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The Fight for Marriage Equality

The Fight for Marriage Equality

Updated: Jun 12


In the United States, the LGBTQ+ community has fought long and hard for equal rights. While the Stonewall Uprising is known as the spark for LGBTQ+ civil rights, legalizing marriage equality in the United States gave couples the rights they deserved. Activists long took to the streets to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, and now it was time to take it to court.


Before Marriage Equality


Marriage is a civil right towards the freedom of happiness. For years, same-sex couples were denied this right and the benefits of marriage, which gave couples legal rights such as tax benefits, immigration rights, social security income, and employer benefits. Same-sex couples were also unable to receive other vital resources given to married couples, like health insurance benefits, welfare, domestic violence protections, and housing.


In some states, domestic partnerships were an option for same-sex couples who lived together and wanted to recognize their relationships legally. These domestic partnerships allowed couples to seek some benefits (for instance, federal taxes), but not many. Domestic partnership’s rights, recognition, and benefits still vary significantly between states, agencies, and other individual companies. Marriage equality was essential for same-sex couples to ensure their rights and protections across the nation.

Major Court Cases


Baehr v. Miike was the first major same-sex marriage court case. Three same-sex couples filed a lawsuit against Hawaii in 1990, arguing that prohibiting same-sex marriage was a violation of Hawaii’s state constitution. The lawsuit sparked the conversation regarding legitimate interest in same-sex marriage from the LGBT community. The case was initially dismissed but then had a trial with the Hawaii Supreme Court.


Before this trial, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. It defined federal marriage only for heterosexual couples, but states had the freedom to define it differently.


Activits in West Hollywood, California stand in solidariy to support Massachusetts issuing marriage certifiaties to same-sex couples in 2004. (Image Source: Hector Mata/AFP via Getty Images)
Activists in West Hollywood, California stand in solidarity to support Massachusetts issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples in 2004. (Image Source: Hector Mata/AFP via Getty Images)

In 1996, Hawaii gave benefits to couples who were ineligible to get married. Two years later, an amendment to “grant the legislature the power to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples” was placed on the ballot and passed.


Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, following the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.


Taking it to the Supreme Court


In 2009, Edith Windsor received a federal tax bill after the death of her wife, Thea Clara Spyer, because Windsor was not recognized as a surviving spouse. After being denied federal tax benefits, Windsor challenged the Supreme Court on recognizing same-sex couples married in legal states.


In 2013, United States v. Windsor challenged section three of DOMA, which recognized marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled section three of DOMA was “…unconstitutional and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples to determine federal benefits and protection.”


Jim Obergfell gives a speech outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Image Source: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Jim Obergfell gives a speech outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Image Source: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Obergefell v. Hodges: An Iconic Case


Jim Obergefell and John Arthur quickly heard the news of Windor’s success. Obergefell and Arthur decided to get married before Arthur passed away due to his health struggle. The couple lived in Ohio and traveled to Maryland for their wedding. After returning home, they went to an Ohio judge who ruled for Obergefell to be listed as the surviving spouse upon Arthur’s death.


John Arthur passed away three months after their marriage. With the Judge’s ruling, Obergefell was listed on the death certificate. However, the state of Ohio appealed the Judge’s decision and reissued the certificate to exclude his name. Obergefell filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in 2014. On June 26th, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of federal same-sex marriage.


Legacy


The decision on Obergefell v. Hodges gave civil rights to millions of LGBTQ+ Americans. The White House was lit in rainbow lights, and the nation celebrated after years of protesting, boycotting, Queer politicism, and hardships. Legalizing marriage equality would not have been possible without Edith Windsor and Jim Obergefell’s perseverance and the hard work of the activists who came before us.


Supporters of marriage equality celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. (Image Source: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images)
Supporters of marriage equality celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. (Image Source: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images)


 

References


Andersen, E. A. (2017). Transformative Events in the LGBTQ Rights Movement. Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality, 5(2), 36. https://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/ijlse/vol5/iss2/10


ACLU. (n.d.). Windsor v. United States. American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved March 26, 2021, from https://www.aclu.org/cases/lesbian-and-gay-rights/windsor-v-united-states


Defense of Marriage Act: Update to Prior Report. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2021, from https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-04-353r.pdf


Domestic Partner Benefit Eligibility: Defining Domestic Partners and Dependents—HRC Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2021, from https://www.thehrcfoundation.org/professional-resources/domestic-partner-benefit-eligibility-defining-domestic-partners-and-dependents


Domestic Partnership Benefits. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2021, from https://www.glad.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/domestic-partnership-overview.pdf


Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage: What’s the Difference? (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2021, from https://www.rocketlawyer.com/family-and-personal/family-matters/marriage/legal-guide/domestic-partnership-vs-marriage-whats-the-difference


Liptak, A. (2013, June 26). Supreme Court Bolsters Gay Marriage With Two Major Rulings. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/27/us/politics/supreme-court-gay-marriage.html


Rosenwald, M. S. (2015, April 6). How Jim Obergefell became the face of the Supreme Court gay marriage case. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/how-jim-obergefell-became-the-face-of-the-supreme-court-gay-marriage-case/2015/04/06/3740433c-d958-11e4-b3f2-607bd612aeac_story.html


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