Justice Dept. ruling a crucial victory for gay marriage supporters, Constitution
In an exciting step toward marriage equality, the Justice Department has announced that the federal government will be officially recognizing the 1,300 same-sex marriages that took place in Utah before the stay of the ruling.
The news is especially significant because it represents quite the turnaround in the Obama administration. In 2008, Obama told Chris Matthews of Hardball that he was “not in favor of gay marriage” (and, of course, has since changed his mind about that). He did go on to say, however, that he was in favor of civil unions and equal benefits at a federal level for same-sex couples.
Now, this dream is not only becoming a reality, but becoming one in one of the most conservative states in the nation.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has assured those married in the interim between the Utah federal district court’s overturn of the ban and the Supreme Court’s stay on the ruling that they “will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.”
It’s staggering to think that the government, state or otherwise, even has the power to revoke the right to be married after bestowing it for long enough for 1,300 couples to be joined.
After all, the ban itself was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge. In his decision, Judge Robert J. Shelby wrote, quite rightly, that the denial of the right to gay marriage “demeans the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.”
Still, 30 states have passed such irrational amendments, while only 18 have legalized same-sex marriages. Thus far, only one state, California, has succeeded in voiding a ban on gay marriage that passed by popular vote. Once such a revolutionary precedent is set, though, it’s only a matter of time before other states follow suit.
Oklahoma has found itself in upheaval similar to Utah’s, as its ban on same-sex marriage has also been ruled unconstitutional. District Court Judge Terence Kern wrote that the amendment which is “limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Judge Shelby, you were on the right track, and I’ma let you finish, but Judge Kern just issued the best ruling of all time!
Kern’s specific citation of the Constitution will prove a massive help to all advocates of same-sex marriage. The equal protection clause states, “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It defines citizens as all those born or naturalized in the U.S.
Most of us already know that disallowing homosexual couples to marry violates basic human rights, but for those who need a little more convincing, here it is. Irrefutable proof that these bans do not have a place in the United States, a supposedly free country.
Kern went on to say, “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.”
It will be interesting to see how the decisions turn out, with two states fighting for marriage equality at the same time. The stays on both rulings prevent any further couples from being married, but with any luck and California’s unique precedent, the number of equal rights states will hit 20.
Governor Gary R. Herbert of Utah has announced that the 1,300 couples will not receive state benefits during the litigation, even though the unions are federally recognized. Austin Vance, one of the Utah newlyweds, told The New York Times, “We’re going to continue to file and act as if we’re married,” he added. “Some people have said that’s an act of civil disobedience. If it is, so be it.”
These American citizens should not be punished for the government’s inability to come to an agreement. The state married them, and less than a month later, the state says they’re no longer married.
By honoring the marriages, the federal government is heading in the right direction. It would be even better, though, to take marriage rights out of each state’s jurisdiction and federally mandate that same-sex marriages be legalized. Whom a person marries should be nobody’s business but their own.
Opinion columnist Katie Wian is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]