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At Issue: Marriage. Exploring the Debate Over Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couples

This 2003 resource from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) offers educators six lesson plans for high school aged students that challenges them to explore the range of complex issues reflected in the marriage debate. The resource was developed at the time when the U.S. was awaiting the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court on the right of same-sex couples to civil marriage.

This resource is no longer on the GLSEN site, but here is the text we captured from this resource in February 2012…

As the nation awaits the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court on the right of same-sex couples to civil marriage, educators are the presented with an opportunity to teach students about one of the most significant civil and human rights issues of our time. Marriage is a critical issue because it touches all at once on questions of love and sex, religion and politics, access to legal and economic benefits, and the role of government in our personal lives. Along with parents and care takers, schools must take a leading role in providing accurate information about same-sex relationships and creating safe spaces in which students can make sense of the various points of view they hear from family, peers, community leaders, and mass media. Toward this end, At Issue: Marriage,

Exploring the Debate Over Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couples offers educators six lesson plans for high school aged students that challenges them to explore the range of complex issues reflected in the marriage debate.

Lesson 1: What Is Marriage For?
In her book What is Marriage For? E.J. Graff describes marriage as “a kind of Jerusalem, an archaeological site on which the present is constantly building over the past, letting history’s many layers twist and tilt into today’s walls and floors.” Indeed the institution of marriage has changed dramatically over the centuries to reflect evolving understandings of family, money, sex, love, and power. In this lesson, students are challenged to discern some of those understandings from specific laws and customs of different eras. Students are then asked to examine current practices and to determine the extent to which they reflect modern understandings of marriage.

Lesson 2: The Rights of Civil Marriage
There are literally hundreds of rights, benefits, and protections that accompany civil marriage in the United States. Because they are so automatic, many people take these rights for granted. For same-sex couples, however–who are prohibited from civil marriage–the absence of these rights often creates devastating problems. In this lesson students will explore some of the rights associated with civil marriage, as well as some situations in which same-sex couples find themselves when denied these rights.

Lesson 3: Winning the Right to Marry–Historical Parallels
As Americans, we have seen significant changes within the institution of marriage–many within our own lifetimes. The status of women, ability to divorce, and freedom to marry across race are examples of issues that have changed the face of marriage as we once knew it. In this lesson, students explore marriage bans for same-sex couples within the context of earlier prohibitions, and use these historical parallels to determine the fairness of current restrictions. Students are also encouraged to create a set of criteria for exploring marriage eligibility, and to use these criteria to objectively evaluate the current marriage debate.

Lesson 4: The Notion of Influence
One of the fears around legalizing marriage of same-sex couples is that legitimizing LGBT relationships will somehow ‘influence’ young people in negative ways, perhaps to ‘try out’ same-sex relationships for themselves. This is most evident in the bans many schools and libraries have instituted with regard to books and materials that depict same-sex relationships. In this lesson, students will have the opportunity to review two of those books and decide for themselves to what extent they hold the power to ‘influence’ young people. Students will also consider the real-life situation of a young girl invited to participate in a same-sex wedding, and will provide advice as to what they think is the right course of action.

Lesson 5: A Spiritual Contract: Religious Unions and the Marriage Debate
It is impossible to conduct any debate on the issue of marriage without a consideration of the impact of religion on the institution. Some of the most heated arguments around marriage have come from within communities of faith. In this lesson, students are asked to explore the meaning of religious marriage and to identify marriage customs within their own religious experiences. Students are then challenged to use as a case study the Vatican’s recent statement concerning same-sex marriage.

Lesson 6: Maybe Marriage? Massachusetts Impending Marriage Legislation
In April 2001, seven couples in Massachusetts sued for the right to civil marriage under the state constitution. The case, Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health, could make Massachusetts the first state to provide civil marriage for same-sex couples. In the past fifteen years, over twenty countries (and the state of Vermont here in the U.S.) have enacted some form of legislation related to marriage of same-sex couples. In this lesson, students will first apply the historical lesson of “separate but equal,” taken from the era of racial segregation, to the decision the Vermont legislature made in 2000. Students will then analyze the facts and arguments of Woodridge et al. v. Department of Health. They will assume the role of advisors, making recommendations to the Massachusetts Supreme Court based upon international human rights practices and the current regulations of other nations in regards to marriage of same-sex couples.


We are indebted to Sivagami (Shiva) Subbaraman of the Office of Human Relations Programs (www.ohrp.umd.edu/WE/) and the Office of LGBT Equity at the University of Maryland, for compiling this and other great LGBT resources for the NCDD website. LGBT is short for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.

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