Although economic issues seem to be the highest priority for most people as we lead up to the midterm elections, the debate over gay marriage is nonetheless hitting a turning point. Two recent polls were the first to find majority support for same-sex couples having marriage rights.
Gay marriage is legal in five states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire) and in Washington, D.C. But each of those states allowed the practice only after courts or legislatures stepped in. A popular vote on gay marriage has never resulted in legalizing the unions.
The battle for what pro-gay marriage activists call “marriage equality” has also made significant strides in court recently. In July, a judge in Massachusetts declared the Defense of Marriage Act, which Congress passed in 1996, unconstitutional. The act denies federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples that get married. Then in August, a federal judge in California ruled that a voter initiative called Proposition 8, which barred gay marriage in the state, also violated the Constitution.
Both judges put a “stay” on their rulings, which is like putting them on hold. This means that gay married couples in Massachusetts don’t receive legal benefits, and gay couples in California can’t get married.
But marriage isn’t the only area of gay rights where the courts have ruled in favor of gay activists lately. The debate over ending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which forbids gays and lesbians from serving openly, has come to the fore in a few venues and even gotten the attention of pop star Lady Gaga.
Last month, a federal judge in California declared the military’s policy unconstitutional and may order the military to stop enforcing it any day now. A few weeks later, a judge in Washington ruled that a lesbian who had been discharged from the Air Force Reserve must be reinstated because her dismissal violated her constitutional rights.
Any one of those court cases could wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sandwiched between the two “don’t ask, don’t tell” rulings was a Senate vote on repealing the policy. It was voted down, but not before singer Lady Gaga appeared at a rally in Maine, home to two moderate GOP senators whose votes Democrats were courting. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he plans to bring the repeal vote again after the Nov. 2 elections. and a report on the effects of ending the policy is due to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Dec. 1.
Amid all this activity, Ask America has been collecting people’s thoughts on the issue. So far, more than 17,000 responses have come in, and it’s currently split 50-50.
The question has generated more than 1,200 comments. Yahoo! user lamme, who voted in favor of gay marriage, said, “If you don’t believe gay marriage is right, then don’t have one. Leave the gays who wish to marry alone. Can someone explain how gay marriage hurts the straight community?”
User Jen, who voted “No,” commented: “I will tell you why I care; because it is ruining the family unit and the downfall of our civilization. Men and women have separate, distinct roles in life…they should be upheld.”
People on both sides of the issue expressed one other opinion that comes up fairly often in the debate: that the government should just stay out of the marriage business altogether.
“The Constitution does not define marriage. All unions should be civil unions. Marriage is a religious ceremony,” Chet Askew, who voted “Yes,” said.
Terry voted “No” but said, “Marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. Plus, government should not be involved in this process period.”
Also present in the gay marriage debate is whether or not full marriage rights nationwide for same-sex couple are inevitable. Polls show there is a significant age gap in feelings about the issue; younger people tend to be for it compared to older people. So the logic goes that eventually a clear majority will be in favor.
“This battle is over,” David Boies, one of the lawyers who worked to get California’s Proposition 8 overturned, said at a panel discussion in New York City on Saturday. “It’s just a question of how soon people get equal rights.”
But Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which advocates keeping marriage between a man and a woman, had a different take. He maintained that the popular opinion of people who are not “elite” is still overwhelmingly in favor of leaving marriage as is.
“You’re ultimately going to lose at the Supreme Court,” he told Boies, adding that if Boies doesn’t, Congress would push for another federal marriage amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
More than 38,000 people have weighed in on this topic on Ask America, with 62 percent saying that it’s only a matter of time before gay marriage becomes legal in all states.
Are they right?