September 02, 2015 14:49 UTC

USA

The United States Supreme Court Will Decide on Gay Marriage

Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.

Edie Windsor speaks to reporters at the offices of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in New York City
Edie Windsor speaks to reporters at the offices of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in New York City

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story
  • The United States Supreme Court Will Decide on Gay Marriage

From VOA Learning English, welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in Special English. I'm Kelly Jean Kelly. 
 
And I'm Christopher Cruise.
 
This week on our program, we talk about the issue of gay marriage. We also talk about the word “homophobia,” which means an unreasonable fear or dislike of, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.
 
And, we introduce you to a new star at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History that might shine brighter than the Hope Diamond.
 
Edie Windsor and her wife, Thea Spyer, were a couple for 42 years. They were married in 2007 in Canada, which recognizes same-sex marriage. Ms. Windsor and Ms. Spyer shared an apartment and a house in New York. When Ms. Spyer died a few years ago, Ms. Windsor received the property. But she had to pay about $360,000 in taxes.

Heterosexual couples do not have to pay federal inheritance taxes on property if a husband or a wife dies. But under federal law the government considers Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer to have been just friends.

Ms. Windsor says that law is not fair.
 
“I look forward to the day when the federal government will recognize the marriages of all Americans. And I am hoping that will happen during my lifetime.”
 
On December 7, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Lower courts have agreed with Ms. Windsor. They said the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. That law    is called the Defense of Marriage Act — or DOMA. Congress passed it and former president Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1996.
 
Voters in some states have also chosen to put DOMA in their state laws or state constitutions. Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein from California criticizes the law.

“Same-sex couples live their lives like all married couples. They share financial expenses; they raise children together; they care for each other in good times and in bad.”
 
In 2011, President Obama told government lawyers to stop defending DOMA in court. Earlier this year he became the first president to support gay marriage, telling ABC News:
 
“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
 
But supporters of DOMA in the House of Representatives have appointed lawyers to defend the law before the Supreme Court. Steve King is a Republican congressman from Iowa.
 
“All of human experience points to one committed relationship between a man and a woman as the core building block to society.”
 
The Supreme Court has also agreed to consider a gay-marriage case from California. Voters there at first agreed that same-sex couples could be married in that state. Then voters later decided they could not. California voters added a measure to the state constitution saying marriage is only between a man and a woman. Lower courts have already said the measure is unconstitutional.
 
The Supreme Court could hear arguments in both cases as early as March. The justices could make a decision by June.
 
Jeffrey Prang is mayor of the city of West Hollywood, California. He  supports gay marriage. He says there is no way to know what the court will decide. It could keep DOMA and say same-sex couples do not have a constitutional right to marry. Or, it could stop DOMA and legalize same-sex marriage across the nation.
 
“There are lots of good things that could come out of this decision, and lots of very bad things could come out of this decision.”
 
Opponents of same-sex marriage say they expect the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutional ban approved by California voters. That is because of the way the United States Constitution divides powers between the federal government and the states. Randy Thomasson is part of a group called SaveCalifornia.com.
 
“The Constitution of the United States does not have marriage in it. And the tenth amendment says what is not in the federal powers belongs to the states.”
 
Opinion surveys show that a little more than half of Americans support same-sex marriage rights. Elizabeth Wydra at the Constitutional Accountability Center, a private group, says the Supreme Court is aware of how Americans feel about gay marriage.
 
“The justices are human beings, so they are not completely immune to public opinion. I think the real question for them is going to be, do they want to be on the wrong side of history?”
 
A psychologist is questioning a major news organization’s decision not to use the word “homophobia” anymore. George Weinberg popularized the term “homophobia" after he used it in his 1972 book “Society and the Healthy Homosexual.”

Someone with a "phobia" is considered to have an excessive or unreasonable fear of something. George Weinberg says the word homophobia is meant to show that people who do not like gays have a problem.
 
“Its power was that it showed this is an emotional aversion to people who live differently, who are totally harmless. And it comes from the gut and it resulted in violence, in robbing people of privileges, and it obviously wasn’t simply being anti-gay. That’s something different all together.”
 
George Weinberg is not gay. But he spent years in the 1960s and 1970s trying to persuade o officials to take violence against homosexuals more seriously. He says giving a name to people who discriminate gives the victims a greater feeling of peace and safety.
 
"If I know that you have a problem, then when you discriminate against me, it gives me a little more chance to have dignity and a life. I can enjoy being who I am, whether it’s being gay or being black or being a woman, if I know that the other guy has the problem and not me.”

George Weinberg was so persuasive that he helped remove "homosexuality" from the main medical book used to identify psychological problems. In fact, he wants “homophobia” added to that book, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And he thinks using the term should remain acceptable in the AP Stylebook. The stylebook is published by the Associated Press and widely used as a writing guide by other media organizations.
     
But the e AP decided to take “homophobia” out of its stylebook this year. The concern is that calling people homophobic suggests they have a fear that does not make sense, but reporters may not know why someone is anti-gay. News reporters are supposed to be neutral and use exact words that do not suggest support for any side on an issue.
 
Paul Colford, the AP's chief of media relations, said many words in the stylebook change. For instance, AP’s latest version also advises against using the world “Islamophobia.”
 
Linguist Ben Zimmer writes about language for the Boston Globe newspaper. He says words can always be rethought. But he says he is not so sure that AP's reasoning about “homophobia” makes sense.
 
“Words ending in ‘phobia’ are commonly used outside of clinical contexts. You can think about a word like ‘xenophobia,’ which has been around more than a century to refer to a hatred of foreigners. That’s not a clinical condition in the same way that homophobia isn’t necessarily a clinical diagnosis.”
 
Many news organizations follow the advice of the AP Stylebook. Even so, Ben Zimmer says every organization can make its own decisions. That means that even if AP takes “homophobia” out of its reports, the word will not disappear so easily. 
 
The Smithsonian Institution has a new star in its mineral collection at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Visitors and reporters watched museum director Kirk Johnson present the large, blue-green jewel.
 
“It’s an aquamarine from Brazil. It’s 10,363 carats, which is what they call bling."

The jewel is called the Dom Pedro. It has four sides, is more than 35 centimeters high, and weighs two kilograms. Jeffrey Post is the chief of the mineral collection. He says the Dom Pedro is the largest cut and polished aquamarine in the world.
 
“It is very rare, very unusual for any mineral to produce a crystal the size and the quality that can result in cutting a stone like the Dom Pedro.”
 
Most large stones like the Dom Pedro would be made into jewelry people could wear. For example, the famous Hope Diamond is a large blue jewel. Designers put smaller white diamonds around it. And they made it into a necklace for royalty or very wealthy people. But German artist Bernd Munsteiner made the Dom Pedro into a narrow tower. Jeffrey Post tells why.
 
“I said, ‘Why did you cut something big? Why not just cut it into gemstones?’ And his answer was, ‘What nature makes large, man should not make small.’” 
 
Bernd Munsteiner used a stone-cutting method called the fantasy cut. Usually jewelry designers make flat edges on the outside of a stone. But the German artist cut inside the stone. The result is a jewel that seems to have a light inside it.
 
“And that gem then traveled around. In fact, it represented the German government for some period of time. It was shown around at some gem fairs in Europe. And then, one of the owners was considering actually having it cut up to get his money out of it right away.”
 
American Jane Mitchell is a jewel collector. She heard one of Dom Pedro’s owners wanted to cut it up. So she and her husband decided to buy the entire stone themselves.
 
“We had no desire to hold on to it privately. We felt it should strike awe in as many people as could be because that’s how we felt when we looked at it.”
 
That is why they gave the Dom Pedro to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Over seven million people visited the museum last year. Many came to see the Hope Diamond. Now they have another beautiful reason to come.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: john from: baltimore maryland
01/02/2013 4:43 AM
i think if the same sex parents raising the child are good, then its fine! i know a lot of man/woman parents who rape, beat, torture, starved, and verbally abused the children (i work with CPS). ive met wonderful same sex parents who raised great children too. i think if you have more exposure to the world and do not hold on to old prejudices, you will be happier and experience the world more fully.


by: Lena from: Urkaine
12/17/2012 10:33 PM
Gay marriage is the result that America is country of freedom of choice and action.
This fact is very terrible when "such" couple begin to grow up a child who don't know true parents: mother is a woman and father is a man.
For USA and Europe it's a big problem because of moral values are forgotten in nowadays and departure from the norm become norm.


by: mehran from: india
12/17/2012 5:40 PM
something is very difficult for decision. of course, all religions are contrary with this subject but some people have problem and they are not guilty then law should solve their problem.


by: Jos. A. Mustich from: Washington, CT USA
12/17/2012 5:26 PM
It's time.
Cheers, Jos. A. Mustich
Washington, CT USA
And it's called marriage. Period.


by: Andrew Lowe from: USA
12/17/2012 4:47 PM
"Love Wins In The End" http://bit.ly/VF4V3Z


by: William DeLaney III from: North Carolina
12/17/2012 2:07 PM
The reason I think that "homophobia" is essentially a defunct term is that people no longer have any excuse for being afraid of a gay person. It is no longer possible for a remotely educated person to have gay people confused with child molesters, for we have put that myth completely to rest. It is no longer possible for someone to believe that homosexuality is catching, for we have made it abundantly clear that it's something you are either born with or not. The excuse of ignorance is gone. Let's call the remaining bigots what they are: trash.


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
12/17/2012 6:51 AM
Concerning with the use of term homophobia on papers, I would like to take AP's side because those who do not like homosexuaity look more discriminated than homosexuals in American society. Journalists can use "people who do not like homosexuality" instead of "homophobic people".


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
12/17/2012 4:29 AM
If gay couples have been performed their obligations asked by federal laws as a couple, they need not to pay federal inheritance taxes which are exempted to couples between men and women.


by: Lavender Mist from: San Francisco
12/17/2012 1:40 AM
What a joke. "Opponents of same-sex marriage say they expect the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutional ban approved by California voter." If the SCOTUS is expected to glean from the trial record in the case against proposition 8, the supporters of 8 don't have a chance. According to them, snatching marriage rights of the gays is justified because it will somehow facilitate a zygote in the female of an opposite sex couple. No joke!

I'm expecting the SCOTUS to bury 8.

Learn with The News

  • Audio Obama Hikes Melting Glacier to Highlight Climate Change

    President Obama is touring Alaska to send the message that quick action is needed to combat climate change. Those who do not believe in climate change are standing on a "shrinking island," he said. Mr. Obama asked the world to respond quickly to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. More

  • Audio UN: Temple Destruction Is a 'Crime Against Civilization'

    A United Nations official says Islamic State militants have destroyed the Temple of Bel in the historic Syrian city of Palmyra. The head of the U.N.’s cultural agency is calling the destruction, an “intolerable crime against civilization.” More

  • Video Iran Seeking Foreign Visitors and Their Money

    The agreement between Iran and six world powers will ease financial restrictions on the Middle Eastern nation. Iranians hope that the end of travel restrictions will lead to more foreigners visiting the country. In London, travel agents say some people are already asking about how they can visit. More

  • Audio China's Manufacturing Slowdown Worries Investors

    Also, Europe struggles to deal with a migrant wave; President Obama urges action on climate change; Thai officials arrest a bombing suspect; and protests in Lebanon increase. More

  • Audio US Preparing Sanctions Against China

    The United States is preparing to act against Chinese who steal trade secrets using the Internet. The actions could freeze accounts and block the transfer of money. They would target thieves who use the Internet to steal U.S. trade secrets. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Are You Too Smart for Your Own Good?

    If you think being smart is always a good thing, think again. Smart has many meanings. Read on to find out what they are and the surprising origin of the term Smart Aleck. More

  • Audio Everyday Grammar: Fun with Future Tenses

    English has several ways to talk about the future. It's one of the most flexible tenses in English. We visit some popular songs for examples of the future forms. Read and listen as the Everyday Grammar team shows you six ways to express an event in the future. You will not regret it! More

  • Video A Horseman in the Sky by Ambrose Bierce

    Carter Druse lived in Virginia, a southern state during the American Civil War. He had a tough decision to make - should he join the Confederate Army or the Union Army? Read this classic American Story to find out what decision he makes, and what it means to his father and fellow soldiers. More

  • Audio Betty Azar, 'Rock Star' of English Grammar

    It all started with a question from a student. The year was 1965. Betty Azar was teaching her first English as a Second Language class at the University of Iowa. A student from the Middle East asked Ms. Azar, “Why can’t I put a in front of water?’ As in ‘I drank a water.’” More

  • Audio Millions with Mental Illness Get Little or No Treatment

    The World Health Organization reports that hundreds of millions of people worldwide have a mental disorder. However, the WHO adds that most get little or no treatment. Learn the vocabulary needed to talk about this important study. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs