This week, the Supreme Court is likely to decide which cases they will hear regarding same-sex marriage and the rights of gay and lesbian couples.
Some of the possible cases include the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This term we really have the opportunity to see the true colors of the Supreme Court. Will the Supreme Court let the injustice and subjugation of gays and lesbians continue? My hope is that they will finally end the rampant discrimination against same-sex couples by DOMA.
The Defense of Marriage Act was passed in the 1990s, barring same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits. Congressional Republicans used DOMA to rally angry supporters before the November 1996 elections, and spineless Democrats and the Clinton administration followed along with the Republican majority out of political expedience.
So, although a handful of states recognize gay marriage, the federal definition of marriage is between one man and one woman. This exclusive definition of marriage creates an enormous disparity between the rights of heterosexual and same-sex married couples.
According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. Because the Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage” as only a legal union between one man and one woman. Same-sex couples — although they are legally married in their state — will not be considered spouses for purposes of federal law (taxes, social security, etc.).
In the case of Windsor v. United States, Edith Windsor of New York City married her longtime partner, Thea Clara Spyer, in 2007 in Canada. When Ms. Spyer died in 2009, Ms. Windsor inherited her property. Because the Internal Revenue Service was not allowed, under the Defense of Marriage Act, to consider her a surviving spouse, she faced a tax bill of $363,053 that she would not have had to pay if the federal government recognized her marriage for legal purposes, or if she had married a person of the opposite sex.
Eight federal courts have found sections of DOMA unconstitutional and discriminatory. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (in Windsor v. United States) became the second federal appellate court in the nation to rule that DOMA violates equal protection by barring same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits.
Any sensible reading or interpretation of the Constitution demands that the Supreme Court overturn DOMA.
Moreover, DOMA allows states to legalize same-sex marriage if they choose, however, no U.S. state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage legally recognized in another state. For example, a marriage license issued in Massachusetts to a same-sex couple does not have to be honored in a state like Mississippi. However, I personally believe the Constitution suggests states act otherwise.
Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution reads, “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.”
This standard should be applied to civil marriages performed for same-sex couples.
There’s no reason why a marriage recognized in Massachusetts should be invalid if a couple decides to move to Mississippi, or any other state for that matter.
In the coming days, my hope is that the Supreme Court will decide to hear cases challenging the constitutionality of DOMA and ultimately render the law unconstitutional. The federal government cannot constitutionally grant rights to heterosexual married couples while denying the same rights to homosexual married couples. It violates equal protection.
There are over 1,138 reasons the Supreme Court should strike down the Defense of Marriage Act; what’s a reason they should keep it?
Sean Higgins is a political science and sociology double-major from Brookings, S.D. Follow him on Twitter @seanmhiggins.
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