A series of landmark victories for same-sex couples is sweeping America as part of a wider movement in the western world, aiming to tackle homophobia and discrimination. David Cameron’s Same Sex Couples Marriage Bill has reached the report stage in the House of Lords, subsequently acting as a catalyst for the USA which has, in the past week, made a significant legal shift towards equality for all.
The Supreme Court has struck down the Defence of Marriage Act 1996 that had previously blocked federal recognition of gay marriage and declared it unconstitutional, an incredible achievement in the strenuous battle for equal rights. The Court ruled that the Act violated the Fifth Amendment which states equal liberty must be granted to all, regardless of sexual orientation. It also means that same-sex couples will be granted benefits that were previously only available to other married couples under the federal law; a clear indication that homophobia is becoming ever more unacceptable in today’s society.
Despite staunch opposition from conservative activists, the overturning of the Act provides evidence of changing cultural attitudes towards homosexuality influencing legislation, and gave a green light to same-sex marriages. The federal government has devolved the power of granting same-sex marriages to a state level, reinforcing the traditional system of subsidiarity that the USA was founded upon. The ruling is a milestone in the progression towards equality, not just for America, but also globally as it reflects a growing acceptance of homosexuality within Western culture.
Barack Obama has given his full support to the DOMA ruling, claiming it is a historic moment in the fight for marriage equality. In a written statement he said “We are a people who declared that we are all created equal…and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” When coupled alongside the fact that over two thirds of young American voters are in favour of same-sex marriages, it demonstrates a changing mindset to equality for all before the law.
David Cameron has also reaffirmed his support for same-sex marriages – a notion that strays from the conservative desire to uphold tradition – in a speech given to mark Pride Day by stating that “their love is the same as everyone else’s love”. No clearer message can be given to members of the western world that equality is necessary and that homophobia cannot be tolerated, both in de jure and de facto terms, and the support given by prominent global leaders is a breakthrough for equality.
The Supreme Court also demonstrated a belief in equality through refusing to reinstate California’s Proposition 8, a voter-led piece of state legislation initiated in 2008 that banned gay marriage and enshrined homophobia in the law. Even though supporters of the proposition issued an emergency request to halt same-sex marriages, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the application and in turn upheld the rights and liberty of homosexuals.
In the last week, therefore, the United States has made an unprecedented step forward in the fight for equality due to the rulings of the Supreme Court. Whilst prejudice and discrimination undoubtedly still remain issues that needs to be addressed fully, the progress made signifies a cultural shift that will leave a legacy of equality for future generations. The actions taken by both the United States and Westminster will, hopefully, act as a global stimulant and inspire action to be taken to ensure the notion of ‘equality for all’ permeates legislation and provides a basis for the removal of prejudice and discrimination against same-sex couples.
The emerging legislation can be seen not only as a positive for the gay community, but for equality as a whole throughout the world that will directly impact upon the lives of all citizens to ensure the society in which we live is inclusive and, fundamentally, free.