Gay Marriage
Pros and Cons
Video exploring critical thinking and how it leads to great citizen involvement
Should Gay Marriage Be Legal?
Gay Marriage
As of Nov. 20, 2014, gay marriage has been legalized in 35 US states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, MA, MD, ME, MN, MT, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV, WI, and WY) and the District of Columbia. 15 states have gay marriage bans through either laws or constitutional amendments or both.

Proponents contend that gay marriage bans are discriminatory and unconstitutional, and that same-sex couples should have access to all the benefits enjoyed by different-sex couples.

Opponents contend that marriage has traditionally been defined as being between one man and one woman, and that marriage is primarily for procreation. Read more...


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Gay Marriage ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents research, studies, and pro and con statements on questions related to whether or not same sex marriage should be legalized.
Did You Know?
  1. As of Nov. 20, 2014, gay marriage has been legalized in the following 35 states: Massachusetts (May 17, 2004), Connecticut (Nov. 12, 2008), Iowa (Apr. 24. 2009), Vermont (Sep. 1, 2009), New Hampshire (Jan. 1, 2010), New York (June 24, 2011), Washington (Dec. 9, 2012), Maine (Dec. 29, 2012), Maryland (Jan. 1, 2013), California (June 28, 2013), Delaware (July 1, 2013), Rhode Island (Aug. 1, 2013), Minnesota (Aug. 1, 2013), New Jersey (Oct. 21, 2013), Hawaii (Dec. 2, 2013), New Mexico (Dec. 19, 2013), Oregon (May 19, 2014), Pennsylvania (May 20, 2014), Illinois (June 1, 2014), Indiana (Oct. 6, 2014), Oklahoma (Oct. 6, 2014), Utah (Oct. 6, 2014), Virginia (Oct. 6, 2014), Wisconsin (Oct. 6, 2014), Colorado (Oct. 7, 2014), Nevada (Oct. 9, 2010), West Virginia (Oct. 9, 2014), North Carolina (Oct. 10, 2014), Idaho (Oct. 13, 2014), Alaska (Oct. 17, 2014), Arizona (Oct. 17, 2014), Wyoming (Oct. 21, 2014), Kansas (Nov. 12, 2014), Montana (Nov. 19, 2014), and South Carolina (Nov. 20, 2014). 15 states have gay marriage bans through either laws or constitutional amendments or both. The District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage on Mar. 3, 2010. [1] [79] [82]

  2. On May 17, 2004, the first legal gay marriage in the United States was performed in Cambridge, MA between Tanya McCloskey, a massage therapist, and Marcia Kadish, an employment manager at an engineering firm. [26]

  3. The Congressional Budget Office estimated on Dec. 17, 2009 that extending employment benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees would cost the federal government $596 million in mandatory spending and $302 million in discretionary spending between 2010 and 2019. [37]

  4. An Oct. 2, 2009 analysis by the New York Times estimated that same-sex couples denied marriage benefits will incur an additional $41,196 to $467,562 in expenses over their lifetimes compared with married heterosexual couples. [7]

  5. The Catholic Church, United Methodist Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, National Association of Evangelicals, and American Baptist Churches USA all oppose same-sex marriage. [119]
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Pro & Con Arguments: "Should Gay Marriage Be Legal?"
PRO Gay Marriage

  1. Denying some people the option to marry is discriminatory and creates a second class of citizens. On July 25, 2014 Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel ruled Florida's gay marriage ban unconstitutional and stated that the ban "serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society." [105] Christine Gregoire, former Washington governor, said in Jan. 2012: "Throughout our history, we have fought discrimination. We have joined together to recognize equality for racial minorities, women, people with disabilities, immigrants... [Legalizing gay marriage] is the right thing to do and it is time." [139] US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner, in overturning same-sex marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana in Sep. 2014, wrote that the bans "discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic." [40] As well as discrimination based on sexual orientation, gay marriage bans discriminate based on one's sex. As explained by David S. Cohen, JD, Associate Professor at the Drexel University School of Law, "Imagine three people—Nancy, Bill, and Tom... Nancy, a woman, can marry Tom, but Bill, a man, cannot... Nancy can do something (marry Tom) that Bill cannot, simply because Nancy is a woman and Bill is a man." [122]


  2. Same-sex couples should have access to the same benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections available to married couples in federal law alone, according to a General Accounting Office assessment made in 2004. [86] Benefits only available to married couples include hospital visitation during an illness, the option of filing a joint tax return to reduce a tax burden, access to family health coverage, US residency and family unification for partners from another country, and bereavement leave and inheritance rights if a partner dies. [6] [95] Married couples also have access to protections if the relationship ends, such as child custody, spousal or child support, and an equitable division of property.[93] Married couples in the US armed forces are offered health insurance and other benefits unavailable to domestic partners. [125] The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the US Department of Labor also recognize married couples, but not domestic partners, for the purpose of granting tax, retirement and health insurance benefits. [126] An Oct. 2, 2009 analysis by the New York Times estimated that same-sex couples denied marriage benefits will incur an additional $41,196 to $467,562 in expenses over their lifetimes compared with married heterosexual couples. [7] A Jan. 2014 analysis published by the Atlantic concluded that unmarried women pay up to one million dollars more over their lifetimes than married women for healthcare, taxes, and other expenses. [94]


  3. The concept of "traditional marriage" has changed over time, and the definition of marriage as always being between one man and one woman is historically inaccurate. Harvard University historian Nancy F. Cott stated that until two centuries ago, "monogamous households were a tiny, tiny portion" of the world's population, and were found only in "Western Europe and little settlements in North America." Polygamy has been widespread throughout history, according to Brown University political scientist Rose McDermott, PhD. [110][106] Interracial marriage was once illegal in a majority of US states, and was still banned in half of US states until the 1950s. [108] Official unions between same-sex couples, indistinguishable from marriages except for gender, are believed by some scholars to have been common until the 13th Century in many countries, with the ceremonies performed in churches and the union sealed with a kiss between the two parties. [106]


  4. Gay marriage is protected by the US Constitution's commitments to liberty and equality. The US Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in the 1974 case Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur that the "freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause." US District Judge Vaughn Walker wrote on Aug. 4, 2010 that Prop. 8 in California banning gay marriage was "unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses." [41] The Due Process Clause in both the Fifth and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution states that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." [111] The Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment states that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." [112]


  5. Marriage is an internationally recognized human right for all people. Since 1888 the US Supreme Court has declared 14 times that marriage is a fundamental right for all, according to the American Foundation for Equal Rights. [3] Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees "men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion... the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution." [103] Amnesty International states that "this non-discrimination principle has been interpreted by UN treaty bodies and numerous inter-governmental human rights bodies as prohibiting discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. Non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation has therefore become an internationally recognized principle." [104]


  6. Same-sex marriage is a civil right. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), on May 21, 2012, named same-sex marriage as "one of the key civil rights struggles of our time." [61] In 1967 the US Supreme Court unanimously confirmed in Loving v. Virginia that marriage is "one of the basic civil rights of man." [60] The White House website lists same-sex marriage amongst a selection of civil rights, along with freedom from employment discrimination, equal pay for women, and fair sentencing for minority criminals. [118]


  7. Marriage is not only for procreation, otherwise infertile couples or couples not wishing to have children would be prevented from marrying. Ability or desire to create offspring has never been a qualification for marriage. From 1970 through 2012 roughly 30% of all US households were married couples without children, and in 2012, married couples without children outnumbered married couples with children by 9%. [96] 6% of married women aged 15-44 are infertile, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [97] In a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, both married and unmarried people rated love, commitment, and companionship higher than having children as "very important" reasons to get married, and only 44% of unmarried people and 59% of married people rated having children as a very important reason. [42] Several US presidents never had their own biological children, including George Washington, often referred to as "the Father of Our Country." [9] [12] As US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan noted, a marriage license would be granted to a couple in which the man and woman are both over the age of 55, even though "there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage." [88]


  8. Gay marriages can bring financial gain to federal, state, and local governments and can help boost the economy. Government revenue from marriage comes from marriage licenses, higher income taxes in some circumstances (the so-called "marriage penalty"), and decreases in costs for state benefit programs. [4] In July 2012 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that gay marriage had contributed $259 million to the city's economy since the practice became legal there in July 2011. [43] In 2012, the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that in the first five years after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2004, same-sex wedding expenditures (such as venue rental, wedding cakes, etc.) added $111 million to the state's economy. [114] A 2014 series of reports also by the Williams Institute estimated that legalizing same-sex marriage would boost the economies of the 11 US states studied by a total of $723 million over three years. [87] The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2004 that federally-recognized gay marriage would cut the budget deficit by around $450 million a year. [89]


  9. Gay couples make good parents. A June 2014 peer-reviewed University of Melbourne study showed that children raised by same-sex parents score about six percent higher than the general population on measures of general health and family cohesion. [92] A study published in Pediatrics on June 7, 2010 found that children of lesbian mothers were rated higher than children of heterosexual parents in social and academic competence and had fewer social problems. [45] A July 2010 study found that children of gay fathers were "as well-adjusted as those adopted by heterosexual parents." [46] As former Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein wrote, "We should be begging gay couples to adopt children. We should see this as a great boon that gay marriage could bring to kids who need nothing more than two loving parents." [68] In the United States, around 115,000 children are waiting to be adopted. [44]


  10. Gay marriage bans cause humiliation and uncertainty for children being raised by same-sex couples. In ruling Texas' gay marriage ban unconstitutional, San Antonio-based federal judge Orlando Garcia stated that the ban "causes needless stigmatization and humiliation for children being raised by the loving same-sex couples being targeted." [138] Children of unmarried same-sex couples are denied the stability that comes with having married parents, including the guarantee of child support in the case of divorce and an automatic legal connection to both parents. [107] If no legal relationship is established, the child cannot be sure of receiving financial support from the non-biologically related partner, and is not guaranteed an inheritance if that partner dies without leaving a will. [151]


  11. Marriage provides both physical and psychological health benefits, and banning gay marriage increases rates of psychological disorders. [5] The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and others wrote in a Sep. 2007 amicus brief, "...allowing same-sex couples to marry would give them access to the social support that already facilitates and strengthens heterosexual marriages, with all of the psychological and physical health benefits associated with that support." [47] A 2012 study by researchers from UCLA, San Francisco State University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that same-sex married couples were "significantly less distressed than lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons not in a legally recognized relationship." [113] A 2010 analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health found that after their states had banned gay marriage, gay, lesbian and bisexual people suffered a 37% increase in mood disorders, a 42% increase in alcohol-use disorders, and a 248% increase in generalized anxiety disorders. [69]


  12. Legalizing gay marriage will not harm the institution of marriage, and same-sex marriages may even be more stable than heterosexual marriages. A study published on Apr. 13, 2009 in Social Science Quarterly found that "[l]aws permitting same-sex marriage or civil unions have no adverse effect on marriage, divorce, and abortion rates, [or] the percent of children born out of wedlock." [48] A Nov. 2011 study by UCLA's Williams Institute reported that the rate at which legally recognized same-sex couples (in marriages or civil unions, etc.) end their relationships is 1.1% on average, while 2% of married different-sex couples divorce annually. [115] The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association found that more than a century of research has shown "no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies." [8]


  13. Gay marriage legalization is correlated with lower divorce rates, while gay marriage bans are correlated with higher divorce rates. Massachusetts, which became the first US state to legalize gay marriage in 2004, had the lowest divorce rate in the country in 2008. Its divorce rate declined 21% between 2003 and 2008. Alaska, which altered its constitution to prohibit gay marriage in 1998, saw a 17.2% increase in its divorce rate over the same period. The seven states with the highest divorce rates between 2003 and 2008 all had constitutional prohibitions to gay marriage. [2]


  14. Legal marriage is a secular institution that should not be limited by religious objections to same-sex marriage. Religious institutions can decline to marry gay and lesbian couples if they wish, but they should not dictate marriage laws for society at large. As explained by People for the American Way, "As a legal matter, marriage is a civil institution... Marriage is also a religious institution, defined differently by different faiths and congregations. In America, the distinction can get blurry because states permit clergy to carry out both religious and civil marriage in a single ceremony. Religious Right leaders have exploited that confusion by claiming that granting same-sex couples equal access to civil marriage would somehow also redefine the religious institution of marriage... this is grounded in falsehood and deception." [132] Nancy Cott, PhD, testified in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that "[c]ivil law has always been supreme in defining and regulating marriage." [41]


  15. Many religious leaders and churches support gay marriage and say it is consistent with scripture. Gene Robinson, openly gay former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, stated in Sep. 2012: "Scripture says where love is, there is God also. And they [religious people] see that love in our families, and I think people can't help but be supportive." [128] Lee Jefferson, Assistant Professor of Religion at Centre College, wrote that the Bible makes no mention of same-sex marriage at all, nor does it make reference to sexual orientation as it is understood today. [129] Reform Judaism, which comprises about 80% of the American Jewish population, endorses same-sex marriage, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis has supported gay marriage since 1996. [130] The Episcopal Church stated in Resolution A095, made in 2006, that it "oppose[s] any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex civil marriage or civil unions." The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in June 2014 to allow its pastors to marry same-sex couples. The United Church of Christ General Synod voted in July 2005 to affirm "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender." The 1996 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association adopted "a position in support of legal recognition for marriage between members of the same sex." [119] [141] [142] [143]
CON Gay Marriage

  1. The institution of marriage has traditionally been defined as being between a man and a woman. In upholding gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee on Nov. 6, 2014, 6th US District Court of Appeals Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote that "marriage has long been a social institution defined by relationships between men and women. So long defined, the tradition is measured in millennia, not centuries or decades. So widely shared, the tradition until recently had been adopted by all governments and major religions of the world." [117] In the Oct. 15, 1971 decision Baker v. Nelson, the Supreme Court of Minnesota found that "the institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis." [49] John F. Harvey, MA, STL, late Catholic priest, wrote in July 2009 that "Throughout the history of the human race the institution of marriage has been understood as the complete spiritual and bodily communion of one man and one woman." [18] [109]


  2. Marriage is for procreation and should not be extended to same-sex couples because they cannot produce children together. Allowing gay marriage would only further shift the purpose of marriage from producing and raising children to adult gratification. [19] A California Supreme Court ruling from 1859 stated that "the first purpose of matrimony, by the laws of nature and society, is procreation." [90] Nobel Prize-winning philosopher Bertrand Russell stated that "it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution." [91] Court papers filed in July 2014 by attorneys defending Arizona's gay marriage ban stated that "the State regulates marriage for the primary purpose of channeling potentially procreative sexual relationships into enduring unions for the sake of joining children to both their mother and their father... Same-sex couples can never provide a child with both her biological mother and her biological father." Contrary to the pro gay marriage argument that some different-sex couples cannot have children or don't want them, even in those cases there is still the potential to produce children. Seemingly infertile heterosexual couples sometimes produce children, and medical advances may allow others to procreate in the future. Heterosexual couples who do not wish to have children are still biologically capable of having them, and may change their minds. [98]


  3. Children need both a mother and a father. Girls who are raised apart from their fathers are reportedly at higher risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy. [52] Children without a mother are deprived of the emotional security and unique advice that mothers provide. A 2012 study by Mark Regnerus, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, found that children raised by parents who had same-sex relationships suffered more difficulties in life (including sexual abuse and unemployment in later life) than children raised by "intact biological famil[ies]." [133] Doug Mainwaring, the openly gay co-founder of National Capital Tea Party Patriots, stated that "it became increasingly apparent to me, even if I found somebody else exactly like me, who loved my kids as much as I do, there would still be a gaping hole in their lives because they need a mom... I don't want to see children being engineered for same-sex couples where there is either a mom missing or a dad missing." [53]


  4. Legalizing gay marriage could lead down a "slippery slope," giving people in polygamous, incestuous, bestial, and other nontraditional relationships the right to marry. [10] Glen Lavy, JD, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, argued in a May 21, 2008 Los Angeles Times op-ed, "The movement for polygamy and polyamory is poised to use the successes of same-sex couples as a springboard for further de-institutionalizing marriage." [11] In Apr. 2013 Slate writer Jillian Keenan wrote: "Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less 'correct' than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults." [71] James C. Dobson, Founder and Chairman of Focus on the Family, predicted in 2005 that legalizing same-sex marriage will enable "group marriage," "marriage between daddies and little girls," and "marriage between a man and his donkey." [136]


  5. Allowing gay couples to wed could further weaken the institution of marriage.Traditional marriage is already threatened with high divorce rates (between 40% and 50%), and 40.7% of babies were born to unmarried mothers in 2012. [50] [51] [116] Former US Senator (R-PA) and presidential candidate Rick Santorum stated that "Legalization of gay marriage would further undermine an institution that is essential to the well-being of children and our society. Do we need to confuse future generations of Americans even more about the role and importance of an institution that is so critical to the stability of our country?" [137] Ryan T. Anderson, William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at The Heritage Foundation, said "In recent decades, marriage has been weakened by a revisionist view that is more about adults’ desires than children’s needs... Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships is the culmination of this revisionism, and it would leave emotional intensity as the only thing that sets marriage apart from other bonds." [70]


  6. Homosexuality is immoral and unnatural. J. Matt Barber, Associate Dean for Online Programs at Liberty University School of Law, stated that "Every individual engaged in the homosexual lifestyle, who has adopted a homosexual identity, they know, intuitively, that what they're doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive, yet they thirst for that affirmation." A 2003 set of guidelines signed by Pope John Paul II stated: "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family... Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law." [147] Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee stated in Oct. 2014 that gay marriage is "inconsistent with nature and nature’s law." [148]


  7. Gay marriage is contrary to the word of God and is incompatible with the beliefs, sacred texts, and traditions of many religious groups. The Bible, in Leviticus 18:22, states: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination," thus condemning homosexual relationships. [120] In Islamic tradition, several hadiths (passages attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) condemn gay and lesbian relationships, including the sayings "When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes," and "Sihaq [lesbian sex] of women is zina [illegitimate sexual intercourse]." [121] The Catholic Church, United Methodist Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, National Association of Evangelicals, and American Baptist Churches USA all oppose same-sex marriage. [119] Two orthodox Jewish groups, the Orthodox Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union, also oppose gay marriage, as does mainstream Islam. [13] [119] According to a July 31, 2003 statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope John Paul II, marriage "was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman…" [54] Pope Benedict stated in Jan. 2012 that gay marriage threatened "the future of humanity itself." [145]


  8. Legalizing gay marriage often leads to an end to domestic partnership benefits for gay and straight couples, which disadvantages couples who choose not to get married. Maryland ended health insurance benefits for new domestic partnerships after same-sex marriage became legal in the state in 2013. [124] [135] The state of Washington automatically converted domestic partnerships to marriages when they legalized gay marriage in 2012, providing no option to retain domestic partnerships or civil unions unless one partner is at least 62 years old. [134] [123] The US Defense Department announced in Aug. 2013 that it would grant health insurance and other benefits to same-sex married partners of US troops, but that domestic partners would no longer be granted the same benefits. [125] The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the US Department of Labor recognized same-sex married couples for the purpose of granting tax, retirement, and health insurance benefits after the US Supreme Court declared part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in 2013, but they did not include domestic partnerships or civil unions. [126]


  9. Gay marriage will accelerate the assimilation of gays into mainstream heterosexual culture to the detriment of the homosexual community. The gay community has created its own vibrant culture. By reducing the differences in opportunities and experiences between gay and heterosexual people, this unique culture may cease to exist. Lesbian activist M.V. Lee Badgett, PhD, Director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, stated that for many gay activists "marriage means adopting heterosexual forms of family and giving up distinctively gay family forms and perhaps even gay and lesbian culture." [14] Paula Ettelbrick, JD, Professor of Law and Women's Studies, wrote in 1989, "Marriage runs contrary to two of the primary goals of the lesbian and gay movement: the affirmation of gay identity and culture and the validation of many forms of relationships." [15]


  10. Marriage is an outmoded, oppressive institution that should be weakened, not expanded. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) activist collective Against Equality states that "Gay marriage apes hetero privilege... [and] increases economic inequality by perpetuating a system which deems married beings more worthy of the basics like health care and economic rights." [84] The leaders of the Gay Liberation Front in New York said in July 1969, "We expose the institution of marriage as one of the most insidious and basic sustainers of the system. The family is the microcosm of oppression." [16] Self-described queer activist Anders Zanichkowsky stated in June 2013 that the campaign for gay marriage "intentionally and maliciously erases and excludes so many queer people and cultures, particularly trans and gender non-conforming people, poor queer people, and queer people in non-traditional families... marriage thinks non-married people are deviant and not truly deserving of civil rights." [127]


  11. People should not have their tax dollars used to support something they believe is wrong. Peter S. Sprigg, MDiv, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, said that if gay marriage were legalized, "[t]axpayers, consumers, and businesses would be forced to subsidize homosexual relationships... One of the key arguments often heard in support of homosexual civil marriage revolves around all the government 'benefits' that homosexuals claim they are denied. Many of these 'benefits' involve one thing–taxpayer money that homosexuals are eager to get their hands on." [146] Gay marriage would entitle gay couples to typical marriage benefits including claiming a tax exemption for a spouse, receiving social security payments from a deceased spouse, and coverage by a spouse’s health insurance policy, largely at taxpayers' expense. On Dec. 17, 2009 the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost to the federal government of extending employment benefits to same-sex domestic partners of certain federal employees (making no mention of additional costs such as Social Security and inheritance taxes) would be $596 million in mandatory spending and $302 million in discretionary spending between 2010 and 2019. [37]


  12. Marriage is a privilege, not a right. The US Constitution contains no explicit right to marry. [99] The European Court of Human Rights ruled on June 24, 2010 that the state has a valid interest in protecting the traditional definition of marriage, and stated that the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms "enshrined the traditional concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman." [101] [102] Society can choose not to allow same-sex couples to marry, just as it does not allow a person to marry more than one partner or allow minors or close relatives to marry. [100] Matthew D. Staver, JD, Dean of the Liberty University School of Law, explained: "The unifying characteristics of the protected classes within the Civil Rights Act of 1964 include (1) a history of longstanding, widespread discrimination, (2) economic disadvantage, and (3) immutable characteristics... 'Sexual orientation' does not meet any of the three objective criteria shared by the historically protected civil rights categories." [62]


  13. Legalizing gay marriage advances the "homosexual agenda" and unfairly paints opponents as bigots. The Illinois Family Institute states that if gay marriage is legalized, "Children will be taught that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality... that children do not have any inherent rights to know and be raised by a mother and a father... [and] that opposition to the legalization of 'same-sex marriage' was equivalent to opposition to the legalization of interracial marriage. They will be taught that opposition to both was motivated by ignorance and hatred." [85] Lou Sheldon, Founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, warned of the influence on children of the "homosexual agenda," writing that "[o]ur little children are being targeted by the homosexuals and liberals... To be brainwashed to think that homosexuality is the moral equivalent of heterosexuality. We can't let that happen." [150]
Comment Comment
Background: "Should Gay Marriage Be Legal?"
Same-sex marriage supporters protest the passage of Proposition 8 in front of San Francisco City Hall.
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Same-sex marriage supporters protest the passage of Proposition 8 in front of San Francisco City Hall.
Source: Darryl Bush, www.ap.org, Nov. 15, 2008
As of Nov. 20, 2014, gay marriage has been legalized in 35 US states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, MA, MD, ME, MN, MT, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV, WI, and WY) and the District of Columbia. 15 states have gay marriage bans through either laws or constitutional amendments or both. [82]

Proponents argue that same-sex couples should have access to the same marriage benefits and public acknowledgment enjoyed by heterosexual couples and that prohibiting gay marriage is unconstitutional discrimination.

Opponents argue that altering the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman will further weaken a threatened institution and that legalizing gay marriage is a slippery slope that may lead to polygamous and interspecies marriages.

The gay rights movement in the US can be traced back to the Stonewall Riots that occurred following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York City at 3 a.m. on June 28, 1969. Police raids on gay bars were commonplace, but on this occasion the gay and lesbian patrons fought back and sparked days of protests. The Stonewall Riots marked the beginning of a political movement for gay rights during a time when it was illegal to have homosexual sex in all states except for Illinois. [21] Between 1969 and 1974, the number of gay organizations in the country swelled from fewer than 50 to nearly a thousand. [22]

Gay-rights activism in the 1970s focused more on personal liberation and visibility than on gaining access to institutions such as marriage. While some gay activists sought the right to marry in the early 1970s, others rejected marriage as "heterosexist” and saw it as an outdated institution. [23] The gay liberation movement achieved a victory in Dec. 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder and the American Psychological Association did the same in 1975. [24]
Timeline of Same-Sex Marriage Bans and Legalizations by Effective Date of Laws
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Timeline of Same-Sex Marriage Bans and Legalizations by Effective Date of Laws
Source: "33 States with Legal Gay Marriage and 17 States with Same-Sex Marriage Bans," ProCon.org, Nov. 13, 2014

The increased visibility of the gay community prompted a well publicized backlash by opponents of gay-rights. One high-profile opponent of gay rights was singer and former Miss Oklahoma Anita Bryant who founded the group Save Our Children and campaigned to repeal local ordinances that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. During the 1980s, news of the AIDS epidemic increased homophobia and discrimination but also encouraged the gay community to further organize. Following the news that actor Rock Hudson was dying of AIDS, attitudes towards both AIDS and the gay community started to shift. In 1983, Congressman Gerry Studds (D-MA) became the first openly gay Congressman, followed by Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) in 1987. [23]

The current national debate on gay marriage was sparked by the Supreme Court of Hawaii’s 3-1 ruling on May 5, 1993 that the state could not ban same-sex marriages without "a compelling reason” to do so. [55] The case was sent back to a lower court but voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage before the courts settled the issue. Although a gay marriage was never performed in Hawaii, the issue gained national attention and prompted over 40 states over the next decade to pass Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMAs) that defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. [59] On Sep. 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act into law which defined marriage at the federal level as between a man and a woman. The federal DOMA statute ensured that no state would be forced to recognize gay marriages performed in other states and prevented same-sex couples from receiving federal protections and benefits given to married heterosexual couples.


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US gay marriage laws, state by state
Source: Ned Flaherty, "State-Level Marriage Equality,” www.marriagequality.org, Feb. 16, 2012

On Dec. 20, 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Baker v. Vermont that same-sex couples were entitled to the same rights, protections, and benefits as heterosexual couples. [56] On July 1, 2000, Vermont became the first state in the US to institute civil unions, giving same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples without calling it marriage.

On June 26, 2003, the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Lawrence v. Texas that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. In overruling the court’s June 30, 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, the court established a right to sexual privacy and Justice Antonin Scalia predicted in his dissent that the majority decision "leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.”

On Nov. 18, 2003, Massachusetts highest court ruled that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry. Unlike the 1999 Vermont Supreme Court ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did not provide the legislature the opportunity to offer an alternative to marriage such as civil unions. On May 17, 2004, the first legal gay marriage in the US was performed in Cambridge, MA between Tanya McCloskey, a massage therapist, and Marcia Kadish, an employment manager at an engineering firm. [26]

Before 2004, four states had banned gay marriages. In 2004, 13 states saw their constitutions amended by referenda to ban gay marriage. Between 2005 and Sep. 15, 2010, 14 more states followed suit, bringing the total number of states with constitutional bans on gay marriage to 30. [59]

On July 14, 2004, an effort in the US Senate to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage received only 48 votes of the necessary 60 votes for the proposal to proceed. On Sep. 30, 2004, the US House of Representatives also rejected a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage by a vote of 227 to 186, 49 votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority. [27]
Out-of-wedlock births in the Netherlands, 1970-2003
(Click to enlarge image)
Out-of-wedlock births in the Netherlands, 1970-2003
Source: Stanley Kurtz, PhD, "Going Dutch?” www.weeklystandard.com, May 31, 2004


California, with the nation’s largest and most racially diverse gay and lesbian population, has played a prominent role in the modern gay marriage debate. On Feb. 15, 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex-couples. On Mar. 11, 2004 the California Supreme Court ordered a halt to same-sex weddings and voided the marriages on Aug. 12, 2004. In a 4-3 ruling on May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court overturned state laws banning gay marriage. [28] Between May 2008 and Nov. 4, 2008, an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples married in CA. [29] On Nov. 4, 2008, 52.3% of California voters approved ballot measure Proposition 8 which made same-sex marriage illegal in the state. On May 26, 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8’s gay marriage ban, but on Aug. 4, 2010, US District Judge Vaughn R. Walker struck down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional [41], and on Feb. 7, 2012, a three-judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Walker’s ruling. [73] Following Judge Walker's ruling, many organizations expressed their views on gay marriage.

On Aug. 4, 2010, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints released a statement saying, "Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of society." [33] On Aug. 10, 2010, the American Bar Association's House of Delegates voted to support gay marriage. [31] The following day, the American Psychological Association reiterated its support for same-sex marriage. [32] In a Sep. 13, 2010 speech, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his opposition to gay marriage, saying the Roman Catholic Church "cannot approve of legal initiatives that imply a re-evaluation of the life of the couple and the family." [34]

From 1988 to 2010, public support for gay marriage increased at a rate of 1 to 1.5 points per year. [35] On Aug. 11, 2010, CNN released the results of the first national poll to show a majority support for gay marriage, with 52% agreeing that "gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid.” [36] A Gallup report released on May 8, 2012 found that national support for same-sex marriage peaked in 2011 at 53%, dropping to 50% in 2012. [66]

US gay marriage polls, 1988-2010
(Click to enlarge image)
US gay marriage polls, 1988-2010
Source: Nate Silver, "Opinion on Same-Sex Marriage Appears to Shift at Accelerated Pace,” www.fivethirtyeight.com, Aug. 12, 2010

On July 19, 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would support a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This followed President Obama's decision on Feb. 23, 2011 to instruct the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA, the federal law that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman, over concerns that it violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. [57] [58]

On May 9, 2012, President Obama became the first sitting US president to declare his support for gay marriage, stating: "At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." [64]


On June 26, 2013, the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in United States v. Windsor declared unconstitutional part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage solely as a legal union between a man and a woman. The decision allowed same-sex married couples to receive the same federal benefits granted to heterosexual married couples, including tax breaks and pension rights. [74] [75]

Also on June 26, 2013, and also in a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in Hollingsworth v. Perry that proponents of California’s Proposition 8 lacked "standing" to defend the anti-gay marriage measure after it had been ruled unconstitutional by a District Court. The decision was considered to clear the way for gay marriage to become legal again in the state. [76] [77]

In 2013 and 2014, following the US Supreme Court's United States v. Windsor decision, gay marriage bans were overturned by court rulings in several states, but those rulings were put on hold pending appeals to the US Supreme Court. On Oct. 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from five of those states, and the decision immediately cleared the way for legal gay marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Six other states in which gay marriage bans had been overturned, Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming, were also affected by the Supreme Court ruling because they were in the jurisdictions of the lower courts that had overturned the gay marriage bans. [81]

As of Nov. 20, 2014, gay marriage has been legalized in the following 35 states: Massachusetts (May 17, 2004), Connecticut (Nov. 12, 2008), Iowa (Apr. 24. 2009), Vermont (Sep. 1, 2009), New Hampshire (Jan. 1, 2010), New York (June 24, 2011), Washington (Dec. 9, 2012), Maine (Dec. 29, 2012), Maryland (Jan. 1, 2013), California (June 28, 2013), Delaware (July 1, 2013), Rhode Island (Aug. 1, 2013), Minnesota (Aug. 1, 2013), New Jersey (Oct. 21, 2013), Hawaii (Dec. 2, 2013), New Mexico (Dec. 19, 2013), Oregon (May 19, 2014), Pennsylvania (May 20, 2014), Illinois (June 1, 2014), Indiana (Oct. 6, 2014), Oklahoma (Oct. 6, 2014), Utah (Oct. 6, 2014), Virginia (Oct. 6, 2014), Wisconsin (Oct. 6, 2014), Colorado (Oct. 7, 2014), Nevada (Oct. 9, 2010), West Virginia (Oct. 9, 2014), North Carolina (Oct. 10, 2014), Idaho (Oct. 13, 2014), Alaska (Oct. 17, 2014), Arizona (Oct. 17, 2014), Wyoming (Oct. 21, 2014), Kansas (Nov. 12, 2014), Montana (Nov. 19, 2014), and South Carolina (Nov. 20, 2014). 15 states have gay marriage bans through either laws or constitutional amendments or both. The District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage on Mar. 3, 2010. [1] [79] [82]

As of Oct. 9, 2014, 16 out of 194 countries allow same-sex couples to marry: the Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003), Canada (2005), Spain (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Argentina (2010), Iceland (2010), Portugal (2010), Denmark (2012), Uruguay (2013), New Zealand (2013), Brazil (2013), France (2013), and Luxembourg (2014). Same-sex marriage is legal in some jurisdictions of Mexico, the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Wales), and the United States. [39] [63] [65] [66] [67] [78] [80] [83]

For additional information on the history of gay marriage, visit our same-sex marriage timeline.

Video Gallery


CBSNews discusses the gay marriage debate in California and US District Judge Vaughn R. Walker's Aug. 4, 2010 ruling overturning California's same-sex marriage ban.
Source: "Proposition 8 Overturned," cbsnews.com
, Aug. 4, 2010

Gay marriage opponent Senator John McCain and openly gay talk show host Ellen Degeneres discuss gay marriage and civil unions.
Source: "Ellen Degeneres vs. John McCain: Gay Marriage," youtube.com, May 22, 2008

President Barack Obama endorsing legal same-sex marriage during a May 9, 2012 interview for ABC News with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts.
Source: "Obama Endorses Gay Marriage," thedailybeast.com
, May 9, 2012

The New York Times interviews gay marriage opponent Ryan Anderson, Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, about the US Supreme Court's June 26, 2013 same-sex marriage rulings.
Source: "A Conservative Reacts to the Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Rulings," youtube.com, June 27, 2013


Notices for Gay Marriage and Other ProCon.org Information (archived after 30 days)

12/17/2014 – UPDATED: Should Gay Marriage Be Legal? – Gay marriage is legal in 35 US states and the District of Columbia, and is banned in 15 states. Proponents contend that gay marriage bans are discriminatory and unconstitutional, and that same-sex couples should have access to all the benefits enjoyed by different-sex couples. Opponents contend that marriage has traditionally been defined as being between one man and one woman, and that marriage is primarily for procreation. Explore our updated pro and con arguments, plus "Did You Know?" facts and background information on the history of the gay marriage debate.

12/16/2014 – Teachers’ Corner – Check out our new and improved Teachers’ Corner for free lesson plan ideas, critical thinking resources, info on Common Core, and examples of how to use ProCon.org from more than 5,000 educators around the world.

12/15/2014 – Is There Really a Santa Claus? – He's jolly and generous, but is he real? Our new holiday-themed site explores the legend of Santa Claus. Read the arguments from both sides and then decide for yourself: Is Santa Claus man or myth?

11/24/2014 – ProCon.org Critical Thinking Seminar – Our seminar teaches critical thinking in a hands-on, interactive format. Read about this new lesson plan idea for teachers, see which Common Core standards it addresses, and watch a short video showing the seminar in action.

11/21/2014  Which topics should ProCon.org cover in 2015? – Net neutrality? Common Core? Minimum wage? Affirmative action? GMOs? Something else? What do YOU think? You can vote for as many subjects as you like, or suggest some of your own.

Archived Notices (archived after 30 days)


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