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The issue of same-sex marriage or the civil union of homosexuals is a topic of great debate in the United States. As more states, such as Massachusetts, grant civil unions and marriages to same-sex couples, opponents of these marriages have grown more outspoken. Earlier this year, Congress debated an amendment to the constitution that would not allow states to grant marriages to homosexual couples.
Same-sex marriage laws around the worldEdit
In the United States, while the decision on whether to allow same-sex marriages has been left to the states Federal law specifies that no benefits of marriage will be granted at the Federal level. Therefore, Social Security benefits, Pensions, tax-free passage of joint owned property after death (for example surviving partner is taxed for half the value of couples joint owned home/household), tax-free health care benefits provided by an employer, and hundreds of other advantages are unavailable to married same-sex couples. In spite of state-recognized rights, due to the Federal lack of married status, they also must establish many legal forms relating to joint-ownership, survivorship, joint custody, and others, that are automatically granted to different sex couples.
Legally married foreign same-sex couples are still refused the recogntion of status, and are required to complete entry forms as two single individuals. Not having the forms that a married same-sex couple would require (Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Joint custody of children, and many others) it leaves them in a questionable legal status should one spouse become incapacitated while visiting or residing in the U.S.
Currently, only Massachusetts allows same-sex marriages. Vermont and Connecticut allow Civil Unions, while California, Maine, New Jersey, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia have some spousal-like rights for same-sex couples.
This creates a potentially complex issue because of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution. A same-sex couple legally married in Massachussetts can get divorced in Massachussets and have spousal support and/or child support assigned to one ex, who can then move to another state who may not recognize either the marriage or the divorce and in turn the award of support.
New York Edit
In a 4-2 decision, the New York Court of Appeals said that the state's marriage law is constitutional, and clearly limits marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Judge Robert Smith said, "Any change in the law would have to come from the state Legislature."
Since July 2000 Vermont has had civil unions between same sex partners. Parties to a civil union shall have all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under Vermont law, whether they derive from statute, policy, administrative or court rule, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage. - Vermont Act 90 
In a 5-4 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling claimed that "limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children's biological parents." The legislation can still legalize same-sex marriage in Washington.
Same-sex marriage is currently allowed under Canadian law, after a series of court cases and a federal bill passed in Parliament in 2005 under the government in power at the time.
The short summary would be that courts in several provinces found that denying marriage to same-sex couples would violate rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These decisions were not appealed to the federal Supreme Court of Canada, but the federal government instead asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether proposed legislation which allowed same sex marriages would meet the requirements of the Charter. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the power to enact such legislation, but explicitly declined to rule on whether or not the Charter requires the government to recognize same sex marriages, holding that the issue was not properly before the court.
Although the Supreme Court did not hold that the Charter requires that same sex marriage be allowed, the courts in a majority of the provinces have done so. Subsequently the federal government, citing the requirements of the Charter and the need for national consistency, passed a law granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Religious concerns were raised during these events. Religious freedoms are protected under the Charter, and some religious groups object to same-sex marriage. These concerns were finessed by the assurance that no religious authority would be required to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, if it did not wish to do so. Thus, any same-sex couple may get married, but they might not be able to have their marriage ceremony performed in certain places of worship.
It is worth noting that several religious organizations supported the same sex marriage law. There is an argument that restricting same sex marriage will violate the freedom of religion of these more progressive religious groups.
The newly-elected government has been promising to re-visit the same-sex marriage issue in Parliament sometime during the fall. Given the provincial court rulings, any revisions to the federal law may well be subject to a court challenge.
Wikipedia has an excellent review at Wikipedia:Same-sex marriage in Canada.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into operation on 5 December 2005 and enables a same-sex couple to register as civil partners of each other in England and Wales. Couples who register under the act are entitled to the same rights and benefits as married couples. When the bill came into power, the press coverage in the UK was largely positive, focusing on a number of celebrity couples, most notably Sir Elton John and his partner David Furnish.
Civil unions in New Zealand were passed into law on 9 December 2004 when Parliament passed the Civil Union Act to establish the institution of civil union for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The Act has been described as very similar to the Marriage Act with references to "marriage" replaced by "civil union".
A companion bill, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill, was passed shortly thereafter on 15 March 2005, to remove discriminatory provisions on the basis of relationship status from a range of statutes and regulations.
As a result of these bills, all couples in New Zealand, whether married, in a civil union, or in a de facto partnership, now generally enjoy the same rights and undertake the same obligations. These rights extend to immigration, next-of-kin status, social welfare, matrimonial property and other areas.
The Civil Union Act does is not exclusively for use by same-sex couples. In fact, the first couple in NZ to tie the knot under the act were heterosexual. They wanted the benefits of a legally recognised partnership without any of the religious overtones that are often implied by or claimed for the word "marriage".
In 2005, 58% of the Swiss people aproved the new law on registrated partnerships (Partnerschaftsgesetz) in a public vote that introduces marriage-like partnerships for same-sex couples. On January 1st, 2007, the law will come into effect. Marriage remains reserved for couples of different sex.
The law brings the same rights and responsibilities as marriages, though there are some exceptions:
- the family names of the partners remain unchanged, though, in practice, it is allowed to use the partners name instead or in addition even in legal transactions.
- the couple is not allowed to adopt children
The parlimentary web site on the topic (german and french only): 
In 2004, the new Socialist government of Spain began a campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Spain, in addition to adoption by same-sex couples. It was passed by the Cortes Generales (General Courts) on 30 June 2005 and officially published on 2 July 2005. Same-sex marriage officially became legal on Sunday, 3 July 2005.
As of July 2006, Sweden does not specifically permit same-sex marriages. The matter is still debated though. According to a 2004 poll done by SIFO, 6 Swedes of 10 were for same-sex marriages, 3 of 10 against, 1 of 10 undecided.
Since January 1, 1995, Sweden supports an alternative to same-sex marriages though, called registered partnership (registrerat partnerskap). Note that while other countries may share a partnership law like this, the exact restrictions may differ from country to country. A registered partnership in Sweden function similarly to a marriage with some exceptions, most notably enforcing the following as for the partnership members:
- A minimum age of 18 years is mandatory.
- Members need to have some ties to Sweden.
- A registered partnership can only be established under a civil agency; religious partnership ceremonies are legally invalid.
Since February 1, 2003, registered partners are allowed to receive shared care for children and become adoptive parents.
Since July 1, 2005, women living in registered partnerships are allowed to receive artificial insemination to have children.
A government-level investigation is underway to judge if the Swedish law regulating marriages are to be revised to directly allow same-sex marriages. The registered partnership law would in that case likely be abolished. The investigation is expected to finish in 2007.
U.S. Party PlatformsEdit
We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families. In our country, marriage has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush's divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a "Federal Marriage Amendment." Our goal is to bring Americans together, not drive them apart. Source: Democratic Party Platform for America, 2004, p. 42
We strongly support President Bush’s call for a Constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage, and we believe that neither federal nor state judges nor bureaucrats should force states to recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage. We believe, and the social science confirms, that the well-being of children is best accomplished in the environment of the home, nurtured by their mother and father anchored by the bonds of marriage. We further believe that legal recognition and the accompanying benefits afforded couples should be preserved for that unique and special union of one man and one woman which has historically been called marriage. Source: 2004 Republican Party Platform: A Safer World and a More Hopeful America, p. 83
We believe that "same-sex marriage" is not a civil rights issue. Under the current system, heterosexuals and homosexuals have the same rights to marry someone of the opposite sex. "Same-sex marriage" is an attempt to redefine the nature and purpose of marriage.
a. The Green Party affirms the rights of all individuals to freely choose intimate partners, regardless of their sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
b. We support the recognition of equal rights of persons gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender to housing, jobs, civil marriage, medical benefits, child custody, and in all areas of life provided to all other citizens.
c. We support the inclusion of language in state and federal anti-discrimination law that ensures the rights of intersex individuals and prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, characteristics, and expression. We are opposed to intersex genital mutilation.
d. We support the right of all persons to self-determination with regard to gender identity and sex. We therefore support the right of intersex and transgender individuals to be free from coercion and involuntary assignment of gender or sex. We support access to medical and surgical treatment for assignment or reassignment of gender or sex, based on informed consent.
e. We support legislation against all forms of hate crimes, including those directed against people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and intersex. 
From the National Libertarian Party Web Site:
The Issue: Government has presumed to decide acceptability over sexual practices in personal relationships, imposing a particular code of moral and social values and displacing personal choice in such matters.
The Principle: Adults have the right to private choice in consensual sexual activity.
Solutions: We advocate an end to all government attempts to dictate, prohibit, control or encourage any private lifestyle, living arrangement or contractual relationship.
Transitional Action: We would repeal existing laws and policies intended to condemn, affirm, encourage or deny sexual lifestyles, or any set of attitudes about such lifestyles.
From the God, Truth and Love Party Web Site
People can and do fall in love with members of the same sex.
They are happy and their situation has no detrimental effect on others. They should be allowed to do as they please.
Legalize gay marriage while guaranteeing religious institutions that they will not have to perform or recognize such marriages.
Homosexuality has always existed. It is part of the human condition and has been documented in several species in the animal kingdom. Gays and lesbians experience the range of human emotions as heterosexuals do. They fall in love and wish to express that love through making a lasting commitment. That expression of love and wish to exhibit and celebrate it is no less valid because of their sexual orientation.
Same sex couples have suffered many trials and tribulations over the years. Acts of hate and violence against them, overt and covert prejudice, the denial of marital rights, the loss of inheritance from same sex partners, the lack of access to health and other employment benefits normally shared by spouses, and the acceptance by family, friends, and the greater community are all detrimentally affected by the continued denial of equal marriage rights for same sex couples.
The United States, formerly a leader in human rights, is lagging behind the world in gay and lesbian rights. The Netherlands, Canada and Spain have all granted marriage rights to same sex couples. Several other countries in Europe are currently studying the matter and are moving swiftly towards the full recognition that sexual orientation between two people who wish to marry should not be a matter that the state can dictate.
The Unity Movement (which will likely be establishing political parties in every state in 2007 in preparation for nominating a presidential ticket in an online convention in 2008) was started in part because of the issue of Gay Marriage. The Unity position on gay marriage is that gay marriage is only an issue "in the national mind" because prominent leaders of the Republican Party are making it an "imposible to win but sure to get attention" legislative issue in an attempt to reestablish confidence in the party and turnout in elections by voters who identify as christian conservatives.
Gay Marriage is an issue of pride and pragmatic equality for around 2% of the population that identifies as queer. It is an issue of moral outrage for somewhere in the range of 5% to 30% of the population that identifies as social conservatives. Compare this to the U.S. Trade Deficit... the trade deficit affects nearly all Americans in a economically comprehensive way and looms as a serious threat to basic prosperity in the coming decades... and yet it is nearly never mentioned on the nightly news.
The Unity Movement sees Gay Marriage (and Abortion and Flag Burning and a number of similar issues of culture and pride) as non-crucial issues that are being used for political purposes by rudderless politicians on both sides of the aisle to polarize the nation in a time of massive change and looming threats to the American Dream and the common welfare of all Americans.
The Unity Movement takes no position on the subject, except to say (1) that while it's important to many people, it's not crucial in the grand scheme of things for the issue to be settled now, and (2) the more minutes it gets on CNN, the more inches it gets in daily papers, and the more edits it gets places like Campaign Wikia... the more a finite amount of public attention and political will is pulled to such issues while America quietly falls to pieces.
If you like this position, it's worth pointing out that the Unity Movement began at the beginning of June 2006, has been exponentially growing since then, and wants you to join the Unity Movement.