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US gay-rights activists say time is ripe for change

© Photo: AFP

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2013-03-27

Lifted by growing public support for same-sex marriage and an animated debate that has finally reached the nation’s highest court, American homosexuals say now is the moment to award equal rights to gay and lesbian couples.

This week the US Supreme Court is considering two cases concerning same-sex marriage which could lead to landmark rulings in one of America’s most divisive social debates. Boosted by growing support for same-sex marriage among Americans, gay-rights advocates say the country’s top court should help introduce sweeping changes.

On Tuesday, judges heard arguments over the legality of a ban on same-sex marriages in the state of California – the referendum-approved Proposition 8. On Wednesday, they will consider a challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, which says marriage is only between a man and a woman and thus excludes gay and lesbian couples from certain federal rights and benefits.


An overturn of Prop 8 and DOMA by the Supreme Court could set an important precedent for same-sex marriage, making it hard for individual states to guard existing laws that ban them.

A Supreme Court ruling is not expected until late June, and it is difficult to predict what the conservative-leaning body will decide.

“Our momentum will continue regardless of how the Supreme Court rules,” Brian Moulton, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leading LGBT rights group, told FRANCE 24. “Public opinion polls continue to show larger and larger majority support, particularly among younger Americans. A loss at the Supreme Court would be a setback, but our country is only going to move in the direction of marriage equality.”

Shifting norms

The Pew Research group said last week that steady and growing support for same-sex marriage in the US was “unambiguous”. Its recent opinion poll showed that 49% of the public supported gay marriage and 44% opposed it. Ten years ago 58% of Americans opposed marriage between gay and lesbian couples. The study also revealed that 70% of respondents aged 18-32 backed same-sex marriage.

In another boost for LGBT activists, two major US newspapers, The New York Times and the Washington Post, urged the Supreme Court to strike down Prop 8 in editorials on Tuesday. “Now, it seems not only possible but also likely that same-sex marriage will be legal, widespread and, frankly, mundane and that this will happen relatively soon,” the Post wrote.


Meghan Ferguson, a Georgetown University student, and the president of LGBT campus group GU Pride, said many of her peers were hopeful about the court’s eventual rulings. “The culture is beginning to shift. People are starting to view this not just as an issue specific to the LGBT community, but as a broader human rights and social justice issue,” she said.

Nine states and Washington DC allow same-sex marriage, while 12 other states recognise civil unions or domestic partnerships that give partners some, but not all, the rights associated with marriage. Gay marriage is outlawed by the remaining 29 states.

Colour wars in Washington

Some gay-right advocates said the state-by-state discrepancies over fundamental rights were untenable. “People are starting to realise how unjust it is, and how difficult it is to navigate the system,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, a Catholic group for same-sex marriage. “We deal with these inequities on a daily basis, and it is time for that to end.”

“The first step is around dialogue,” Duddy-Burke added when asked about Catholic priests’ rejection of same-sex marriage. “I am confident the leaders will eventually follow the faithful,” she said, noting that like the rest of Americans, a slight majority of Catholics backed same-sex marriage.

Duddy-Burke spoke on Monday evening at a vigil outside the Massachusetts State House, one of dozens being held across the country ahead of the Supreme Court hearings. In Washington, organisers urged same-sex marriage supporters to wear red “as a symbol of love,” according to HRC’s Moulton.

But opponents of gay-marriage were also eager to get their message across. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) led their own March for Marriage from the National Mall to the steps of the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

NOM, which has been endorsed by US Catholic Bishops and conservative Evangelical Church leaders, encouraged attending men to wear blue, women to wear red, and children to wear white.

“We remain confident that the US Supreme Court will uphold the ability of states and the federal government to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, a definition that has served our nation well for hundreds of years,” NOM’s president, Brian Brown, said in a statement.

Confronted with vocal opponents to same-sex marriage, LGBT activists agreed that while big change seems closer than ever, many obstacles still lay ahead.

HRC’s Moulton lamented the US was behind other Western countries when it came to equal rights for homosexuals. “We are starting to catch up, but there is a lot more that needs to be done.

Date created : 2013-03-26

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