Don’t DOMA: An editor’s opinion on the Defense of Marriage Act


By Brian Karimi

Section 3 of the federal government’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) states, “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the 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.”

The law is the crucial piece of legislation for anti-gay marriage advocates, as it limits federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples and deprives same-sex couples of federal benefits— even in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Last week, 15 long years after its inception, President Obama instructed federal lawyers to cease defense of the law in court, holding that the legislation runs afoul of the Constitution. It is high time Obama, indebted to the Left for his comfortable chair in the White House, use the might of the executive to help reverse a law so clearly and unabashedly prejudicial.

The Right’s response to the move has been cautious. Gay marriage, given cultural evolutions and economic considerations, is not as salient an issue as it once was, and experts are still unsure as to how much the issue will play into the 2012 elections.

In what seems an effort to dodge the question of whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry, much of the Right has attacked Obama on technical grounds, accusing him of falling short on his duty to execute the laws of the land, leaving the issue of what should be the law of the land strategically ignored.

But such an attack is bereft of some fairly basic political knowledge. The Obama administration will still enforce the law— it simply will not use its lawyers to defend the law’s constitutionality in court. It is the right of the executive to exercise its interpretation of the Constitution in this manner, and this is by no means the first time such a phenomenon has occurred. Presidents Reagan and Clinton, as well as both Bush presidents, have similarly exercised this right.

Nowhere in the Constitution is marriage defined so narrowly. This is why the Justice Department’s lawyers have found it so difficult to defend the law: the Constitution is not on DOMA’s side.

To support such a law, the government needs to quite boldly hold that homosexuals can change their sexuality and thus do not need protection against governmental discrimination. This is like saying a drug dealer can stop distributing if he wants to continue to exercise his rights. The law, as it stands, disapproves of both activities.

Congress or special interest groups could potentially send lawyers to fill the void left by the federal government to defend the law’s constitutionality— but let’s hope they don’t. Instead, let’s free ourselves from the stranglehold of the religious Right and take a stance on the side of arguably the most American of values: equality.

So a message to the courts and Congress: ditch DOMA. It stinks of the legal prejudice towards interracial marriage this country was embarrassingly late to overcome. Further, do not let us vote on the rights of minorities, the route Californians shamefully took. Equality is not measured by mass appeal. It is right required by justice.


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