June 26, 2015
In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court aligned itself with advocates of Same-Sex Marriage, by ruling 5-4 that gay marriage is constitutional in the United States. With its decision, the court finally settled what has become one of the most political issues in the nation’s history and by declaring gay marriage as law of the land, the highest court in the nation, chose to draw a line of separation between religion, morality and Equal Protection of the law.
Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Pub.L. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419, enacted on September 21, 1996, Federal Law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and clearly states that no U.S. state or other political subdivision, may be required to recognize as a marriage a Same-Sex relationship considered a marriage in another state.
Many have criticized the law as an attempt to recognize only the well-known established institution of marriage or heterosexual relations, while at the same time discriminating against Gays and Lesbians. Advocates of Same-Sex Marriage asked that DOMA be declared unconstitutional because the law discriminates against Same-Sex couples and also that it violates the equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment.
The law as it stands excludes Same-Sex couples from Federal Rights such as: survivor benefits from Social Security, family insurance benefits, and joint-tax filings, which traditionally is open to heterosexual couples. But with the latest ruling, the court handed gay rights advocates a victory that until now would have seemed unfathomable, making the U.S. the 21st nation to legalize gay marriage.
Married same-sex couples will now have same legal rights as heterosexual couples and qualify for benefits that heterosexual couples have enjoyed for decades. Also, same sex-couples will have their names recognized on official documents like birth and death certificates, which they have been denied until now.
The journey to the Supreme Court began when Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff, demanded that his name appear on his spouse’s death certificate but was denied. The couple lived in Ohio but had to travel to Maryland on a medical jet to get married when John Arthur his spouse, became gravely ill. After Arthur’s death, Obergefell began a fight to have his name recognized as Arthur’s spouse but was refused.
Supporters of same-sex marriage have long argued that, such discrimination violates the rights of American gay couples under the equal protection of the law. Some States have declared DOMA unconstitutional including Massachusetts and California in a bankruptcy ruling.
The Obama administration called certain sections of the law unconstitutional while both Houses have indicated they would defend the law on behalf of the Federal government. One issue of debate concerns how constitutionally sound is the law? And whether it would pass constitutional muster if it finds its way before the Supreme Court.
Equal protection arguments over the controversy surrounding gay marriage centers mainly on whether laws against Same-Sex Marriage deny gays and lesbians the equal rights guaranteed to every citizen of the United States irrespective, of race, color, national origin and sexual orientation. Key issue: Does Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment guarantee gays and lesbians the right to marry?
The Supreme Court has finally answered the questions in its majority ruling declaring gay marriage constitutional in all fifty states. With its recognition of gay marriage at the Federal level, the court has moved away from the traditional belief in the institution of marriage as solely a union between a man and a woman but has also embraced gay marriage, based on Equal Protection of the law. Perhaps, the opinion today by the highest court of the land marks the last crucifixion of the Defense of Marriage Act.