Before the November 2004 US elections, disputed social norms and shifting demographics caused widespread anxiety and a volatile political calculus. The national uproar and outrage over same-sex marriage prompted then-President George W. Bush to pledge to use constitutional amendments to prevent a gay couple from marrying in San Francisco. During that time, the Republican electoral coalition was divided on the issue. Moral and hard-line religious conservatives worked hard to maintain traditional marriage’s privileged status and rigidify its boundaries. This involves advocating for constitutional amendments that recognize marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Libertarians, social conservatives, and proponents of states’ rights advocates preferred to conservative gendered marriage but advocated for some diverse forms of household recognition and partnerships at the state level. Nonetheless, they were firmly opposed to federal imposition of constitutional amendments on the states.
The debate during this period over marriage and its future displaced even more significant and bigger battles in the U.S including war and peace, good governance and corporate greed and taxes and fairness. This is because the state regulation of partnerships and households affected not only the basic safety of all Americans but also their welfare, equality and prosperity (Duggan 15). It determined who makes emergency medical decisions, shares one’s Social Security Benefits or pensions and who legitimately co-parented the children among others. During this period, moral conservatives took the lead in trying to frame the significance of the then marriage crisis. They believed that the heterosexual unions’ stability was being threatened from all sides. This included the gay marriage apparition, women’s independent choices outside and within marriages and by the government’s neutrality, support and toleration of unmarried and single-parent households, particularly among the poor.
There were already various legal categories of marriage that had emerged over the decades of political squabbling at the state and municipal levels (Duggan 16). These included civil marriage, the civil union (with civil marriage’s state-level benefits but without portability from one state to another and federal recognition), reciprocal beneficiaries (which had the least benefits) and domestic partnership (that had fewer benefits as compared to civil marriage). However, these categories were not open or equivalent to everyone. Civil marriage between a man and a woman had thus far been and is still only one that carries the most mutual responsibilities and specific benefits. These include over 1,050 state and federal protections, responsibilities and benefits, according to the General Accounting Office of the federal government. It grants couples and children with symbolic and real citizenship rights of the highest level.
Efforts to stop democratization of households and partnerships escalated steadily since 1993 when a Hawaiian state court verdict conjured up visions of legalization of gay weddings (GILLIAN 146). Thirty-eight states soon passed constitutional amendments or legislations restricting marriage unions to heterosexual couples only. Moreover, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act that was intended to prevent future state-level gay marriages from carrying federal portability or recognitions that were once guaranteed by the civil marriage (Spade 79). Most Americans began fearing that the amendment would finally affect all diversifications of households or partnerships except for the heterosexual marriage that received federal portability and recognition. With an uphill battle to pass Clinton’s amendment and Bush’s marriage-promotion initiative, the progressives, outside and within the Democratic Party were left to formulate a positive and clear vision on how to address household needs for social support and state recognition.
Nevertheless, they too had division in their marriage politics approach. The hateful campaigns aimed at excluding gay couples from complete marriage rights created significant pressure on the gay-rights supporters and advocates to accentuate that the central right to citizenship is access to civil marriage.
However, in a proposal for equality, some same-sex groups or advocates produced oratory that marginalized and insulted unmarried people. As a result, the drive for same-sex marriage equality undermined rather than promoted the wider movement for democratic diversity and social justice. Meanwhile, the critics of marriage endorsement, located primarily in the feminist policy, were working seriously to counter the rosy views and ideologies of the marriage institution (Spade 79). They pointed out that, although marriage provided strong economic and emotional security to some women, it locked a lot of women in exploitative, violent, unsatisfying and abusive relationships.
The agendas of advocates of same-sex marriage equality and the progressive feminist detractors of marriage advertisement did not inevitably or necessarily conflict, nonetheless their efforts ran on separate rhetorical and political tracks. With the growing political stakes and narrowing political probabilities, it was imperative for the progressives to find new ways to integrate the largely democratic marriage politics (Duggan 18). Therefore, to respond to the extensive changes in incipient dissatisfaction and household organization, the progressives could have began disentangling the symbolic, religious, economic and kinship functions of marriage. However, public polls revealed contradictory views regarding the subject of divorce and marriage, gay rights and adultery.
The voices of same-sex marriage advocates were echoed by Judge Reinhardt in his 2013 Perry v. Brown, decision where he argued that denying same-sex couples marriage while granting them the responsibilities and rights through domestic partnership was unfair and unlawful. The judge demonstrated that shared domestic and romantic relationships could not be replaced by the esteemed status of marriage. This is because, while marriages exist to provide particular material arrangements satisfying the preferred structure of the government, it is the romantic mystique in marriage that really matters. The advocates of same-sex marriage have, however, depicted it as an institution for recognition and clearing up inequality through healthcare systems, taxation rules, child custody and other property rights rather than benefitting the individuals who are marrying and their intimacy.
Critics of the same-sex marriage advocacy observed that most civil liberties accorded to gay marriage are useful to those with partners who have benefits and that it primarily benefits the wealthy white people while marginalizing the poor, youth, disabled, colored and queer immigrants. The debate on same-sex marriage still brings tension to institutions such as the military, police officers, or bankers among others in today’s society.
1. Duggan, Lisa. “Holy Matrimony.” Gender and Sexuality 278.10 (2004): 14-19. Web.
2. FRANK, GILLIAN. “The Civil Rights of Parents”: Race and Conservative Politics in Anita Bryant’s Campaign against Gay Rights in 1970S Florida.” Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 22, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 126-160.
3. Spade, Dean. “Under the Cover of Gay Rights [Article].” New York University Review of Law & Social Change, no. 1, 2013, p. 79.
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