On December 2, 2009, New York's LGBT community awaited the results of a bill in Senate that would legalize same-sex marriage in New York State. New York had already decided in May of 2008 that the state would legally recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, so the likelihood of it being legalized in New York itself seemed pretty good. At the end of the day, however, the bill failed (despite an impassioned speech in favor of same-sex marriage delivered by NY State Senator Diane Savino in which she stated that the vote was not about politics, "it's about an issue of fairness and equality" ).
Currently, there are five states that have legalized same-sex marriage; Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. When I first began researching the issue in September of 2009, Maine was among those states to have legalized same-sex marriage; however on November 3, 2009 voters in Maine overturned the law with 52.75% of the vote. Not a big win; but a win nonetheless.
In a USA Today Gallup poll conducted in May of 2009, researchers found that 72% of people who believed that same-sex marriage should not be legally valid did not personally know someone who was gay. In contrast, people who did know a gay person were more likely to believe same-sex marriage should be legal (by a slight margin of 49% in favor to 47% in opposition). The overall findings were that, while 40% of all poll-takers were in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, 57% were still opposed.
In Ontario, Canada, same-sex marriage has been legal since June 10, 2003 when a court ruling decided that the common law definition of marriage, stated as marriage solely between one man and one woman, offended the equality rights in the Charter of Rights. The Court provided a new definition of marriage as “the voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all other”.
By changing the definition of the word “marriage”, the court allowed same-sex couples to be entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples in Ontario are entitled to health benefits, pension benefits and insurance benefits. They have the right to adopt children and are also entitled to spousal support should the marriage end. In short, marriages between people of the same sex are considered equal to marriages between heterosexuals. In 2005, the Canadian Parliament passed a law that made same-sex marriages legal nationwide.
In the United States, however, opposition to same-sex marriage remains strong. A 2004 study conducted by Cornell University found that people in opposition of same-sex marriage tended to be older, less educated, and voted Republican; while people in favor of same-sex marriage tended to be younger, college-educated, and earned a good living. Those in favor were also more likely to classify themselves as “liberal” or “independent”.
In 2009, not much has changed. Same-sex marriage continues to be a controversial topic that separates the educated from the not so educated, the religious from the not so religious and, most importantly, the homosexuals from the heterosexuals. Even within families, the divide is clear. A parent, for instance, may be accepting of their gay child, but that acceptance sometimes stops short at the issue of marriage. Gay marriage is not an issue that older generations have had to deal with in the past and it makes many older people uncomfortable. Only 18.4% of voters over 56 were found to be in favor same-sex marriage.
So, how do we set a course for change? The issue needs to be considered from a human perspective. Putting aside statistics, personal prejudices, and arguments over Separation of Church and State; we need to view same-sex marriage as the human rights issue it is. People need to be reminded that this affects real lives. They need to be reminded that everyone deserves the same rights. We all deserve to be protected, regardless of who we are or who we love.