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Religious Tolerance logo

Introduction to same-sex
marriages (SSM) and civil unions.

Part 2

2014: Past SSM strategies in the U.S.
The drive to legalize SSM across the US.
Our early SSM predictions about SSM.
Links to resources and books.

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"SSM" refers to same-sex marriage

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Current status outside the U.S. as of mid-2014:

bullet Canadian marriage law is very different from that in the U.S. The federal government defines who can marry. Thus, passage of one new federal law made same-sex marriage available on 2005-JUL to 99.6% of the Canadian population, in ten provinces and three territories. A single province -- Prince Edward Island (PEI) -- defied the Government of Canada and refused to marry same-sex couples. Faced with a lawsuit from a lesbian couple, PEI suddenly capitulated in 2005-AUG. SSM has become an accepted part of the culture, except among religious conservatives. Since Canada has no residency requirement for marrying couples, some Irish and Israeli couples have gone there, been married, returned to their country of residence, and asked that their marriages be recognized.
bullet Elsewhere in the world: As of 2014-JUN, same-sex marriage is available (or will shortly be legal) in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico City, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, the Scandinavian countries, and Uruguay. Civil unions are available in many other European countries. SSM is not available in Israel. However, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that five same-sex couples who had married in Canada could register their marriages in Israel. The next countries to legalize SSM will probably be Ireland, Northern Ireland, and perhaps Australia.

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Strategy within the U.S.:

Back in the 20th century, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and their supporting groups had long felt that a direct drive to try to have the U.S. Supreme Court approve same-sex marriage across the entire U.S. -- as the court did in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 to legalize interracial marriage -- would be too risky. Their early strategy was to:

  • Promote bills in state legislatures with Democratic majorities to allow civil unions or marriage, or to

  • Launch citizen initiatives to legalize SSM via referendums.

The LGBT's first success on same-sex marriage was via the state court system in Massachusetts. During 2004-JUN, under compulsion from the state Supreme Court, the legislature passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. Over the next decade, groups promoting marriage equality were able to persuade the legislatures in some states to legalize marriage, to sponsor citizen initiatives, and to file lawsuits in both state and federal courts.

Back in 2007 two leaders in the battle for SSM commented:

  • Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry said:

    "We actually have seen a record number of states this year in which bills were introduced to end gay couples' exclusion from marriage. Some of them will move forward. Some of them may move forward slowly over a period of a few years. And some of them will see a nonlinear progress, where they may move toward marriage, but through other measures, such as partnership or civil union, on the way to marriage equality. But the conversation has begun, and it's begun at the right level."

  • David Buckle, of Lambda Legal, a gay-positive group, noted:

    "There were disappointments in the courts, but there have been successes as well. This is how these civil rights movements go forward -- with ups and downs. And the question really is whether or not we're in it for the long haul, trekking all the way to the end, even though there are some valleys and mountains. And the answer is yes." 2

OutTake Media LLC produced a very effective 9 minute short in 2007 "to educate and defuse the gay marriage controversy." They sought funding to create a full-length documentary. View the short at: http://www.outtakeonline.com/

However, by the end of 2008, there were 31 U.S. states that had amended their state Constitution to ban SSMs. Some amendments banned any form of recognition of same-sex relationships at all, including civil unions and domestic partnerships. Legalizing SSM in these states will be a two step operation: first the Constitution must be amended to remove the ban on recognition of SSMs. Only then can a citizen initiative or bill in the state legislature make marriage available to same-sex couples.

By mid-2014, same-sex marriages had been legalized in 19 states by a combination of legislative activity, citizen initiatives and lawsuits in federal and state courts. Many more positive decisions on SSM had been given by federal and state judges. However, they were almost all stayed pending appeals to higher courts.

One example is Hollingsworth v. Perry. It was a legal case that started in the federal courts of California in order to declare Proposition 8 in California unconstitutional. Prop. 8 was a citizen initiative that narrowly passed on election day in 2008-NOV. It terminated new SSMs in the state. although marriages of people who had been married between 2008-MAY and election day in November were allowed to stay married. During 2013-JUN, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a technicality that Prop 8 was unconstitutional. SSMs started up immediately in California.

On the same day, the Supreme Court ruled in another very important case: Windsor v. United States. The court determined that part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. This forced the federal government to treat same-sex married couples and their children -- who lived in a state where their marriage was recognized -- the same as opposite-sex married couples in terms of access to 1,138 federal benefits and protections.

The reasoning used in the Windsor ruling was used by lawyers on behalf of their plaintiffs in other lawsuits attempting to legalize SSM. District Court judges in a string of over a dozen lawsuits in federal District Courts and state courts have all ruled in favor of SSM. With few exceptions, these rulings have mostly been stayed, pending appeals. Eight of these are before various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal as of 2014-JUN-18. One or more is probably going to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in early 2015 or 2016. That court may legalize SSM across the entire country when it rules in mid-2015 or more probably in mid-2016.

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A public backlash following the 2003 decision by the courts to legalize SSM Massachusetts -- the first state in the U.S. to do so. Religious and social conservatives have been successful in changing the constitutions and/or laws in most states to prohibit same-sex marriage. Some of these constitutional amendments were stealth measures that were promoted as banning same-sex marriage, but which in reality deny all non-married couples any benefits given to married couples. Future civil unions and domestic partnerships are also banned. Most of the people affected by these stealth amendments are actually common-law opposite-sex couples.

A 2006 Pew Forum poll found that 70% of adults over 50 years of age oppose same-sex marriage. But most adults under 30 support it.

By mid 2011, national polls showed about 53% in favor and 45% opposed. Support reached 58% by early 2013. More info on this and other polls.

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Our predictions:

Back in 1998, we made a series of predictions that:

bullet In the U.S., a few lawsuits may be launched by gays and lesbians who have been married in one state and then returned to their home state which refuses to recognize their status. All or essentially all will fail.

Looking back from mid-2014, this did happen for a while. But eventually, support for same-sex marriage (SSM) grew to the point where a series of lawsuits -- mostly in federal courts -- succeeded at the District Court level. These wins were then stayed while the lawsuits are being appealed to federal Circuit Courts of Appeal.


Same-sex marriage in Canada will continue uneventfully until a majority Conservative federal government is elected for its third term. If this happens during the 2010's, legislation to forcibly divorce many tens of thousands of same-sex couples and give them civil unions will be introduced. Lawsuits will restart before the ink is dry on the law.

The Conservative party did maintain control of Parliament for a third term. TheY did launch a trial balloon in Parliament to reopen debate on SSM. But the balloon was shot down by the Liberal and New Democratic Party Members of Parliament.


The U.S. Supreme Court will eventually rule that all states must make civil unions or marriage available for same-sex couples. Civil unions will be unworkable as separate but equal recognition will be found to be unequal. A decade or so later, the Supreme Court will follow up with a subsequent ruling requiring states to provide SSM.

We really guessed incorrectly on this one. A few states did legalize civil unions. However some replaced its civil union legislation with same-sex marriage legislation. By mid-2014, over 70 lawsuits were launched to legalize SSM -- mostly in federal courts. There was at least one lawsuit in every state that had banned SSM. These are gradually working their way through the court system, headed in the direction towards the U.S. Supreme Court.


The federal DOMA law will be replaced by one that gives equal federal benefits, rights, and protections to married and eventually to "civil unionized" couples as well.

We were again in error. The federal DOMA law was challenged in federal court. Although it remains on the books, the most critical section was declared unconstitutional and void by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013-JUN in their Windsor v. United States decision. This gave access to same-sex married couples and their children to 1,138 federal benefits and protections as long as their marriages were recognized in their state of residence. Civil unionized couples are still denied federal recognition of their relationships.


Churches will continue to be able to discriminate, on any basis that they feel justified, against any opposite-sex or same-sex couples who seek to be married or solemnize a civil union. However, those faith groups that choose to oppose SSM and equal rights for the LGBT community will suffer greatly due to the loss of older teenage and young adult members who prefer to not be associated with faith groups who reject the legitimacy of loving committed same-sex relationships by lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Those faith groups that oppose SSM will eventually stop spreading the fear that SSM means an end to religious freedom and liberty when the public understands that the claims are without merit.

This has happened. Conservative and many mainline churches still refuse to marry same-sex couples. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives them absolute immunity from any charges or prosecution for such discrimination. Present-day youths are the first generation of young people in which the majority have a member of the LGBT community as a friend or relative. Many are voting with their feet against the teachings of conservative churches about gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender individuals, transsexuals, human sexuality, origin of the species and other scientific topics.

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Reference used:

  1. Barbara Hagerty, "Gay-Marriage Advocates Switch Tactics," National Public Radio, 2007-APR-16, at: http://www.npr.org/
  2. "Impact" magazine, Lambda Legal, 2007-Summer. Download the magazine via an accursed PDF file at: http://www.google.com/

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Internet web sites with information about SSM:

  • "The Freedom to Marry: Rites & Rights," details the history of marriage equality in the U.S., and provides quick access to the collection of court rulings and other documents. See: http://www.lmaw.org/freedom/ 

  • "Gay Marriage: The arguments and the motives," is an essay by Scott Bidstrup which studies the causes of opposition to same-sex marriage. See: http://www.bidstrup.com/

  • The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund is the oldest and largest legal organization in the US working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS. Their site contains a great deal of information
    on legal issues, case, decisions, resources, etc. See: http://www.lambdalegal.org

  • The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund has a "freedom to marry" WWW site at: http://www.ftm.org/ It lists state by state same-sex marriage news at: http://www.ftm.org/

  • Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples is a national resource for same-sex couples. They support the diverse community of committed gay and lesbian partners through a variety of media. The constantly updated Web site contains 140+ pages of essays, surveys, legal information useful to couples, counselors, reporters, etc. Partners has also produced a video called "The Right to Marry"; images of the video are on the Web site. See: http://www.buddybuddy.com

  • The Queer Resources Directory maintains a page of same-sex marriage information; it is frequently updated. See: http://qrd.tcp.com/

  • Rainbow Hearts is a web site devoted to gay and lesbians weddings, unions and marriages." See: http://rainbowhearts.gq.nu/

  • The Same Sex Weddings mailing list is a support group for couples planning a same-sex wedding. See: http://www.onelist.com/

  • A liberal religious view is at: http://student-www.uchicago.edu/

  • If you doubt the importance of extending the marriage option to gays and lesbians, please read about the pain that hatred can accomplish in the absence of such legislation: http://www.critpath.org/

  • A web page associated with the MARRIAGE mailing lists is at: http://abacus.oxy.edu/ 

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Essays and articles on same-sex marriage:

bullet Stuart Shepard, "Homosexual marriage debate spreads," Focus on the Family, 2001-JAN-24 at: http://www.family.org/
bullet "Gay Marriage: The arguments and the motives," is an essay by Scott Bidstrup which studies the causes of opposition to same-sex marriage. See: http://www.bidstrup.com/
bullet A 1996 statement by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (United States) is at: http://www.knight.org/
bullet "A Rite for the Celebration of Commitment to a Life Together" at: http://www.oasiscalifornia.org/ forms part of the "Report of the Second Consultation of Episcopalians on Same-Sex Unions," July 1996; available online at: http://www.oasiscalifornia.org/
bullet "Defending What? Gay Bashing Taints Legitimate Debate", Anchorage Daily News, Anchorage AK, 1996-SEP-15
bullet "The Courts Deliver", Honolulu Advertiser, Editorial page, 1996-DEC-4, Section 1, Page 14
bullet John Boswell, "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe", Villard, New York, NY, (1994) You can read a review and/or safely order this book from the Amazon.com online bookstore
bullet Valerie Abrahamsen, "Burials in Greek Macedonia: Possible evidence for same-sex committed relationships in early Christianity," Journal of Higher Criticism, 4/2 (1997-FALL), Pages 33-56. Available at: http://daniel.drew.edu/
bullet Rob Morse, "Who Are These Men to Put Asunder," San Francisco Examiner, 1996-SEP-11

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Books and other non-Internet resources

bullet An English translation of the Danish Act on Registered Partnership can be obtained for $2.00 USF from Paz y Liberacion, Box 66450, Houston, TX 77266.
bullet John Boswell, "Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century", Chapter 4, University of Chicago Press (1981). Read reviews and/or order this book.
bullet John Boswell, "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe", Villard, New York, NY, (1994) You can read a review and/or safely order this book from the Amazon.com online bookstore
bullet Valerie Abrahamsen, "Burials in Greek Macedonia: Possible evidence for same-sex committed relationships in early Christianity," Journal of Higher Criticism, 4/2 (1997-FALL), Pages 33-56. Available at: http://daniel.drew.edu/

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Other books on same-sex marriage:

Site navigation:
"SSM" means "same-sex marriage"

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Copyright 1998 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2016-SEP-24

Author: B.A. Robinson
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