The Death of DOMA and a Case for Equality

Photo courtesy of Google Images
Chad W. Lutz

"All men are created equal; it is only men themselves who place themselves above equality."
-David Allan Coe

The case for same-sex marriage equality continues to be its usual hotbed of debate in the United States. In recent years, the conversation has reached a boiling point. Legislators both for and against the idea have fought tirelessly to create and pass bills to effect the outcome of the issue and swing the end result in a favorable way. Perhaps it is fate that destined Wednesday's Supreme Court decisions regarding the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 (2008) and The Defense of Marriage Act (1996) to come 50 years after the signing of the then, and still, controversial Civil Rights Act of 1963. Time, as we have known it, often appears to run in a cyclical course.

Regardless of eerie irony or serendipity, Wednesday's rulings mark an ethereal moment in the battle for equal rights. During his inauguration speech in January, President Barack Obama made precedential comments regarding same-sex marriage declaring, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law." The President was referring to the mission of federal government and the progress of the American People our Founding Fathers laid out in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which Obama eloquently interpreted to mean, "The constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice." The crowds cheered, flags waved - both American and Gay Pride - in tandem, and the moment was electric. No President had ever used the word, "Gay" in an inauguration speech prior. Wednesday's Supreme Court rulings served as the "Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up" to those powerful sentiments proclaimed on the back steps of the Capitol Building.

The same election that resulted in the infamous speech given by President Obama also produced unprecedented advances in the fight for marriage equality. Three states: Maine, Maryland, and Washington, ratified amendments legalizing same-sex marriage during the November 6 general election. With the passing of those referendums, the three states became the first in the Union to legalize same-sex marriage through the popular vote and joined only nine other states with equal marriages laws on the books. But that's at the state level, and that's what brings us to Wednesday's vote.

Passed by the 104th U.S. Congress in 1996, the same Congress that brought you the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the first to ever mention the Internet in legislation, The Defense of Marriage Act successfully defined marriage, as recognized by federal law, to be between one man and one woman. There it was, in black and white; to some, a Scarlet Letter that might even have Hawthorne blushing. The beautiful mechanism of Bureaucracy has allowed for 12 states since 1996 to allow the passing of bills legalizing same-sex marriage and the appropriation of partner benefits. States don't talk to federal, federal doesn't talk to the state, states don't talk to the municipalities and districts, the districts and municipalities don't talk to the states or the federal government. It's this beautiful game of revolving door Ain't-Nobody-Got-Time-For-That that allows for similar legislation to pass for the legalization of Marijuana at the state and municipal level, despite its infamously prohibited status as a Schedule I drug listed in federal prohibitions laws.

On February 7, 2012, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, stating the legislation, "enacts nothing more or less than a judgment about the worth and dignity of gays and lesbians as a class." The rulings of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals met their own appeals soon after. As many expected, the decision would ultimately wind its way into the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court, where the fate of same-sex marriage would ultimately rest.

Worldwide, same-sex marriage remains a sort of sleeping dragon, with only a handful of countries brave enough to poke it. The Netherlands lead the charge in 2001 when they became the first nation to legally sanction same-sex marriages under law. Belgium, Spain, and Canada followed soon after and would later be joined by South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Brazil, France, Uruguay, and New Zealand. That brings the grand total of nations who recognize same-sex couples as equal under law, in 2013, mind you, to 14. With France being the only exception, and perhaps, maybe, Canada, the rest of the countries appear to be a legal grab-bag of unexpected champions of equality. South Africa and Uruguay speak loudly enough for the rest of the class. As for the United States, we appear to be caught in the murky waters of bureaucracy and politics as mentioned earlier. The Obama administration roundly rejects the constitutionality of The Defense of Marriage Act, and cites it specifically from time to time, but upholds and enforces it, as much as it does the tough drug laws that send aspiring youth to term after term in state penitentiaries for miniscule drug crimes while proclaiming decriminalization a legal priority.

At 10:08am ESTD, CNN released the first reports that the provision limiting federal benefits to employees in heterosexual marriages was ruled unconstitutional. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down The Defense of Marriage Act. Within minutes, Facebook and Twitter were alive with citizens of the United States in support of same-sex marriages rejoicing in what many dubbed, "The Death of DOMA." But the day was not entirely won. The Supreme Court still had one more ruling to make; that being the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex marriages in California that had been overturned last February.

10:26am ESTD, CNN reports the ruling on the appeal of Proposition 8 has reached a verdict. The Supreme Court ruled to dismiss the appeal of Prop 8's unconstitutionality as ordained by the 9th Circuit Court of California. Also a 5-4 decision, the decision to dismiss the appeal reinforces the unconstitutional nature of Proposition 8 as proclaimed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The official ruling made by the Supreme Court stated that, "Petitioners did not have standing to appeal the District Court's order," suggesting that the formal appeal itself was unconstitutional, or at least legally inappropriate, and therefore unfit to receive proper verdict. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts spoke on the ruling shortly after it was handed down saying, "We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to."