Fighting at the ballot box for the right to marry

Demonstrations for and against same-sex marriage.
CBS news

(CBS News) The nation's voters face some very real choices on a number of controversial issues this fall. Between now and Election Day, we'll be looking at some of them. Our TALKING POINT this morning: same-sex marriage. Our Cover Story is reported by Rita Braver.

To Kristina Garza and Jessica Ogo, parents of Chase and Cece, it seems only natural that they should be married.

"We want to be seen as a whole, as one unit with our children," said Ogo, "and we want to be recognized that these are two people, you know, that are trying to do the same thing that everybody else is really trying to do."

But Jim and Pat Ramseth see things very differently . . .

"I just think that that word 'marriage' is ours," Jim told Braver. "Two-gender couples, for all and ever."

"Man and a woman," concurred Pat.

Jim added, "And I don't want that diminished."

The deeply personal feelings of these two couples have become a hot button political issue in this election.

At the Republican Convention, set to start this week, the official party platform will, for the first time, call for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

It's endorsed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said, "I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman."

Democrats, who convene the next week, will for the first time endorse same-sex marriage in their platform.

And Barack Obama made history in May, when he became the first American president to take this stand:

"It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

Yet despite all the talk at the federal level, it's the states that have always set the rules - and that's where the real battle over same-sex marriage is being waged.

Here's how the map looks right now: There are just six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont), plus the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is allowed.

Thirty-eight states have an outright ban on same-sex marriage.

California is in the midst of a legal battle that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And in Maine, Maryland and Washington, the question of whether to allow same-sex marriage goes to voters in November.

Nowhere are the arguments more intense than in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington. Last winter, the state legislature, dominated by Democrats, enacted a law allowing same-sex marriage.

But it was blocked before it went into effect, when the opposition moved quickly to get the issue put on the November ballot.

"We raised a quarter of a million signatures, which was the most ever raised on a referendum in the state of Washington, and now we're going to vote on it," said Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington.

Backholm argues that since most marriages produce children, it's optimum for society to allow only a man and a woman to be married: "The statement that it's still desirable as a matter of public policy to encourage situations in which kids will know and be loved by their mother and father is an important statement."

"Why can't kids be loved by two mothers or two fathers and have an equally happy and well-adjusted life?" asked Braver.

Backholm said he did not believe that was true. "And I think the majority of the public agrees with that," he said.

Jessica Ogo and Kristina Garza don't agree. They recently had a commitment ceremony - it may have looked like a wedding, but Washington State currently recognizes only same-sex civil unions.

Braver asked them, "Why isn't a civil union good enough? That's what you hear a lot: 'A civil union should be fine.'"

"Because we are humans just like a man and a woman," said Garza. "Why should we be treated any less than they are, you know? I just don't think it's fair."