The Fight for Gay Marriage: A New Civil Rights Movement?

Most individuals enter early adulthood with the hope of finding a suitable partner.  They go on dates and enter into relationships which for the majority result in marriage and eventually childbearing. Married couples take for granted certain rights that come along with matrimony.  For example, married people assume that if their spouse becomes ill, they will have full say in what happens to them during their stay in the hospital, or even their end of life decisions.  They also assume that if their spouse dies, they will be financially stable because they will retain their house and bank accounts that were accumulated during their marriage.  They have the right to adopt children.  They have the right to hold their spouses hand or to show affection to their spouse in public without shame, ridicule, or fear of harm. They have the right to marry the person that they are in love with and can spend their lives together without being judged.  They can live where they choose and not be denied housing or a job because of their sexual preferences. Same sex couples are not afforded these same rights that most straight people take for granted.  The fight for same sex marriage goes way beyond just a religious battle.  It is a battle for equal rights on a political level.
Unfortunately most anti-gay marriage supporters turn the debate into a purely religious argument and neglect to mention or to examine all of the rights that are denied based solely on sexual preference.  They argue that homosexuals are tampering with what God defines as marriage, a union between a man and a woman. For most gay and lesbian people, the focus is not on changing a religious right; it is about gaining equal human rights.  In the United States, there are over 1,100 rights associated with heterosexual marriage that gay people are not entitled to (National Organization for Women, 2012). . Partners in same-sex relationships cannot receive these important benefits that range from Social Security survivor benefits to federal tax benefits to federal employee health and retirement benefits. For example, married heterosexual couples are afforded a financial boost from Social Security benefit programs that same sex couples do not qualify for.  For some, the denial of these benefits can mean spending retirement years in poverty (Michon, 2012). . Same sex couples are denied spousal survivor benefits, spousal retirement benefits, and lump sum death benefits. There are dozens of tax breaks and benefits that same sex couples are disqualified for which result in the loss of thousands of dollars for the individuals who are denied (Michon, 2012).  For example, same sex couples cannot file a joint tax return which means that they cannot enjoy the same tax breaks that married couples can.  Federal employment benefits are also denied because most of them are tied to marital status.  Examples of a few of these benefits that are denied include health insurance for spouses, and wages, worker's compensation, health insurance, and retirement plan benefits for the surviving spouse of a deceased federal worker (Michon, 2012).
The denial of rights to same sex couple does not stop at a financial level.  It also has medical and legal implications. The right to make end of life decisions about a terminally ill loved one or even the right to visitation during a hospital stay is not the same for same sex couples.  Gay people are not permitted to make serious medical decisions for their partner in an emergency. Instead, hospitals are often forced by state laws to consult the families even though they may be estranged or hostile to the individual.  Gay people also have virtually no right to determine how a person’s ends of life wishes are carried out.  Rights may be overturned by the family even though a person’s will has clearly defined their wishes (Michon, 2012). These rights can include custody decisions, funeral arrangements, and real estate ownership decisions. Same sex couples may also be denied visitation rights at a hospital or even at a loved one’s grave site or funeral if the patient’s family wishes to do so.  Heterosexual couples do not face these situations because they are guaranteed these rights by federal law. There are also major differences in the legal arena as well. The concept of “legal testimony” is different for gay couples versus legally married heterosexual couples. In the legal system there is protection for heterosexual couples from having to testify against a partner if he or she is on trial. . The other difference is validity of defense testimony. Often a non-legal spouse’s testimony carries no more weight that a stranger’s (University of Missouri, 2011).
While there are a few states that now allow same sex marriages, the majority of the United States still does not recognize marriage between partners of the same sex. Some states, such as California, allow same sex couples to register as domestic partners.  This distinction makes no difference when it comes to most federal laws.  Gay or lesbian couples, whether married, unmarried, or registered as domestic partners are still not permitted protection by the same rights that are afforded to heterosexual couples. According to Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government only recognizes marriage between a man and woman.  This means that even if a couples union is recognized by their state of residence, it is not recognized at a federal level and therefore does not qualify for access to those laws that grant marriage benefits (NOLO Press, 2011).
As one can clearly see, the often religiously tainted battle for gay marriage goes far beyond just a fight for religious acceptance and change.  It is a battle for the right to equal human rights and for the right to survival, dignity, and for equal protection by federal laws. Being able to walk down the street with a loved one without fear of harm or ridicule and being able to enjoy the same financial and legal rights as every other person is the real focus.

Equal marriage now. (2012). National Organization for Women, Retrieved from
Exploring constitutional conflicts: The gay rights controversy. (2011). Unpublished manuscript, University
                of Missouri, Kansas City, Mo, .
Michon, Kathleen (2012). Federal marriage benefits denied to same-sex couples. NOLO Press, Retrieved

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