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Religious Tolerance logo

North America attainment of gay marriage
(a.k.a. same-sex marriage, SSM), LGBT equality etc.

Part 1 of 3 parts:

2015-AUG to 2016-JAN inclusive:
Gay marriages became available
across North America, almost.
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We use the acronym "SSM" to represent "same-sex marriage."
"LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons
and transsexuals. "LGB" refers to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay
which covered events during 2015-JUL.

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wedding cake As of 2016-JUN-31: A review of the status of gay marriage throughout North America:

With few exceptions, same-sex couples in North America were able to obtain marriage licenses in their local county and subsequently marry. In some U.S. counties, they had to travel to an adjacent county to obtain a marriage license. If they want a religious marriage ceremony, they may have to hunt around for an officiant because the Roman Catholic Church, most conservative Protestant churches, and conservative wings of other religions still refuse to marry them. Some engaged same-sex couples find their local Unitarian or Unitarian Universalist church to be the most welcoming faith group in their area.

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Gay marriage in Canada:

The first same-sex marriage in modern times occurred in Toronto, Ontario. Two men, Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, were married on 2001-JAN-14 by Rev. Brent Hawkes at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto via a rarely used but still legal procedure: the "reading of the banns." The provincial government later refused to register their marriage. However, on 2003-JUN-10, a court retroactively ruled that their marriage was legal. 6

Gay marriage was legalized in all 10 provinces and three territories by a single federal law passed by Parliament. Canada became the fourth country in the world to make marriage available to same-sex couples, after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain. This happened on 2005-JUL-20, only 17 days after Spain, and almost exactly a decade before the U.S. attained marriage equality

The provincial government of Prince Edward Island (PEI) at first refused to implement the bill. That province, along with Alberta, has traditionally been the most anti-gay jurisdictions in the country. However, after a lesbian couple threatened to sue the province, the PEI government quickly found a way to conform to the federal law. Same-sex couples have since been able to obtain licenses to marry everywhere in the country.

Seven years later, during mid-2012, a comprehensive poll by Forum Research of voters showed that:

  • 74% of Canadian adults knew someone from the LGBT community.

  • One in three LGBT adults is already in a same-sex marriage.

  • Only 46% of voters in the Conservative Party supported same-sex marriage. However 68% of the Liberal party, 78% of Parti Québécois (a pro independence party in Quebec), 80% of New Democratic Party (socialist) and 85% of the Greens (pro-environment) were in favor of marriage equality. These numbers may give some indication of what the level of voter support in the U.S. may become circa 2022. As of late 2015, the support for marriage equality among U.S. adults is in the low 60's. 5

    The terms "gay marriage," and "same-sex marriage" have largely fallen into disuse; they have been replaced by simply the word "marriage." Many conservative Christian denominations continue to refuse to marry such couples, and are suffering a heavy loss in membership among older teens and young adults as a result. However, more liberal religious groups routinely solemnize gay marriages.

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Gay marriage In the United States:

For more detailed information, see:

The long road to the legalization of gay marriage began during 1991, in Hawaii. Three same-sex couples launched a lawsuit "Baehr v. Lewin" in which they sought marriage licenses from the state. Their effort was ultimately unsuccessful.

However, similar attempts were subsequently launched in other states. The first state to attain marriage equality was Massachusetts on 2004-MAY-17. Gradually, most of the other states followed until about 36 states were allowing gay marriage by mid-2015. Finally, on 2015-JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially ended the two and a half decade conflict, when its Justices issued their ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. This is a consolidated case involving gay marriage lawsuits from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, & Tennessee. By a 5 to 4 vote -- the narrowest possible result -- the Justices of the High Court legalized SSM in these four states, in another ten states that still had active SSM marriage bans, and in four of the country's five territories. This decision requires each of these 54 jurisdictions to marry qualified same-sex couples and to recognize legal gay marriages that had previously been legally solemnized out-of-state. Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are now typically subject only to age and genetic closeness requirements when applying for a marriage license.

The U.S. is generally regarded as being the 17th country to attain marriage equality. 7

Some Southern states were slow to respond to the High Court's ruling. Same-sex couples in some counties had to travel to an adjacent county in order to find a clerk willing to issue them a marriage license. Some couples then had to shop around to find an officiant to marry them. But by the end of 2015, couples were able to marry in every state, district, and territory of the United States with the exception of the territory of American Samoa which lies between Hawaii and Australia in the Pacific Ocean. People who live in that territory are considered to be American residents, but not American citizens. Thus they do not benefit from all of the civil rights guaranteed by the federal Constitution. The decision of the Supreme Court may not apply to lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons there who wish to marry. As of the end of 2016-JAN, no action has been taken either by the Territorial Government or in the Courts to resolve the conflict. There are on the order of 3,000 lesbians and gays and a similar number of bisexuals in American Samoa who either wish to marry a person of the same gender now or may want to marry one in the future.

Almost all religious, social, and political conservative groups have since asserted that the High Court's ruling was unconstitutional. They often argue that the Justices of the Court were "legislating from the bench." That is, the majority decided the issue on the basis of their own personal biases, overruled the authority of the state and federal governments, and declared state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage as passed by the voters to be null and void. The conservative argument was weakened by the fact that the High Court used exactly the same reasoning in 1967 on the basis of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to legalize gay marriage as they had in 1967 in the case "Loving v. Virginia"" which legalized interracial marriage. Today, a half century after the ironically named "Loving" decision was issued, almost all Americans have accepted the previous High Court ruling as legitimate.

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Almost immediately after the Obergefell ruling was made, anti-LGBT groups redirected almost all their efforts away from preventing marriage equality and towards depriving transgender and transsexual individuals of equal rights. They are conducting a fear-based campaign. They based their opposition to equal rights largely on what they call "bathroom bills." They claim that if transgender women -- people who were identified as male at birth but who now identify themselves as female -- are given the same access to women-only washrooms that cisgender women 8 are given. They suggest that some men will falsely claim to be transgender women, enter female-only washrooms, and attack women there. We have not been able to find evidence of any such attack having ever been made in the past, but the fear of such an event is an effective argument. LGBT equality groups have responded by redirecting more of their efforts into seeking equality for transgender persons.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, "No Same-Sex Couple Left Behind: SCOTUS Ruling for the Freedom to Marry Would Apply with Equal Force to U.S. Territories," Lambda Legal, 2015-APR-24, at:
  2. Fili Sagapolutele, "American Samoa Questions If Gay Marriage Ruling Applies To Territory," Huffington Post, 2015-JUL-10, at:
  3. "American Samoa questions US gay marriage laws,", 2015-Autumn edition, at:
  4. Michael Stone, "Oregon Judge Found ‘Unfit’ After Refusing To Marry Same-Sex Couples," Patheos, 2016-JAN-28, at:
  5. Kathryn Blaze Carlson, "The true north LGBT: New poll reveals landscape of gay Canada," The National Post, 2012-JUL-06, at:
  6. "The first legal gay marriage is now certified. January 14, 2001: signed, sealed, delivered," Equal Marriage, 2004-JUN-30, at:
  7. Adam Taylor, "What was the first country to legalize gay marriage?" The Washington Post, 2015-JUN-26, at:
  8. In excess of 99.5% of women were identified as female at birth, and continue to identify themselves as female throughout life. They are referred to as cisgender.

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Copyright © 2015 & 2016 6 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2016-JAN-09
Latest update: 2016-FEB-07
Author: B.A. Robinson
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