wedding ceremonies unite the couple in the eyes of that religion's deity.

In legalizing gay marriage states and countries are establishing laws that allow gay civil marriages. It is up to each church to decide whether or not gay unions are acceptable within their doctrine, and establish rites.



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7. Hawaii Gay Marriage

The national gay-marriage debate started in Hawaii. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court in Baehr v. Miike ruled that the law against same-sex marriage might be unconstitutional sex discrimination. While this decision did not make same-sex marriage legal, it did unleash a backlash. In 1998, a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to ban same-sex marriages passed with almost 70 percent of the vote.

Over the next decade, the tide of public opinion started to turn. In 2010, a bill creating civil unions for both same- and different-sex couples passed the state legislature, but then-Governor Linda Lingle vetoed it. The next year, the legislature again passed a similar bill, and this time there was a new governor – Neil Abercrombie – who was eager to sign it. During the signing ceremony in February 2011, he said, to the cheers of the crowd, "This bill represents equal rights for everyone in Hawaii, everyone who comes here. This is to me the essence of the aloha spirit."

An October 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 40 percent of Hawaiians thought that gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, 37 percent thought gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not marry and only 22 percent thought there should be no legal representation of a gay couple's relationship.

That civil-unions bill went into effect on January 1, 2012. Meanwhile, the fight has returned to the courts, where a lawsuit challenging the state's no-same-sex-marriage law is pending.


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