I Now Pronounce You Husband and Husband
A woman in a white gown walks arm-in-arm with her father down an aisle between a half dozen rows of chairs, all occupied by their loved ones. At the end of the aisle, she and her father separate and she takes a few more steps before stopping in front of a tuxedoed man and another man holding a bible. Sunlight pouring in through the stained glass windows of the chapel illuminates the joyous families and friends occupying the chairs. Everyone begins to tear up as the man and woman exchange vows, marking the beginning of a new life and the creation of a single family. The newlyweds turn to face their family for the first time as a married couple, their indescribably ecstatic facial expressions conveying their excitement to buy a house, raise children, and ultimately grow old together. Unfortunately, this moment of pure bliss is currently denied to millions of Americans due to the fact that the person with whom they want to share this moment is of the same gender. Any ban on marriage creates second-class citizens, further reinforcing the unfavorable social constructions of minority races, genders, and sexualities.
Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 14 states, which means that in 36 states, countless same-sex couples cannot marry. American citizens are being denied a fundamental civil right. Denying law-abiding, tax-paying citizens the right to marry based on their sexual orientation violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of Amendment XIV. Rulings in the Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick and the Appellate Court case Adams v. Howerton hindered the progression of the gay rights movement, specifically the objective of legalizing same-sex marriage. Bowers v. Hardwick upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law prohibiting consensual sexual relations between homosexuals. Adams v. Howerton held that the term “spouse” refers solely to a person of the opposite gender for immigration purposes. Additionally, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996, signed into effect by President Clinton, states that “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” The landmark Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America v. Dale also prevented gays from attaining social equality. The Court held that the Boy Scouts of America are able to exclude both gay scouts and gay troop leaders from joining on the grounds of Freedom of Association. Court decisions and legislation that forbid homosexuals from enjoying rights that heterosexuals take for granted result in second-class citizens, Americans who fall into a minority that is seemingly inferior to the majority.
Despite all of the obstacles that the gay rights movement has faced in attempt to legalize same-sex marriage, outstanding progress has been made. The Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas overturned Bowers v. Hardwick, thus invalidating any sodomy laws criminalizing private sexual actions. The rulings in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry overturned DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, respectively, paving the way for national recognition of same-sex marriage. The Boy Scouts of America now accept gay scouts, even though homosexuals are still barred from being troop leaders.
Although not every state performs and/or recognizes same-sex marriage as of yet, America is undoubtedly taking more steps to achieve equality. A person’s ability to marry is a reflection of their level of citizenship, and until marriage equality is obtained throughout the United States, millions of Americans cannot enjoy all of the rights that come with being a citizen.
Until approximately 50 years ago, couples of different races were also barred fromIn 1881, Tony Pace, a black man, and Mary J. Cox, a white woman, lived together in Alabama, where their sexual relationship was illegal as a result of the state’s anti-miscegenation statute. Two years later, when the couple’s case was heard by the Supreme Court, the Court upheld the law’s constitutionality (Pace v. Alabama). The Court also ruled in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation of public facilities was constitutional under the “separate but equal” doctrine. Both of these Supreme Court rulings deemed African-Americans lesser citizens than Caucasians. Blacks were denied basic civil rights, such as the right to marry, despite the passage of Amendment XV to the United States Constitution in 1870, which guarantees that a person cannot be denied citizenship based on the color of his/her skin. Because blacks were considered citizens in the late 19th century, theoretically their rights should have been protected under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of Amendment XIV. Yet the fact that they were denied the right to marry and were subject to segregation proves that African-Americans were considered second-class citizens. Nearly 60 years after the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, however, the Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education invalidated the “separate but equal” doctrine, stating that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Additionally, the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case overturned Pace v. Alabama, declaring that the prohibition of interracial marriage is unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of Amendment VIX. It is evident that the fundamental right to marry is a vital aspect to citizenship in America. When a person is considered an equal citizen in the eyes of the law, he/she is entitled to marry his/her significant other, regardless of race. When this right is taken away, the affected citizen is no longer equal to his/her fellow Americans.
The current responsibilities assigned to married men and women further strengthen the idea of coverture, the idea that married women are the property and responsibility of their husbands and are also legally indistinct from them. It is tradition for brides to take the surname of their husbands after marriage, an action that many believe signifies the husband taking ownership of his wife. One woman voices her concern, stating that it “feels a bit weird giving up a name I have had for so long. [It] seems almost like giving up my family, and it sort of makes me feel like someone else’s property”. Once she realizes that her surname came from her father, she wonders if she is his property too (James). This change is ownership is seen in most weddings, when the bride walks down the aisle with her father and is then “given away” to her soon-to-be husband. Women are continuously seen as the feeble, powerless creatures that are constructed by society’s opinion that a woman must always depend on a man for survival. Additionally, the divorce process portrays men as heartless humans who cannot care for children on their own. Women are typically more successful in divorce cases because supposedly all women are motherly and good care-takers. As Florida divorce lawyer Yvette Harrell explains, “it was usually the men that the courts had to track down in order to parent and be a part of the children’s lives” (Huffington Post). Both the traditional and modern institutions of marriage strengthen archaic social constructions of gender roles, assigning specific responsibilities to the wife and husband, mother and father.