End Marriage Discrimination and Oppose Theological Definitions of Marriage

Update: June 2015 - Victory!  U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality in the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges.

More than 55 years after they fell in love, 84-year-old Phyllis Lyon and 87-year-old Del Martin became the first same-sex couples to legally exchange marriage vows in California on June 16, 2008.

But, current federal law known as the “Defense of Marriage Act” prohibited the marriage between Phyllis and Del from being recognized in any other states or by the federal government. This means that despite their decades of partnership, they were unable to receive more than 1,100 federal protections and responsibilities – including Social Security and immigration benefits – that otherwise apply to married couples.

  • Civil marriage is a license by the state. There is no religious requirement to get a marriage license, and no religious blessing by the state conveyed with this license.
  • All marriages in America are civil marriages because all marriages require a civil license. Some people have a religious ceremony, but the ceremony has no legal standing. All that's required are the signatures of the couple, witnesses, and the person authorized to perform the ceremony.
  • The civil marriage contract requires adherence to no specific religious doctrine.
  • The civil contract of marriage is given by governmental entities and affords over a thousand legal rights and responsibilities.
  • The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extends “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens. By denying gay men and lesbians to marry, the federal government is treating gay men and lesbian couples inequitably.
  • Civil marriage law has historically been used to legally encode segregation and majority privilege; it was forbidden to members of certain ethnic groups; and forbidden between people who were not members of the same ethnic group (blacks and whites still could not marry each other in some states until the Supreme Court overturned those laws in 1967). Denying legal marriage recognition on the basis of a single characteristic makes it easy to discriminate against everyone who shares that characteristic.

The Secular Coalition for America opposes theological definitions for civil contracts; therefore, we support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and we oppose constitutional amendments seeking to define marriage as "one man, one woman." While a faith group's decision to sanctify a union may be based on dogma, civil marriage should be made available to couples without regard to gender.


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