DOMA, Prop 8, and Looking Beyond Marriage

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The sea of red equality signs on social media this week was a powerful gesture for many. For some it was moving to see their parents, clergy, and friends show public support for their sexual orientation, but for others it only reinforced their protests against the institution of marriage for all.

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in regard to Proposition 8, the controversial ban on same-sex marriage in California. Attorney George Cooper defended the ban by stating that (amongst other things), “the concern is that redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children.”

Supporters of same-sex marriage argue that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment includes a right for same-sex couples to marry. Supporters also cite constitutional precedent in cases such as Loving v Virginia (1967) and Lawrence v Texas (2003) that define marriage as a fundamental right. I couldn’t agree more with supporters of same-sex marriage. Anything less than full legal rights for gay couples relegates LGBT relationships to the status of second-class citizens. Unfortunately it appears that the Supreme Court is going to sidestep a decision in the case, which will legalize same-sex marriage in California (by deferring to a lower-court ruling that struck down Proposition 8), but it will leave intact the bans in 37 other states.

The fervor surrounding same-sex marriage continued on Wednesday when the court heard arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton the Defense of Marriage Act defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and denied federal benefits to gay couples. The Obama Administration has declared the law unconstitutional, and it appears that the SCOTUS may rule along the same lines. 

Amidst the impassioned cries from supporters and detractors of same-sex marriage are cries of a different sort. Queer political activists decry same-sex marriage as a strategy of assimilation dominated by white, cis-gendered activists who ignore more pressing issues for the queer community like universal healthcare and workplace protections. These activists implore us to remember the words of Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

What do you think, do we really want the government sanctioning relationships?

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