Same-sex Marriage – A Global Social Movement

Activists in the LGBT+ community celebrated an historic legal victory this summer when the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the constitutionality of same-sex marriage this summer. With this, the United States joins the group of twenty-six countries that allow same-sex marriage across the globe.  Several nations, such as the US’ neighbor to the south, Mexico, have regional freedom to marry. Many more have some protections for couples, while others still treat homosexuality as taboo or even illegal as is the case in Kenya, Singapore, and others. In an increasingly globalized community, social, economic, and political movements can transcend borders quickly and effectively. As the LGBT+ rights movement gains momentum with victories in more areas around the globe, countries will feel growing pressure to adopt same-sex marriage and other protection legislation.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the United States did not happen in a vacuum.  Much of Europe had already accepted same-sex marriage with little resistance. To the south, Latin American states had legalized same-sex marriage already; Argentina was the first in 2010, prompting Brazil and Uruguay to follow suit.  Mexico effectively legalized the practice shortly before the U.S. through a jurisprudential thesis ruling that a heterosexual-exclusive definition of marriage was discriminatory and unconstitutional. The U.S.’ northern cousin, Canada, was a decade ahead of it, granting full legalization in 2005. In fact, before the Court’s ruling, the U.S., surrounded by countries allowing same-sex marriage, was one of only two developed Anglophone countries to ban it.

The remaining holdout is Australia.  Australia, seeking to use momentum from the U.S. movement, introduced a bill soon after to join its fellow developed English-speakers; it will be voted on later this year.  Supporters of the bill cite the fact that Australia is woefully behind its peers on the issue. India, too, has begun feeling pressure from the U.S. ruling to review its 2013 Supreme Court decision which reinstated homosexuality as a crime. “In the light of globalization, the (Indian) Supreme Court judgment is being cited as a totally reactionary judgment,” Ashok Row Kavi, head of the Humsafar Trust advocacy group, said. “A judgment that goes against the whole concept of human rights which had been on a progressive upsurge in India.” Countries who resist an increasingly common norm risk being seen in a negative light.  In addition, the Philippines, whose governmental structure is similar to that of the U.S., is reviewing a challenge to its civil code barring same-sex marriage. Having support from a U.S. judgement will strengthen the cases of activists in these countries and others.

As a superpower, the U.S. ruling will no doubt have influence in the future of the LGBT+ rights movement. Human rights, generally speaking, are transnational, and as acceptance of all sexual orientations becomes commonplace, the more power activists will wield in their respective countries. With the U.S. decision still fresh, it will take time to witness and measure its full impact on the global LGBT+ rights campaign. However, one can be sure that having such an influential ally as the U.S. can only help the movement advance.

About the Author

Beth Bickerton is a graduate of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, holding a degree in International Relations and French. She has previously worked in both nonprofit and governmental organizations, including the United States Supreme Court and the Social Science Research Council.  Her interests include the European Union, human rights, and wildlife conservation.

Twitter: @bethbickerton

Cover image ‘06262013 – SCOTUS DOMA 110‘ by JoshuaMHoover

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