United States: Struggle for same-sex rights grows

October 17, 2009

About 200,000 marched in Washington D.C. on October 11 to demand full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, US Socialist Worker said the next day.

"Young and old, gay and straight, people from across the country ... [formed] a river of humanity that flooded the blocks around the White House and the Capitol, filling the streets with rainbow flags, handmade signs and a festival-like atmosphere ...

"Together they stood, united around one simple message — full equality for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law."

Arguably, the most pivotal issue in the US "culture wars" is the issue of same-sex marriage.

Following the election of George Bush as president in 2000, the Republican administration unsuccessfully sought on three separate occasions to implement a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. If passed, it would have banned all 50 states from recognising same-sex marriages.

This followed the Bill Clinton administration's successful passing of the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. This prevents the federal recognition of same-sex marriages, performed in the US or overseas.

Since 1999, more than 30 US states have held referendums passing propositions that define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. However, in no other state has the issue been more bitterly fought than California.

In November 1999, anti-gay marriage organisation Protect Marriage launched a campaign in California to define marriage as only between a man an a woman. After collecting the required 750,000 signatures to put the proposition to a vote, a referendum was held in November 2000.

The referendum, known as proposition 22, asked the whether marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. It passed, with 61.4% voting yes.

In 2005, a same-sex marriage bill passed in California's parliament. The following day, it was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said: "The majority of Californians don't support same-sex marriage."

In December 2006, a number of same sex couples filed a court challenge pushing for the right to marry. The May 2008 court decision was close, with four out of seven Supreme Court judges ruling that proposition 22 was unconstitutional. The ruling found same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in California.

Since the ruling, more than 18,000 same-sex and gender-diverse couples married. Protect Marriage was outraged, and began a renewed campaign to redefine marriage as only between a man and a woman.

In November 2008, proposition eight passed in a referendum — overturning the Supreme Court ruling in favour of same-sex marriage. The result was narrower than in 2000 with 52.5% voting yes.

A spokesperson for Equality California said it was "appalled and dismayed at the result of the referendum".

Activists filed three separate court challenges, all of which were unsuccessful. Ironically, those same-sex marriages carried out when it was legal retain their legal standing

Equality California said in August it was launching a campaign to hold a referendum in November 2010 to define marriage as a union between two people, regardless of gender. California Senator Mark Leno said he is working on a bill that, if successful, would result in California again recognising same-sex marriages performed outside the state or in other countries.

Same-sex marriage is legal in the US states of Iowa, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. Internationally, it is legal in Canada, Belgium, South Africa, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway.

A referendum to reverse same-sex marriage rights is scheduled in Maine for November 3.

[To get involved in the campaign for same-sex marriage and equal rights in Australia, and for details of coming rallies, visit .]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.