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Around the United States, gay marriage and other gay rights issues have sparked legislation, public debates and protests. And, these days, when an issue sparks a public interest, there’s no way that it won’t end up being discussed on Twitter. It has become an outlet for any discussion, especially those of vital importance to so many people.
Here, we at Chicago Loopster have created a way to track that discussion around the United States. Use the above interactive graphic to check in on the debate in some of the biggest cities around the United States. Twitter searches for Prop 8 will pop up in a new window. And check back often, because there’s constant chatter about Prop 8.
Same-sex marriage was outlawed in California following the passage of a 2008 ballot measure. In January 2010, the measure was brought to trial in San Francisco. After several months of deliberation, the ban was lifted August 4 by U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker. The ruling sparked reactions from both sides of the same-sex marriage debate.
Same-sex marriage remains a hot topic in the United States, and it is recognized only at the state level. In 2003, Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and several states (or a region, in one example) have since followed suit: Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Many states, however, continue to ban same-sex marriage in their constitutions.
A bill allowing civil unions in Illinois may be near passage, according to an August 23rd press release. If passed, the state would join New Jersey in allowing civil unions. In Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia, previous civil union laws have been expanded to making gay marriage legal. But what do these distinctions mean, and what is on the horizon as debate over marriage rights continues in the USA?
Senate Bill 1716, the bill that would allow civil unions in Illinois, would grant partners in civil unions the same rights that spouses receive under state law, similar to laws governing these partnerships in other states. Civil unions primarily differ from marriage in that they only cover benefits and rights granted to spouses by the state, not at the federal level. Domestic partnerships, which allow only limited state rights to couples are available in Oregon, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Nevada, Wisconsin, California and the District of Columbia.
Federal marriage benefits cannot be granted to same-sex partnerships since the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996. Federal laws cover many basic protections and benefits granted to married couples. According to information from the National Organization for Women, couples in civil unions that receive only state benefits face some of these key challenges:
- Portability: Since civil unions are granted at the state level, and not permitted by all states, couples may not be able to retain their benefits when they cross state lines. This can also create problems when couples in civil unions want to dissolve the union while residing in a state that does not acknowledge them to begin with.
- Lack of key federal benefits: NOW cites a 1997 General Accounting Office report that lists 1,049 federal benefits to married couples, none of which are available to couples in civil unions. These include Social Security benefits, Family and Medical Leave protection, Worker’s Compensation, basic federal tax exemptions, and next-of-kin status regarding medical decisions and hospitalization.
- Taxes: Civil unions are not recognized by the federal government, and so those in civil unions will have to file federal taxes as if they are single individuals, even if the state allows them to file similarly to married couples. There are comparable challenges involved with applying for public benefits such as pension protection, insurance, and Medicaid.
- Forms: Many documents that request marital status do not include an option for civil unions, forcing those in civil unions to misrepresent themselves. In the case of some official documents, this could expose someone in this situation to fraud charges.
While these differences distinguish civil unions from federally recognized marriage, gay marriages permitted by state laws also allow only state benefits, due to the Defense of Marriage Act. The cultural significance of marriage means that the addition of gay marriage laws in states that previously allowed civil unions is still regarded as an important advance by advocates for gay marriage rights. Additionally, a CNN poll released this month finds that for the first time, there is a majority support of gay marriage in the USA. The New York Times, reporting on the poll, states that changing demographics are likely to continue to drive this trend across the states:
“Nationally, a majority of people under age 30 support same-sex marriage. And this is not because of overwhelming majorities found in more liberal states that skew the national picture: our research shows that a majority of young people in almost every state support it. As new voters come of age, and as their older counterparts exit the voting pool, it’s likely that support will increase, pushing more states over the halfway mark.”
In a recent report published by the Illinois Statehouse News, Mary Massingale hints that a vote on same-sex legislation may be coming to Illinois in November. The recent passing of Proposition 8 in California has spurned a great deal of talk about same-sex marriages, but this isn’t exactly a similar proposal.
Bill SB1716 legalizes civil unions for same-sex partners. It’s not marriage, but if the bill “should come up for consideration, it would mark the first major attempt at expanding gay rights in Illinois since lawmakers banned certain types of discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2005,” wrote Massingale.
The bill would make Illinois the latest in a string of states that are legalizing civil unions and, for some, repealing conditions of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which makes it possible for each state to determine whether or not they will acknowledge same-sex marriages from other states. DOMA defines marriage strictly as the relationship between a man and a woman; section 3 of the act states, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
So, it appears Illinois may be on the cusp of recognizing civil unions—but how significant is this?
There are a number of resources available on the Internet that chronicle the evolution of gay rights and recognize landmark legislature that has moved this issue forward. Some of these timelines are more extensive than others. According to the PEW forum on Religion and Public Life (available here), the Hawaii Supreme Court issued the first landmark decision regarding gay marriage, citing a 1993 decision claiming the state needed to show a compelling reason to ban same-sex marriage. Another timeline (found at infoplease) claims Chicago created the country’s first known gay rights organization in 1924.
The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a comprehensive account of some of the more salient same-sex movements in the last decade.
As of August 2008, California became among the most same-sex friendly states in the country, but it hasn’t always been that way. Check out the legal battle over gay marriage as mapped out by NPR in December 2009.
The Los Angeles Times has a more updated version here that takes into account the Prop. 8 ruling.
Here’s a list of dates that goes all the way back to the origins of the term “homosexuality,” in the 1500’s.
The New Republic takes a look at President Obama’s stance on gay marriage, which has irked some of his supporters.
Social opinion will eventually sow legislative change on the issue of same-sex marriage, according to a study published last year. The shift in public opinion is inevitable as younger, more liberal voters age into the voting pool.
The study, conducted by two Columbia University political science professors, found that as public opinion on same-sex marriage continues to shift, government policy will follow suit. Certainly, exposure to gay and lesbian public figures has widened in recent years. LGBT pop stars, athletes, actors and politicians, as well as characters on television shows, have become ubiquitous in the public arena as legal battles in the majority of states continue to be fought.
“One thing we’ve found is that most of the change we’ve seen over the last 12 to 14 years can be explained by cohort replacement: new voters entering the voting pool,” said Jeffrey Lax, one of the study’s authors. “If you look at where the age group of 30 to 45 [year olds] are now, it’s where the 18 to 29 were that many years back. We’re not seeing that much aggregate change, but clear signs of voter replacement: new, younger supporters entering the voting pool.”
A recent Chicago Tribune poll of area residents found that the number of people who support legalizing same-sex marriage was on par with those who did not: 42 percent of were in favor and the same percentage were opposed, while 15 percent were undecided.
Same-sex civil unions, which are not recognized in Illinois, were supported by 54 percent of residents polled.
Data from a CNN poll conducted this month yields a conservative estimate of 48 percent of Illinois residents support same-sex marriage, compared with 26 percent in 1996.
That number may actually skew higher, in the 53 percent range when adjusted for 2010 percentages, said Lax.
Research data indicates that the younger the voter, the more liberal the viewpoint on same-sex marriage. Illinois voters under the age of 30 were overwhelmingly supportive of legalizing same-sex marriage by some 60 percent.
“With trends like that, I just do not imagine that newer cohorts to the voting pool are more conservative,” Lax said.
The study indicated that while there is nuance based on topic (adoption by same-sex couples compared with legalizing same-sex marriage, for example), “Indeed, we find a deeper form of responsiveness, to policy-specific opinion and not only ideology. Policy is responsive to opinion… Furthermore, policy-specific opinion generally has the largest substantive impact on policy.”