Explainer’s Same-Sex-Marriage Roundup

Your questions related to California’s Proposition 8 with answers from our archives.

On Nov. 4, voters in California approved Proposition 8 to adopt a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. This week saw the California Supreme Court jump back into the debate with the news that it will review the legality of the ballot measure.

Fervent campaigning by members of the Mormon church may have pushed support for Prop 8 over the top. What, exactly, do Mormons think about homosexuality?

That orientation is distinct from practice. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued several position statements about homosexuality—or “same-gender attraction,” as the church calls it. One of its most recent publications, a 2007 pamphlet titled “God Loveth His Children,” states: “If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed even if you feel such an attraction.” Being a practicing homosexual can be grounds for excommunication, but gay Mormons who remain celibate can continue to be members in good standing, allowed to worship in the temple and assume positions of leadership. However, gay and lesbian Mormons who publicly acknowledge their orientations—even if they don’t act on them—may face informal disciplinary measures from their congregation bishops. (To read more on Mormon attitudes toward homosexuality, read this Explainer from 2008.)

Help! There are so many things I don’t understand about this issue. What’s the legal difference between a marriage and a civil union?

It depends where you live. Vermont’s statute provides a very comprehensive set of legal rights to same-sex couples: “[T]he same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage.” Thus civil unions, as the term has come to be understood in the light of Vermont’s law, have all of the same attending legal consequences as marriages; the only difference is their name. (For more answers to your FAQs on gay marriage, read this Explainer from 2004.)

The California Supreme Court has implemented a short-term freeze on gay marriage while it considers the constitutionality of Prop 8. If I get married in Canada, is it legal here in the United States?

Probably not, at least until the newlyweds pursue the matter through the courts. The United States recognizes most foreign marriages because of “comity,” the legal version of the golden rule. The principle holds that lawful conduct in one jurisdiction should be respected in another, lest travelers worry about their marriages being invalidated as they cross borders. But comity is more a custom than an obligation, and neither the states nor the federal government are compelled to extend the courtesy to every couple wed abroad. They can decline if the marriage in question violates a jurisdiction’s definition of an acceptable union—say, if the bride is below the age of consent or if the couple are close blood relations. Or, in the case of same-sex marriages, if a local law explicitly defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. (To read more on the legality of Canadian same-sex marriages, read this Explainer from 2003.)

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