Gay marriage has a heated but short history in the U.S. In 1993, a Hawaii case got national attention which started the widespread controversy on this issue. The judges found that the state’s constitution required a compelling reason not to extend equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. In response, the ruling allowed Congress to push through the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which allows a state to ignore same-sex marriages performed outside its borders and prohibits federal recognition. Since the Hawaii case in 1993, states have struggled to find their own stance on the issue; in a few states this means legalized civil unions or domestic partnerships Civil unions between same-sex couples are not equal to a marriage between a man and woman.

Very few states allow civil unions in the U.S: Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. California and Oregon allow domestic partnerships. Civil unions and domestic partnerships are very similar but every state defines them in a different way. None of the states’ same-sex laws are exactly the same, with different labels or different benefits given. On November 18, 2003, Massachusetts became the only state to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S, but because of the DOMA, federal recognition is out of the question.

Same-sex unions have motivated vast controversy on moral grounds as well as legal. Can a same-sex couple be married given that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman? To solve this problem, Vermont adopted the term “civil union”. Vermont became the first state in the country to legally recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships between same-sex couples, on July 1st, 2000. Civil unions were originally meant to give same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as marriage gives a man and a woman. The argument since then has been why should gay and lesbian couples be able to marry when they have civil unions which are the same thing with a different title? The answer is more complicated than most people think.

Every state has different laws about marriage. If a couple is married in one state, that marriage is recognized anywhere they go or move to. For example, in some states, like Oregon, people can get married at the age of seventeen and over. In most other states the laws are eighteen and over, but if the two married seventeen-years-old move from Oregon to a state where the law is eighteen and older to marry, that state will still recognize their marriage. However, this is not the case with civil unions. If a same-sex couple has a civil union in Vermont, that union is only recognized in the state it was made and no other state will recognize the union.

When taking a closer look at the differences between marriage and civil unions, it is clear that civil unions do not measure up. When a man and a woman get married they obtain more than 1,049 federal and state benefits they did not have when they were single. When same-sex couples have a civil union, they only acquire a little over 300 state level benefits and will not qualify for any federal benefits or protections. The federal government does not recognize them as a married couple at all.When a couple files for state tax returns they can file married/civil but only in the states where civil unions are allowed. When filing their federal tax returns they must file single or head of household, and they will not be eligible for tax breaks or any benefits of federal taxes commonly claimed by married couples.

Social security survivor benefits are very important within a family. It provides income to a household if a working parent dies. It helps the family get through the emotional and financial times. For married couples the Social Security survivor benefits are very easy to obtain; standard paperwork will apply. Same-sex couples cannot apply for this even if there is a child involved. Since this is a federal benefit, same-sex couples do not qualify.

When making medical decisions in a marriage, all rights are given to the spouse. When the spouse of an incompetent or disabled person goes to the hospital they have every right to stand by their partner’s side and make any health decision. When a same-sex spouse of an incompetent or disabled person goes to the hospital, however, they have the right to see their spouse, only in the states where the union was granted, and only then can they make health decisions if their spouse is unable to do so.

Despite the fact that a few states in the United States recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, United States Immigration authorities do not grant United States citizens or legal permanent residents to sponsor a same-sex non-American spouse. There are only 19 countries in the world that allow same-sex couples to sponsor a foreign partner. The United States, along with most countries, allow heterosexual marriages to sponsor a foreign spouse that may eventually gain residency and even citizenship.

Proposition 8 is the most recent controversy on the issue of gay marriage, and the new law passed. It banned gay marriage in California, and raised many unanswered questions. For example, over 17,000 same-sex couples were married in the state of California, so where does that leave them now that Proposition 8 has passed? Jerry Brown, Attorney General of California, says that he thinks same-sex marriages will stay intact, but there is a big debate about the marriages being honored. The pro Proposition 8 voters are against the same-sex marriages that were previously legalized, because they say since the law passed all gay marriages in the state of California should be terminated. Detractors say that the state does not have the authority to take away that right from same-sex couples when they worked so hard to get it.

Sonja Ebbings Brown is the voice for the Proposition 8 campaign. She says that she is all for gay rights, but none-the-less a marriage is between a man and a woman. Erroneously, in this quote she says that civil unions and domestic partnerships give couples the same rights as a traditional marriage. In reality, civil unions have no comparison to a traditional marriage. There are so many differences; it would be hard to even put them in the same category. She says this: I care very much about gay couples’ rights. That’s why civil unions and domestic partnerships statuses have been very carefully crafted by their own advocates. So they have exactly the same rights that I do as a wife in a traditional marriage.

She says that her campaign mostly focused on the children, and not just about defining marriage. They think that all children have the right to a mother and father, and if gay marriage is legalized, how will that affect the children? Ironically, the California’s teacher association donated over $ 1,000,000,000 to kill the Proposition.

We do know since the dawn of time and through current studies, children do best when they come from a low conflict home with a mother and a father. Kids have civil rights, too. The only reason that you see parents standing up and pushing back so passionately in California is not because we’re opposing the rights of gay couples to have the same right that we have in marriage, it is only because we feel that our kids should have the very most basic things that they deserve.

Proposition 8 is a very sensitive subject for many people, not only the political and the news side of it, but morally as well. Keith Olbermann spoke directly to those in California who voted ‘yes’ on Proposition 8 on “The Keith Olbermann Show”. He spoke from his point of view. He is not gay, and he does not have any family or close friends who are. He did not talk about what benefits same-sex couples were losing out on because of this campaign, but more of the human heart, the emotions behind it.

“Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don’t want to deny you yours. They don’t want to take anything away from you. They want what you want-a chance to be a little less alone in the world. Only now you are saying to them-no. You can’t have it on these terms. Maybe something similar. If they behave. If they don’t cause too much trouble. You’ll even give them some of the same legal rights-even as you’re taking away the legal right, which they already had.”

It was a very moving speech, and given by someone who the Proposition does not even affect. He is just a man who believes in “giving love a fighting chance even though the odds against it are already great enough. I keep hearing this term “re-defining” marriage. If this country hadn’t re-defined marriage, black people still couldn’t marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal in 1967″.

I wonder how we can say as a country that we have equality and freedom if even one person is denied rights and freedoms that others enjoy just because we want to keep a law that is against everything our country stands for. It is a basic right of all Americans to pursue happiness like choosing a partner. Proposition 8 is a violation of what is guaranteed by our founding fathers and their intention for all of the citizens carrying the birthright of this country. Civil unions don’t have the equality and rights that legal marriages have. When you look at them side by side you can see civil unions are not equal in their benefits or protection of a union between same sex partners. Until marriage is defined as two people sharing a love and commitment to that love there cannot be liberty and equality to pursue a happy life.