Posted: June 23rd, 2021
In 1996, Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which added the following definition to the United States Code: “…[T]he word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. ” (Defense of Marriage Act sec. 3). Since the enactment of DOMA, however, five states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts) have come in direct conflict with the law by conferring full legal status to same-sex marriages.
Thus, a same-sex couple may be legally married in their state of residence but would not be recognized as such under federal law. The Supreme Court, in light of its own binding precedent, must recognize that marriage, is a constitutionally-guaranteed, fundamental right of all citizens. Because DOMA interferes with such rights, it must be overturned as unconstitutional, and the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in states where such marriages are permitted. In a landmark post-DOMA case, the Supreme Court overturned its earlier decision in Bowers v.
Hardwick, and held that state anti-sodomy laws restricting consensual sexual behavior between adults, same-sex or otherwise, were unconstitutional (Lawrence v. Texas 558). The Court held “…that our laws and tradition afford constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education…. Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy [in making these choices]… just as heterosexual persons do” (Lawrence v. Texas 574). States’ ability to define or limit marriage is further diluted by the equal protection doctrine.
The right to marry is fundamental and, as such, cannot be defined so as to apply to citizens on an unequal basis or on the basis of classification. The equal protection doctrine is derived from the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which provides that no citizen of the United States or any state shall be denied “equal protection of the laws” (U. S. Constitution, amend. 14, sec. 1). Prior to 1996, the Supreme Court’s equal protection decisions progressively made strides toward greater personal freedoms and greater recognition of the fundamental rights of individuals.
By defining marriage solely as a relationship between a man and a woman, Congress attempted to slam the door on decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence. The Supreme Court famously addressed the right to marry as a matter of equal protection in the 1967 decision of Loving v. Virginia. Striking down anti-miscegenation statutes in more than 20 states, the court held “[t]here can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause” (Loving v.
Virginia 12). The Supreme Court has also recognized the right of prison inmates to marry (Turner v. Safley, 78). In so doing, the court addressed specifically whether the inability to consummate a marriage affects the constitutional protection afforded such a relationship. In her opinion for the court, Justice O’Connor wrote: “Many important attributes of marriage remain, however, after taking into account the limitations imposed by prison life….
[M]arriages…are expressions of emotional support and public commitment…hav[e] spiritual significance… [and] [f]inally, marital status often is a precondition to the receipt of government benefits (e. g. , Social Security benefits), property rights (e. g. , tenancy by the entirety, inheritance rights), and other, less tangible benefits…. These incidents of marriage, like the religious and personal aspects of the marriage commitment, are unaffected by the fact of confinement or the pursuit of legitimate corrections goals.
” (Turner v. Safley 95-96) All the minimal hallmarks of marriage enumerated by the Court in Turner can exist in a legal same-sex marriage; with the sole exception of the couple’s ability to obtain the federal government benefits denied them by DOMA. In a case that perhaps best encapsulates the Supreme Court’s belief in the breadth of the right to marry, the Court addressed a Wisconsin law that prevented people with child-support arrearages from marrying. (Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374 (1978)).
In holding the law unconstitutional, the court stated that “[a]lthough Loving arose in the context of racial discrimination, prior and subsequent decisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals” (Zablocki v. Redhail 384). If marriage is a right of “fundamental importance for all individuals,” (Id. ) it is necessarily a fundamental right for homosexual men and women. In conclusion, the Defense of Marriage Act and the federal government’s failure to recognize legal same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.
DOMA illegally interferes with the fundamental right of homosexual individuals to choose whom they wish to marry. The United States was undergoing a major conservative revolution at the time DOMA was passed. The times have changed. As Justice Kennedy wrote in 2003, seven years after DOMA was enacted, “…[T]imes can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom” (Lawrence v.
Texas, 579). It is time for the Supreme Court of this generation to lift the oppression of DOMA and require the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages. Works Cited Defense of Marriage Act, U. S. Statutes at Large 2419 (1996): sec. 3. Desylva v. Ballentine, 351 U. S. 570 (1956). Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U. S. 558 (2003). Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967). Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78 (1987). Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374 (1978).
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