– By Jeff Monahan Last week the Supreme Court of the United States issued two landmark decisions on gay marriage, the effect of which allowed gay marriage in California (Prop 8) and granted gay married couples the same federal tax breaks, etc. as heter …
– By Jeff Monahan
Last week the Supreme Court of the United States issued two landmark decisions on gay marriage, the effect of which allowed gay marriage in California (Prop 8) and granted gay married couples the same federal tax breaks, etc. as heterosexual married couples (DOMA). The intricacies of the ruling were much more complicated, but the majority opinion in the federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) included a key statement that will affect state-level bans on same-sex marriages in the future. The court ruled that the purpose and effect of DOMA was to “disparage and injure” gays and lesbians, and since Congress cannot make laws just for the sake of hurting people, DOMA was deemed unconstitutional under the fifth amendment.
The DOMA ruling affected laws on a federal level, but the rationale from the decision will surely be used to attack state laws banning gay marriage as well. In the United States’ federalist system, decisions like marriage, speed limits, sales tax, and most criminal laws are left up to each state to decide individually. Many states have laws banning gay marriage, and those laws will now, in all likelihood, be attacked one-by-one with the same “disparage and injure” sword the Supreme Court created last week.
Right now, thirteen states recognize gay marriage. Of the thirty-seven left over, some of the laws will be easy to attack with this new legal weapon because they resemble DOMA on a state-level, but others may prove more challenging. Take the California law that was overturned, for example. The law defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In today’s day and age, this is quite clearly a “bare desire to harm,” as the Supreme Court has previously said. But if the law was a century old, it would not be so certain that it was enacted for that purpose – it could have been just to provide a simple definition.
In a simplified case like this, a court would be more likely to uphold the law and put the pressure on the people to make a change through the legislature. I think there will inevitably be at least one state that finds itself in this kind of position, so what we need to take away from this is that THE BATTLE IS NOT OVER. We all know it is much more difficult to successfully pressure the government to make a change than to have a court set the record straight for us. There is a ton of organizing involved in making that difference, and when the day comes –you’ll see it in the news – when a court fails to invalidate a law that prohibits gay marriage, join the movement to make a change. Save your breath on knocking the court system and act swiftly to get involved. Sign a petition. Join a rally. Write your state rep. It is a slow process because governments are frustrating, but it is the hand we are dealt and it is up to us to make the change.
On another note, regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling on the California proposition that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, I was pretty disappointed in some of the comments my California friends made. They weren’t offensive in a radical way; they were offensive in an ignorant way. People said they were “proud to be a Californian.” This confused me. Look, I’m sure people are proud, but a court striking down a law on a technicality should not cause that effect – it doesn’t change the fact that a majority of people in the state voted in favor of the proposition in the first place. Gay marriage is now legal in California despite itself, not because of itself.
Californians should feel as ashamed as they did the day the proposition was passed. The only difference is they should feel lucky. For all we know, California or another state could vote on another proposition with a similar effect on gay marriage during the next election cycle. Statistically speaking, the numbers are changing but we have to do a better job educating ourselves. USA Today reported that a record 55% of Americans currently believe gay marriage should be treated the same as a traditional marriage, but this doesn’t change the fact that some people would vote against it because they somehow think it would curb homosexuality, or because they don’t like parades in their town, or because they think it will lead to people marrying animals.
The call to action here is to continue to educate ourselves every day and especially during elections. Gay marriage is an issue at the forefront. There are tons of other measures, however, that are voted on during elections that people simply guess at while they stand in the election booth, and, somewhere, after the ballots are cast, there is a group of people disappointed in the public for how easily influenced they are by mass media and lobbyists. You have probably been in that group. I admit that I have been part of that group. But we don’t have to do it again. Do not be one of those people OR let people you know be one of those people when deciding on gay marriage issues OR any other issue you vote on. Do your research and don’t be afraid to question what you see on TV. We have the right to free speech and lawful assembly in this country. Use it.
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