Gay marriage debate centers on civil rights
In 1996, federal lawmakers passed a statute that set certain standards for coupledom. The Defense of Marriage Act proclaimed that marriage was a union between one man and one woman. If your relationship didn’t fit that bill, certain rights weren’t yours to claim.
The nonrecognition of these relationships in Section 3 was used heavily for federal purposes. This means that homosexual couples weren’t allowed the same privileges heterosexual couples get, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors’ benefits, and the filing of joint tax returns.
The law was met with mixed reception.
In 2011, President Barack Obama came forward saying Section 3 was unconstitutional, and the Department of Justice would no longer defend the principle in court. It’s been deemed unconstitutional in some court cases, as well.
But just this past week, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit became the first appeals court to strike down DOMA and declare it unconstitutional. It’s a decision that will likely be appealed and make its way to the nation’s highest court. But it did something truly unique in the gay marriage fight.
The decision went beyond whether saying gay marriage itself was constitutional. It didn’t involve moral consideration or religious implications. The legality of gay marriage didn’t play into the court’s decision, at all.
The decision highlighted the crux of this matter: civil rights. DOMA had effectively created two classes of citizens. One, which fit a certain mold, was worthy of all federal benefits and privileges. The other was not.
The founding fathers said all men were created equal. But history tells us that’s not always true. Race and sex have been deciding factors on who will make up the ruling class since the beginning of time.
After all, it wasn’t until 1920 — 92 years ago — when the 19th Amendment declared sex shouldn’t be a factor in who gets the right to vote. Women finally had a voice and a place at the election polls.
And while Abraham Lincoln might have abolished slavery — and vampires if the book/film property is to be believed — back in the 1860s, blacks were still fighting for equal treatment, both personally and legally, 100 years later.
Women were treated as second-class citizens. Black Americans were treated the same. It didn’t matter that they were born in this country. They were still judged based on criteria set by our government, and arbitrary criteria deemed they weren’t going to be afforded the same privileges as others.
Gay marriage has long been a hot topic in this country. There are folks who come down on both sides of the debate. But the debate far too frequently addresses moral and religious ramifications rather than legal ones.
Ethical factors seemed less important.
Various states have their own laws and regulations regarding applicable benefits for gay couples. Some states even have laws governing whether being gay is something that can be held against someone applying for a job. In fact, in May 2011, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law that forbids local governments from coming up with their own anti-discrimination laws. In other words, businesses can refuse to hire you if you’re gay.
The court’s ruling Thursday was a big move forward for civil rights. I can’t help but wonder if one day, we will all be treated equally.
I hope it’s a day I live to see.
Amanda Greever is assistant managing editor for print at The Daily Times. She writes a weekly column in the Sunday Life section. She can be reached at 981-1161 or (firstname.lastname@example.org) Follow her on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com _editor.