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Religious Tolerance logo

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage (aka gay
marriage) across the U.S. in its ruling of The Obergefell v. Hodges
case from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, & Tennessee.

Part 50:
2015-JULY: All same-sex married couples are
now eligible for federal spousal benefits.
Webmaster's note about status of gay marriage.
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We use the term "gay marriage."to represent the marriage of two persons of
the same sex. We prefer "Same-sex marriage," a more inclusive term that
includes spouses with a bisexual sexual orientation, but it would make this web
site harder to find.
"LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.
"LGB" refers to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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star 2015-JUL-09: All married same-sex couples are now eligible for federal spousal benefits!:

Prior to 2013-JUN-26, same-sex married couples were cut off from federal marriage-related programs, protections, and benefits. This was because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a.k.a. DOMA. It had been passed by Congress during 1996-MAY and signed into law by President Bill Clinton (D) on 1996-SEP-21. 1 At the time, it had zero effect, because no U.S. state, territory, or district either allowed same-sex couples to marry or recognized such marriages that had been legally solemnized out-of-state. In fact, no same-sex couples were able to legally marry anywhere in the world until 2001-APR when gay marriages became available in the Netherlands.

Section 3 of DOMA defined the terms "spouse" and "marriage," as it appeared in federal marriage laws, as referring only to the voluntary union of one woman and one man.

However, the law came into effect for married same-sex couples when such marriages were first legalized by Massachusetts in 2004. By early 2015, gay marriages were recognized in 37 states, zero territories, and the District of Columbia.

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Section 3 of the DOMA law was clearly unconstitutional. That is because:

  • The federal Constitution does not mention marriage.

  • Thus, the U.S. Constitution automatically leaves the responsibility for defining marriage to the individual states or to the people.

  • It cannot be left up to the people because some men might declare themselves married to more than one women, or vice versa; adults might declare themselves married to their pet animal; or to a young child, or to a close relative, etc. Some government regulation is necessary. Thus, it must remain the responsibility of the individual states to each define the criteria that two people must meet before they can marry.

  • If a state recognizes gay marriages -- that is, a marriage of two persons of the same sex -- then the U.S. Constitution requires that the federal government must also recognize these unions.

  • However, as written, Section 3 of the DOMA law states that the U.S. Government would only recognize unions of one woman and one man.

  • Surprisingly, it took over 17 years from 1996-SEP until 2013-JUN before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case "United States v. Windsor" that declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional and unenforceable.

One additional complication: Although individual states, territories or the District of Columbia can define marriage as they wish, the criteria that they establish must not violate the Due Process and Equal Protection requirements of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These two clauses require the federal government, state governments, and local governments to treat all people equally. By extension, they are required to treat all couples equally.

It was not until 2015-JUN-26 that the U.S. Supreme Court declared gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee to be unconstitutional. This was in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. Their ruling had the effect of overturning gay marriage bans across the entire country. Same-sex couples could theoretically marry anywhere in the U.S. As described in earlier parts of this section of the web site, a scattering county clerks either refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or stopped issuing any marriage licenses at all. But, as of JUL-09, licenses are available to almost all of the 3,144 counties -- and county equivalences -- in the U.S.

In response to this decision by the High Court, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch released a statement on JUL-09 saying:

"Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell that every couple has the same right to participate in the institution of marriage, whether the partners are of the same-sex or opposite sexes, I directed Justice Department staff to work with the agencies to ensure that the ruling be given full effect across the federal government. Thanks to their leadership and the quick work of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, today I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide. ..."

"The department will continue to work across the administration to fulfill our commitment to equal treatment for all Americans, including equal access to the benefits of marriage that the Obergefell decision guarantees." 2,3

She said:

"With the Supreme Court’s new ruling that the Constitution requires marriage equality, we have now taken the further step of ensuring that all federal benefits will be available equally to married couples in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Territories."

In the past, certain of the 1,138 government programs, benefits, and protections were only available to married same-sex couples if their marriages were recognized in the states where they resided.

The battle for equal rights for all couples started in Hawaii during 1991 when three same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses and were refused. There are still many battles left are for:

  1. Couples in a few counties across the U.S. to obtain a marriage licence where clerks are still resisting. This is expected to be attained with weeks.

  2. Human rights legislation to become law in some areas of the Country to protect LGBT individuals from being fired or ejected from their residences because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

  3. City and state human rights legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, to that the LGBT community cannot be discriminated against by public accommodations. These are for-profit companies that provide goods and services to the general public.

We expect that the second and third goals will take years to accomplish.

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2015-JUL-10: Webmaster's note: [bias alert]

It appears that qualified same-sex couples can now obtain marriage licenses in all but a small handful of the 3,143 counties, parishes, and other county-equivalents in the United States. If a couple is refused a license, they can often go to an adjacent county, obtain a license, get married anywhere in their state, and register their marriage. Alternately, they can go to an adjacent state, get married there, return home and expect their state to recognize their out-of-state marriage.

Although marriage equality is secure for a little while, it is quite possible that:

  • If one of the four liberal Supreme Court Justices were to resign or die in office in 2017 or later, and

  • If a Republican president is elected in 2016 and if the Republican Party maintains their majority in the Senate, then:

The new Justice nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate could have a conservative constitutional philosophy. The result is that Obergefell could be reversed and marriage equality lost, at least for a while.

In spite of their impressive civil rights gains, the LGBT community still has a long way to go to attain equality with heterosexual and cisgender Americans. Members of the LGBT community can now get married one day and can find out on the next day that they have been legally fired from their jobs, evicted from their accommodation, and refused service at retail stores because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Human rights legislation protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is missing at the federal level and in many states.

There is much evidence that religious, social, and political conservatives are switching their efforts from opposing gay marriage to preserving the religious freedom to discriminate against the LGBT community. The battles will probably continue for at least a decade before true equality is attained across the entire country. Fortunately for the LGBT community, the millennial generation is the first cohort in which a majority of its members know a gay or lesbian person as a friend or relative. They have a much better understanding of what being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender involves. Voters in this and successive generations will probably play a major role in promoting protections for the LGBT community.

IMHO the most serious current issue in terms of human suffering is the treatment of LGBT youth by their own families of origin. Many teens are either thrown to the curb by their parents or find it so difficult to stay at home that they find it easier to leave their family of origin and become homeless. Even though only about 5% of all youths are actually gay or lesbian, they form about 40 to 45% of homeless youth in the U.S. Studies need to be initiated to discover why parents are abandoning their LGBT children or making them so uncomfortable that they decide that they must leave. Considering the high death rate among homeless youth from suicide and other causes, some parents and some organizations have blood on their hands. They need to be held accountable.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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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. "Defense of Marriage Act," Wikipedia, as on 2015-JUL-02, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. Dan Van Winkle, "Federal Spousal Benefits Now Guaranteed to All Same-Sex Couples to Match Supreme Court Ruling," The Mary Sue, 2015-JUL-09, at: http://www.themarysue.com/
  3. Federal marriage benefits are now available for same-sex couples across the country," The Verge, 2015-JUL-09, at: http://www.theverge.com/

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How you may have arrived here:

Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2015-JUL-07
Latest update: 2015-JUL-14
Author: B.A. Robinson
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