Major Strides for Marriage Equality

Last week, President Obama determined that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law enacted in 1996 that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, is unconstitutional. Although Obama opposes same-sex marriage, the president has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court.  His explanation is given in a statement by the Attorney General:

Given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.

Section 3 of DOMA defines marriage as “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.”

While determined unconstitutional by the president, the act will still be enforced unless and until Congress repeals it or if a court delivers a “definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.” This may come sooner rather than later based on a report by the Huffington Post that Democrat Rep. Jerry Nadler and “quite a few co-sponsors” are planning to introduce the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

In addition to President Obama’s shifting views, on Thursday, the Maryland State Senate voted in favor of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which grants same-sex couples in the state legal marriage recognition, while protecting the rights of religious institutions to handle marriage how they see fit.  The bill is expected to make its way to the House Committee this week.

Meanwhile, about 5,000 miles away in Hawaii, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a bill legalizing civil unions.  The law, effective January 1, 2012, allows couples, regardless of gender, to form civil unions which provide all the legal rights of marriage.  While civil unions, says Alan Spector, of Equality Hawaii, are not marriage,

They at least provide — on a state level — the concrete, tangible, legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. We still don’t have the social significance and the social meaning of marriage … but getting us to civil unions — psychologically and legally — is such a major barrier to cross.

While we’re thrilled with the strides are being made on behalf of gay rights, we’re disheartened that the issue of marriage equality is still met with strong resistance from politicians and lawmakers across the country.  To read the entire statement about the unconstitutionality of DOMA given by the Attorney General, click here.  To show your support for the President’s decision to determine DOMA unconstitutional, click here.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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