Marriage Equality Campaign
Congress should pass legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize marriage licenses granted to gays and lesbians. State laws should provide equal protection, fairness, and freedom to all couples, straight and gay, as opposed to the “separate but equal” model of civil unions and domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians. At the state level, legislatures should promote equal treatment under the law by (1) eliminating legislation that restricts the rights and benefits of gay and lesbian couples and (2) recognizing civil marriages for gay and lesbian couples.
During the last national elections in November of 2008, Arizona, California, and Florida all passed state ballot initiatives, adding a Marriage Protection Amendment to the state Constitutions. These amendments took away protections and benefits from gay and lesbian couples and families in these states, denying fairness and access to the same basic rights for all couples. Most notably, in May 2008 the California Supreme Court overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, and many Californians in same-sex relationships were formally married. However, with the November 2008 passage of Proposition 8, these couples, as well as those who had hoped to marry in the future, were once again denied this right. The day after elections, three lawsuits were filed, challenging the validity of Proposition 8. The California Supreme Court has agreed to hear these challenges. Members of the AMSA Committee on Gender and Sexuality are preparing an amicus brief to send to the California court.
Ten states currently provide civil unions or domestic partnerships to gay and lesbian couples. Since civil unions and domestic partnerships are defined by state legislatures, they can encompass any protections. Civil marriage, meanwhile, carries a strict set of rights and protections. A few states - currently New York, California, and Massachusetts - recognize gay and lesbian civil marriages granted by other states. By contrast, civil unions and domestic partnerships are not portable between states, and their recognition may vary even within a state.
Click here for current state-by-state laws.
Couples registered for civil unions and domestic partnerships face many health care challenges, including obtaining employer-provided health insurance for their families. For instance, public employees can obtain health care benefits for spouses but not for domestic partners. When unmarried partners are indeed eligible for coverage, the employee is subjected to a payroll tax on the health insurance, while the married employee pays no such tax (UCLA School of Law Williams Institute, 2007).
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bars federal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages by restricting marriage to “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” Because of DOMA, gay and lesbian spouses legally married in the US (in California or Massachusetts) have no rights at the federal level. Since immigration falls under federal law, gay and lesbian spouses from other countries do not have the right to petition for permanent residency.
DOMA also enables states to pass similar legislation barring access to benefits for gay and lesbian partners. To date, forty states have enacted their own DOMA legislation.
The Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) has been introduced to Congress many times since 2002. If approved and ratified, the FMA would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the United States Constitution and preclude all states from providing rights to gay and lesbian couples and their families.
Impact on Health Care
Fairness in civil marriage is vital to ensuring quality, affordable health care for the LGBT community. Civil marriages afford critical protections and benefits to gay and lesbian partners and families, such as employer-provided health insurance, hospital visitation rights, and medical decision-making authority.
Furthermore, there is compelling scientific and medical data showing that civil marriage improves physical and mental health for LGBT individuals and their families. The Gay & Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) has compiled this data and made it available here.