Marriage for Same-Sex Couples
Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor
Nigel Simon and Alvin Williams
Carol Snyder and Heather McDonnell
Donna Colley, Margaux Towne-Colley, and their son Grayson
Richard Rogers and Bill Mullins
Francis Shen and Wade Nichols
Charles Blackburn and Glen Dehn
Jo Rabb and Takia Foskey
Maria Barquero and Donna Myers
Marriage equality. Marriage Fairness. Gay marriage. Marriage for same-sex couples. It is called by many different names, but all of them refer to the same thing: Extending the freedom to marry, along with its special legal status and the thousands of protections and obligations that opposite-sex married couples enjoy, to same-sex couples through civil marriage.
The concept of equal protection under the law, enshrined in the Constitution, requires that fundamental rights like the right to marry be made available equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. While religious faiths are free to discriminate between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages, according to their beliefs, the government may not.
The ACLU is fighting, in Congress, state legislatures and the courts, to ensure that the freedom to marry is made available to loving couples in same-sex relationships across the country.
Defense of Marriage Act
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a federal law passed in 1996 that both created a federal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman and expressly gave states permission to refuse to recognize marriages entered into by same-sex couples in other jurisdictions. The part of DOMA that defines marriage at the federal level – known as Section 3 – was a radical departure from 220 years of federal practice, which was to rely on each state to define marriage and to recognize any marriage legally entered into under state law as a valid marriage for federal purposes.
We are challenging Section 3 of DOMA on behalf of our client Edie Windsor in Windsor v. United States, which is currently pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. We are also supporting the effort to repeal DOMA through Congressional action, in the form of the Respect for Marriage Act. Other organizations are similarly challenging DOMA.
Today, 20 states plus D.C. provide some significant state-level relationship protections and those states are home to 130 million people. LGBT families are making progress, but there is still much work to do. Many states have laws that prevent full recognition of same-sex relationships. Of those states, many have also passed restrictions on same-sex relationships in their state constitutions. Intimate adult relationships are among the most important relationships in the lives of many people, and the ACLU is fighting relationship discrimination at the state level to ensure that LGBT people are able to build committed, loving relationships without taking the risk that their families will be disregarded by the state or society Through litigation, advocacy and public education, the ACLU continues to work to expand marriage fairness.
Marriage Ballot Measures 2012
In November 2012, the nation experienced an indisputable watershed moment in the movement for LGBT equality: voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington approved the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, and voters in Minnesota rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have excluded gay couples from marriage. The vote illustrates that the country is getting squarely behind the notion that same-sex couples should be able to make the same legal commitment to each other that straight folks can. And this marriage moment provides immeasurable support for the prospect of another one next June, when the Supreme Court is likely to issue its views on marriage for same-sex couples.
This is why the ACLU devoted an unprecedented level of resources to the 2012 state marriage campaigns, building on many years of working in each state’s courts, legislatures, and in their courts of public opinion for incremental improvements in state recognition of same-sex relationships.
Washington State: In February 2012 Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill making Washington the seventh state in the country (plus D.C.!) to open marriage to committed same-sex couples. Marriage opponents tried to roll back the law by putting a referendum on the November ballot asking whether voters approved of the marriage law. The ACLU of Washington lobbied hard for the marriage bill, served on the steering committee of Washington United for Marriage, the campaign that successfully fought to protect the law, and spearheaded the effort to engage communities of color in the campaign.
Maryland: On the heels of the Washington victory, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the Civil Marriage Protection Act into law in March, bringing the total number of states with marriage freedom laws to eight! The law is now scheduled to take effect January 1, 2013, after opponents’ efforts to repeal the law through referendum were thwarted. The ACLU of Maryland was on the steering committee of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, led an organizing and fundraising program, and ran the campaign’s campus outreach program.
Maine: Back in 2009, the Maine legislature passed a freedom to marry law and the governor signed it, but the law was narrowly rejected by the people at the ballot that fall. This year we put the issue back on the ballot, affirmatively asking voters to allow same-sex couples to marry – and the voters said yes! The ACLU of Maine was on the executive committee of Mainers United for Marriage, and hired organizing staff to lead an outreach campaign to enlist supportive Republicans.
Minnesota: We defeated a bad marriage amendment in Minnesota, which would have amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as only between one man and one woman. The ACLU of Minnesota was a member of Minnesotans United for All Families and organized phone banks to educate the state about the freedom to marry.