Same-Sex Marriage: The Unholy Battle Over Matrimony

There are names synonymous with the struggle for gay and lesbian civil rights: Stonewall, Bowers v. Hardwick, Baehr vs. Lewin.

Baehr v. Lewin? That’s the lawsuit in Hawaii that started this recent push for same-sex marriage. In 1993, that state’s Supreme Court ruled in that unless the government could show a “compelling interest” to block same-sex marriage, denying that civil procedure to gay and lesbian couples would constitute discrimination.

Reaction to the prospect of legal same-sex marriage has brought a flurry of actions. Thirty-four state legislatures have taken up bills attacking same-sex marriage. Twelve states have passed those measures into law. The bills have been defeated, withdrawn or killed in 17 states, and measures are still pending in six more.

In addition, three Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to keep same-sex marriage from becoming legal whatever the outcome of the Hawaii case.

The “Defense of Marriage Act,” drafted with the help of Traditional Values Coalition leader Lou Sheldon, would outlaw any future gay marriages by defining marriage as a “legal union between one man and one woman” in federal law. That would give states the authority to reject the legality of same-sex marriages performed in any other state. Aides to President Clinton say he’ll likely sign the bill if it is passed. (Which of course, he later did.)

On Aug. 1, the attorney general’s office will try to persuade a Hawaiian state circuit court judge to limit marriage to a man and woman. Their case will be based in part on the argument that society has an interest in encouraging procreation and stable child-rearing. But “compelling interest” is a demanding legal standard, and most legal scholars believe the state is going to lose.

No matter what the outcome of the case, the issue is far from settled and will most likely end up in front of the Supreme Court.