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The gay marriage debate is a gay rights issue because preventing gay people from marrying sets them aside from mainstream society. Refusing to allow gay couples the right to marry is an acknowledgement that gay couples are not in the same sort of relationships as heterosexual couples, and gives a message that gays and lesbians are not capable of forming a regular family unit.
Gay rights activists argue that refusing to allow gay couples to marry is equal to refusing to let any other minority marry – discriminating by withholding common rights. Marriage not only provides financial and social benefits and security, it is a traditional way of recognizing family attachment in cultures.
When a large amount of heterosexual couples began to establish committed, co-habitating relationships without marriage, governments recognized the need for de facto, or 'common-law', spousal rights by passing laws providing property, custody and dependent rights to de facto partners. Similar arrangements have been made in various areas as a way of legally recognizing the committed relationships of gay couples, in a mix between de facto partnerships and marriage called a civil union.
There have been arguments in the gay marriage debate about gay civil unions from both supporters of gay marriage and anti-gay marriage groups. Supporters of gay marriage argue that civil unions cannot replace the right to marry and are a way of segregating gay couples. This argument is based on the fact that heterosexual couples can access two legal avenues to register their commitment: marriage, which requires a ceremony and a signed legal document, or de facto partnership, which requires no contract at the time and only basic proof at dissolution if there are any property disputes. Gay couples can only access civil unions, a separate entity.
The gay marriage debate has occurred because marriage is not only a social but a legal institution. This means that couples wishing to marry must have the approval of the local authorities, and until recently only two people of opposite sexes applied for approval.
Some of the pros and cons of same sex marriage:
Many protests have been made around the world over the absence of gay marriage rights. Some of these have taken the form of local governments approving gay marriages to test the existing marriage laws of their country. Here are some of the big events:
In many other cases around the world, gay couples have been married in a country allowing gay marriage and fought to have their marriage recognized in their home country. While these attempts have often failed, the successful attempt creates a precedent that allows all gay couples to access the same avenue to marriage.
Marriage laws are constantly being tested by gay rights activists and gay couples wishing to be married. Couples travel overseas to countries that allow gay marriage and on their return petition their local courts for recognition of their marriage. As overseas opposite-sex marriages are usually recognized in a home country, gay couples argue that to deny recognition of their overseas gay marriage is discrimination.
Many of these cases fail, but successful cases establish precedents that give all gay couples an avenue to marriage.
Legislation to allow gay marriage has been introduced in various countries, including
In the US, tests of laws concerning gay marriage in New York have so far failed, as have Hawaii gay marriage challenges. California gay marriage law was tested by a San Francisco gay marriage attempt in 2005, where marriage licences were issued to over 4,000 couples. Although the marriages were voided, it showed the support gay marriage has in California.
The struggle for same-sex couples to have the same rights as heterosexuals to marry began in the 1970s, along with other struggles for civil rights. The first country to legally recognize a same-sex partnership was Denmark, in 1989, but the first legal gay marriage did not occur until 2001 in the Netherlands. Since then, three other countries have legalized gay marriage, as well as some of the US and Australia, while others have enforced a gay marriage ban.
Countries and areas that are fervently against gay marriage have passed laws banning gay marriage, in reaction to attempts made by couples to have their foreign gay marriages recognised in their own country. In the US, 19 states have passed laws banning same-sex marriage and 43 states have statutes defining marriage as specifically two people of the opposite sex. In 2006, the Republican party in the US attempted to introduce a law that would ban gay marriage America-wide, ignoring gay marriage states. This law was not passed.
Many attempts have been made around the world to legalize gay marriage. San Francisco marriages conducted in a brief period of rebellion in 2004 were declared void by the state of California. In 2005, a bill was introduced to legalise gay marriage but it was vetoed.
In 2005, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge ruled that gay and lesbian couples in California had a constitutional right to marry. This is being appealed and will be decided on Oct 10 2006.
The debate also affects transsexual people.
Current President of the
The Republican Party and conservative politics have a history of arguing against gay rights.