GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Marriage

Public support for allowing same-sex couples to marry has increased substantially over the past several years. National polling now consistently shows that a solid majority of Americans (over 50% in every region of the U.S.) support marriage for same-sex couples; and courts, legislatures, and voters are extending the freedom to marry at a rapid pace. What was a highly contentious "issue" a decade ago is rapidly becoming a consensus position that spans generations, geography, and political affiliation. For current polling information, see Freedom to Marry's polling resource page.

Covering Efforts to Secure Marriage Equality. Same-sex couples marry for the same reasons as everyone else: to make a lifelong promise of love and commitment to one another, and to protect and take care of their family. As you report on legal and policy discussions regarding marriage for same-sex couples, please share the stories of the committed couples whose lives and families are at the heart of this issue – and for whom the denial of marriage continues to threaten the security of their loved ones. The stories of same-sex couples and families are an integral and essential part of fair, accurate and inclusive coverage of discussions about, and movement toward, the freedom to marry.

Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in the U.S. For information on U.S. states where same-sex couples are able to marry, please contact GLAAD's Director of News at news@glaad.org, or visit the Movement Advancement Project's Equality Maps.

Federal recognition of marriage. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In its decision in U.S. v. Windsor, the court ruled that the federal government may not deny recognition to lawfully married same-sex couples.

Access to federal recognition remains murky. Most federal agencies and programs now respect, and provide equal treatment to, the marriages of same-sex couples performed in a jurisdiction where marriage for same-sex couples is legal, regardless of where the couple lives. However, a handful of federal programs only respect the marriages of couples who are currently living in a state that respects their marriage. Some key protections for married same-sex couples (such as Social Security survivor benefits and certain provisions applying to married veterans) remain unavailable in nearly all states that do not respect a couple's marriage. The varying standards of recognition across federal government programs is confusing for married couples. For example, a legally married couple who move to a state without marriage equality would have federal government recognition of their marriage for some benefits, but not for others.

Recognition in the States - when reporting about U.S. v. Windsor, be careful not to overstate the demise of DOMA. Marriage is still denied to same-sex couples in the majority of states, with most of those states banning same-sex couples from marriage, as well as other legal protections, in their state constitutions. Section 2 of DOMA (which was not addressed by the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor) is currently seen as permitting those states to deny recognition of lawful marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Therefore couples may be legally wed in one state, and be strangers in the eyes of the law in another state. Section 2 denies same-sex couples the security of knowing that their relationship will be recognized and respected even if they must move for reasons of employment, military service, or to be near family. State and federal court cases are challenging the denial of the freedom to marry and unequal treatment of married couples in all of these states, as well as Puerto Rico.

How the denial of marriage impacts transgender people. Some transgender people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual and their ability to marry their partners is affected by state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. Other transgender people may identify as heterosexual - considering themselves to be in a different-sex relationship - but their state may view them as legally "same-sex" and deny them the opportunity to enter into, or refuse to recognize legally, their different-sex marriages. Unfortunately, whether a transgender person's marriage will be recognized as valid depends on what state they live in, what medical procedures they have (or haven't) undergone, and whether or not an employer or insurer or family member decides to challenge their marriage's validity. When the freedom to marry is extended to everyone, a court's decision (which can be biased and uninformed) on the legal sex of a transgender person will not deny them the ability to marry.

Inclusive Reporting on Marriage. Same-sex couples are a part of the fabric of American marriage, and as such, should be included in stories that look at marriage (and marriages) more broadly. For example, features on what makes for an enduring marriage could interview and feature same-sex couples who have been together for decades. Articles on how the economic downturn and recovery are affecting families could interview same-sex couples alongside opposite-sex couples. While in some cases these stories may benefit from spotlighting the unique challenges facing same-sex married couples, other stories may benefit more from simply and seamlessly including same-sex couples in such coverage without focused emphasis on the fact that they're a same-sex couple. Please also include stories about marriages where one (or both) of the spouses are transgender.

Avoid constructions that use the inaccurate terms "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage." Same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry want to join the institution of marriage as it currently exists. Their relationship is not a "gay marriage," but simply a marriage. They are advocating for marriage equality or the freedom to marry. "Gay marriage" should never be used to describe the marriages of same-sex couples in any state or country where same-sex couples have the legal ability to marry. Talk about marriage, without modifiers - or marriage for same-sex couples when clarification is needed.

Avoid using terms designed to obscure the impact of denying marriage to same-sex couples. Opponents of marriage for same-sex couples often try to get media to talk about "redefining marriage" and "changing the definition of marriage," or how anti-gay activists are "protecting the sanctity of marriage." Such carefully chosen euphemisms are intended to both obscure the impact of systematically excluding same-sex couples from marriage, and render invisible the hundreds of thousands of loving, committed couples whose lives are most directly impacted by this debate.

Non-Marriage Relationship Recognition. A handful of U.S. states, while they do not allow committed same-sex couples to marry, do provide varying degrees of legal protections via civil unions or domestic partnership laws. It is important to note that these laws offer only limited protections to same-sex couples and families - and unlike the marriages of same-sex couples, civil unions and domestic partnerships are not recognized by the federal government, except in very limited situations.

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