Same-sex marriage (also referred to as gay marriage) is a term for a governmentally, or socially, recognized marriage between two people of the same sex. Same-sex marriage and gay marriage are the most common terms used in news media and politics. Other terms used are included below.
There is evidence that same sex unions have occurred since the beginning of recorded history in Egypt, China, Greece, Rome and Japan. Famous lovers include the Egyptian couple Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum and the Greek couple Harmodius and Aristogiton. The first recorded use of the word "marriage" for same-sex couples occurs during the Roman Empire. A number of marriages are recorded to have taken place during this period. The rise of Christianity changed attitudes to same-sex unions and led to the persecution of gays. In the year 342, the Christian emperors Constantius and Constans declared same-sex marriage to be illegal. In the year 390, the Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius declared homosexual sex to be illegal and those who were guilty of it were condemned to be publicly burned alive.
Marriage, as defined by the civil law, is currently available to same-sex couples in six countries. The Netherlands was the first country to allow same-sex marriage in 2001. Same-sex marriages are also legal in Belgium, Canada, Norway, South Africa and Spain, along with two states in the United States, Massachusetts and California. In June 2008, Norway became the first country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage on equal terms while at the same time allowing gays to adopt and receive artificial insemination on the same terms as heterosexuals.
In 1996, the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman amongst other stipulations. As of May 2007, twenty-six states have passed constitutional amendments explicitly barring the recognition of same-sex marriage., eighteen of which prohibit the legal recognition of any same-sex union. Nineteen additional states have legal statutes that define "marriage" as a union of two persons of the opposite-sex. The territory of Puerto Rico ratified a similar statute in 1998. Nonetheless, some states are beginning to offer legal recognition to same-sex couples, whether in the form of marriage or as civil unions or domestic partnerships.
As of June 16, 2008, Massachusetts and California permit same-sex couples to marry. The states of Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and New Hampshire offer civil unions. Also, California and Oregon have domestic partnership laws that grant all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Maine, Washington, and the District of Columbia grant certain limited benefits through domestic partnerships, and Hawaii has reciprocal beneficiary laws.
At the federal level, Australia bans recognition of same-sex marriage, but the current federal Australian Labor Party government favours synchronised state and territory registered partnership legislation (as in Tasmania) although the Australian Capital Territory favours the introduction of civil unions with official ceremonies. By stark contrast, same-sex marriage in Canada was preserved when a proposed repeal bill failed at its first reading in 2006, while New Zealand's Parliament similarly heavily defeated a private members bill that would have prohibited same-sex marriage in New Zealand in December 2005. However, as far as current jurisprudence goes, New Zealand's Marriage Act 1955 still recognises only opposite-sex couples as marriageable (although it has also included transsexuals who have undergone reassignment surgery as the 'opposite sex' for these purposes, since Family Court and High Court of New Zealand decisions in 1995.
Israel's High Court of Justice ruled to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries, although it is still illegal to perform them within the country. A bill was raised in Knesset to rescind the Israeli High Court's ruling, but the Knesset has not advanced the bill since December 2006. (This makes the practice of same-sex marriage, as far as Israel is concerned, like the performance of a Reform or Conservative Jewish wedding.)
Canada and Spain are the only countries where the legal status of same-sex marriage is exactly the same as that of opposite-sex marriage, though South Africa is due to fully harmonize its marriage laws. Other nations all have requirements or restrictions that apply to same-sex marriage that do not apply to opposite-sex marriage.
- Homosexuality in ancient Greece, Homosexuality in ancient Rome, Homosexuality in Japan, Homosexuality in China, Homosexuality in ancient Egypt,
- Suetonius Life of Nero 28-29; Martial Epigrams 1.24, 12.42; etc.
- Theodosian Code 9.8.3: "When a man marries and is about to offer himself to men in womanly fashion (quum vir nubit in feminam viris porrecturam), what does he wish, when sex has lost all its significance; when the crime is one which it is not profitable to know; when Venus is changed to another form; when love is sought and not found? We order the statutes to arise, the laws to be armed with an avenging sword, that those infamous persons who are now, or who hereafter may be, guilty may be subjected to exquisite punishment.
- (Theodosian Code 9.7.6): All persons who have the shameful custom of condemning a man's body, acting the part of a woman's to the sufferance of alien sex (for they appear not to be different from women), shall expiate a crime of this kind in avenging flames in the sight of the people.
- US CODE: Title 1,7. Definition of “marriage” and “spouse”
- See webpage of the National Conference of State Legislatures at http://www.ncsl.org/programs/cyf/samesex.htm.