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Throughout the last century, advancements have been made to solidify rights for the LGBTQ+ community. One of these rights is issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. One of the most recent and broadcasted milestones for same-sex marriage was in 2015, when the Supreme Court destroyed all bans on same-sex marriage in the United States. However, even after this event occurred, some same-sex couples are still denied their rights. This recurring theme of a group of people being denied their rights can be traced back to Frederick Douglass and his speech What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July, which explains that although Thomas Jefferson’s The Declaration of Independence provides freedom and equality for everyone, the African-American slaves had no liberation whatsoever. Although squashed by the government, the highly-debated issue of giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples has a similar motif to that of Jefferson and Douglass’ works, which greatly contribute to the founding of America.
Achieving equal rights for same-sex couples has always been a struggle. Before the early 1990s, legalizing any homosexual acts was practically impossible under sodomy laws. However, in 1993, the first major step in the right direction for same-sex couples was when the Hawaii Supreme Court was faced with the lawsuit of three homosexual couples who were denied their marriage licenses. According to the article on same-sex marriage that discusses this case, the court ruled that “the state was required to demonstrate sufficient reason for denying the licenses, or cease discrimination” (Gale). This quote shows that there is no valid reason to deny any couple, their marriage license regardless of if the union was between two of the same sex, and to do so is an act of discrimination. Discrimination and denying a group of people their rights is not uncommon in the United States of America. It is clear to see discrimination imposed on the African-American slaves during the 19th century.
The cruel and vicious acts of slavery and illegally rejecting to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples are somewhat one in the same because, similar to same-sex couples, African-American slaves were continually denied their natural rights. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence granted America and all of her people absolute liberation and freedom from Britain. However, while the enslaved were free from Britain, they were not free from their fellow slaveholding citizens. The Declaration of Independence grants “certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all men (Jefferson, 112). In the life of the African-American slave, this was never a reality. Douglass exposes this in his speech, What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July, which explains that the Fourth of July is a day that “reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim” (Douglass, 288). Douglass is trying to say that even though rights have been put into place to secure freedom for everyone, these rights only secure freedom for a certain group of people and not for every American. This same principle applies to same-sex couples: marriage is a freedom that is truly only secure for heterosexual couples because gay couples still are denied their right to be married. Furthermore, amongst this, slaves and same-sex couples both have had their fair share of laws denying them the same rights as everyone else.
Throughout American history, a multitude of laws have been created to oppress African-Americans and same-sex couples. One of the most prominent laws that subjugated African-Americans during the 18th century was the Three-Fifths Compromise. This law “delegates that all slaves of a particular state are to be counted as three-fifths of a white person” (Laws.com). This law shows that at one point in the history of our country, an enslaved African-American was only worth part of a white human being. However, in 1861, the law was removed, and in later years, the Emancipation Proclamation and Universal Declaration of Human Rights were created, making all people of different ethnicities equal. This same feeling of maltreatment was also experienced by many same-sex couples who wanted to marry, but could not legally. In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act “defined marriage under federal law as existing between one man and one woman” (Gale). This law kept many same-sex couples from living the married lives that they always dreamed of. In spite of this, on June 26, 2015, almost twenty years later, the Supreme Court demolished any and all laws that prohibited same-sex marriage. After this passing, a similar feeling of equality was felt within the LGBTQ+ community knowing that they could freely get married like everyone else.
Equality and freedom were ultimately the main goals for Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, and for same-sex couples across the nation. Both Jefferson’s The Declaration of Independence and Douglass’ What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July parallel the issue of giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples because they display how rights can be written on paper, yet not instilled within society. Although both the enslaved African-American and same-sex couples were oppressed at one point, with new laws and a change in society, they eventually got to experience the liberation that they rightfully deserved. A black man and a gay couple now have the same rights as everyone else. The American government giving all people their natural rights, regardless of gender, age, race, religion, and/or sexual orientation, is truly a step in the right in direction for this country to prosper as a unified whole.