Perhaps one of the most significant social issues of our time, Gay Marriage is both emotionally charged and politically divisive.  The future of this issue is being played out in legislatures and courtrooms across America and is likely to be heard by the Supreme Court within the next couple years.  Join Active Minds as we examine the issues involved in the legalization/banning of Gay Marriage.

Key Lecture Points

  • The gay liberation movement of the early 1970s did not have marriage equality as a priority.  The focus of the early activists was ending police raids, job discrimination and gaining family acceptance of gay children.  This began to change in the 1980s as an increasing number of lesbian and gay couples found that they had to deal with probate courts, hospitals, adoption agencies and funeral homes that did not recognize their partnerships.
  • After a Hawaii court ruled that forbidding gay marriage may be a violation of the state’s constitution, some proposed legislation in states and Congress that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.  Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, defining marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and a woman, and allowing states to refuse to recognize same sex marriages.
  • In 2004 Massachusetts was the first state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.  In response, a strong opposition quickly sprung up, resulting in 13 states that same year amending their state constitutions to ban such marriages.
  • In 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled that the portion of DOMA that defined marriage in Federal law as between one man and one woman was an unconstitutional violation of the Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment.  This ruling allowed the extension of many Federal benefits to couples married in the states that allow gay marriage.  But the Court did not rule on the constitutionality of state laws banning gay marriage.  This set the stage for a series of lawsuits challenging the laws of the 31 states in the US that ban gay marriage.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the major legal cases in the gay marriage debate?
  • When and why did gay marriage become a major issue for the gay rights movement?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think Colorado should allow same sex marriage?
  • Has your attitude toward gay marriage changed or the stayed the same?  Why?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Streitmatter, Rodger. Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same Sex Couples.  Beacon Press, 2013. The author tells the stories of 15 same sex couples and illustrates their impact on history, society and the arts.  Examples of couples profiled are the social worker Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith and the artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.
    Click here to order
  • Hertz, Frederick, Emily Doskow.  Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnership and Civil Unions.  Nolo, 2011. 297 pages.  A guide to the past, present and future of same sex law in the US.
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