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Same-Sex Marriage Wrap-Up

19 November 2012

Over the past few years, the country has witnessed an abundance of legislation on both the state and national levels regarding same-sex marriage. The issue has raised debates regarding the institution of marriage and the rights associated with it. While supporters of same-sex marriage argue that all couples should have the same recognition and rights, opponents stand by the definition of marriage as one between a man and a woman.

In 1996, the Federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. In 2010, however, it repealed the military’s 1993 Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Amendment, which prohibited members of the armed forces from being openly homosexual. Most recently, Congressional action regarding same-sex marriage has included two amendments, H Amdt 1416 and H Amdt 1096. Both amendments prevent the use of funds to be used in contravention of Defense of Marriage Act. In its National Defense Authorization Act for 2013, Congress includes a provision that prohibits the use of a military installation to officiate, solemnize, or perform a marriage or marriage-like ceremony for the union of same-sex couples.

38 States have laws or constitutional provisions similar to the Defense of Marriage Act and 3 states have no provisions defining marriage. 9 states as well as the District of Columbia now authorize same-sex marriage and grant the same rights to all couples. A number of other states allow civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. These types of state-level spousal rights vary in degree, with certain domestic partnerships granting less rights and civil unions granting more.

Legislation authorizing same-sex marriage was passed in both New Jersey chambers by a near party-line vote, but Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill as anticipated. Supporters in the House, such as Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, believe that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, not a religious one. Opponents of the bill claim that the issue should be sent to a popular vote in an election and that the state’s civil union law is sufficient to guarantee rights to same-sex couples. More often, however, states that do not currently authorize same-sex marriages have passed legislation to specifically prohibit them or to define marriage in line with the Defense of Marriage Act.

Multiple provisions defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, such as those in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Carolina, have been passed by a majority vote during an election. In Iowa and Minnesota, the vote occurred during the 2012 general election after passage by a simple majority in each chamber, but North Carolina opted for the vote to occur during the first primaries of 2012 after a three-fifths majority passage in each chamber.

The November 2012 elections marked the first time that same-sex marriage has been authorized by a popular vote. The electorate in Maine, Washington, and Maryland continued the national trend toward the authorization of same-sex marriage at the polls rather than through a legislative or judicial measure.

Aside from legislation directly regulating marriage, certain states that have authorized same-sex marriage have also begun to pass related legislation. Bills such as California’s SB 1140 exempt religious persons or institutions from being required to provide services that are contrary to any religious beliefs. On the other hand, Wyoming passed HB 74, a bill that that prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages formed outside of the state.

Over the last 20 years, legislation regarding marriage has taken many forms. Although the majority of states continue to stand with the Federal government’s definition of marriage, the number of states authorizing domestic partnerships, civil unions, and same-sex marriages is increasing. The trend toward more legislation regarding this controversial social issue is likely to continue in future legislative sessions.

Melanie Magnotto is completing her Bachelor’s in Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is currently interning with Project Vote Smart.

Related tags: blog, California, Iowa, key-votes, Maryland, Minnesota, New-Jersey, North-Carolina, Wyoming

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