Sex Legal Now; Marriage Next?
U.S. Following Canada on Gay Rights
Journal, June 28, 2003
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By Heather M. Ross
The U.S. Supreme Court has finally caught up with growing
public opinion in America over gay rights.
The court overturned a Texas law that made it a crime for
two consenting adults of the same sex to engage in sexual relations in the
privacy of their own bedroom. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy
wrote that gays and lesbians have “the full right to engage in private
conduct without government intervention.”
As gay-rights supporters in the United States waited
anxiously for the court’s ruling, they heard an announcement from the
Canadian government, on June 17, that could take gay couples one step closer
to equality: Canada plans to open marriage to gay couples throughout the
After several Canadian court rulings striking down the
traditional definition of marriage, the government has decided to introduce
legislation expanding that definition to include same-sex couples. The
legislation will make Canada the third country to recognize same-sex
marriages, after Belgium and the Netherlands. But unlike the other two
countries, Canada’s law will have no residency requirements in order for
couples to tie the knot.
What’s more, Canada’s law will specifically state
that religious institutions will not be forced to perform or recognize
Several same-sex couples from the United States have gone
to Ontario—where the law has already taken effect—and registered for
marriage licenses. It is unclear what legal recognition they will receive back
in the United States, even thought the two countries have a treaty that
requires each to recognize marriages performed in the other.
Public opinion on same-sex unions is not that different
between Canada and the United States. Recent polls in Canada show 54 percent
favor granting legal recognition to same-sex marriage. In the United States, a
Gallup poll in May found 49 percent support legalizing civil unions between
two adults of the same sex. That number is significant, since in 1996, only 28
percent of Americans supported civil unions.
What’s more promising, the poll showed that 60 percent
of Americans think that same-sex relations between consenting adults should be
legal, and 88 percent think that gays should have equal rights in the
But Americans are still far behind their Canadian
counterparts when it comes to supporting gay-rights issues with actual
For instance, Canada decriminalized private same-sex
relations nationwide in 1969. So-called “bedroom laws”—which the Supreme
Court just ruled on—have existed in 13 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.
In 1992, just after President Clinton was elected and
promised to end the ban on gays in the military, Canada’s Supreme Court shot
down its country’s ban. Canadian troops—including gay Canadian
troops—are serving alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan. And even as
American soldiers fight on the same battlefields in Iraq with members of the
British military, which also lets openly gay men and women serve, “Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell” is still the law of the land for the United States.
Just as foes of gay rights have argued that allowing
homosexuals in the military would destroy that institution, there have been
many who have argued that granting any equal rights to gay and lesbian couples
would severely damage the institution of marriage.
But in 1999, the Canadian government passed legislation
that provided expanded rights to same-sex and heterosexual common-law couples.
And in contrast to the potential horror described by those opposed to gay
rights, Canadian heterosexuals continue to marry, continue to stay married and
continue to have children.
The Canadian family has not spontaneously combusted, nor
will it with the legalization of same-sex marriage. And neither will the
American family unit.
It is time for American lawmakers to come to grips with
the fact that the answer to curing current American family woes is not to bash
what are seen as alternative families, but rather to accept those consenting
adult couples who wish to join together in committed, loving relationships.
This will only serve to strengthen our society.
The Supreme Court should be commended for understanding
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