Although it may seem to many as though gay marriage made its debut on the public stage during this Presidential campaign, it has been a public issue for at least a decade.
In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It
prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages and also allows a state to ignore gay marriages performed outside its borders.
Four states (Maryland, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming) have laws or court rulings from before 1996 that prohibit same-sex marriage.
The big news on 2 November was the number of state constitutional amendments
that passed, as well as President Bush's change of heart. In 2000, he
characterized this as a state's rights issue; today he supports a federal
constitutional amendment that will define marriage as occurring between
a man and a woman.
Gay unions may, like other civil rights battles, labor in the spotlight for a generation or more before change occurs.
And the Economist reported in February that this is
a generational issue: 55% of those aged 18-29 support same-sex marriage, but only 21% of those over 65 do.
It is also a regional issue. According to an ABC/Washington Post Poll,
63 percent of Southerners oppose gay marriage; only 46 percent of Easterners do.
Election Day Recap
On 2 November, 11 states had constitutional amendments on the ballot that
would ban same-sex marriage. They all passed.
Despite this overwhelming win, Alliance for Marriage to said, "Ultimately, only our Federal Marriage Amendment will protect marriage."
Another advocacy group, Culture and Family Institute, suggested that the
consensus suggested by the vote will motivate Congress to act in 2005 to
pass a federal constitutional amendment. In 2004, the measure did not
garner enough votes in the Senate. And even though Republicans gained
seats in the Senate, they do not have the two-thirds majority required
needed for a constitutional amendment.
On Amending the Constitution
Not counting the Bill of Rights, there have been only 16 amendments to the US
Constitution in 200 years. Almost all extend rights (granting suffrage to blacks
and women). When Congress attempted to mandate social norms through a Constitutional Amendment - Prohibition - it soon found itself in full
The most recent attempt to amend the Constitution was the Equal Rights Amendment
("Remember the ladies!"). It was first introduced in Congress in 1923, three
years after women won the right to vote.
The ERA finally passed Congress in 1973,
but failed to obtain the necessary and timely support of three-quarters
of the states. In 1980, the Republican Party reversed a 40-year history of
support for the ERA; President-elect Ronald Reagan opposes it. He was the
first American president opposed to a constitutional amendment granting
equal rights to women.
So, although 35 states have laws on the books prohibiting same-sex
marriage, the ERA battle shows how difficult it can be to secure votes in
38 states. Also, polls consistently show that most Americans believe that this
is a state issue, not a federal one. An ABC news poll showed that 58 percent
believed each state should set its own laws; only 38 percent
supported a constitutional amendment.