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Same-Sex Marriage: A Historical Introduction

Within the already controversial realm of gay rights, no area is more controversial than gay marriage. For some, the idea that homosexual couples should have the same matrimonial benefits as heterosexual couples is purely a question of civil rights. According to this argument, the constitutional concepts of equal protection and due process require that same-sex couples be treated no differently than heterosexual married couples.

Others see homosexual marriage as a moral question, and conclude that such unions violate traditional ethical values found in the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. Another argument is that it undermines family values: heterosexual marriage is founded upon the need to procreate, but that is something homosexual couples cannot do. To counter this argument, those in favor of same-sex marriages note that elderly, disabled, and infertile people are free to marry without thought to procreation, and that advances in fertility technology have opened many paths to parenthood.

The debate over gay marriage is not confined to the marriage ceremony itself, although being allowed to participate legally in that rite drives much of the emotionalism of the debate. It also has a more pragmatic side, including issues such as whether same-sex couples should receive the same tax and estate advantages, the same rights to surviving children, the same community property rights, and the same health care benefits as heterosexual couples.

Although same-sex marriages have occurred privately for years, only recently has the issue been litigated. Only since 1993, with the Hawaii Supreme Court decision in Baehr v. Lewin, have gay rights supporters seen any measurable progress in state laws concerning homosexual marriage. Since that decision, both sides in the battle over same-sex marriage have experienced some victories and some setbacks.

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