Frequently Asked Questions About Marriage Equality
Adapted from responses originally created by Eve Lubalin, PFLAG California Advocacy Chair
Can same-sex marriage harm heterosexual marriage?
No. Permitting gay and lesbian couples to marry cannot not and will not cause harm to someone else’s marriage and family. No documentation exists which gives credence to this deliberately misleading rhetoric. In fact, European countries that have given massive legal recognition to same-sex relationships have experienced no harm to straight couples and their families. In Massachusetts, thousands of gay and lesbian couples have married in the past year, and straight marriages have not suffered in any way. In fact, Massachusetts has among the lowest divorce rates in the U.S.
Should gay and lesbian couples wait to marry until the majority supports it?
Basic civil rights should not be a popularity contest. The Constitution and Bill of Rights are meant to protect the civil rights and liberties of minorities. It often takes the government enforcing basic civil rights to help change public opinion and behaviors. A woman’s right to vote, the integration of the military, and interracial marriage were all unpopular at one time. But our country is a democracy in which the minority is entitled to protection, and historically, the government provides leadership to educate the public and build support for civil rights.
Why can’t gay and lesbian couples have the same benefits but not call it marriage?
As we learned in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, there is no such thing as "separate but equal." Providing most of the rights and responsibilities but not allowing the use of the word "marriage" clearly promotes separate and unequal status for LGBT citizens. This is unworkable at a practical level and almost certainly unconstitutional, based on Supreme Court precedent. Civil marriage is an intricate web of legal, economic and practical protections and responsibilities, from sharing club memberships to the adoption of children to interstate travel, to tax issues, to immigration. Everyone instantly knows what marriage confers, and a couple should have no confusion about this when dealing with issues like critical care, immigration, or parenting. Who will make the decisions on which rights same-sex couples should have, and how can they be made fairly? State domestic partnerships or civil unions are not portable across state lines and do not confer the 1,138 federal rights given by marriage. Even if states and the federal government could construct an entire parallel family code for the LGBT community, which is unlikely, a nationwide domestic partnership program would involve the government stigmatizing one group of citizens as "unfit" for marriage. Our country rightly decided a long time ago that separate is not equal, and there is no reason to turn back the clock.
Shouldn’t marriage remain as it has always been?
Marriage and family are not very traditional at all. For instance, in the Bible, Abraham and Sarah were half-siblings, sharing a father. Jewish law once required childless husbands to marry a second time, with or without divorcing the first wife. Only the upper one-third of empire Romans had the legal right to marry; everyone else lived together outside the law. For its first five hundred to a thousand years, the early Christian church considered marriage a tainted, earthly institution, something rendered unto Caesar, and didn’t officially declare marriage a sacrament until 1215. It has also been documented that the church had ceremonies to celebrate and solemnize the love of same-sex partners 1,200 years before doing so for heterosexual marriages. In English and American law, women did not have the right to be their children’s guardians until the 19th century. While American states were battling for nearly 150 years over whether to recognize each others divorces, Protestant denominations were roiled by the question of whether it was sinful to remarry divorced people whose ex-spouses were still alive. Marriage has always been a social battleground, its rules and borders shifting to suit each economy, each era, and each class. Charges that providing marriage equality is a "radical redefinition of marriage" are exaggerated — it is simply sensible and timely reform.
What about the effects on children?
According to the 2000 Census, one of three lesbian couples is raising children and one in five gay male couples has children, but these couples are denied the right to raise their children within a marital relationship. These children are subjected to systematic prejudice on a daily basis and are denied many of the protections and rights accorded to the children of married straight couples. Marriage protects children, giving greater access to health care, family and medical leave, and the right to a legal relationship with both parents. Marriage can also have significant economic impacts, due to parenting related federal tax benefits, Social Security and pension benefits, veterans benefits, employer based health insurance and other benefits available to employee family members. Yet, despite these disadvantages, studies done in the last 20 years show that children raised by gay parents are well-adjusted and happy and do not differ on standard psychological measures from children raised in straight households.
Studies show that kids do not necessarily need one mother and one father so much as they need good nurturers and positive role models. Claims to the contrary misrepresent the research. Yet, only seven states, plus the District of Columbia, provide for legal second parent or joint adoption statewide despite the fact that same sex couples are raising children in 96% of U.S. counties.
If we allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, what’s next? Are we going to allow marriage between three (or more) people?
No. When the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that laws barring black people from marrying white people were invalid and unconstitutional, opponents insisted that marriage by definition was for partners of the same race and argued the court’s decision would lead to polygamy. That was not the case. The question of who can marry is a different question from how many can marry. We are asking the government to grant gay and lesbian couples the same rights it grants straight couples. Since the government has chosen to involve itself in the relationship of two individuals, for it to choose which couples get marriage rights is discrimination.
Would the government be sanctioning homosexuality by legalizing same-sex marriage?
It’s not the government’s job to sanction heterosexuality or homosexuality. Nor is it in a position to judge the marriages of its citizens. It’s not the government’s job to make policy based on religious precepts. It is the government’s job to enforce the Constitution. The Constitution says everyone gets equal treatment under the law.
Doesn’t The Bible say marriage is between one man and one woman making it a religious institution?
This issue has nothing to do with the Bible or religion. The issue is civil marriage. Civil marriage is a government institution that grants hundreds of state rights and over 1,100 federal rights. When a couple goes to the County Clerk’s office for a marriage license and to a justice of the peace to officiate, religion plays no role. The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of the Bible or any other religious text.
Wouldn’t recognition of gay and lesbian marriages cost businesses a lot more money?
No. The main benefit many employers provide for their employees which might be affected by permitting same-sex couples to marry would be health care benefits. Currently, many gay people cannot obtain this benefit. The additional cost to employers would be minimal and no one would even ask this question if a company happened to have all straight people working with the expectation they would all be married. Businesses often offer gay couples benefits already as it is in their best interest to attract the best employees and retain them. Studies suggest the impact on business of recognizing gay and lesbian couples would be minimal. Above all, this is a red herring issue, distracting from the real questions at hand. Research on the question in fact shows that marriage equality would be good for the economy and beneficial to taxpayers.
Wouldn’t permitting gay and lesbian couples to marry mean the further breakdown of the family?
Absolutely not. In fact, the breakdown of the family is a concern of many gay people, along with straight people, who believe that families are important for society. Permitting gay and lesbian people to get married in fact extends the protections of family recognition to more families, making the institution stronger. Although many marriages end in divorce, marriage fulfills an important role in supporting families and the communities around us. Families are (and should) be made of love, respect, sacrifice and commitment. The same values that led us to recognize and respect marriages between straight couples, should inspire us to recognize and respect marriages of gay and lesbian couples. Recognition of gay and lesbian couples and their families would be a positive addition to the diversity in our communities.
What is DOMA?
Passed in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies federal recognition of gay marriages and gives each state the right to refuse recognition of same-sex marriage licenses issued by other states. The act does not prohibit states from allowing gay marriages, but neither does it obligate states to recognize the gay marriages from other states. For the first time in history, the federal government defines marriage in the Act as a "legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife," and spouse is defined as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." Marriages that do not fit this description are not eligible for any benefits offered by the federal government.
For More Information on DOMA, see Senate Subcommittee Hearing on the Proposed Federal Defense of Marriage Act.