As we anticipate the Supreme Court’s rulings on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, the number of marriage equality victories keeps mounting worldwide. Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in 15 nations: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay. The list keeps growing, and it’s wonderfully exciting, like a stream of contestants in the Miss World pageant or the Olympics. Additionally, same-sex marriages are performed and recognized in two Mexican states, including Mexico City. Same-sex marriages are recognized but not performed in Israel, the rest of Mexico and parts of the Caribbean.
The U.S. states of Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island enacted same-sex marriage laws this spring, all of which will come into effect this summer. There is still a considerable amount of work to be done, though, so we can't rest on our oars.
Currently, gay and lesbian couples can marry in nine of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and three Native American tribal jurisdictions, but same-sex marriages are still not federally recognized. Polls continue to show a majority of Americans supporting marriage equality. Most state legislatures, however, have crafted constitutional amendments denying marriage rights to gay couples or restricting the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. The stark reality is that all LGBT Americans subsist in a state of inequality, no matter where we live.
Two years ago, Brazil stopped short of marriage equality, but its Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were legally allowed civil unions. In several Brazilian states, same-sex couples had their civil unions converted into marriage with the approval of a state judge. Because of judicial approval, those marriages were recognized nationwide. Late last year, two of the largest Brazilian states, Bahia and São Paulo, joined a number of smaller states in legalizing same-sex marriage. The real victory came just last month, though, when the Brazilian government legalized same-sex marriage all over the country.
In late April, the National Assembly of France affirmed its highly publicized and fiercely contested gay marriage bill as opponents marched in the streets expressing outrage. Many of us found the bitter contention surprising. After all, France always has been associated with love and romance, as well as a laissez-faire approach to relationships and sexual behavior. Moreover, polling data shows that nearly 60 percent of French citizens support marriage equality. Still, les haters demonstrated fervently throughout the parliamentary proceedings. Despite antagonism, the majority of the French parliament voted in favor of the bill. Same-sex marriage became legal in France. A month later, on May 21, a far-right French historian blew his brains out at the altar of Notre Dame Cathedral as a final act of protest. Bon débarras! (That’s French for “good riddance”.)
Shortly before the victory in France, New Zealand’s legislative body voted resolutely in favor of a marriage equality bill. Within two days, the measure received formal approval from the Governor-General. The new statute will come into force this summer, allowing same-sex couples to marry lawfully in New Zealand.
Not to be outdone by its much smaller neighbor, key players in Australia’s government have put pressure on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to allow a vote on same-sex marriage in Australia before the federal election in September.
Also this past April, Ireland took a meaningful step toward marriage equality when its Constitutional Convention voted 79 percent in favor of granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. A referendum will likely come next. While there is currently no law, the Constitutional Convention vote can only advance the process of allowing gay marriage in Ireland.
Even countries that have not stood historically on the forefront of human rights or LGBT issues—and don’t conjure up visions of liberal, tolerant societies—are making some progress on marriage equality, including Colombia, Nepal and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, here in the United States, the fight for nationwide marriage equality has been a frustrating farrago of hard-won triumphs and incomprehensible defeats. One thing is certain: the Supreme Court’s upcoming decisions will be a bellwether for progress still to come. If the Supreme Court upholds DOMA as constitutional, our nation’s de facto endorsement of inequality for LGBT people will not change anytime soon.
Elsewhere in the world, the lives of LGBT people are quickly changing, and we ought to be changing with them; there’s no rational excuse for America to drag its feet on progress. Maintaining the status quo while we lag behind Uruguay? Um, no.
The Supreme Court’s rulings on both DOMA and Prop 8 are expected this month, just in time for this year’s Pride festivities. Hopefully, the decisive outcome of the two cases will rest unequivocally in our favor. Then we will celebrate two extraordinary triumphs in LGBT history as our nation reclaims its place on the forefront of human rights.