Marriage Equality: Different Strategies for Attaining Equal Rights

This lesson focuses on the different means that the Constitution provides for people to bring about change. While each of the methods the lesson presents worked in the Civil Rights movement, all three are currently being challenged in the marriage equality movement. Keep up to date on the ongoing struggles by doing Google news searches of marriage equality. Keep a class log of updates from the states where marriage equality is being challenged.
Grade Level


“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.
Essential Questions
  • 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?


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.



detrimental [ detrəˈmentl ] (adjective) Tending to cause harm; damaging.

desegregation [ dēˌsegriˈgā sh ən ] (noun) End a policy of racial segregation in; integration.

Invidious [ inˈvidēəs ] (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.


Additional Resources

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