The United States government provides different ways for citizens to secure equal rights. This lesson uses the issue of marriage equality as a way to delve into those different approaches. Students compare and contrast the different ways that cities and states have sought to legalize gay marriage: judicial ruling (Massachusetts, California); legislation (Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire); and executive decision (San Francisco).
Historical context (e.g., the Voting Rights Acts; Brown v. Board of Education; the integration of the U.S. military) will show students how these strategies have been used in the past and help them understand the process of change that is currently underway.
“Marriage Equality: Different Strategies for Attaining Equal Rights” is designed to help students:
- understand the different strategies used in the struggle for equal rights;
- understand current struggles for marriage equality in a historical context of other struggles for equality, and
- analyze primary sources.
Document 1: Executive Order 9981
Document 2: Letter from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to County Clerk
Document 1: Brown v. Board of Education
Document 2: Synopsis of decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health
- How do Americans attain equal rights?
- How do different people/how does the government define marriage?
- What challenges is the marriage equality movement facing?
- How does the past connect to the present?
- What is the function of each branch of the government?
detrimental |ˌdetrəˈmentl |
(adjective) Tending to cause harm; damaging.
desegregation |dēˌsegriˈgā sh ən |
(noun) End a policy of racial segregation in; integration.
(adjective) (of a comparison or distinction) unfairly discriminating; unjust.
literacy test |ˈlitərəsē test |
(noun) Test, allegedly of reading ability, usually employed to prevent African-Americans from voting.
1. The Constitution defines numerous methods that Americans can use to bring about change. Those methods were used during the modern American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960s, and similar methods are being used today in the movement for marriage equality.
What do you know about the current movement for marriage equality? (You may be more familiar with the terms “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage.” The term “marriage equality” makes it clear that the question of who can marry legally is one that affects the entire community, not just gay men and lesbians.) Where did you learn about it? Think about how the source is related to the information you discovered there. How did the source affect the presentation of information on the topic of marriage equality?
2. In this lesson you will learn more about how the movement for marriage equality is being pursued in different places.
As a class, divide into three groups. Each group should choose one branch of government: executive, legislative or judicial. Each group will read about how people have worked through one branch of government to secure equal rights.
Get your group's handouts. (Note: Group assignments are listed in the Material section and on top of each handout.) One is from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Document 2 is from today’s marriage equality movement. Read your group’s handouts and use the questions that follow to prepare a presentation for the class sharing what you have learned.
You will have this class period and all but the last 20 minutes of the next class period to read the documents and prepare your presentation. (Give students time to read the handouts and to organize their presentations.)
3. Take around 5 minutes for each group to teach the rest of the class the important points that you have learned. After your presentation, leave time for members of the class to ask you questions. After the other two presentations, you can ask questions. Use the question-and-answer period to compare what you’ve just heard with what your group read. (Depending on time, you may want to form new groups of three with groups representing all three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. Students can teach other in their newly formed groups.)
Write a 250 to 500-word essay or speech responding to the following quote.
“Civil rights in America have been determined, almost exclusively, by the courts. It is the courts that have consistently protected the rights of the minority from the whims of the majority”
--Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco, Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2009
Use information you have learned about past efforts to secure civil rights, and hypothesize about which method or methods will ensure marriage equality. Share your essays/speeches with your peers and family.
"Same Sex Marriage: An Oral History"
National Council of State Legislatures: "Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships"
Loving v. Virginia
Executive Orders FAQ
Executive Orders Disposition Tables Index
Primary Document Analysis Worksheets
Historical Understanding Standard 2. Understands the historical perspective.
Benchmark 5. Understands that the consequences of human intentions are influenced by the means of carrying them out.
United States History Standard 29. Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.
Benchmark 1. Understands individual and institutional influences on the civil rights movement (e.g., the origins of the postwar civil rights movement; the role of the NAACP in the legal assault on the leadership and ideologies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X; the effects of the constitutional steps taken in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government; the shift from de jure to de facto segregation; important milestones in the civil rights movement between 1954 and 1965; Eisenhower’s reasons for dispatching federal troops to Little Rock in 1957)
Benchmark 4. Understands significant influences on the civil rights movement (e.g., the social and constitutional issues involved in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954) court cases; the connection between legislative acts, Supreme Court decisions, and the civil rights movement; the role of women in the civil rights movement and in shaping the struggle for civil rights)
United States History Standard 31. Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.
Benchmark 5. Understands how different groups attempted to achieve their goals (e.g., the grievances of racial and ethnic minorities and their reference to the nation’s charter documents to rectify past injustices, local community efforts to adapt facilities for the disabled)
Benchmark 5. Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved (e.g., the current debate over affirmative action and to what degree affirmative action policies have reached their goals; the evolution of government support for the rights of the disabled; the emergence of the Gay Liberation Movement and civil rights of gay Americans; continuing debates over multiculturalism, bilingual education, and group identity and rights vs. individual rights and identity; successes and failures of the modern feminist movement)
Standard 14. Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life.
Standard 28. Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals
Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
Benchmark 3. Summarizes and paraphrases information in texts (e.g., arranges information in chronological, logical, or sequential order; conveys main ideas, critical details, and underlying meaning; uses own words or quoted materials; preserves author’s perspective and voice)
Benchmark 3. Summarizes and paraphrases complex, implicit hierarchic structures in informational texts, including the relationships among the concepts and details in those structures