DOMA Helps No One, While Harming Many
The federal government shouldn't pick and choose between couples
March 26, 2013
Are you one of the Americans who believe that couples who are legally married should be treated only as roommates, or legal strangers, by the federal government? Or that the federal government should pick and choose which married couples are treated as married, and which are denied respect when it comes to federal protections and responsibilities triggered by marriages, such as Social Security survivor benefits, access to health care and family leave, a family's ability to pool resources without adverse tax treatment, parenting rights, or familial status for immigration purposes?
Actually, very few Americans believe those things—and yet it's exactly that sort of discrimination that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) inflicts on couples who are legally married … if they are gay. In dozens of filings to the court, businesses as well as labor, faith leaders and public health authorities, members of Congress and President Barack Obama, have urged the Court to overturn DOMA. The arguments are many: It's not just right, but easier and less costly for businesses to be able to treat all employees equally. Legal respect and equal treatment for civil marriages aren't inconsistent with religious beliefs. DOMA helps no one, while harming real families, in addition to being plainly unfair.
Thirty retired military leaders and national defense officials weighed in, too, arguing that DOMA threatens the military's mission and culture by forcing the military to treat personnel unequally, harming morale and jeopardizing the performance of service members worried about their families' treatment. Tracy Johnson, a member of the North Carolina National Guard whose wife was killed in Afghanistan late last year, can personally attest to that. She was denied the ceremonial and financial comforts in her time of grief that the government bestows on non-gay spouses: There was no visit from a casualty officer to deliver the news, no death benefits, no presentation of the flag that draped her wife's coffin. In the government's eyes, through the blinders of DOMA, she is no widow, despite all that her wife, Donna, gave to serve our country.
The question before the justices this week—as they hear arguments in United States v. Windsor—is whether DOMA's 'gay exception' to the normal practice of federal respect for marriages celebrated in the states, violates the Constitution. The Equal Protection Clause applies to all Americans, but DOMA divides married Americans into two classes and treats one class unfairly for no reason except prejudice. Moreover, DOMA discriminates against states, effectively saying that the federal government can decide whether the couples they legally marry will be treated equally.
Ten federal rulings—from judges appointed by Republican presidents Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes, alongside Democratic appointees — have found the Defense of Marriage Act indefensible under our Constitution. The Supreme Court should, too. In America, we don't have second-class citizens, and we shouldn't have second-class marriages, either.