Last week, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled Section Three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, a step that brings federal law one step closer to equality and constitutionality.
Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law passed in 1996, contains two important sections that limit equality. Section Two maintains that states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Section Three defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, for the purpose of the administration of federal laws.
The appeals court in New York ruled only Section Three unconstitutional, because it discriminates against gay people who would otherwise be able to obtain federal benefits through their legal spouses.
The suit was brought by 83-year-old Edith Windsor. Windsor married Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007 after a 40-year engagement. When Spyer died three years later, Windsor had to pay nearly $400,000 in taxes on her inheritance — far above what a heterosexual widow would have paid with normal deductions on estate taxes.
This discrimination in government benefits is absurd. It is unconscionable that we continue to make gay people second-class citizens by denying them both the title of marriage and the legal benefits that go along with it.
The gay rights movement is struggling towards marriage equality in each of the 50 states, but the achievement of equal rights to marry in individual states is not enough when the federal government can still deny these married partners benefits on the basis of
The Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it discriminates against a particular group for no valid reason. The constitutionality of this law is what is important to the courts, who I am confident will eventually strikethe law down. But to me, the constitutional issue pales in comparison to the moral issue of discrimination against same-sex couples.
The fact that there is still a battle to be won regarding the Defense of Marriage Act means that there are still many people out there who will fight to keep this law in effect in order to perpetuate their bigotry and cause others to suffer because of their prejudices.
In the national discourse, same-sex marriage is still something one can believe in or not believe in. But same-sex marriage is not a belief. Most marriages these days, heterosexual or otherwise, have much more to do with the relationship between the parties than their relationships with God or their religious institutions. Marriage is personal — it is a decision to be made between two people that affects no one but themselves. We cannot choose to believe in gay marriage; we can only choose to defend or not defend equality.
Last week, the often-disappointing American legal system made a huge leap towards equality. Ruling Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional makes it all the more likely that the Supreme Court will take up the issue — Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg said she expects the ruling within the next year.
The courts should continue to act on this issue and will hopefully strike down the Defense of Marriage Act altogether. Until then, the rest of us need to finally realize we cannot suppress gay relationships by suppressing their legal right to exist.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 22 print edition. Jessica Littman is deputy opinion editor. Email her at email@example.com.
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