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Tuesday 11 April 2017

America's Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage

Posted in: Features, Books
By Craig Young - 15th October 2006

Review: Dan Pinello:
America's Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage (2006)

Same-sex marriage has quietened down as an issue in New Zealand after the passage of the Civil Union and Relationships Acts back in 2004. However, what can we learn from the case of the United States?

In the United States, the inexperienced LGBT movement wanted to secure access to marital status for a particular reason, one that might not neccessarily occur to hardline advocates of same-sex marriage outside the United States. That is, the United States lags behind many other English-speaking jurisdictions in providing equal spousal rights and responsibilities to unmarried/de facto couples, straight or lesbian/gay. For this reason, many US LGBT communities may have decided to go for same sex marriage, rather than the less provocative route of civil unions or registered partnerships.

However, there were many ways to that route, as Pinello notes in his book on the subject. In Hawaii and Massachuesetts, same-sex marriage was achieved through litigation, while in New Mexico and San Fransisco, it was undertaken through the avenue of sympathetic local officials, and in Oregon, the Christian Right played on the issue of boundary demarcation, mobilising otherwise liberal heterosexuals to vote for a same-sex marriage ban.

Does this neccessarily lead me to change my mind about same-sex marriage? While I support solidarity with US lesbian and gay couples deprived of spousal equality entitlements, I still believe that outside the United States, in our very different political context, it is a residual issue. In the United Kingdom, there hasn't been a purist approach to civil unions as a 'substitute' for 'fully-fledged' same-sex marriage, with the result of high uptake of their Civil Partnerships Act. In New Zealand and the United Kingdom alike, there has been comprehensive spousal entitlement legislation which has given civil unions teeth, which is not the case in the United States.

Happily, though, there will probably be a positive resolution to this issue. The US Christian Right appears to be losing its mobilisational capacity against same-sex marriage as a boundary demarcation issue, as it is increasingly overshadowed by Republican federal corruption and the Iraqi War within Bush's presidency, which may lead to a backlash in the mid-term US federal Congressional elections, due next month. This may put paid to any possible US federal [anti- same sex] marriage amendment to the US federal constitution.

And in New Zealand? Same-sex marriage is a residual issue now, and to be frank, it is far less important than the remaining same-sex parenting inequality issue, adoption law reform, or outstanding issues related to the spread of HIV/AIDS like crystal meth abuse or Internet-related safe sex communication.
It will happen, but it should not be a priority for any of us. We still have much to plan for, even when our legislative agenda concludes with equal adoption responsibilities and rights.

Dan Pinello: America's Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage: New York: Cambridge University Press: 2006.

Craig Young - 15th October 2006

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