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Religious Tolerance logo

Gay marriage (a.k.a. same-sex marriage & SSM)

Part 1: During 2014,
was same-sex marriage seen as an
inevitable development in the U.S.?
Status of SSM in 2003. Arguments for
inevitability based on historical record.

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History and current status of SSM in the rest of the world:

The first country to legalize SSM in modern times was the Netherlands, in 2001-MAR. However, a little known fact is that the first same-sex couple to marry were actually in Ontario, Canada. The latter were married in Toronto two months earlier during 2001-JAN, following a "reading of the banns." This is an ancient ritual in which a couple can be married in a church without first having purchased a marriage license. Although the Government of Ontario refused at the time to register their marriage, it was recognized retroactively when a lawsuit made SSMs available in Ontario during 2002-AUG.

About 11 years later, at the start of 2014, the countries of the world had a wide range of responses to same-sex marriage:

  • Gay marriage was available and generally celebrated throughout 17 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, and Uruguay. See a world map. Debates to add the remaining predominately English speaking countries to this list are active as of mid-2013 in Australia. That country, and Northern Ireland may well be the final holdout among predominately English speaking countries to not allow SSM for many years into the future.

  • Marriage was also available in some states or cities in Mexico, and in the District of Columbia and 17 states in the United States.

  • In the vast majority of countries in the world, loving, committed same-sex couples and their children are not supported or recognized by by their governments. The couples lack the benefits, status, security, and protections that opposite-sex married couples routinely enjoy. They are treated as mere roommates.

  • In 76 countries (or 78 or 82 depending on how one defines the word "country") 1 they are considered criminals along with anyone else who engages in same-gender sexual behavior. They can be arrested, charged, tried, and sentenced to jail and/or flogging:

Countries where same-sex behavior is illegal

Countries, shown in black, where same-gender sexual behavior is a crime.
Not shown in black: Jamaica & almost a dozen other Caribbean nations.

  • In six countries -- all predominately Muslim -- individuals who are found to gave been sexually active with members of the same gender are subject to being rounded up, charged, tried, and executed.

We are a long way from reaching a worldwide consensus on same-sex marriage and same-sex sexual behavior. However, trends are towards greater acceptance of homosexuality and eventual legalization of gay marriages.

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2012 to 2015: History and current status of SSM in the U.S.:

Back in 2012-OCT, six U.S. states and the District of Columbia had made marriage available to same-sex couples. On election day in 2012-NOV, three more states were added by voters via plebiscites in three predominately liberal states: Maine, Maryland, and Washington State. During 2013-MAY, three additional states were added by state legislatures: Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

On 2013-JUN-26. as a result of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Proposition 8 case, California became the 13th state to make SSM available. By the end of 2013, SSM had been legalized in 17 states [CA, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, NM, MA, MD, ME, MN, NJ, NM, NY, NH, RI, VT, WA] and the District of Columbia. During the two months starting 2013-DEC-20, three federal District Courts had legalized SSM in Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia. However stays were put in place in all three states to prevent marriages from currently taking place pending appeals of the three cases to two different U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal.

By the start of 2014, about 38% of Americans lived in a place where same-sex couples can marry. Same-sex marriage (SSM) is forbidden by state constitutional amendments in 27 states and by state laws only in 4 states [IN, PA, WV, WY].

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2015: How it was perceived that gay marriages in all states could become available in the future:

If SSM was going to be universally available across the U.S. in the near future, the previous pattern of legalizing SSM one state at a time through activity in state Legislatures and plebiscites would probably be bypassed. That would probably have taken decades to finally win over the deep South. One measure of the difficulty was seen in Mississippi in 2011. Some 44 years after the Supreme Court 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia which declared that interracial marriages were legal throughout America, a survey showed that a plurality of Republican voters in that state still thought that interracial marriage should be prohibited.

There is a limit to the number of states that can reasonably be expected to approve SSM in the near future via legislature action. There are four remaining states [IN, PA,WV, WY] that don't have a constitutional prohibition against SSM. The state governments in those states might possibly attain marriage equality. But the 29 states with state constitutional prohibitions against SSM would take a long time to convert. The amendments would first have to be repealed before their marriage acts could be amended. That is a time-consuming process.

A more likely route was seen to attain equality through the federal district courts, as happened in the two months following 2013-DEC-20 in Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia. One of the dozen or so lawsuit currently active in federal District Courts could be appealed to a Circuit Court of Appeals, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court. The highest court might rule in favor of SSM and make their decision general enough to legalize SSM throughout the country.

Some LGBT-positive commentators believe that when:

  • Most states have legalized SSM, and

  • Most Americans live in states where SSM is available, and

  • Public opinion polls show consistently that 60% or more of American adults favor marriage being made available to loving, committed same-sex couples, that

the political climate will be such that the U.S. Supreme Court will legalize SSM across the country.

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One approach to the question: "Is same-sex marriage in all U.S. states inevitable?" An argument from history:

There have been four instances in the history of the United States to date when marriage has been redefined:

  1. Slaves in the 1860's: Until the end of the civil war, slaves could not legally decide to marry. Some slave owners gave their slaves permission to marry, but the marriage vows only promised "until distance do us part," not "until death do us part." The owner could and did break up any of his slave families at any time for any reason by selling a slave as a piece of his property to another owner, perhaps in another state.

    Henry "Box" Brown was a slave whose middle name came from his success in mailing himself in a box from Richmond, VA to Philadelphia, PA to gain his freedom. He wrote:

    "No slave husband has any certainty whatever of being able to retain his wife a single hour; neither has any wife any more certainty of her husband. Their fondest affection may be utterly disregarded, and their devoted attachment cruelly ignored at any moment a brutal slave-holder may think fit." 2

    Eligibility to marry was redefined at the end of the Civil War. Slavery was abolished. Former slaves could enter into marriages with a person and timing of their own choice, subject to racial and age limitations.
  2. Deaf couples in the early 20th Century: Some states, during the late 19th century, passed laws to prevent profoundly deaf couples from marrying. This was inspired by the eugenics movement who believed that they could improve the population's gene pool through legislation. All of he state laws were individually repealed in the early 20th century.

  3. Interracial couples in 1967: Couples of different races were prohibited from marrying in many states throughout the U.S. By the 1960's, 16 contiguous states in the American Southeast still banned these marriages. The states included Florida and adjacent states to the North and West. The Loving v. Virginia lawsuit in the early 1960's challenged the constitutionality of the Virginia law. The Loving family consisted of a white husband and a wife of native American ancestry. They were legally married in Washington DC but charged with the "crime" of interracial marriage in Virginia where they lived. They appealed their conviction. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court determined unanimously that all such anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. Interracial couples became free to marry in any state.

    Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the Court's ruling:

    "Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival. ... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State." 3

  4. Same-sex couples, starting in 2004: Couples of the same gender first became eligible to marry in Massachusetts. By 2014-FEB, same-sex couples were able to marry in a total of 17 states and the District of Columbia. Eligibility to marry was variously changed by a state courts, state legislatures, a citizen initiatives.

Each of the above four redefinitions was motivated by a change in public opinion -- whether it was a rejection of human slavery, or the rejection of the prohibition to marry by deaf couples, mixed race couples or same-sex couples. Change happened when a growing percentage of people viewed a restriction on marriage as unjust, and some took action to overcome the limitation on this "fundamental freedom." This process took centuries in the case of slavery, but has moved much faster for more recent changes. From the history of such conflicts, it appeared in 2014 that access to marriage by same-sex couples is inevitable in the U.S. as it was in Canada during 2005, and is expected to be in all large, predominately English speaking countries other than the U.S., perhaps by the end of 2010's.

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This topic continues in a second essay with a
discussion of arguments of SSM inevitability
in the U.S. based on the federal Constitution,
and public opinion.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
  1. "Erasing 76 Crimes," 76 Crimes, at:
  2. Tera W. Hunter, "Putting an Antebellum myth to rest," New York Times, 2011-AUG-01, at:
  3. Text of "Loving v. Virginia (No. 395) 206 Va. 924, 147 S.E.2d 78, reversed," U.S. Supreme Court, 1967-JUN-12, at:
  4. "US Constitution - 5th and 14th Amendments," FindUSlaw, at:
  5. Molly Ball, "Activists Say Gay Marriage Will Be Legal Across America in 5 Years," The Atlantic, 2013-JUN-26, at:

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Site navigation: Home > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > Polls > SSM > here

Copyright © 2003 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JUN-25
Latest update: 2016-DEC-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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