Amid the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell veto, the Boy Scouts' vote on including gay scouts, numerous states’ recognition of gay marriage, NBA and MLS conferences, and even radio statements by entertainers, the debate over gay rights has come front and center. And rightly so. The Defense of Marriage Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, represents one of the last pieces of federal legislation requiring discrimination against a person based on their sexual orientation. However, Americans have moved passed the animosity towards homosexuals that was present in 1996. We have become more tolerant, accepting, and have even turned the tide in support of gay rights. In the upcoming week, the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to strike down DOMA, in keeping with public opinion, and eliminate the remnants of discrimination in our society.
Embedded in the U.S. Constitution is the fundamental right of all people to be treated equally by their government. In terms of legal constitutional matters, the DOMA legislation guarantees anything but equal protection. From the definitional detail of Section 3, recognizing only legal unions between a man and woman, the act affects more than 1,000 federal provisions including tax returns, veterans benefits, Social Security, health care, housing, and immigration. If we focus specifically on the Fourteenth Amendment and its equal-protection guarantee, the Supreme Court must rule DOMA unconstitutional, as the federal government must treat all persons alike especially when it comes to handing out federal benefits. After all, the main DOMA case in front of the Supreme Court deals with a federal tax-collecting institution forcing a grief-stricken widow to pay in excess of $360,000.
Society has moved past the false argument that gay parenting has negative effects on children. Once in a while, there will be noise raised from Christian-, conservative communities that science has “proven” that gay parents harm their children psychologically. Just as certain media sources have slanted biases, so too do these theoretically scientific studies. In terms of factual, unbiased studies, there is no evidence that children with gay parents will be any different from children with straight parents.
This then raises the question, “So what’s the point of defending the Defense Of Marriage Act?” By answering this question, one would have to explicitly justify why the federal government must discriminate against a significant portion of the population for no apparent scientific reason. Highlighting the difficulty of this task, the Obama administration decided to stop defending the constitutionality of the act in February 2011.
On an even larger scale, we should be asking ourselves why the federal government is even involved in a traditional religious ceremony in the first place. In a perfect world, the word “marriage” would not be utilized in any federal statue. Instead, the word “union” would be substituted in its place. As long as federal marital benefits are given to all legally recognized unions, I believe the Supreme Court should uphold Proposition 8. Theoretically, the term “marriage” originates from the 14th century and has a specific Anglo-French Christian connotation. It should not be the government’s role to redefine the meaning of a word, let alone infringe upon the beliefs of Christian communities, populations, or even states. The Roman Catholic Church further endorsed this idea, stating that civil unions deserve the same benefits but that it would not recognize same-sex “marriage” in a traditional Christian ceremony.
The repeal of DOMA embodies a middle ground in the realm of public policy. Civil unions has historically been proven to work, and in some cases, are even preferable to traditional marriages. Yet I fear that the LGBT community has made the battle not about gay rights, but about the political goal of federally recognized same-sex marriage — a move that again has historically shown to not be politically feasible.
As we go forward after the DOMA ruling, the LGBT community should keep in mind these historical precedents. At this moment in society, gay rights can be fully achievable without offending the traditional values of others or sparking a resistance movement among social conservatives.