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Same-sex marriage

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Same-sex marriage (also called gay marriage and same-gender marriage) is civil marriage between two partners of the same sex. This article deals with civil or state marriage, not the religious concept of marriage as espoused by various faiths. For more information on that topic, please see Religion and homosexuality.

Same-sex marriages currently are legally performed only in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Recently, the term "same-sex marriage" has been displacing "gay marriage", the term being perceived as less value-laden for the union of two partners of the same sex.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there has been a growing movement in a number of countries to extend the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples. Legal recognition of a marital union opens up a wide range of entitlements, including social security, taxation, inheritance and other benefits unavailable to couples unmarried in the eyes of the law. Restricting legal recognition to heterosexual unions excludes same-sex couples from gaining legal access to these benefits. (While opposite-sex unmarried couples without other legal impediments have the option of marrying in law and so gaining access to these rights, that option is unavailable to same-sex couples.) Lack of legal recognition also makes it more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt children.

Opponents object to same-sex marriage often on religious grounds, arguing that extending marriage to homosexual couples undercuts the traditional meaning of marriage in various traditions. In countries with monogamous marriages only, some opponents also claim that allowing same-sex marriage will re-open the door to the legalization of polyamorous marriage, or other forms they find even more objectionable.

In response, proponents point out that traditional concepts of marriage have already given way to liberalization in other areas, such as the availability of no-fault divorce. They also suggest that many people in modern societies no longer subscribe to the religious beliefs which inform traditional limits upon marriage, and no longer wish these beliefs to constitute the law. Furthermore, a number of religions celebrate same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies already; in Canada, the United Church of Canada, the country's largest Protestant denomination, has striven for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Some libertarians object to same-sex civil marriages because they are opposed to any form of state-sanctioned marriage, including opposite-sex unions.

Other forms of same-sex partnership

The movement towards the legal recognition of same-sex marriages has resulted in changes in the law in many jurisdictions, though the extent of the changes have varied:

  • Civil unions provide most of the rights and responsibilites of same-sex marriage, but use a different name for the arrangement. They exist in a several European countries as well as in the U.S. state of Vermont.
  • Domestic partnerships or registered partnerships provide varying degrees of privileges and responsibilities, usually far fewer than those found in civil unions. Their purpose is not limited to same-sex arrangements and they exist in many jurisdictions.

Even in jurisdictions where they are not legally recognized, many gay and lesbian couples choose to have weddings (also called "commitment ceremonies" in this context) to celebrate and affirm their relationship, fulfilling the social aspect of a marriage. Such ceremonies have no legal validity, however, and as such do not deal with issues such as inheritance, property rights or social security.

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