The night of June 26, 2015, following the legalization of same-sex marriage, President Obama’s White House lit up in a rainbow. On that historic day, LGBT+ people all across the United States celebrated the progress made towards equality.
I heard the news when my mom picked me up from summer camp, and I remember being excited. I knew that something groundbreaking had happened. But what I didn’t learn until recently is that beyond gay marriage being a symbol of acceptance, marriage gives a lot of legal protections. And I was not aware that Oregon actively opposed gay marriage during my lifetime.
In the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v Hodges(summer of 2015), same-sex marriage was declared legal in all 50 states. The 5-4 ruling said that under the 14th Amendment, states could not deny marriage to same sex couples. Franklin social studies teacher Kate Moore explained, “Obergefell recognized that excluding LGBTQ couples from marriage excluded them from a foundational, intimate relationship that was available to almost all other adult citizens, and that by its very exclusion created a class that had fewer rights and freedoms than most citizens.”
The United States has a long history of homophobia. In 1853, sodomy carried a penalty of 15 years in prison in Oregon. Sodomy, an outdated and offensive term, included bestiality, not-procreative sex, and gay sex. This law was not repealed until 1971. And in 1953, Oregon enacted a “psychopathic offender” law that according to Basic Rights Oregon let gay people be “rounded up to be ‘cured’ in mental institutions.” These laws invaded the privacy of LGBT+ people and unnecessarily stripped away their freedom.
Until the Supreme Court came to its 2015 decision that legalized gay marriage, states had different laws on the issue. In 2004, voters in Oregon approved a bill that amended the state Constitution to say, “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage.” That’s right, our state was on the wrong side of history.
In the same year, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Many other states followed, including Oregon. We got onto the right side of history when we legalized same-sex marriage in 2014. Then in 2015, even before the Supreme Court stepped in, 37 states had already legalized same-sex marriage.
Varying state laws created confusion, Moore said. “Eventually it became untenable, and the court had to step in and say that all states had to have the same rights because it was becoming bonkers… a couple who got married in Massachusetts and moved to Oregon was legally married, but no [same-sex couples] in Oregon could get legally married in Oregon.”
Marriage comes with many legal benefits that you may not be aware of. Moore said, “Economic benefits of marriage include not paying taxes on shared property if one spouse dies, getting spousal benefits from a wide range of federal programs, including Social Security, the military, and the Veteran’s Administration.” These are vitally important because they ease the financial burden of a death. Someone mourning the loss of their partner should not have to deal with increased financial strain. Not allowing same-sex couples to marry denied them of these federal benefits and tax exemptions. And with Obergefell v Hodges, same-sex couples won the right “to hold the hand of the person that [they] entered into the most intimate of all relationships with while they leave this world, and to send them out of it knowing that [their] marriage, like all marriages, mattered,” Moore said.
“Legal marriage… has always been about property rights and family rights,” Moore said. “Who is in charge.” Parents and guardians have the right to make decisions for their kids. This includes “the ability to be involved in and make legal decisions for children, including where they go to school, medical care, and where they will live,” according to Moore. These decisions are important, and same-sex parents should not be denied these rights.
Immigration is another issue where married couples are given additional rights. “More than half a million people apply for immigration for their spouses and soon to be spouses each year,” Moore said. “Prior to Obergefell, this program was not available to same-sex couples if one partner was not a U.S. citizen.” Now, same-sex couples have the ability to get green cards for their partners.
The importance of Obergefell v Hodges can’t be overstated. Moore said, “The Court has recognized over and over again that marriage and the intimate relationship that it recognizes is so important, so fundamental to a society and a culture, that limiting upon it does, indeed, limit the basic civil rights and humanity of the excluded group.” Obergefell v Hodges extended marriage to gay couples. In 50 years, students will be reading about this milestone in their history textbooks, and they will learn how it majorly expanded the rights of LGBT+ people.