Taxes. The economy. Abortion. Medicare. Pot.
Name any issue, and it likely was discussed during the most recent election’s campaigning. One of the more complicated issues, however, is gay marriage.
In case you had been living under a rock since election results came in, Maine, Maryland and Washington all legalized gay marriage, and Minnesota voted down an amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
Same-sex marriage is undeniably gaining support across the country. It’s one of the social issues most in flux right now in the U.S., yet its complexity often goes unexplained. So what exactly is it that makes the issue so legally complicated?
In 1996, a piece of legislation was passed called the Defense of Marriage Act. The act, in essence, defined marriage as between a man and woman in regard to interstate purposes.
So what does that exactly mean? Well, Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution contains a clause known as the “Full Faith and Credit Clause.” This clause says states have to respect the public acts, records and judicial proceedings of other states. So, for example, if you get a speeding ticket in Illinois but you are a Wisconsin resident, you still have to pay that ticket.
If you get married in one state, other states have to recognize that marriage for tax purposes and whatnot. Except, of course, if you’re a same-sex couple — thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act.
The law on the federal books says states don’t have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Except there’s a part of the U.S. Constitution that says states must recognize acts of other states. And, in case you’ve never taken a political science course, the Constitution always wins — how any court could find DOMA constitutional is beyond me. Fortunately, in 2011 President Barack Obama’s administration officially switched its stance on the act and instructed the Department of Justice to argue the law should be struck down.
When, not if DOMA gets struck down, states will be forced to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. For example, a gay Wisconsin couple could go get married in Maine and come back and Wisconsin would have to recognize and treat that marriage as equivalent to a heterosexual marriage. This will deal a huge blow to gay marriage opposition.
The Defense of Marriage Act demonstrates the way in which conservatives pick and choose when to use the “big, bad, overreaching government oughta keep its paws out of my life” argument. A true Republican would argue the national government is too involved in the private lives of citizens when it dictates whether their marriages can be recognized from state to state. They would say the government has no right to get involved in the personal lives of citizens. But then again, by that logic the government shouldn’t ever stand in the way of someone’s right to an abortion.
These apparent inconsistencies in the Republican campaigning platform give support to the argument that we all have already formed our opinions before we come up with reasoning, since an individual’s views taken as a whole often express these sorts of inconsistencies.
The Supreme Court is about to hear a case involving same-sex marriage and DOMA on Friday. If it rules the act to be constitutional, then it will be a blatantly political decision. The movement supporting nationally legalized same-sex marriage is gaining momentum — the legal complexity of it somewhat nuanced, but the answer is clear-cut: DOMA needs to go, and its elimination will be a major step forward for the country.
Reginald Young (email@example.com) is a senior majoring in legal studies and Scandinavian studies.