Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: An offensive marriage act

Today, Connecticut began allowing same-sex marriages. Last week, Californians approved Proposition 8, which redefined marriage as only being between a man and a woman. Clearly, the debate over the issue of gay couples’ rights remains as contentious as ever. But perhaps more important than specific states’ rulings in regard to same-sex marriage is the federal law that undercuts any advancements toward equality. It must be changed.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘

Like many state statutes, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 explicitly defines marriage as ‘only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.’ In all cases where federal law applies, like social security benefits, this definition is used to describe a marriage, even though states’ definitions vary. In addition, this law gives every state the right to determine whether to recognize other states’ same-sex marriage licenses.

In 1996, no states allowed same-sex marriages. The federal law was a preemptive strike at the idea of same-sex marriage. But now that more than one state grants same-sex marriages, the federal government is explicitly spurning same-sex couples in Massachusetts and Connecticut in two ways: first, by keeping more than 1,000 federal rights and responsibilities ‘-‘- such as social security benefits for spouses and certain private employee benefits ‘-‘- from applying to the married couples; and second, by giving individual states the right to recognize or reject the validity of their marriages ‘-‘- a right that the overwhelming majority of the country chooses to reject.

The Defense of Marriage Act must be seriously re-evaluated in light of expanding state-level same-sex rights. If the federal government is committed to supporting states’ rights to choose, then it should not have any law that affects the rights of the states’ citizens. And if the government wants to make its commitment to define marriage as strictly a man-woman venture, the least it can do is allow states to recognize out-of-state gay-marriage licenses.

With the new executive administration and a more liberal Congress coming in 2009, the push for more federal acceptance ought to be a swift one.

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