Courtesy of MCT
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk became the second Republican senator to support same-sex marriage this year, a week after the Supreme Court reviewed two cases focused on same-sex marriage rights and equality.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was the first Republican senator to announce his support for same-sex couples in a guest column in The Columbus Dispatch last month. Portman said his opinion on the issue changed after his son announced in 2011 that he is gay.
The recent change of public stance by the two Republicans reflects the shifting opinions of many Americans over the last 10 years.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans surveyed are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in 2013, up significantly from 37 percent in 2003, according to a Washington Post poll.
The case reviewed by the Supreme Court last week focused on the constitutionality of part of the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill signed into law in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton limiting federal marriage benefits and inter-state marriage recognition only to married couples of the opposite sex.
Changes at the state level in the past decade also reflect the changing opinions nationwide. Massachusetts became the first state ever to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, prompting eight other states and the District of Columbia to follow suit.
More Americans are comfortable with same-sex marriage than ever before, and members of LGBT communities are taking notice.
Deborah Kuzawa, Diversity and Inclusion chair for the Ohio State Council of Graduate Students, acknowledged the change but is shocked at how quickly it has come.
“It has changed dramatically, even in the past few years. DOMA was put in place in 1996 so the idea that we are at a point now where the Supreme Court is hearing whether it is constitutional or not is amazing.”
Kuzawa, an English Ph.D. candidate, said many opponents of same-sex marriage stand against the issue for religious reasons. Her rebuttal to their beliefs points to America’s foundational principles.
“We live in a country with a separation of church and state. Religion … is not the law of the land,” she said.
Although a decision by the Supreme Court is not expected until June, various media outlets across the country have labeled the DOMA case as the 21st century’s version of Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1973 granting women the constitutional right to an abortion.
While some advocates of same-sex marriage focus on the equality of the issue, others see legalization as a route to relief with taxes, Social Security benefits and life insurance. Garett Heysel, assistant dean of Arts and Humanities and president of the Ohio State GLBT Alumni Society, said the current tax situation same-sex couples face puts them at a disadvantage in states where same-sex marriage is illegal.
“If I am working and my partner is on my insurance policy, my benefits are pre-taxed (before federal and state taxes are removed from income) while his would be taxed on top of that, costing more because we are not a married couple. It’s a complete penalization.”
The equality of marriage, the tax code and health benefits have dominated the public discussions over same-sex marriage, but Heysel said the bigger issue lies with the bullying of LGBT adolescents.
“I’d really like to see us (OSU) get a handle on the depression and rate of suicide that happens with LGBT youth,” Heysel said. “I think it would be great if the university allowed students to identify on their applications because if LGBT students wanted to take advantage of the services we have for them here, we would be better able to connect with them and test whether we have an open, friendly environment.”
Public opinion in Columbus mirrors the nationally evolving public opinion. A March poll for the Columbus Dispatch found that 54 percent of Columbus citizens support same-sex marriage, with 40 percent opposed.
Many same-sex couples believe real progress has been made in the last decade, but many in favor of gay marriage legalization know the road ahead is still long. Kuzawa said for the issue to be fixed, “there needs to be a complete dissolution of civil marriage and religious marriage because that’s where the issue is coming from.”