Ten years ago, the count was at zero. This time next month, it will be at 15. The first state was Massachusetts, on May 17, 2004. The next state will be Hawaii, on Dec. 2, 2013. Same-sex marriage legislation is present in 14 states across the country, encompassing almost 109 million Americans. But it’s time to extend the same rights to the other 200 million citizens of our country.
The argument against same-sex marriage rests on the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. But society has redefined marriage throughout history. Thousands of years ago, marriage was considered acceptable between one man and many women. Hundreds of years ago, marriage was only considered acceptable between a white man and a white woman. But as standards changed, the definition of marriage evolved to conform to new ideas and beliefs. And that should be no different today.
For a country that prides itself on equality among its citizens, there’s a remarkable financial cost for being in a same-sex relationship. The New York Times estimated that, in the worst case, a same-sex couple could pay more than $200,000 more than a similar heterosexual couple would for health insurance alone. And the cost of being gay stretches far beyond that. By denying same-sex couples marriage benefits, homosexual couples find themselves paying tens of thousands of dollars more for estate taxes, tax preparation and spousal IRA. And that’s a financial burden that isn’t consistent with the American principles of fairness and equality.
That kind of discrimination stretches far beyond the financial. The government’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriage institutionalizes an unfortunate form of discrimination. Same-sex couples often face social stigma simply for being different — for being a minority. But while laws are in place to protect other minority groups from bullying or discrimination, the government’s lack of recognition of same-sex couples implicitly condones the belief that gay and lesbian couples are inferior to “regular” or heterosexual ones.
Our generation seldom faced the same kinds of implicit discrimination our parents’ and grandparents’ generations grew up with. On the whole, we were never taught explicitly that gays were different or that blacks were inferior. Our generation grew up in a much more progressive and accepting environment. In fact, the youth response to Proposition 8 in California made clear just how unjust we believed that ballot initiative to be. But, gains in marriage equality aside, today’s workplace is still governed by rules and ideas that are a generation behind.
The U.S. Senate recently took steps to eliminate this discrimination. Last Thursday, it passed a bill that would extend the Employee Non-Discrimination Act to people of the LGBT community. But the legislation faces an uncertain future in the House, where Speaker John Boehner has publicly voiced opposition to the bill. Without support from House leadership, it is unlikely to ever make it to President Obama’s desk.
The discrimination so many LGBT couples face makes it all the more incomprehensible that religious organizations have had so much success in trying to prevent what has become a secular ceremony, as marriage today has an effect on life that stretches far beyond a ceremony at church. As is demonstrated by the increased costs of not being officially recognized as spouses, same-sex couples are not granted many of the rights that come with marriage. These rights include an inability for to receive health care from a significant other’s workplace, an inability to apply for green cards or passports for same-sex partners and an inability to collect Surviving Spouse Social Security Benefits. All of this means that, legally, homosexual couples receive fewer rights and fewer recognitions than similar heterosexual couples.
The United States has been notoriously slow at recognizing and adapting to changes in human thought. Indeed, the United States was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in its territories and is still one of the only countries not to adopt the Kyoto Protocol, which limits greenhouse gas emissions. Even if we were to legalize same-sex marriage today, we would be the 14th country to do so. But it’s time for the United States to show the world that discrimination of any kind, in any shape, is unacceptable.
Fifty years ago, our country faced a similar problem with interracial marriage. In 1948, the count was at 18. By 1967, the count was at 50. It took a Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, to make those anti-miscegenation laws illegal. From our point of view, it seems incredibly bigoted and short-sighted for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations to prevent such marriages because of their beliefs about “racial purity.” When our children and grandchildren look back on the decisions we’ve made, let’s hope we will show them we have learned from the mistakes of previous generations.