Repeal of DOMA: A new meaning for marriage

August 24, 2011
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‘It’s a free country.’ One hears this phrase to defend just about any action, and while it is viewed as rather a weak comeback in an argument, its truth is something American’s have deep pride in. This is a country where anyone can do anything, and be anything – the land of opportunity. That said, it is startling that America, a country that prides itself on its equality and equal opportunities, has a law like the Defense of Marriage Act. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) discriminates against same-sex couples by saying that state governments do not need to recognize marriages from other states, and the federal government does not recognize marriages unless they are between one man and one woman. In a democratic society a discriminatory law like the Defense of Marriage Act should not exist. It is unconstitutional; repealing it would not harm religious or family values; and it is depriving same-sex couples of the federal benefits granted to heterosexual couples.

Barack Obama has been getting a lot of criticism from anti-gay activists recently for his decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. While his critics say that a president is not allowed to simply pick and choose what rules and laws to follow, it is part of the president’s job not to defend laws that have proven unconstitutional, as this one has. In fact, both parts of DOMA (state and federal) contradict the Constitution. Article 4 of the Constitution states that “the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states” (Article 4 Section 2), meaning that the states are obligated to recognize marriages from other states because marriage is a civil matter. Furthermore the power to control whose marriages are recognized does not lie with the federal government, because all powers not directly given to the federal government are given to the state government or the people (10th Amendment). The federal government does not have the right to make DOMA a law in the first place, much less defend it. What is more, aspects of people’s personal lives that have no government bearing should not be under government control.

The government cannot control lifestyle choices, but lifestyle choices cannot control the government either. One argument that anti-gay activists often turn to is that allowing same-sex marriage would be immoral under God’s law. While they are perfectly within their rights to believe that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (1st Amendment). In America there is a separation of church and state, which mean that laws cannot be made, or kept in place based on religious justification. The citizens as a collective all have different values, and thus it is not right to make one belief system law. America is a republic, not a theocracy. Giving people a freedom doesn’t mean that they are forced to use it, so repealing DOMA will not impose on those who would prefer it to stay in place. The next argument politicians and activists often turn to is that allowing same-sex marriage will destroy family values. There are already many children across the country being raised in families with two mothers or two fathers and their childhoods are as happy and healthy as those raised in more traditional families. What children need from their parents is not a gender, but love, and two men or two women are just as capable of giving love to a child as a man and a woman are. Just as repealing DOMA would have no bearing on how many children have moms and dads, it will not influence how many gay couples have children. What it will do is create options for people who love each other.

Besides not being able to marry, there are other negative ramifications for same-sex couples of the Defense of Marriage Act. Since the government does not recognize same-sex marriage, married and unmarried homosexuals are being denied myriad benefits that are available to their married heterosexual counterparts. Social security benefits, tax benefits, estate tax and planning benefits, military and veteran benefits, immigration benefits, and federal employment benefits, such as health care, are all withheld from gay couples. Because of this, gay people die alone in hospitals, get deported, and lose their homes and jobs. However it is not only the couple that is hurt by the lack of benefits, but their children as well. For many gay couples the inability to collect on the federal benefits listed above can be the difference between a comfortable lifestyle and poverty.

No one should be discriminated against because of their sexuality, just as no one should be discriminated against because of their gender, religion or race, and there is no doubt that that the Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory. In the past America did not allow interracial marriages, and now the country looks back on that period with shame and embarrassment. Eventually we will come to regret that gays were ever denied the right to marry as well. It has been said that such a long held and important institution as marriage cannot be redefined, but where would society be if no one ever reconsidered what they thought to be right and realized that it is wrong? It is time that America admits that it was wrong (as Bob Barr, the writer of DOMA has) and repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, so that in the next generation, marriage will have a new meaning.





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